Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Cartography Turned Up to 11

One of the really invigorating aspects of gaming today is how so many people seem eager to take what's been done a hundred times before and do it again but better. We've seen this from industry giants (the index of Ptolus leaps to mind) as well as relative newcomers to publishing.

Here's an example from real-world cartography:

Post-computer editing decisions are frequently outsourced—sometimes to India, where teams of cheap workers will hunt for obvious errors and messy label overlaps. The overall goal is often a quick and dirty turnaround, with cost and speed trumping excellence and elegance.

By contrast, David Imus worked alone on his map seven days a week for two full years. Nearly 6,000 hours in total. It would be prohibitively expensive just to outsource that much work. But Imus—a 35-year veteran of cartography who’s designed every kind of map for every kind of client—did it all by himself. He used a computer (not a pencil and paper), but absolutely nothing was left to computer-assisted happenstance. Imus spent eons tweaking label positions. Slaving over font types, kerning, letter thicknesses. Scrutinizing levels of blackness. It’s the kind of personal cartographic touch you might only find these days on the hand-illustrated ski-trail maps available at posh mountain resorts.

What follows are a few choice examples of how Mr. Imus put more info into his map than most have and made it more legible. Definitely lessons for our hobby here, I'm certain.


JDJarvis said...

I always liked a good map. It is interesting that such a technical thing can be a work of art at the same time.

I've been a surveyor's assistant, worked with a firm that did a road maps and airline maps (you want to see picky try a map that has to have different information available under different lighting conditions) and have done a few maps for school books. I've even done a few corporate "how to find us" maps. Game mapping is still the most fun.

trollsmyth said...

Neat! Anything in particular that you learned that you carry over to your gaming maps?

...a map that has to have different information available under different lighting conditions...

That makes me think of the moon writing on the dwarves' map from The Hobbit that only shows itself when exposed to moonlight from a moon in the same phase as that which it was written under.

JDJarvis said...

I long ago learned the New England rock wall trick, which works well for a number of similar walls and I deploy it frequently.

One draws a bumpy line along the run of a wall and then repeats an alternating bump along the same run to produce an illustration of a rockwall that doesn't require one to draw a bunch of little ellipses.

I just posted an example here:

JDJarvis said...

Multiple lighting conditions requires different color lights and is something I haven't attempted much in gaming maps but it is possible to imitate the method using old fashioned 3-D glasses with the colored plastic lenses. Blue pen will be invisible (or less noticeable) when looking through the blue side and the inverse is true with the red side.

I have done it a couple of times over the years but mostly it's a little silly at the game table.

trollsmyth said...

The rock wall trick is awesome! Thanks for sharing.