Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Making Maps

Syp recently mentioned, in "Five things I want to find out in any beta" that he likes to see a full map of the world. It got me thinking about maps.

Map-making was important back when you were playing table-top adventure games like D&D. The explorer in me likes starting with a blank page and slowly filling the blanks in. Sometimes a false start even meant a complete re-draw. Which way is "up"? Are these distances correct? I loved all that.

In Azeroth, we map as we explore. I like it that I have to explore an area before it is fully revealed to me. But as soon as we have explored it, the map is correct. No mistakes. No inaccuracies. No omissions.

It took me two weeks to fully uncover the tame mysteries of Elwynn Forest. I "discovered" Outland one October evening while playing "Trick or Treat" there. I flew over most of it at 20,000 ft. I don't think I landed more than once in Blade's Edge,  and I sure as hell discovered none of its mysteries. Nonetheless my map of Outland is as detailed and accurate as my map of Elwynn Forest. That's a bit off. I guess an eagle-eyed hunter might have been able to see the lay of the land from that height, but I couldn't.

How would it be if there was a world where map-making was a profession, just like archaeology? As we explore an area, we can make a map of it (if we have the materials); but it is pretty crude while our map-making skill is poor. It will contain mistakes. Places missing, or in the wrong location. And it only contains the  stuff that was actually in our field of vision. As we make more maps, so our skill increases, and each map gets a bit better than the last one. Until a cataclysm happens, and we have to remap certain parts of the world!

If that's all there was to it, it would be an annoyance. Here's where it gets useful: we can trade maps.

I can make a copy of my map and put it on the Auction House for sale. Like all manual copies, it may contain some errors that weren't in the original. But as my skill in map-making increases, my maps get better, more detailed, more accurate. I can charge more for my maps than you charge, and people will choose my maps for their quality. Once you buy a map, you integrate it into your own map, and over time you can improve your own map by buying maps from well-known cartographers. You can make copies of your updated map for sale. Again, the quality of your copies is limited by your skill in map-making, but at least you're starting with a better original than you could have made on your own. With enough skill, you can make a name for yourself. Your maps will be better than anyone else's.

You might think that the internet will put a stop to that. The maps will be up on Allakhazam before long. Possibly; but which ones? Each of us has a different map. Take a look at a Roman view of the world:

( from ). This is an astounding map. You need to zoom into it, (and probably open the image in a separate page) to look at properly. It has "Insula Thyle" (Thule, possibly Iceland, or another landmass near the north pole) at the top left, then three unnamed islands just to the right of it before we see Ibernia Insula (the island of Hibernia, Ireland), then Caledonia (Scotland) and Brittania (Roman Britain). At first it's hard to recognize just what we're looking at, because we're used to a particular world-view in our maps. Just below Ireland (I don't say "south of Ireland" because south has no meaning on this map) is the whale-like shape of Hispania (the Iberian peninsula, i.e. Spain and Portugal), and then at the bottom of the map is North Africa. It takes time, looking at that map, to fit it into our modern view of how Europe should look.

Here's another one:

Again, it takes several moments to recognize just what we're looking at. Africa to the right, Asia at the top. Is that Cyprus at the centre of the universe?

It's hard to see that these two Roman maps are of much the same territory. If you were Allakhazam, how would you deal with differences? Is Thule next to Ibernia or is it closer to Dacia (Romania)? Sometimes, while playing D&D, a map would  fall into our hands: found in a library or sold by a trader for two camels, or found on the body of an enemy. It was always interesting to compare with our own maps. Could these really be of the same territory? Oh, look! There's an oasis we didn't know about!

As long as the real source of all our maps remains a secret, Allakhazam's map will also be just an approximation of the truth. Your map might have a secret location, known only to you for now!

Of course, over time, our maps will get better and better, until it will be easy to buy a perfect representation of the world for a few coins. Ah, but then comes the expansion. And with it, new regions, completely unmapped.

I'm sure there are holes in this idea. Perhaps you can help in filling them in?


  1. I think that is a typical 'feature'. One of those things that would be great to have, but at the end of the day are never realized, because other things seem more important and time/money is running short ;)

  2. It can still be added later, just like archaeology was in Azeroth.

  3. I remember in a Roman history class the professor talking about how the Romans viewed the area from Rome to Spain; they believed it more of a straight line than what it really was.

    The map you posted reminded me of that, and one of the things that I thought would make mapmaking (as a profession) more interesting would be that your maps would improve in accuracy the better you got in the mapmaking profession. For example, you start out in Eversong Forest, and you've got a few basic lines in place for roads and where the Scar is. As you go up in skill, your map clarifies and details begin to get filled in. Finally the path for the roads and the Dead Scar get corrected, and you have a good map of the area.

    As for improving your score, you'd have to spend time in the area, on the ground, exploring. The longer you explore and then pause to actually map, the better you get. Kind of like using surveyor's equipment.

    And before anybody complains about mapmaking skill and having a toon use equipment like that, it was common in the Age of Exploration to use surveying equipment to make maps, so why shouldn't you use it in-game? Hell, George Washington got his start as a surveyor over the Appalachian Mountains.

  4. Nice idea, Redbeard. And we've already got surveying equipment for archaeology.