Since the Earth’s continents drift over its surface, the planet is slowly changing its familiar view. Everybody thinks the dinosaur lived on “our” Earth, when in fact the Earth looked completely unrecognizable millions of years ago.
Some geologists and palaeontologists have attempted to reconstruct Earth’s map at various points in the past. Two efforts have reproduced beautiful and useful maps. The first, the Paleomap Project of Christioher R. Scotese offers maps that are functional but somewhat plain. Dr. Ron Blakey, on the other hand, has created beautiful “satellite views” of ancient Earth. An example is this map, from the Middle Devonian:
In a world building context, these maps are highly useful if you create a setting that is set in the past or in a parallel universe that is based on historical Earth. But there are other uses: For example, these maps could be used as alien planets (except for the very recent maps, in which Earth’s continental outlines become quite recognizable).
I have actually used the Middle Devonian map to create the map of an Earth-like fantasy world, which I call Arth (in honor of Starflight):
Pretty, no? And nobody who saw the “Arth” map by itself would suspect that it is merely our own planet Earth, just 385 million years ago.
I’ve started to build a list of useful links about worldbuilding and related topics. Enjoy. And if you know of a good site I didn’t include… send it to me (at nils [at] pandemonium.de) and I’ll include it.
Worlds do not always have to be plain old balls of dirt speeding through space, it’s also possible to have artificial constructs as your worlds. One such design was created by Arthur C. Clarke for his book Rendezvous with Rama. Rama is a space ship in the shape of a hollow cylinder; such designs have been created by NASA as hypothetical future space stations.
Anyway, the Rama spaceship is quite large, and a Frenchman, Eric Bruneton, sought a way to render this huge scenery. He developed methods for this that are quite interesting, and you can visit his website about Rendering Rama to see the resulting art and read a very interesting article on how he accomplished the feat.
As you can see, he succeeded beautifully.
I must say that I always pictured Rama’s interior as more artificial-looking, but that could have been my misreading of the story. Of course Eric’s rendering is more a demonstration of technology rather than a faithful rendering. Either way, I thought that this was a great little gem that people interested in world building or constructed worlds might be interested in.
Alien Planet is another example of “professional” world building, similar to The Future is Wild. However, unlike that show, Alien Planet is set on a world in another star system. It depicts a robotic mission of exploration to this planet.
Someone actually uploaded the thing to Google Video. Enjoy:
Personally, I feel that a lot of the creatures showing here seem a little far-fetched… however, I am still not a zoologist or botanist and thus can’t really say. Anyway, it makes for an entertaining 90 minutes.
Sometimes you find gems when you least expect it. I was actually looking for a good domain name to use for this weblog when I came across this world-building podcast.
Shakespeare & Dragons [dead link!] is run by Paul Stark. Paul is an English teacher from California with aspirations to becoming a professional world builder. He takes a story-based approach to building worlds, which is a little different from the usual “scientific” approach to Conworlds.
Paul has published 15 episodes so far (plus a “donation reward” special dealing with monster design). Unfortunately, his publishing schedule is very irregular, but what’s already available is quite interesting and really worth the time to download: If you’re a world-builder, this podcast is two thumbs up. But even regular game masters can take a lot of value from it, as they will have to create stories just the same. Highly recommended. And do send Paul some feedback, so he is motivated enough to continue working on the podcast.
Update, 2011-09-16: It appears the website is now gone as well. The episodes are still out there, I will create a page to access them more easily.
Update, 2015-11-26: Never revisited the post, I got permission from Paul to host the podcast’s archive.
Here’s an example of professional world-building:
The Future is Wild was a joint production of Discovery Channel, ORF and ZDF television corporations. It depicts three scenarios for the future evolution of life on Earth, set at 5, 100 and 200 million years in the future.
While there has apparently been some criticism of the scientific validity of the show, it’s still a pretty well-thought out design for the possible future evolution of life on Earth. And even if not everything is accurate – I am not in a position to have an opinion on this – it certainly sounds plausible and fairly consistent. Overall, The Future is Wild can serve as a pretty good source of inspiration for the aspiring world builder; especially since they explain why they designed the creatures in the way they did. Highly recommended.