Category Archives: FIXME

Better Coastlines with Inkscape

I just came across a very simple method for creating better coastlines in Inkscape: Use the calligraphy tool instead of freehand line drawing.

At first glance, the calligraphy tool seems unsuited to creating coastlines, because it creates an outline and not a line. So I have been using the freehand tool in the past – and it has always been problematic; the coastlines never seem to be “nice” and rugged, and while drawing the color of the line I draw is in a weird shade that I can’t see too well.

Today i was working on some fjords. I created them by drawing the basic coastline, then creating a second shape – the fjord – which I would then subtract from the first path. Let me illustrate with an example:

Better Coastlines: Before (Yes they are just boxes :-)
Better Coastlines: Before (Yes they are just boxes 🙂

This rectangle represents my basic continent. There’s also a colored “ocean” layer underneath, currently invisible to the naked eye.

Okay, it’s a bit boxy. Let’s change that. With the freehand tool, drawing is awkward and difficult to see:

Better Coastlines: Freehand drawing
Better Coastlines: Freehand drawing

With the calligraphy tool, however, you just pick your color and draw away. Set a brush size appropriate to the scale you are working on – for this box I used a 25p brush width. You can immediately see that this is much easier on the eyes, if nothing else:

Better Coastlines. Calligraphy Mess
Better Coastlines. Calligraphy Mess

I tried to draw roughly the same coastline as in the freehand sample. I filled in most of the gaps but did not bother filling all of them in; you will see why in the second. Even so, I ended up with a lot, lot, lot of individual shapes; I created a single shape using the Path -> Union function.

Finally, I subtracted the “fjords” outline from the base continent box using Path -> Difference.

And this is our result:

Better Coastlines: After
Better Coastlines: After

Not only did we get much, much nicer coastlines; the little gaps left by the calligraphy tool created a lot of fairly nice-looking islands.

Of course there is also a disadvantage to doing that; it creates a path with a large number of nodes, so you’ll probably want to optimize this for large maps. Still, I think the results speak for themselves – I will try to create an entire map using this method at some point. And I wonder why I never had this idea before…

Well, so MineCon 2012 will be held in EuroDisney Paris Nov 24th – 25th. I’ll be going, unless hotel- and travel prices are beyond the reasonable. Is anybody else going?

Neverwinter Nights: Bard’s Tale

One of the many things I experimented with – seven years ago! – in Neverwinter Nights was an implementation of Bard’s Tale III: The Thief of Fate using NWN. The project never progressed far; while a later version actually had progressed quite nicely I ended up taking over Underdark Adventures and creating UA3 together with Arjan instead.

Anyway, I just discovered a handful of screenshots from this attempt and thought I’d share them.

Plus a map of the “Wilderness” area:

BT3: Wilderness
BT3: Wilderness

It looks like I even have module files from back then – but no hakpaks, and I am fairly sure this module needed one.

The Price of Flying

World of Warcraft, still the dominant MMORPG, lets players purchase mounts – riding animals like horses and so on – in order to speed up travel across its virtual world. As such, they are a greatly appreciated convenience. With Burning Crusade, the first expansion to the game, Blizzard added an improvement over the classic mounts: Flying mounts. Since the world featured in The Burning Crusade, the Outlands, is a ragged, torn-apart world with many mountains, valleys, and even outright gaps between areas, this addition made perfect sense. Flying mounts were also usable in the second expansion’s new continent, Northrend (with the purchase of an additional skill at a higher level). And since you can’t take something like this away from players again, Flying is going to be available all over Azeroth with the next expansion, Cataclysm.

One of the many flying mounts in World of Warcraft

There’s no question that using these flying mounts makes travel much faster, much more convenient, and lets one progress through the game much faster. In the old days, you had to travel to wherever your quest took you, often fighting unrelated enemies on the way, and now you can swoop in on the back of your griffin, complete your quest, and fly again on out and into the sunset.

But there’s also a price for this convenience. And it’s actually one that is much higher than most people realize.

These days, there’s the Midsummer festival in Azeroth, and with it came a lot of festival specific quests. As I was completing them with my mage, I kept coming across other high level players in places that are usually completely deserted. In one case we even grouped up for mutual defense against our enemies, the Horde, and at the end I teleported everybody to a safe city.

Memories came back to me, of my early characters. When I had to ride through the same landscapes to complete quests. Back then, I’d meet many people, and oftentimes, we’d join forces to complete the quests, role-playing and chatting along the way.

Once flying mounts become available, though, what would have happened is the same thing that happens in Outlands and Northrend now: People swoop in, take their quest objective, and leave again. They have a much smaller chance to meet each other, and even when they do see each other, they never form groups, except for the hardest of quests – and in those cases, it’s not usually by chance, but by out of character chat.

So the price of flying mounts is reduced interaction, reduced socializing, and reduced role-playing. I know some people couldn’t care less, but personally I think this is sad. Not only does it take away opportunities to meet new people, it also lessens the immersion in the game world.

Naturally this does not mean that Blizzard should remove the flying mounts, or even limit them. It’s too late for that anyway. But I know if I were to ever design an MMO, I’d think long and hard about adding such freedom of movement – and err on the side of caution.

Map of Thraeton

While I am on the topic of maps… The Map of Thraeton that I showcased last month is now done. That is, as done as it’s going to get without detailed world-building – the place names are mostly placeholders, and so on.

I think it came out quite well, if I may say so myself.

River Challenge Map

This is my entry for the Cartographers’ Guild’s “just for fun” competition for March, the River Challenge:

Cartographer's Guild River Challenge Entry

The basic template of the landmass and some pre-defined lakes and rivers was provided by the guild’s community leaders, and there are various rules on the number of rivers the map needs to include.

I honestly did not enter this one to win – the guild counts far better artists than I am amongst its members – but rather I took the opportunity to try out a “fancy mountain” style. As you can see… it still needs some work. 😉

Outlining and new world map

Lately, Ive been working on the outline for my Arnâron writing project. I’m behind schedule with the writing, but after my NaNoWriMo experience I really want to nail down the outline before I write even a single line of actual story. I guess there’s no real hurry anyway. I’m on chapter 7 of 12 for my revised outline, the other 5 chapters are basically still bullet point lists.

In addition, I have been working on Thraeton, which is one of my many worlds, and intimately tied to Terra and Arnâron. Specifically, I have been working on its world map. Currently, it looks like so:

Thraeton - Plate Tectonics

One thing noteworthy about this is that I am using Google Earth for visualization. If you ever build a world, give this method a try; the .kml files are well documented and easy to craft.

Thraeton in Google Earth

You can load the current WIP of Thraeton into Google Earth using this .kml file. Enjoy!

The City of Saint Brendan Sneak Peek

Here’s a little bit of a bonus and post scriptum for NaNoWriMo. I didn’t just design a fallout shelter, I also sketched out a city.

Saint Brendan, so named after St. Brendan the Navigator, is a large city located in the US State of Acadia. The city rose to prominence as a trade port after the discovery of the Northwest Passage and benefited greatly from the increase in trade with East Asia after the World War. It is New England’s largest city, with over six million people living in the metropolitan area. This makes Saint Brendan the fifth-largest urban conglomeration in the United States, before the Delaware Valley but less populated than the Dallas-Fort-Worth Metroplex.

Major industries are transportation, financial, and high tech. A large military presence secures the strategic location.

Destroyed Saint Brendan

Saint Brendan is an amalgamation of San Francisco, New York, and a few other cities. I decided to use a fictional city for several reasons:

  1. I don’t know New York personally, having never been there, and certainly do not know any other major US city intimately either. Potential readers would likely be more familiar with the setting than I and that is a problem. Using a fictional city frees me from the risk of making gross errors when describing the location.
  2. A fictional city gives me the freedom to arrange locations and other facts in a manner convenient to the story’s needs.
  3. It’s a great way to tell the reader “dude, this is not YOUR world“.
  4. I enjoy world-building. Duh!

I am a firm believer in recycling material, so expect Saint Brendan to pop up again in more detailed form.

Copyright Confusions

Just an aside, because this is a bit of a peeve I have:

  • You own the copyright to works that you create, in principle.
  • Names, brand names etc are protected by trademarks, not copyrights.
  • Ideas, concepts, etc can be protected by patents, but only if they fulfill the criteria as inventions, which is not the same as ideas.

Copyright is automatic. You do not have to register it, but where this is possible it might of course help with enforcement. Trademarks must be registered and actively used and defended. Patents must be filed, examined, and granted.

There are certain minimum standards on what is considered coyprightable. So for example writing the sentence: “I love you” does not mean you own it.

A lot of people do not understand copyright, don’t know what it’s for, and do not respect it. Always respect the copyright of others, if you want others to respect yours. I have seen too many blogs use pictures or other material they clearly do not own and are not licensed to use.

That said, the Internet is all about sharing, about a common culture for all of mankind. If you publish something on the Internet, please consider doing so under a creative commons license.

A CC license is an easy way for you to tell others what they are allowed to do with your works. This will help them because they should have an easier time understanding what they are allowed to do and it should help you because it encourages sharing in a respectful manner. And after all is said and done, don’t we all want others to read our works?

But, please, whatever you do… at least get your terms right. I can never take anyone serious who claims that “this word is copyrighted” or “I own the trademark on this idea”.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, and this posting is not legal advice. In case of questions on copyright law, see an attorney licensed to work in your jurisdiction.

NaNoWriMo 2008, Day #1

Word count: 4285.

It was a good start, even though I didn’t make 5k words. I still wrote more than twice the daily quota, which will help me cope with really busy days like this next Monday.

The NaNoWriMo websites are having huge performance issues today. I mean that they are extremely slow – with frequent timeouts. Just updating my word count for the day was painful. Forget about using the forums. This is fairly sad – I mean, this is 2008, and they seem to get plenty of donations to keep themselves running. Yet they seem to consider 3000 concurrent users to be a high load. Hm. The lesson I take away from this is, do not use Drupal for anything remotely important.

In more general observations, Ken Kiser really hates NaNoWriMo. I can appreciate that it is not everybody’s cup of tea, and I can totally understand why Ken would much rather stick to his established routine getting his second book done. But I do think he overshot the mark here. So much so that it reads like borderline trolling.

Just because some guy he knows doesn’t prepare for NaNoWriMo doesn’t mean everybody is like that. And even if so, how is that a bad thing? NaNoWriMo is not, as Ken has realized, about creating the next great work of art, it is about getting a novel done. Any novel. I myself find it much easier to work on something if there is some kind of purpose, a kind of goal. Something concrete, not a vague “maybe”. That’s why I liked World Building Month, and that’s why I take part in NaNoWriMo. I am sure I am not the only one who benefits from such projects.

Yes, a lot of what is being written for NaNoWriMo is crap. Sure. I’ll happily include what I am doing in that “crap” category. Again, is that a bad thing? The people who are doing it are enjoying it. They have fun doing it. For example I suck at drawing pretty pictures. But I have fun doing it. So why shouldn’t I?

The only reason why NaNoWriMo focuses on quantity over quality is… (get ready for the surprise)… you can measure quantity very easily. Quality is subjective and judging it doesn’t scale. At all. You can “win” NaNoWriMo by submitting a book of Lorem ipsum, yeah. So what? Who is hurting if someone decides to be that lame?

I’m fairly sure not many NaNoWriMo authors actually submit their works to publishers or agents, but hey, why shouldn’t they? It’s their right to submit it; it’s the publishing company’s right to toss it into the garbage.

Why should a novel that is being written slowly over an extended period of time be inherently better than one that was written in a short time? There are many other factors that determine the quality much more than whether it was written for NaNoWriMo or not. Yes, there are actually a couple of NaNoWriMo novels that sell and get published. If Ken’s slow and steady method does not produce a book that sells, but a NaNoWriMo author produces a book in a month and then is able to sell it, does that automatically disqualify the slow and steady method? No, of course not.

Finally, yes, a novel is usually longer than 50k words. So what? As a criticism of NaNoWriMo this is just silly. It’s an arbitrary number. More than 50000 words becomes unrealistic very quickly unless you extend the event to more than a month and that, too, is unrealistic. Besides fifty thousand words are still more than a novella usually has.

Writing a novel for NaNoWriMo is like building a sand castle at the beach. It’s fun. In the evening you pack up and go home and your life is richer by an experience. You don’t have to be a professional architect to do it.

Besides, some sand castles turn out quite nicely. 😉