Part 2

So. Continuing on from Art diary 9.


Issues with scale encompasses everything. The map is obviously not to scale. From a simple geographical point of view areas and towns have been moved around relative to one another and the relative size of the individual areas have been changed. John’s original layout was topographically quite accurate. But this resulted in area sizes that were un-workable. We need to be able to fit six units in each area plus any extra area and unit symbols. Some areas could barely support two.

So when everyone was happy with the proof of concept I had a break from the map and concentrated on other areas. When I came back with fresh eyes I started from scratch. The layout had to be massaged to fit the units and some roads had to be changed. This was really quite a fundamental change that affected the entire map but since most of the technical work had already been done it went smoothly enough. Some areas are still tighter than I’d like but there’s a balance to be struck between evenly sized areas and maintaining the shape, form and visual flow.

As for the scale of the buildings, roads and trees .. well yes .. they’re obviously huge and out of proportion. This was quite deliberate.


Most of the small villages would be little more than a half dozen small, snow covered houses. Real world sizes would make them near invisible when zoomed out or result in that generic boxy look you see on a lot of maps. Nothing wrong with that and it works well when consistent with the style but its not where I was going. Despite the size of area covered by the map my goal was for the player to get a sense of the elements both in regards the weather and of the things that go to make up the landscape.

Initially the buildings had snow covered roofs that simply got lost in the snowy expanse so deciding they all had poor insulation I let the snow melt off. As a subtle visual clue the cities more houses and over sized churches (Liege and Namur are vaguely similar to their real life counterparts but Verviers actually has the church from St Mere Eglise. I’d even made Bastognes but despite being worth 2 Victory points like cities, its only a town for terrain modification so it had to go.). Indications of snow covered gardens and patches of dirty snow helped them to stand out from the background and added interest while having context.

Simplified and with junctions manipulated for game-play and clarity.

Roads are already an abstraction of the road net. Simplified and with junctions manipulated for game-play and clarity. If I’d of made them real scale thickness they’d of been little more than a pixel wide when zoomed out. They’re an essential functional element so they need to be easily readable but I also wanted them to fit in with the environment and not stand out like a sore thumb. THE greatest visual contrast is between Black and Yellow but after that its probably black and white. Since I wasn’t using black I opted to paint the roads the same colour I used to tone the snow. The snow only used it subtly but the road was often full on 100%. I also painted in mounds of whitish snow at the sides. This had two benefits. Firstly it contributed to the fluffy feeling of the snow but secondly, because it was whiter than most of the surrounding snow it created a false sharpening effect that helped the roads stand out more when zoomed out. A bit like an overly strong un-sharp mask but again with context.

As for the trees, well at proper scale they’d look like little more than noise when zoomed out. So to keep with the exaggerated theme and to ensure the player was fully aware of them as an important element I made them recognisably .. tree like .. rather than just dots. But I covered trees earlier.


OK. So the rivers. Yes there’s a few liberties been taken here but all for the sake of game play and functionality. Rivers have two roles. Boundary lines and terrain obstacles. In John’s original layout the rivers are boundary lines .. ie. there was no additional graphical boundary line over them so they were always clearly visible. That looked fine on the sketch map and worked fine in play-testing but as I started laying out my rendered version I found things weren’t working.

The biggest being that stylistically, the rivers are landscape features while boundaries are a separate, artificial entity over the top that abruptly ended at river edges. Areas bounded by a river actually looked open on the river side. While this wasn’t the case technically I couldn’t help but think this needed to be more obvious. So I separated the two. Initially the boundaries followed the curve of the river to make it obvious but it obscured the river too much. I was also concerned at this stage about how the boundaries were to be defined. If with coordinates and code (as seemed most likely – we didn’t have a coder on board at the time and no intention of using a 3D engine) then I wanted to make sure they were defined by straight lines for simplicity. So over time they got pared down to what you see now.

River Work in Progress

As for the rivers, well what started out as a graphicy element found itself becoming more part of the landscape. Its not realistic in colour, size or the general look but it has to remain functional and clearly visible.


I’ve covered most aspects of the terrain above but I just want to mention the rough and clear terrain.

Having looked at a lot of aerial photos of the Ardennes area in my mind the rough areas seemed to consist of walled and hedged farmland so that’s what I made it. It stayed that way for a while but by the second pass John was insistent that it had to be broken terrain and the clear areas should be farmland. He wanted more patches of broken ground. I resisted this for a while but eventually tried it out and had to admit he was right. I didn’t go the whole hog and go for patches of snowy/clear ground as I’d seen that done in other games and at this scale it adds a lot noise to the ground which I didn’t want. Instead I used the shading to emphasise and exaggerate the gulleys and marshes while keeping the scale relatively high and contrast low.

I initially made the clear areas farmland but everyone felt it wasn’t as clear as it could be or representative of the description so we went with flat white snow. Well, flattish.

I think it was a good compromise.

Snow Work in Progress 02

As for the hills. Well in the first proof of concept I tried showing hills a number of ways but was always conscious that they had no impact on game-play at all yet were having a large impact on the readability of the map. At first I tried using a grey or blue to white shading to indicate height. This was interesting and added some depth but didn’t say height even when posterised to exaggerate the level differences. Then I tried strengthening this by adding contour lines. But there were two issues. First was visual. It was confusing the eye. Cluttering an already busy map with something that contributed nothing worthwhile. Secondly I was imposing an artificial graphic element into what was a semi-realistically styled landscape. The landscape is its own thing. I’d already established that graphical elements worked with it and over it. They’re not part of it.

I tried some rudimentary 3d geometry but I found the shadows were just wrong and again took away from the map rather than added. You see there’s a fundamental issue when portraying a tall object or mountains when your vantage point is almost straight down and you’re employing no perspective. You have no depth or height clues from which you can decipher what you’re seeing. If you look at a Google Earth image of the Bulge you wouldn’t know it was very hilly (other than the dense network of river gulleys). While using the gulleys to add texture to the rough terrain they provide no height information of their own.

But when I remade the map I took a different approach (stolen from my time in VFX) which will remain our little secret but which I think works well. There’s obvious height there but the shadows aren’t troublesome. It adds to the feel of the hilly country, to the ambience and appreciation of where we are and what it means without taking away from the core functionality of the map. Again its exaggerated, simplified and subtle but works in context.

So. I think that about covers it for the map. I can’t show you the finished thing yet as that would be silly and besides, it won’t be finished until its submitted to Apple. But I’d just like to assure you that ..


All the original posts can be found here ..

The Map – Beginnings
The Map – Finding a direction
The Map – The Visual Feel
The Map – The First Brush Strokes
The Map – Decisions Part 1
The Map – Decisions Part 2
It’s functional, it adds atmosphere and its kind of pretty. ish. In parts.