Every now and again a comment is made about how I make my maps. As they are not screen-grabs and aren't part of the EVE Online's mechanics it's not immediately obvious how I do it. The simple answer is that I use a basic Paint application to create each map. But the simple answer glosses over much of the nuance that goes in to the process, which I hope to now correct.
Before I get to Paint, I first must decide I want to draw a map of the w-space constellation. This decision occurs either because the constellation is extensive, interesting, or illustrative. That is, the map is big, there is something uncommon about it, or both combined illuminate the narrative. A simple home-to-C3a-to-low-sec constellation is neither out of the ordinary nor difficult to imagine. A winding route through multiple systems with their own forking wormholes, however, helps illuminate how bookmarks must be created descriptively, why we use system identifiers, and how long getting from point A to point B can take.
Once decided that I want to draw a map, I sketch it in to my notepad. This is for two inter-related reasons. First, I normally realise I want a map when I am still part-way through scanning, and second, I hand-draw each map. I will recognise that the constellation is interesting when I have a handful of systems uncovered and still have more wormholes left unexplored. And because each map is hand-drawn I can't reasonably pause each time a new connection is discovered to take time to add to an image. At least, not the way I draw my maps.
I've seen some tool-generated maps. They serve their purpose well, but not mine. I try to tell stories about adventures, and although I believe appropriate images can help the story I also don't want to interrupt the flow of the text, which is why I restrict the vertical size of each image. This includes the map. As much as possible, I optimise the constellation image with vertical height in mind. This is not the only restraint I have on my maps, though.
I draw my maps such that:
- vertical height is optimised
- wormhole direction is indicated
- static connections lead directly out to the right of the system, where possible
- spacing, arrow lengths, and system sizes are regular, where possible
Each restraint is not always possible to follow, so I break my own rules where necessary. But I try to maintain the restraints to make the maps easy to read, which I like to think I achieve with my self-imposed guidelines, though they have only been implied up until now.
The preliminary sketch is as important to the finished map as my scribbled notes are to a finished post. In both cases, any self-imposed guidelines can be ignored for the purposes of detailing information quickly and accurately. The sketched map still needs to show wormhole directions and, ideally, static connections, but there is no great need to limit vertical space in my notebook. Accuracy is important, though, because once the bookmarks are deleted then all I have to create the map is the sketch and my notes. They'd both better be right.
My sketch begins from the home system. As I've already said, the sketch will generally being part-way through a constellation, so the initial few systems I can normally draw from memory. Even so, bookmarks are useful. Each wormhole is bookmarked in such a way to show system information and wormhole direction, and experience and my w-space notes will inform me of which connections are static. But even once finished, I will often check my sketch as I travel backwards on my way home, pausing in each system to ensure I have the right number of connections, pointing in the right direction, to the right class of system. I still catch the occasional error this way.
I transfer the sketch to Paint only after I have drafted the story the constellation is attached to. This is partly because the sketch will be half-way through the notes for the story, but mostly because without a story I don't need a map. But it is normally drawn immediately after the story is drafted, because I need to link the text file with the image file in some way. I don't write directly in to Wordpress, and neither do I have the means to upload image files to my server, not that I would want to fiddle around with that at the time. When I write, I write. Images are added later, even after the editing process, when I no longer need to feel creative.
The actual map creation process is pretty basic. The first map took more time and effort, as it the first, and created from scratch. It also became a template, of sorts. I drew the boxes for the systems, defined the arrow lengths and arrowhead sizes, and decided on a typeface for the text. Once that first map was completed, all I had to do for the next was to copy the file, and make liberal use of copy-and-paste. With this method, I just need to move the boxes around and link them with the same arrows, adding specific system text either once the constellation is complete or at the point all the links become confusing without it.
Normally, creating the constellation map from the sketch is fairly straightforward. This may be because I have got the hang of doing so, and craft my sketch already following my guidelines. But more likely is because the constellation, whilst not always strictly linear, does not meander too much. Random connections terminate quickly, or don't lead to more random connections or K162s. Other times, the map will overlap horrendously if I don't either increase its vertical height by adding extra levels of systems, or extend arrows linking systems to give more horizontal space. I consider a longer arrow preferable to a 'fatter' map.
Sometimes I need to be clever. I'll look at a map, drawn faithfully from my sketch, and realise I can compress it without breaking my guidelines or losing information. I love those moments. I flip a diagonal arrow, drop a chain there, extend this arrow, and I can lose twenty vertical pixels from the image. Now I feel like I am creating something, not just recreating it. It's not always possible, but being able to visualise such an improvement is pleasing to my sense of the aesthetic.
This post would be incomplete without an example. And so, for the first time, I offer a peak at my actual notes.
Judging from the sketch's position in my notes, I probably reached C3b when I realised I may be creating a map. Little did I know it would expand by so much, nor what a mess I'd get in to. I even ran out of room to get C1a's static exit to high-sec properly on the page. Also witness my terrible handwriting. I really do scrawl when writing my notes. They're just for me.
I have the finished image created from that sketched constellation map. Three versions, in fact, which is unusual. The first was more-or-less what was sketched. The second came after one of those revelatory moments when I saw how to compress it beautifully. The third came, curiously enough, when comparing sketch to image for this post, and saw how to better reflect a couple of static connections, breaking one guideline in favour of another.
But I'm not going to include the final version, or any of the images, in this post. Not yet, anyway. It's no coincidence that I chose a map that already overlaps. If you're interested in how I make my maps, maybe take a few minutes to decipher the image and try to decide how you would draw it according to my guidelines. And if you have some time to spare, I'd be keen to see what you come up with.
Update: the post with the completed map has been published, so it's time to share the full creation process. The first version of the schematic was pretty much a straight copy of my hand-drawn map.
There's nothing particularly wrong with the image in itself. The question mark at the bottom is because, at least for the first of the two posts that use the schematic, the connecting wormhole was unvisited and so the destination class of system undetermined. Whilst I'm okay with missing that detail, because the map is big I preferred filling it out completely, once the missing piece was known. That gave me a problem, though, once discovering it led to more w-space. Where would I fit the system's static wormhole's destination? I would need another vertical level, in a map already four-tall. Luckily, staring at the graphic for a while gave me one of those clever moments.
I saw that if I translated C3c so that the vertical direction of the link between C3b and C3c pointed downwards, and C3c ended up where C4d was, the outward chain would continue as before, but the chain heading backwards would tidy itself up and give room for C1a and its exit. Even better, one of the diagonal lines, for C4d's static connection, would become horizontal, as I prefer them to be represented.
I have to admit that this is one of my best modifications to a map, for letting me add information and clarifying the rest in one minor change. But it didn't end there. Whilst reviewing the map for this post, I noticed I could make a second change.
It's a small change, not really necessary, and breaks one rule to fix another. Still, I flip-flopped between this and the previous version for longer than I should have, before deciding that I liked the long horizontal chain of static connections, C2a fitting in to place by extending the arrow down to C1a.
But the iterations are generally small, or noticed early, because all the work is done in Paint. Every system bubble, wormhole arrow, and system text is bitmapped, so every change takes time. Maybe I should find some better software, but it's not like I do this a lot. Anyway, in the fiddliest case, that's how I go from scanning w-space to creating a schematic for a post.