Saturday, December 2, 2017

City Symbols (Part 1): What I'm Trying to Do

I feel like I've been doing labeling forever, so I'm going to turn my attention to doing some more generative and artful -- generating city symbols.  So far, Dragons Abound uses simple circles to mark cities, with different sizes of circles to indicate general city size.  This map shows examples of the three sizes:
Most maps I see use circles or some other simple symbol to represent cities.  That's easy and looks good; so it has a lot to recommend it.  

A more artistic approach is to represent the cities with little drawings.  In many cases, these are simple icons representing different sizes of cities or other map elements:
In this example you can see the icons for a couple of different city/fort sizes, as well as a three dot figure representing something else.  Sometimes these can be quite lovely and really enhance the map.  I find the icons on this map quite nice:
Drawing cities this way borrows from medieval map traditions:
This map of Africa (from 1570) features small, hand-drawn icons for every city.

Some of my favorite city symbols are on this map of Western Torfani by Ilanthar on the Cartographer's Guild:
Each city is individually and carefully drawn, and colored to fit perfectly into the map's color scheme. I doubt Dragons Abound can do as well!

There's a straightforward pattern to these city symbols.  Small cities get small, simple illustrations with one or two buildings.  Larger cities get increasingly taller, more complex buildings as well as more buildings.  For the Skies of Fire map it isn't much more than something like this:
(Apologies for my poor mock-up skills!)  

I can certainly generate buildings similar to those in my mock-up above, but one of the most challenging aspects of generating city icons is that the scale is *tiny*.  On most maps, a small building is only about 5 pixels high.  Making icons that will look good at that scale is quite a challenge -- especially if you want to procedurally generate the icons and have a variety of distinguishable and interesting features.  (There's a reason pixel art is so challenging!)  Dragons Abound uses vector graphics, which can be perfectly scaled smaller or larger.  But as I learned with generating mountains, something that looks good and works well at a large scale doesn't necessarily look good at a smaller scale, even if the scaling is perfect.

Another challenge will be to generate icons that are artistic and look hand-drawn.  I could probably  easily generate a limited set of square, abstract icons similar to those in the first map above, but while those might be better than circles, I don't think they add a lot to the beauty and appeal of a map.  The second set of icons in the "Skies of Fire" map above are better -- they're representational and stylistic, but they don't offer a lot of challenge for procedural generation because the variations are so limited.  The Torfani icons are more what I'd like to achieve -- icons that are individually creative and artistically drawn.  Of course, very few fantasy maps have icons at this level -- I think creating artistic, appealing icons at this scale is a challenge even for human artists.  So it's a very high bar for procedural generation,  and I'm sure I won't produce icons at the Torfani level, but I hope to at least get in the neighborhood.

In the next posting, I'll tackle simple buildings.

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