Monday, 13 October 2014

Soltan Ephemeris Tour

Earlier in the year, I posted previews of the Soltan Ephemeris, the solar system of the +World of Calidar.  Since then, on Facebook and Google+ I've posted various pieces of concept art — renders of each planet, set against beautiful NASA space imagery.  All of these come together in an illustration on page 119 of Calidar: In Stranger Skies, which shows the Soltan Ephemeris in all its glory.

You can see how to go about making things like this in the tutorials on my Cartography Links page, accessible from the menu bar at the top of this page.  (I watched them all and then took the bits I liked best.)

But today I thought it would be fun to gather them all up together here in one place.  At the same time, I've put together another video tour showcasing all of these images.

Calidar In Stranger Skies, Soltan, planet render, Thorfinn Tait Cartography
The Mighty Soltan
I had a lot of fun making this image.  I actually created a full equirectangular projection map of Soltan's "surface".  I'm not sure it will ever be needed aside from in making this image, but you never know with fantasy settings.

Soltan is utterly vast: 110 times the size of its largest orbiting planet, Calidar.  It's really very similar to our sun in most respects.

Narrated tour of the Soltan Ephemeris at YouTube

Calidar In Stranger Skies, Soltan Ephemeris, orbital diagram, planet render, Thorfinn Tait Cartography
Soltan Ephemeris illustration from Calidar: In Stranger Skies

This is the diagram for which I made these renders, featured on page 119 of the book.  There are three separate scales in this image: size, distance from Soltan, and distance from parent planet to orbiting moon.  These are all separate, of course, because the distance numbers are so vast as to make it impossible to display them all at the same scale.

To clarify: Soltan and all the planets and moons are shown at relative sizes; the distances between Soltan and each planet are all shown at relative scales; and the distance from each planet to its moons are all shown at relative scales.

It's all a bit confusing, really.

Calidar In Stranger Skies, Draconia, planet render, Thorfinn Tait Cartography
First planet from the sun in the Soltan Ephemeris. It's a bare, desolate, atmosphere-less rocky waste. The planet is in synchronous orbit of Soltan, so the same side of Draconia always faces it.

Amongst the dark rocky surface are veins and pockets of gold and silver. Whether these are actual metals or some form of energy is as yet unknown.

So where do Draconia's inhabitants live? The planet is hollow, with a dark interior populated by the native draconic races and their minions, which include the Draconic Order of the Black Queen.

All of these images are concept art rather than maps, so the final map of the planet may well change.

(Starfield courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI/CXC/UofA/ESA/AURA/JHU.)

Calidar In Stranger Skies, Calidar, Kragdûr, planet render, Thorfinn Tait Cartography
Calidar with one of its moons, Kragdûr
This is the most recent render of Calidar itself, superseding the image we used as branding for most of the past year.  It's actually still not perfect — it doesn't quite show the Great Caldera's terrain correctly (although it's close-ish), and the other continents are also probably a bit off.  But the mountain locations are likely all correct.

(Starfield courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI/CXC/UofA/ESA/AURA/JHU.)

Calidar In Stranger Skies, Kragdûr, planet render, Thorfinn Tait Cartography
One of Calidar's three moons, Kragdûr is the twin of Alorea. They share the same orbital path, perpetually chasing each other around Calidar.

Both moons were originally populated with gnomes, which at some point in the ancient past engendered elves on Alorea and dwarves on Kragdûr. As relations between the two moons declined, both sides came to view the gnomes with suspicion, and eventually they were subjugated and enslaved.

While the elves of Alorea spent their energies on conserving their moon, Kragdûr's dwarves stripped theirs bare in search of more and yet more natural resources.

Kragdûr's terrain is dominated by mountains and valleys, with glaciers, waterfalls, high cliffs and a few inland seas taking up only around 20% of the world.

(Starfield courtesy of NASA/CXC/SAO/JPL-Caltech/STScI.)

Calidar In Stranger Skies, Alorea, planet render, Thorfinn Tait Cartography
The twin of Kragdûr, Alorea is the home world of Calidar's elves, and also gnomes.

The entire moon is forested, with some inland seas. Conservation is a number one priority for the elves.

There are a number of different clans, but the Sòldor hold most of the power, controlling the other clans and indeed the moon itself through an academy called the Tòrr-Gàrraidh. Originally founded by the Tolarin to manage the moon's forests, the Tòrr-Gàrraidh has now become a sinister name for the ruling Sòldor junta.

Alorea's gnomes were subjugated by the Tòrr-Gàrraidh centuries ago, and are now used as slaves, kept in line by a magical form of torture.

Alorea has already made an appearance in Melchia's story arc ("The Spy") in Under the Great Vault.

(Starfield courtesy of NASA/CXC/SAO/JPL-Caltech/STScI.)

Calidar In Stranger Skies, Munaan, planet render, Thorfinn Tait Cartography
Calidar's largest moon is the birthplace of humanity in the Calidar Universe. The dominant realm of Munaan is Nicarea, an monotheistic nation with strong imperial tendencies. In fact, the Nicareans enforce monotheism with an iron fist, inquisitions and all.

Nicarea conquered the other realms on Munaan, which include Taneth, Bongor, Inti-Suyu, Wichipaw, Gandaria, and Talikai. Other realms have mysteriously disappeared, only to crop up elsewhere.

The moon suffers from overpopulation and rampant exploitation of resources, making the lure of Calidar's virgin territory and vast resources great. But its colonies have long since declared independence. Now it has trade relations with its ex-colonies in Calidar's Great Caldera, though the Nicarean Empire would undoubtedly like a lot more than that.

As with all my planet mock-ups, this is concept art. The land/sea ratio is about 60/40, and the terrain is mostly arid, with desertification.

(Starfield courtesy of NASA/CXC/SAO/JPL-Caltech/STScI.)

Calidar In Stranger Skies, Lao-Kwei, Kumoshima, planet render, Thorfinn Tait Cartography
Lao-Kwei with its tiny moon, Kumoshima
Lao-Kwei was originally a fertile planet inhabited by a race of Starfolk (technologically advanced beings) called the Kahuulkin. But their warring ways ended up ravaging the planet, leaving it irradiated and desolate, and reducing Kahuulkin civilisation back to the stone age.

Some time much later, the planet was colonised by the Lao-Kwei people, who were fleeing religious persecution on Munaan. They conquered and enslaved the remnants of the Kahuulkin.

The moon of Kumoshima could not be more different from the planet it orbits. Due to ancient Kahuulkin terraforming, it is a planet rich with fresh water and life. A lot of the time it is enshrouded in clouds.

Kumoshima is dominated by the Daiku Teikoku ("Great Sky Empire"), and the Kumoshimans jealously guard their precious water against would-be thieves.

You can read a little more about Lao-Kwei and Kumoshima at Bruce Heard's blog, in the Rat Hunter short story arc.

(Starfield courtesy of NASA,ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team.)

Calidar In Stranger Skies, Ghüle, planet render, Thorfinn Tait Cartography
The last planet in the Soltan Ephemeris is Ghüle.  It's nothing less than a planet-sized mega-dungeon, created by alien outer planar gods and unleashed on the vulnerable worlds of the ephemeris at their whim.  Ghüle is populated by orcs and other humanoids, who raid other worlds for plunder and sacrifices to their evil overlords.

Bruce used an image of Europa for his original Ghüle preview article, so I used a modified version of Europa's topography for its map.  The ravine-like cracks on its surface are envisioned as cracks in the planet's icy surface, from which its dungeon-bound residents emerge when the planet is close enough to Soltan for the ice to recede.

(Starfield courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/WISE Team.)

Calidar In Stranger Skies, Soltan Ephemeris, orbital diagram, planet render, Thorfinn Tait Cartography
The Soltan Ephemeris diagram redone with bigger planets.  Soltan itself is out of scale here (it should be much bigger).
Finally, here is a new version of the diagram, showing the planets and moons much bigger.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Five Calidar PDF Secrets

Making the most of Calidar's PDF digital editions

Calidar's Kickstarter fulfilment is proceeding apace, and the PDF versions of the main book and the Kickstarter exclusive short story compilation have both been sent out.  Public release is drawing closer and closer, and hopefully Kickstarter backers' books are winging their way to you as I type.  Here's a little look at the PDFs to tide you over.

One of the last things I did for +Bruce Heard's first +World of Calidar project before release was preparing the PDFs.  Coming off of layout, it felt like the logical next thing to do — creating an index, bookmarking, creating hyperlinks, and a few other little tricks to enhance the usability of the PDFs.

But you can't use them unless you know they're there, so I'm going to take a moment to introduce these hidden features.  (Note that I will be explaining these using Adobe Reader.  Not all PDF readers give you access to all of these options.)

1. The background can be turned off

In the Layers tab, you can see the layers that make up the PDF file.  Not only that, you can even turn them on and off.

In the current version, all the text and images are on Layer 1, while the background elements are on the layer named Background.  This means you can turn off the parchment background graphic to print out on white paper.  (For your own use, of course.)

Notes: Layer 2 is empty, and currently the deck plan backgrounds are not on the background layer.  With Bruce's approval, these things can be fixed in a future update.

2. Bookmarks for easy navigation

Both of Calidar's PDF files are fully bookmarked.  Access the "Bookmarks" feature (called the Table of Contents in some PDF readers), and you will get an expanded version of the Table of Contents right in the sidebar.

Rather than just duplicate the Table of Contents, I went a step further and added in all the sub-sections, as well as two separate lists at the bottom: an index of maps and an index of art appearing in the book.  Using these lists you can peruse all of the maps and art, as well as getting a caption for each picture telling you what's in it.


3. Table of Contents and Index are hyperlinked

In addition to the bookmarks, the book's actual Table of Contents itself is made up of hyperlinks to its various sections.  These links are invisible, but that's okay because everything is linked.

The page numbers listed in the Index are also linked.  When there is a range of pages, the links take you to the numbers shown, which is to say the first and last pages in the range.

I also indexed the art and maps.  This is what the "Hidden Text" layer is there for.  You can't see it, but it actually includes text captions for each image, allowing them all to be indexed just like regular text.  To differentiate these, we used blue for art, brown for map references.

4. References are hyperlinked, too

You know when the text says things like "see This Section" and "for which see That Section"?  These are all hyperlinks, too.  The linked part is the bold chapter or section title.

5. Maps include scalable vectors

While most of the visual elements of the maps are medium resolution raster images, some of them include vectors — and all of the text is plain old vector-based text.

What does this mean?  You can zoom in on vector text and images and it will remain sharp.  And the text is fully selectable and indeed searchable: a normal search on the PDF will throw up text on the maps.

Maps which include vector elements include the Soltan Ephemeris Orbital Diagram (fully vector), the World of Calidar world maps (everything but the coastlines is made of vector art), and the City of Glorathon (only the external terrain is not vectors).

Best of all, all of the deck plans are 100% vector.  This means that you can zoom in as much as you want, and they will remain crystal clear.  You could use this feature to create floor plans for use with miniatures, for example.  (Again, for your own use, of course.)

Zoomed in view of the Star Phoenix's Forecastle, generated from the PDF.

Calidar is here...  Time to explore!

All of these points apply to both the main book CAL1 In Stranger Skies, as well as the Kickstarter exclusive PDF, CST1 Under the Great Vault.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Guided Tour of Meryath

Welcome to the Kingdom of Meryath!  As promised, I have created another video tour to preview and explore +World of Calidar's second poster map, the Kingdom of Meryath hex map.

This map was the result of a stretch goal in the Kickstarter campaign, in which it was available as an add-on.  Very soon now it will also go on sale on eBay.

It was a pleasure working on this map with +Bruce Heard, who has always been a master at this style.  We developed a new set of hex art, including settlement symbols by Bruce as well as terrain by myself.

The video also explores the topographical style of map, which we used for Meryath's map in the book itself.