Monday, 18 December 2017

Making an interactive campaign map

Charlie: I just finished running a five-day 40k narrative campaign, because nothing says top-notch adulting like spending annual leave on an epic wargames bender.

It was basically a roleplaying game where all the encounters were 40k battles. It was unclear to me if that would work in reality, but there was only one way to find out. I figured it was going alright when halfway through the campaign the players started saying things like, "when we do another one of these..."

When I was figuring out how to run this thing, a concept that occurred early in the process was some sort of interactive map. The idea was that threats and situations would be highlighted on it, and the players would then decide which of their units to send to each of the engagements. Obviously that meant the players had to be able to interact with it, and I had to be able to change things on it as the enemy reacted.

So then, today I'm going to go through three things:
  • How I done made the map.
  • How I done made it all interactive and stuff.
  • How I'll improve on it next time.

Thing the First: how I done made the map
The four word answer is: Google Earth plus Photoshop. If you're willing to indulge me while I put on a stripy top and a beret so as to wax lyrical about how maps fit into my "creative process" and facilitate the creation of a "synergistic multimedia experience," then keep reading this section.

I often find making the map is a good first step when creating a story world. This might seem arse about face, but I find making something visual often gives me more ideas. I started off with some satellite imagery (thanks NASA) being careful not to use an easily recognisable land mass (so, avoiding coastlines then...). Next, I dropped it in a bucket full of Photoshop juice, brought it up to a simmer, and stirred until I had it looking like part of a planet, with stars in the background and a tint for the atmosphere. If you actually want me to go into more detail about the Photoshop side of things, let me know in the comments. Technically, the attempt to make it look pretty is unnecessary, but I enjoy it. Plus if something looks like a toddler drew using haemorrhoids for crayons, I can't take it seriously.

The basic map

Having a map got me thinking about what sort of a world it might be. All that green said 'agri world' and all that desert said 'agri world with some climate issues.' This gave me the idea of having a pre-Imperial culture that had farmed so extensively that their main area of production ended up collapsing thanks to topsoil loss and subsequent desertification. That in turn gave me the idea of something valuable in the old capital that would be worth excavating. A few ideas later, I wrote everything down in the wiki we keep for our little corner of the 40k mythos.

Thing the second: y'all wanted some interactivity.
I'm not a computer programmer. I can't make a networked app that lets multiple people interact with a layered image with drag and drop functionality plus rudimentary text editing. But you know who can? Motherfudging Google, that's who. Enter stage left Google Drawings. I created icons for all the players' units, plus other icons as needed, such as the players' strike cruisers, enemy contact markers, and so on. I exported them all from Photoshop as .PNGs so as to maintain transparency, then created a Google Drawing, and dragged all the icons in. Every icon you see in the images below can be clicked and moved about at will by anyone with access to the file. These, in particular, are Tom's screenshots of the first campaign turn.

In case you're wondering, the E30 B45 type-stuff represents auspex readings; E means the amount of energy detected, i.e. vehicles, and B represents bio-signatures. Add them up, and you have the enemy army's power level in 40k 8th edition, plus a rough idea of how many lascannons you wish you had.

As the second day (in narrative time) began, a summary was added as a sidebar:

Note: the space marine units can't be seen because the players had put them in
their deployable FOBs (Forward Operating Bases). They were in a margin on the
left, like the strategic summary on the right.

The campaign had a specific sequence, with simple rules for injuries and persistent vehicle damage, but I'll go over that another time.

Thing the Third: what to improve for next time
The main thing was to increase the visual distinctiveness of the players' units. Right now, you have to use your army roster to know which unit is "Blood Angels Heavy Support Choice IV." The new convention will probably be squares for infantry, circles for characters, upward-pointing triangles for ground vehicles, and downward-pointing triangles for flyers. There's also something to be said for letting the players make their own icons; I made these as a stop-gap in case neither of the players had time, and sure enough, they were painting models right up until the moment of planetstrike.


Right... hopefully that's of some use to anyone out there who plays map campaigns. If you're curious about other elements of the campaign, then the good news is that Jeff, Tom and I all have more posts planned on that front.



    That looks deeply epic, and the maps are beautiful. I for one would definitely like a little more detail on photoshop jiggery-pokery as I'm as amateur as it gets. Also, the use of google drawing is intriguing, you'll have to show me that sometime.

    Hope an epic time was had by all.

    1. I've started writing multiple replies to this and have, in the end, concluded that a video would be much the best way of demonstrating my meagre methods. Suffice to say much was accomplished with Gaussian blurs. I appreciate this is the most low-budget of non-answers, but I might be able to answer more specific questions, since I don't know what you want to know and what you already understand.

      Sorry Andy!