Design Journal – World maps and heightmaps

When I first started mucking around with creating a world map for the embryonic setting I have in my head, I had a pretty good idea of what tools were out there (namely GIMP and Wilbur) and what they were capable of. Before I even had an inkling of what the map or the world itself was going to look like, I also knew I wanted to use this general process:

  1. Use a natural, as opposed to hand-drawn or generated, shape for the ocean and landmasses of the world. I had entertained the idea of using maps of Mars and projections of what the early Earth looked like. It just so happened that a more complete radar map of Titan’s north pole came across one of my news feeds, so I grabbed that.
  2. Generate the height map randomly, somehow.
  3. Use Wilbur to create the rivers, because along with drawing coastline details I don’t like drawing rivers.
Other than that, I had little to no inkling about how to do any of it. What I didn’t realize is exactly how exacting that process would be.

Luckily I was able to find a number of great tutorials on Cartographer’s Guild, namely Arsheesh’s Eriond tutorial or RobA’s Regional Map tutorial, which introduced me to a lot of basic concepts such as the “three layer sandwich”, generating noise, randomizing coastlines, using gradients, etc.

Unfortunately, I wound up grinding to a standstill when it came to the height map. I had to do a lot of tweaking and fixing things when following Arsheesh’s tutorial. Eventually I settled into a pattern of airbrush or blend a region (particularly around the mountains); save the grayscale map; load into Wilbur to see what was working and what wasn’t; tweak again in GIMP; wash, rinse, repeat. Part of the pain was self-inflicted. I had used +Keith J Davies‘ mountain tutorial to generate mountains on an early prototype of the map – before I had discovered Arsheesh’s tutorial and attempted to bring Wilbur into the mix. The geology of that prototype stuck in my head, particularly a ridge of latitudinal mountains that bisected the central continent. I started to develop ideas about climate, civilizations, cultures, you name it from that map, and tried to carry forward those mountains into every later iteration of the map.

Luckily, eventually I was able to get everything sorted out, resulting in the map you see above. At some point I might try to codify what I did to get it to this point, provided that it’s even reproducible.

Next up, I’ll go over some of the resources I’m using to take a really rough stab at climate (which I’m still working on) and eventually start outlining some of the inhabitants of this world (and quite possibly a name!).

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