Here I try to set forth my thoughts of the maps generation and why it is so needed when dealing with the fantastic fictional worlds.
The Game of Thrones
You know, or perhaps have heard of the popular TV series “Game of Thrones”, which based on the book by George R.R. Martin. This book is accompanied by a map of the fantasy world, where the story takes place. I remind you that the book events unfold on two continents of that world. Anyone can find that map. Lets look with a critical eye at the subject of “similarity” of this map on a map of the planet Earth.
You will anyway notice one or more strange features. Lets list some here. The visible part of the left continent apparently fits into imaginary rectangle. The right continent is distinguished by horizontal north shore and vertical west shore, it is viewed despite the presence of large bays. The river system also looks quite strange: large rivers may begin in deserts or start directly from one continent edge, then they run through the high mountains area and, finally, flow into the ocean at the opposite edge. Moreover, the vast expanses of the continents do not have any details.
It becomes immediately clear–this map was drawn by hand and it is simply impossible to picture authentically so much territory. Of course, even such map can be a good tool for the imagination of an author and book readers. But lets ask the question: do authors, readers and viewers of fiction art deserve better alternative?
Procedural map generation
At the moment, procedural map generation is already a vast subject which received development mainly in the video game industry. There are many ways to automatically generate a variety of map types from simple terrain images in role-playing and action games to tile-maps in strategic games. The first map type gives an idea of the environment in which action takes place and provides a small coverage area; the latter map type can model large areas of entire planets, but have a low level of details.
Now we have some known methods of creating maps and terrains: midpoint displacement,
noise functions, partitioning of a plane area by polygons. The best place to begin the study of this topic is here.
Initially, all of the proposed methods work for limited flat areas. Also, often they are intended to use only in creation of textures for terrain modelling. But no matter how beautiful and spectacular terrain is imaged, it is not yet a real map. Most often the artificial terrain is used only for backgrounds, and in some cases terrain heightfields are used for the pathsfinding.
Further onward, we should strictly distinguish between terrains (or landscapes) and maps: the terrain is a type of texture and have the ability to be visually observed, as opposed to the map which have defined isolated features. The computer modelled map can also grant the ability to handle map objects as program entities, and there is a certain way you can change them.
Can a map be generated together with a terrain? If answer is yes, then we will have a map and terrain at the same time.
GIS and OpenStreetMap
In the case of the well-known world of Earth, we already know the answer to questions from the previous sections. Nowadays there are many software tools and standards for working with land maps. Geographic Information Systems designed to capture, manipulate, analyze and present all types of the geographic data.
OpenStreetMap (OSM) is one example of GIS, which aims to collect geographic data and provide them for free.
A wide range of GIS tools, as well as a set of techniques that have emerged as a result of GIS development, just beg to be used for fiction planet maps. If only those already exist as there is Earth with its surface.
The last question: how to create a fiction planet and how to make its detailed map using GIS?