You Make Those Maps, Anyway?
Reaction to the cartography in Uresia has been very favorable (they make nice posters, too!), and enough people have asked me “how did you achieve this effect or that?” or “where did you get the font used for such-and-such?” that I decided to make a cartography tutorial part of Blue Lamp Road. While I don't reveal every technique involved in making the maps, I hit most of the important stuff.
The two fonts I used that aren't my own are Souvenir (for the title of Rogan's Heath), a pretty common font bundled with several graphics programs and at least one word processor I know of, and JSL Ancient Italic. The JSL Ancient fonts (used for the italic subtitles on the island and city maps) are available at their creator's website, and they're utterly excellent antiqued fonts available as free “emailware.”
Compasses, Lines & Elements
Some of the elements were drawn electronically, including the Rogan's Heath rooftops and the street plan for Shadow River. The original vector-drawings, though, don't much resemble the final maps, which were modified with hand-drawn textures to give them a more natural look.
The Texture Trick
My favorite effect involves dropping from Grayscale to Bitmap mode and applying a pattern in the process. All of the texture effects in the Uresia maps (the lines in the sea, the hatching on the Rogan's Heath map, the stippling in the Shadow River plan and more) were created using that one technique applied with different patterns at different resolutions. The trick behind the trick just amounts to developing the right grayscale shades and choosing the right pattern to apply.
I've prepared a simple tutorial to teach you how to create and apply your own texture patterns. This handy trick has hundreds of applications, so fire up Photoshop (just about any recent version) and follow along. Begin by downloading this file; it contains a simple map image in 300dpi grayscale. This is a lot like what the Uresia island maps looked like before I textured them: white areas for the islands, and a heavy blur to gray for the oceans. All we need to do now is to create a pattern, and apply it as a texture.
Step One: Create a new file in Photoshop. It should be a 300dpi grayscale image, 300 pixels on a side (1 inch by 1 inch), with a white background.
Step Two: Using a black paintbrush (any you like, but from 4-12 pixels wide and very soft is ideal) start drawing lines in the middle of the white box. Do not under any circumstances allow the brush to touch the sides of the box. It's okay if the lines are rough and wobbly; it's okay if they overlap one another. The only thing that isn't okay is for any of them to touch the edges of the image, even a little. Draw three or four lines before proceeding to Step Three.
Step Three: Apply an Offset filter to the image: 150 pixels horizontal and 75 pixels vertical. Make sure it's set to “wrap around.” This will make some of your lines overlap the edges seamlessly.
Step Four: Repeat steps Two and Three. Draw some lines in the middle of the image (don't touch the edges!) and then apply the offset again. Rinse, lather, repeat. Keep doing this until you're happy with the pattern. As long as you never touched the edges, it's a seamlessly tiling image.
Step Six: In the edit menu, define the image as a pattern. Give the pattern any name you like (and at some point, you'll probably want to save the file so you can re-create the pattern later on if you reinstall Photoshop or remove the pattern from the pattern menu).
Step Seven: Open up the “simplemap” file. Choose Image>Mode>Bitmap from the menu. Choose “custom pattern” as the method, and select your pattern from those provided (it'll be the last one there). Note that the image starts out at 300dpi, but you'll probably want a higher resolution for your bitmapped version. Try 900dpi as a starting point, and click OK.
Voila! The map has gone from a blur to a sort of sketch. Try different resolutions for the bitmap to improve the look of it. If 900dpi still looks too coarse, try 1200. If 900 dpi looks too fine and grainy, try 600, and so on. Fiddle to get what you like. If you don't like any of it, just make a different pattern and begin the process again. It took me a while to get patterns I really liked (I hoard the ones I've made jealously).
The Uresia island maps (with the “woodcut ocean” effect) were created using a simple pattern of horizontal lines like the one shown above. The same trick with a nice earth-hatch pattern can make a great effect on dungeon maps, and so forth. You can get fancy, too: the rooftops in Rogan's Heath started out as flat areas of gray which I separated into different layers, applied line filters to (the same filter that made the oceans, canted in different directions) and then re-composed as a single layer. Similar tricks can be applied to photographs, even, to give them a much more convincing “sketched” look than any pre-made filter I know.
Yes, this means that those nifty oceans took seconds to make once I had the pattern done and once I settled on the right degree of blur and darkness for the oceans. It's those damned labels that took hours! Such is the often freakish-nature of graphic design. Some final hints for using the bitmap-to-a-pattern trick:
I used my entire (relatively humble) bag of tricks to make the Uresia maps, but I've now revealed the stuff that's most important by far . . . Use them in good health, and if you make any cool new Uresia-related maps with 'em, let me know!