Developing a Workflow – Part V A: Terrain Building(finding the seas)

So now we are on to Part V in the outline I’d given at the start of this little series. Although in the outline this stage is referred to as, “mapping,” I think, “terrain building,” is more accurate. The opportunities for cartography will continue. In this stage we are trying to create the baseline terrain which later maps will be intended to represent. “Terrain,” in this case refers not only to the elevations of the land and the locations of rivers, shorelines and the like, but also, in some generalized sense to the state of the local vegetation and ground cover. At this stage it would be good to have a better developed climate model for the world, but my climate model is still a stub at best(at least for a planet like Yaccatrice, with no axial tilt). Thus, I’ll need to at least make some kinda educated guesses about the climate of Yaccatrice.

Fig. 1: This is the initial sea mask. Seas are represented in white on a black background of land. Note how evenly distributed the seas are here.

I’m going to start stupid here. Initially, I just want to figure out shorelines and build up from there. I used a spherical perlin-based noise generator to create some nice shapes. Thing about perlin, or most any noise generator really, is that it’s very spatially homogeneous. Basically, the sea and land is distributed too evenly across the map. I have been working on some promising ideas for generating good, somewhat heterogeneous or clustered land/sea maps automagically, but for now I’ll try something with a bit more human agency. I used planetGenesis to generate an 8192×4096 mask image with what I found to be pleasant waterbody shapes and size variation. The one shown in figure one is reduced and saved in JPEG, ’cause 8k is just ridiculous for the internet. I just like to at least have a better suggestion of where smaller islands will be and what kind of shape they will have. Sadly, when it comes to later stages 32-bit Wilbur can’t really handle 8k images on my computer(it’s slow enough on 4k, but at least it doesn’t crash at the slightest instigation…). The next thing I did was to select each sea individually and put it on it’s own layer above a solid black layer. On the initial image(which was the background layer in my file), I used the lasso tool to select the area around a sea I desired. This could contain one or more individual lakes closely clustered. Once I had the broad area of the sea selected I went to the magic wand tool(best named tool in the box, I use it for damn near everything). With a tolerance of 128, contiguous unchecked, and an application mode of, “intersect with selection,” I clicked well inside a white area(due to antialiasing, the thin grey areas around the edges of the white areas could result in bad selections, but the problem should be really obvious if that happens). That will select all of the distinct white regions within the area delineated by the lasso selection. Very nice that. As it turned out I moved my seas around a bit, mostly just east and west to avoid distortion, but sometimes also a bit north and south.

Since I did move some of the seas north and south, I decided I needed to verify the relative area of the various seas. When it comes right down to it I’m willing to give up on my original size statement(Mediterranean-sized for the largest, down to, I think, Lake Erie for the smallest), but I didn’t want to find out later that the Seppama(seventh) Sea was actually larger than the Tersha(third) Sea. To do this, I selected the entire canvas(Select All – cmd/ctrl+A), used Copy Merged(shift+cmd/ctrl+C) with all of the sea layers and the underlying black layer(and nothing else) visible and pasted(cmd/ctrl+V) the result above everything. I used the Flying Pear Flexify 2 filter on this with an input projection of equirectangular and an output projection of cylindrical equal area. Since this new map is equal area, the pixel counts given by histogram should be proportional to the actual spherical surface represented by these areas on the map. Using this, I can approximate the actual surface area of each of the seas by taking note that the number of pixels in my image(8,192 x 4,096 or 33,554,432 pixels) represents the total surface area of the planet(4πr2or, for Yaccatrice, 389,310,635 square kilometers and some change) so each pixel represents about 11.6 square kilometers, a square area about 3,406 meters on a side. So the Paima Sea has an area of about 2,644,330 square kilometers, the Segonna Sea has an area of about 1,195,960 square kilometers, the Tersha Sea has an area of about  827,670 square kilometers, the Karta Sea has an area of about 710,630 square

Fig. 2: This is the final sea mask after I had done some manipulation on it.

kilometers, the Kanta Sea has an area of about 309,710 square kilometers, the Sekta Sea has an area of about 129,000 square kilometers, and the Seppama Sea has an area of about 56,610 square kilometers. Since my quantum of measurement is approximately ten square kilometers, I’m rounding off those last two digits. I also know that the hydrosphere of Yaccatrice comes to about 1.51% of the surface of the planet. This is a desert planet.

Now that I know where the major features of my land surface are, the geographer in me

Fig. 3: This is my map with annotations. It may not look like much, but at this stage, the name of the game is terrain-building, not cartography. Have patience, Grasshopper!

can start making some inferences. First of all, let’s look at figure three, which puts some names on the landscape. This is, if nothing else, an aid to future communication.

I think having names actually on the land adds a lot to the feel of the world. Now I can start making final decisions about where things really lie on the land. Details, like where mountains are, or where does the rain fall are still pretty sketchy, but I know which seas are neighbors and I can make some halfway decent guesses about relative distances between places. This feels like a huge step. I think it is.

Now I’d like to think about how to make a sensible whole out of this pattern. First of all the dry areas are either going to be higher than the seas and draining into them, or the rates of evaporation are going to exceed the rates of precipitation in these areas. Also, how do I make some sort of geological sense out of this? Is plate tectonics likely to happen on a planet with so little water? I don’t know the answer, but I’ll assume yes to

Fig. 4: More information on the map of Yaccatrice. The Rainshadow Mountains are shown clearly, if diagrammatically (they might follow a more direct north-south trend, perhaps forming rift mountains between the continent to the east and the trenches in which the Tersha, Karta and Sekta Seas lie). The possible continents are delineated in green, although their shapes may also change somewhat.

keep things going. Otherwise, I’ll disappear into another research-fest for the next couple of weeks and never get anything posted. Given plate tectonics, I can assume that the sea regions are the low areas of this planet’s, “sea beds,” and that the water settles down into the subduction trenches. Some of those wastelands may be the tops of continental plates. These places would be dry, thin-aired places, probably cold, even at the equator. Orographic uplift of air masses moving up the continental slopes will cause moisture to precipitate out of the atmosphere, draining into the seas and rendering the continental surfaces high and dry. This is starting to make sense. Yaccatrice is starting to look like a really alien place.

Since I want a fairly considerable patch of desert between the Tersha and Segonna seas, I’ll add a high mountain range just to the southeast of the Tersha Sea. That’ll make the Segonna/Tersha route something of a hardship. I figure Tersha, Kanta and Sekta will be less significantly isolated, being separated only by steppelands and the occasional death valley.

Human inhabitants originally arrived at the Segonna Sea and gradually spread to the Karta Sea, then the Tersha Sea and on to the Kanta and Sekta Seas. Further expansion has been inhibited by the great distances to Seppama and Paima Seas, the hostility of the regions between these Seas, and the relatively primitive state of Yaccatrene technology.

At first sight, the best route for expansion from the populated Seas seems to be from the

Fig. 5: A globe view of the northern route, connecting the Sekta Sea to the Seppama Sea and thence onto the vast Paima Sea.

Sekta Sea to the Paima Sea via the smaller and less desirable Seppama Sea. The desert between the tiny Seas of Sekta and Seppama is still pretty huge and hostile, even if it is cooler and somewhat less malignant than the other routes. Also, the journey from Seppama to Paima would still be quite long and arduous.

For reasons I still haven’t figured out how to justify, the northern hemisphere is somewhat colder than the southern, which affords the possibility of an arctic ice cap not far north of Sekta and Seppama Seas. On the one hand, this provides travelers with a readily available source of water. On the other hand, this might restrict travel to lower latitudes, making the journey longer.

The, “second best,” route from the populated Seas is directly from Karta to Paima across the Great Parched Waste. This is a longer journey than the Sekta/Seppama route and crosses the hottest tropical belt of Yaccatrice. Anyone crossing this way would need to be

Fig. 6: The direct route across the Great Parched Waste. Only for the hardy... or the foolhardy.

hardy indeed and very well prepared. The one thing that can be said for this route as opposed to the northern route is that Warks don’t cope well with colder temperatures. Warks are a crucial beast of burden for any major dessert crossing on Yaccatrice.

The last and by far most difficult route, is westward, across the Wastes of Bleached Bones. Not only does this appear to be the longest of the three journeys, it crosses some of the roughest, driest and most hostile territory on Yaccatrice. Barring some sort of technological advance unknown to the peoples of the Five Known Seas it is highly unlikely for humans to have ever followed this route. Barring an indirect route, which would make the hazardous journey even longer than the direct route appears, travelers would have to cross some of the highest mountains on

Fig. 7: For many reasons, the Wastes of Bleached Bones are by far the hardest way to get to the unknown Seas. In the north, one can readily freeze to death. At the equator, one can die of the heat. In the mountains one can suffocate or freeze. And one can die of thirst anywhere in these wastes. Even pilgrims to the occasional settlement at the far eastern edge of the waste near the Seas routinely fail to reach their destinations alive.

Yaccatrice. There are only a few routes over these vast unnamed mountains that are low enough to allow unaided humans to breathe the air. The northern part of the Wastes of Bleached Bones may be a likely place for large continental glaciers to form. Now that I think of it, increased albedo due to the runaway glaciation of the northern Wastes of Bleached Bones may be a good reason to have the northern hemisphere be generally colder than the southern. Cool. I love it when a plan comes together!

On the other hand, I suspect the easternmost Wastes of Bleached Bones, at the crumbling feet of the continental slope, may be a good place for some of the more austere and isolationist monasteries to set up business over more reliable springs. Honestly, though I suspect monasteries and the refuges of hermits dot many of the deserts within a few hundred miles of the more verdant Sea regions, even the Brothers of Perpetual Solitude would probably find the average caravansary between the Segonna and Tersha Seas sufficiently isolated.

Although my original intention, to complete the full task of building the terrain of Yaccatrice, was not accomplished during the production of this post, I really feel this world has been fleshed out immensely over the last few days it took me to write this.

I must reiterate that I very much appreciate any comments and suggestions that you might have to add. The purpose of this blog, after all, is to build a community of world-builders. Thank you for your attention.

The Astrographer.

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