Apr 2, 2010

Basic Geography

Finally, time for some more original content as well as nice pictures.

I've finally decided to stop tweaking the coastline can call it done. Click on the pictures to enlarge.

This Orb's coastline. Blue indicated approximate areas of permanent ice



The base texture was created in Photoshop (see below).  I wrapped it on a sphere in Google's free simple 3D app SketchUp, though there are a lot of other programs you can use to make your world round.  Going from flat to sphere is always tricky conceptually.  Using the simplest, most common method (as i've done) you get increasing distortion toward the poles.  Since my poles are covered in ice, it doesn't matter too much, though i did spend a lot of time tweaking the land near the poles to conceal obvious stretching.

The base texture for This Orb.

I'll save the technical details about how to design your geography for another post.  For now I'll give some artistic tips for a believable looking-world.  You might have noticed that the continents of a lot of fictional worlds look rather blocky, once you get past the fringe of indentations on the coastline.  Real geography has a less orderly appearance, but there's a rhythm to it too.
  • Spend some time looking at a globe, observing at the shapes.
  • When in doubt, try to avoid a continental set up that closely mirrors ours.  How many fantasy worlds have a three continents that relate to each other like Europe, Asian and Africa, with some a couple other contents beyond a wide sea?  Sometimes there's a good reason for it, but usually it's just lack of imagination.
  • People tend to think and draw with right angles, but nature doesn't.  Try to build your continents from a variety of basic shapes, and make sure things aren't all neatly aligned.
  • Avoid symmetry.  A landmass is generally going to be bigger at one end than the other, and further from it's neighbor at one end than another.  Very seldom will anything be nicely centered.  Very seldom will any landmass be of about the same size or shape as another.
  • Notice that there's a lot of variety in how smooth or convoluted the coastline is. You have really complicated areas like the Mediterranean or Indonesia, and simpler areas like the Atlantic coast of Africa and South America.  Unless you have both these extremes to some degree your map will seem contrived, and be visually less interesting.
  • Similarly, the number and size of the indentations and protrusions in the coastline varies greatly.  If the jags everywhere in your coastline are roughly the same, it will look mechanical.
  • Islands tend to come in chains, and sometimes are the continuation of mountain ranges that wandered off the edge of the coastline.


A bad example.  These coasts equally convoluted everywhere, which besides looking fake is hard on the eyes.

Finally some ideas about arranging your clusters of continents.  There's nothing particular about Earth's setup of continents that needs to be duplicated.  Mix and match as you like.
  • Pangea:  All continents are connected together.
  • Chain:  All of the continents are linked together in a series that encompasses much, or even all of the world.
  • Several Clusters:  Instead of two clusters of continents (Americas and Eurasia/Africa), there are several.
  • Island Continents:  No continent connects to another.
  • Deleted Climate:  There is no land near the equator, or none in the temperate zone, or none near the poles.
  • Disconnected Oceans:  Land goes all the way around the world, so you have two or more oceans that don't connect.  Ocean life might be distinct in each.
  • Reversed World:  Most of the world is land, with oceans as the exception.  Note this would realistically have a very big effect on climate. 

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