Mapping the Stars

One of the more important parts of an alternate universe engineers jobs is tracking all the little bits and pieces of the universe, be they units, leaders or worlds.  Leaders and units can be tracked in documents or spread sheets, however, when it comes time to tracking borders, worlds and the movement of state’s extents over time, several issues arise.

The first issue is whether or not you will even track such elements, if you’re writing a story focused on a single world, or small region of space, it is not so important.   Once you start to broaden the scope and lengthen you’re timeline, you may need to track these changes, even if it just to keep things straight in your own head.

With the Kapteyn Universe (KU) I went the whole hog, with the broadest possible scope and the intention to start moving borders faster than a Clan inspired invasion could.  In addition to this, once I had players involved in the game, I needed an affective method of showing players how the borders and world ownership were changing month to month.

My first attempt was laborious in all respects, utilising MS Excel.  To create the map, an image of an existing BT map was added, then I manually inserted individual shapes and text boxes for the worlds.  Polygons were drawn for the states and lines represented internal borders.  It worked, but was clunky and big (7MB).

Not long before writing started, I began using GIS (Geogrphical Information Systems) software as part of my work.  GIS makes mapping easy, especially if you have one of the more powerful GIS programs.

To get the data into GIS, I needed a few things, planetary data (XY coordinates) with names, from there the rest was just building on this critical base.  BadSyntax, over at BT.com, used an XY info gatherer, to pull out the current coordinates of the worlds from a large map using Photoshop.  This was a great start, as he sent me his data.  One issue, still not fixed on my end yet was the OCR used, it got allot of planet names wrong, but that is a job for another time.

Once I had the XY information, I created a new GIS file using it as a base, here encountering a problem.  GIS needs projection data to display information correctly, so all my maps are centered on a point in northern NSW in Australia, meaning that 1LY on the maps, equals 20.84 meters.  This created issues for scale bars, but in the end, has not been an insurmountable problem.

Once the worlds were in and set up, I added in the abandoned worlds, taken stright from the new house books and added additional ones in the Combine, where data has not yet been presented.  From there, new fields were added to the world database, providing infomation on the world’s industry and what sort of capital it was, if one at all.

After that came the states, provinces and regions.  Firstly the states were outlined as polygons;  then these polygons were then copied and cut up into provinces.  The provinces were then copied and cut up into the regions.  Sounds simple, but it takes time and information needs to be appended to each new polygon so that you can display different information.

From there, new files were made to show where battles occur and where forces have moved to and from, allowing me to keep a detailed record of the eb and flow of the game and story.

So has it been worth it?  Yes I think it has, as the players are given the information they require to undertake detailed planning.  The mapping also lets me create maps that are almost up to official BT standards for use in the KU source books, which helps to provide the whole universe with a much more detailed and thorough feel.

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