Sunday, September 25, 2005

Will You Be Mine?

I spent what little free time I had yesterday (since I was working ... volunteering under duress, really, since I didn't get paid for it ... for ASU) developing the basics for the oldest of the three mines that are featured in my novel. I'm doing all the work in Campaign Cartographer in hopes of learning that system. I've found that the best way for me to learn a new software package is to assign myself a "project" and learn what I need to do that project. As problems inevitably come up, that's when I turn to the manuals and tutorials to figure out how to do what I need to do. I have enough experience with computers and computer programming, that I know pretty much how most software packages work, at least in a general way. This allows me to have a pretty good guess at how to do what I need before I've even sat down to do it. Not so with CC2. CC2's interface is, well, stupid. Even for a GUI overlay on a DOS command-line program (which is what it is), the whole paradigm is stupid and counter-intuitive. I've subscribed to discussion list to get extra help. Many times the answer to the questions posted there are to use some command that has to be typed in the command line at the bottom of the screen -- there was literally no way to know how to do it just by looking at the menu and toolbars. You shouldn't need "cheat codes" to use what is essentially a CAD package! The fact that I have years of experience with real graphics packages such as Adobe Illustrator and the like makes stumbling around trying to figure out this silly interface even more frustrating.

So why bother? Even though it's been tempting to just chuck CC2 and go back to Illustrator (raping and pillaging CC2's symbol catalog, of course), the fact is that CC2 has a lot of potential to really streamline your workflow for map-making. Illustrator can do everything CC2 can do and more. But it's the "and more" part that actually makes CC2 superior for the task. CC2 is customized for cartography and you can even customize the customization. For example, I finally figured out how to create a single drawing tool that will draw both the bulkheads and the floors the way I need them. Yes, I could have done this in Illustrator, but it would have taken a number of steps. Now that the tool is created, I have a specialized drawing tool that has let me draw corridors and rooms very rapidly. Editing what's been placed in CC2 is still very frustrating, but I'm learning how to cope with that as well (and it's still just "coping" at this point -- the efficiency isn't there yet). One big thing I like in CC2 that I don't know how to do in Illustrator is fractal boundaries. Natural features shouldn't have a smooth line, but drawing fractals in Illustrator is beyond tedious. CC2 will do it automatically. I'm sure there are more time-saving features that, once learned, will really help out withmaking professional-looking maps (remember, I plan to sell these with my articles -- I'd get paid extra for them), so I think the investment will eventually pay off. But man what an investment I'm having to make!

I had to buy two add-ons to really do what I wanted: Dungeon Designer Pro and Cosmographer Pro. CC2 itself is really optimized for making land maps. While it will make floor plans, it doesn't do it very efficiently. DD Pro is basically the floor plan module (it's obviously for more than just dungeons). Cosmographer adds the modern and futuristic symbols that need to go in those floor plans. It does let you make deck plans of starships and space stations, and this might actually have worked for me, but because of the fact that I'm making an underground mine, the DD tools have been the ones I've been using most. In theory you could make modern buildings just using Cosmographer. Cosmo will also let me make Traveller-style subsector and world maps, so that's a huge boon when writing for a Traveller magazine!

I also picked up Perspectives Pro on eBay for a song. PP lets you make 3D drawings of your floor plans and will supposedly convert those floor plans from 2D to quasi-3D for you. It's not really 3D, of course, since you don't have a camera that you can move around to view the scene from all angles, but the drawings I've seen published do give you a good overview of what it would be like to be inside the area you just mapped. The only problem I see is that I think all the 3D symbols used for PP are for fantasy drawings -- there doesn't seem to be much inthe way of modern symbols and so far it doesn't look lik eyou can import models drawn in true 3D packages. That will be a problem. I plan to combine PP drawings with renderings done with Poser and Bryce to illustrate my articles. "Cardboard heroes" figures are also easy to create in Poser, and they look really good, so that's a major selling point as well. In fact, I've considered creating a bunch of cardboard heroes and selling them on my website -- I think there's actually a market for good paper figures. As if I'm not already too busy...

No comments: