Tuesday, August 7, 2012


World building


I'm writing a series of science fictions stories ripe with adventure, romance, drama, and tragedy; the rough drafts can be found here. World building is important to me, as important as set design for a movie or play, the difference here being that I force my stories to comply with the setting, and not the setting complying to the needs of the story. What is life like on a barely habitable world where it rains most of the time under heavy cloud cover? What is it like when the day is only 20 hours, the year almost 40 years as it spins around a swollen red giant? Why are people there to begin with? Such is the setting, forcing me to contemplate what it is like with truncated daylight. How do people on a 24 hour circadian cycle cope with less hours? What do people do to endure the constant rain? All these have answers. It's a unique world full of raincoats and tricorn hats, umbrellas and ponchos, and desiccating skin powders. It's a place with drip grates under the coat pegs by the doors. It's a place where people sleep on alternating cycles, and the streets are lit with blue to booster that weakened spectrum from the sun, where a cloudless sky is drab and gray, and dust impregnated scrims of high clouds give the ambient light a sulfuric haze.

It's a place wealthy of otherwise rare metals that are needed in advanced technology. It's wealthy in a local narcotic produced from the venom of indigenous sponge-eel. It's a colony of traders and those seeking freedom from the growing oppression plaguing their home worlds. It's a place absent official government where fragile truces exist among powerful enclaves.

To visualize this creation, I have used Celestia, an astronomy toy that is easy to add to. Celestia doesn't do any calculating for you, it puts celestial body where you tell it too. It doesn't care if you get it wrong or impossible, so it was necessary for me to research orbital mechanics and create spreadsheets that do the calculating to develop solar systems that are as feasible as possible. But plain colored spheres or reused planetary and lunar maps from our solar system wasn't going to cut it for visually representing Mercator and a number of other chief worlds. It was time to learn to do some texturing.

The first textures I'm not going to bother posting. The following series is a trial run; I've made some mistakes along the way, and figured I would tinker with this texture process some more before delving into the final product.

 Fully wrapped in clouds, there is not much to look at. The clouds are going to take me a while to get what I want. I have two cloud textures here, one from The Blue Marble, and the other from the textures packaged with Celestia, altered a bit. My goal is more Earth-like clouds.

 Here is Mercator's major feature, an impact crater that has become a sea. It is comparable in size to the Caspian Sea. A large body of water close to the equator makes for a good city and spaceport.

 A major river system. For this trial run, I haven't added a lot of rivers. Many will not be visible anyway. Mercator is abundant with small pools and runoff rivers, and fluvial mud flats. There are also large shallow basins, but they are not well presented on this texture. The rivers are hand drawn.

Did I use a fruit for the texture?

 It's actually a shop floor. The safety paint has nice details that look like mountain ranges and small pools.The image is larger than the scale I need for the texture. This gives me room to find the best area. I use both Gimp (free) and Adobe Photoshop Elements 8 (purchased) to make the textures. Gimp has a nice feature that makes seamless the sides so the spherical map does not have a line down the planet. The other option is to offset with wraparound clone over the seam from another part of the image or from another image. Gimp's Make Seamless is faster and works well. Getting rid of polar pinch is tedious, requiring splitting the texture into north and south, applying rectangular to polar distortion, cut and pasting or cloning over the pinched center, applying polar to rectangular distortion, and putting the two "hemispheres" together. While this worked for me, I did something wrong aligning my halves and I have an equator that shows copied pixels. Of course polar pinch is invisible if the pole is all one color, and so ice caps come in handy.

Then there are the height and the specular maps to consider. And those two should be done prior to any polar pinch removal process.

 There is a lot more I can do with this map, but as this is the trial run, I'll save that for the final texture.

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