Campaign Cartographer 2
Author: ProFantasy Software, Ltd.
Category: Computer Application
Company/Publisher: ProFantasy Software, Ltd.
Page count: n/a
Capsule Review by Jon M. Berg on 01/01/98. Genre tags: none
For those that visit this website regularly, you may have read my previous review of NBOS' Fractal Mapper v2.0. If you haven't, you can find it at: http://www.rpg.net/news+reviews/reviews/rev_0207.html It might be worth a look, at least for comparison's sake with Campaign Cartographer 2.
Campaign Cartographer 2, or CC2 as I will refer to it, is feature rich application that deserves a definite look if you are in the market for a robust RPG mapping application.
That said, I can now say that CC2 is not the best thing since sliced bread. It does have a few annoying bugs, or "undocumented features". Fortunately, none of these are crippling, or such that they cannot be worked around. For the uninitiated, CC1 was a DOS-based application, with all the problems associated with such an application. CC1 made use of weird video modes that some video cards balked at, and the user interface was arcane and difficult to navigate. But, it was really the only program of its time that was a true RPG mapping application.
Fast forward to today. CC2 is still the only "real" mapping application that I know of, besides CC1. Other applications tend to be hex/tile based mapping applications, fine if that is how you want to map, or weird software contraptions such as Fractal Mapper v2.0. For sheer flexibility and power, CC2 is the only route short of using another CAD package like Autocad and then either creating your own symbol libraries or borrowing it from CC2.
Which brings me to my next point. CC2 is a specialized CAD application. ProFantasy, the creators of CC2, state on their website that CC2 uses an engine purchased from another company. >From using both CC2 and various versions of Autocad, it is my opinion that they most likely purchased the engine from Autodesk. In and of itself, this is interesting. Autocad R14 runs about $3500US and Autocad LT 97 runs about $400US. Compare this to CC2 at $80US, less for the upgrade version. So beyond price, why purchase CC2? The symbol libraries and the streamlined user interface make CC2 a viable option. What CC2 lacks, is the 3D and some of the more robust features of Autocad R14.
While evaluating CC2, I tried to develop a list or a set of criteria by which to judge CC2. In no particular order, here they are: layers, object editing, levels of zoom, import/export, sample maps, help/documentation, user interface/ease of use, performance, and learning curve.
The first criteria, layers, is one that is very important, but one can't say much beyond whether the application has them or not. CC2 does, and it implements them well using a nice interface and all of the standard options, hide, freeze, etc. Some of the built in macros make use of some "standard" layers that CC2 assumes that you will use. If you screw up, you can always rename, delete, or add a layer later.
Object editing, this was one of my pet peeves about Fractal Mapper v2. 0. Object editing simply refers to being able to edit or change an object after it has been created. CC2 does excel here to a degree. The user is able to select multiple objects, or entities, using the mouse and a set of logical rules (by color, layer, window, all, etc.). To make best use of this feature, though, requires some planning by the user. Putting everything on the same layer would make selecting by layer pretty useless.
Levels of zoom refers to how much the user can zoom in or out from the map. In a scaleable vector-based format, the user can then draw at any level he or she wishes. In theory, one could have a map of the world that included everything, right down to city maps and floorplans of dungeons. In practice, this is not realistically possible, the file would become too large. Also, CC2 does not have an infinite level of zoom, but it does allow one to zoom in and out a great deal, more than any user would likely need. Again, this depends on user planning, start at too small of a scale, and you will have problems. Fortunately, this can be fixed and everything can be rescaled at once.
How likely is it that everyone you might work with will use CC2? For most it is fairly unlikely, which is why it can be very useful to be able to produce a view of the document in an electronic format that can be viewed by almost anyone. Importation is also another important (no pun intended) feature that cannot be over-looked. Many new users and collaborators may have been working with another application or the older DOS-based CC1. CC2 can really only import CC-DOS, and a variety of DWG and DXF formats. In the CAD world, DXF is a common method of file exchange. Unfortunately, CC2 does not always handle DXF files very well. For most users I would suggest that importing only be used with older, existing drawings rather than as part of an on-going effort. One issue that has so far been a bit of a disappointment is the ability to export decent bitmap files. With CC2 the resolution can be too low, resulting in jagged or blocky images with little detail. Also, CC2 uses the BMP format as its format for export. I would have preferred more options such as GIF or JPG, but it is easy enough to simply change a BMP to a GIF in another application, but one really should not have to do this.
With any new application it is nice to have some samples. Here it is obvious that ProFantasy may have been rushed. Many of the samples, including the famous Jaw Peninsular map, were broken. The samples that were broken may have been a result of importing from CC1 or a side effect of a fix that took place just prior to CC2's release.
Help and documentation are another area that CC2 is somewhat deficient. Again, it is obvious that ProFantasy rushed CC2 to be out before Christmas. This is sad because CC2 has so many features that its a shame that many will not take full advantage of most of them. After reading the message of another new user of CC2 on USENET, it also became apparent that ProFantasy did not want to provide a big, thick, intimidating manual. Instead they provided a slimmer tutorial. Still it would have been nice if the included a big, thick, PDF file on the CD. The on-line help is okay, but not great. With some niche market applications, the on-line help can vary in quality a great deal, but CC2 is pretty much middle of the road, functional, but not much more.
Compared to the older version of CC, CC2 is a dream to use. CC2 uses a standard Win95/NT4 interface. The tool bars are laid out intelligently and well grouped according to purpose. The application also makes extensive use of the right mouse button. Familiarity with other CAD programs would certainly aid in CC2's use, but it is not required. Some customization is also available. If you don't like the layout, you can change things. The user can also create their own macros for often repeated procedures, greatly increasing the ease of use.
To date, I have only tested CC2 on two PCs. Subject A was a P200MMX with 32MB of EDO DRAM and went through a change in video cards while using CC2. Subject B was a P100 with 16MB of DRAM. Interestingly, the change of video cards made no difference with subject A, other than the systems ability to support higher resolutions. CC2's performance on subject A was exemplary, full redraws of extremely complex maps is fast and painless. There was a noticeable difference on subject B. B was fine except for placing symbols on a map. The outline of the currently selected symbol would lag slightly behind the cursor as it moved across the map. Annoying, but tolerable. For most users I would suggest that a P100 with 16MB of RAM be the recommended minimum. Less powerful systems would begin to have performance problems.
Lastly, I have had CC2 for little over two weeks and I feel that I am reasonably proficient in its use for the hobbyist level. If I was using CC2 on a professional level I would have to give myself another couple of weeks. Like any other application, the best way to learn how to use CC2, is to simply use it. The tutorial that ProFantasy provided is helpful, but may be difficult for some to follow. The learning curve of CC2 is definitely shorter for those that have used CAD programs before and understand the paradigm under which they operate. Depending on how familiar one is with CAD programs I would suggest that a great deal of time be initially spent just playing with CC2. Give yourself a few simple tasks, such as creating a dungeon, a starship, an inn, or a map of several islands. Then, when you are ready, work on more complicated designs. This is where it would be really nice to have a few decent samples to work from, just to be able to see what can be accomplished with CC2.
Overall, if you wish to be able to produce professional quality maps for yourself or others, CC2 is a good place to start. The distinguishing characteristics that CC2 has are its low price compared to other CAD packages and being feature-rich compared to other RPG mapping applications. Put simply, CC2 is the only program in its class.
If you wish to visit ProFantasy's website and take a look at CC2 for yourself, here it is: http://www.profantasy.com/profant/cc2/index.html
Style: 3 (Average)