Campaign Cartographer vs. Autorealm vs. Corel Draw
CAMPAIGN CARTOGRAPHER vs. AUTOREALM vs. COREL DRAW
As a GM, I like making maps. I like making neat maps for myself and I like making chaotic hand-scrawled maps for player handouts. Until now I have used pen and paper to draw these maps by hand, with the occasional map done on the computer using a vector-based art package like Corel Draw or Adobe Illustrator. I now find myself wanting higher quality maps that can be easily reproduced so I decided to look at three alternative ways of making them on my PC. My test case was to convert a hand-drawn map from my campaign, which I had scanned in as a .bmp to use as a reference.
1) Campaign Cartographer version 6.0 (http://www.profantasy.com/) I have had this program for a while but never really got into it so I decided to have another concerted effort and upgraded from version 5 to version 6 to spur myself on with the promise of improved facilities if only I could master them.
2) Autorealm (http://members.iex.net/~gryc/index.htm). I downloaded the demo of this program from the web; it has save disabled and I *hope* that the full version has more map symbols because the choice in the demo was limited.
3) Corel Draw 7 (http://www.corel.com). Currently available as Corel Select Edition. The functionality is basically the same as the latest version 9; the later version's improvements are not particularly relevant to this review and choosing the select edition puts it on about the same price point as CC. Functionality in Adobe Illustrator or Macromedia Freehand is similar. Interestingly, both Autorealm and CC trumpet that they are a vast improvement over "paint programs" - by which they mean the pixel-based Windows Paint. Hmmm. Vector drawing programs have been around for years, wonder why they don't mention them? Could it be that their products compare unfavourably to other vector-based solutions? We shall see...
CAMPAIGN CARTOGRAPHERThe program is basically a set of macros added to a DOS CAD program and it shows. The user interface is totally un-Windows-like. For example, one cannot select something then drag-and-drop it to a new position. Instead one must click the "move" icon, then click on the items you want to select (to select more than one you click repeatedly, not shift-click or ctrl-click like other windows applications, and you must click on the outline not inside the shape, and if there are two overlapping shapes you get both not just the one on top) then right mouse click, choose "do it" from the menu, then left mouse click then move the mouse then left mouse click again to do the movement.
Sounds complicated? It is, very complicated. There is lots of power in CC's system (for example you can select all shapes of given colour) but also violates every windows user interface guideline in the book. In my opinion, the program is still a DOS one that happens to run in a window. It is not yet a Windows application. You HAVE to read the manual cover to cover to stand much chance of working this out.
There are many nice features to keep you ploughing through the examples. Once you've drawn a coastline in rough you can fractalize it to make it appear more natural. Only yet again there are problems. Unlike nearly every command, you click on a single object and a window pops up, then does the fractalization. You can't choose multiple lines to apply the same fractal settings to. Why??? It is particularly irritating given CC's inability to cope with the concept of a figure with a solid colour body and a different colour line around the outside (something Corel Draw has had for a decade or so). This means coastlines are made up of a filled shape and a separate black outline which is a different object. So when you fractalize one, the other stays as it was. Why??? When is this ever the right thing for the program to do?
This problem with fills and lines also means that the claimed DXF import screws up art imported from Corel Draw- you get coloured outlines instead of solid fills; so much for using clip-art to supply extra symbols for the map.
But we persevere. Now we can make rivers and lakes and mountains and forests, all very nicely laid out with icons so that one click sets up everything you need to draw say mountain ranges- the fill colour goes to a nice mountainous brown, the mountain symbols appear and everything you draw gets put onto a layer for mountains which you can show or hide or freeze in place. (Although perversely the symbols won't appear on my desktop machine- they look fine on my laptop). The layers here are slightly different from photoshop or draw layers, which have an effect on the "stacking order" of the objects on the page- all objects on layer2 would be in front of those on layer1. In CC, the layer is really more like a label- all things to do with cities are labelled as such and can be switched on or off at one go, but that doesn't imply anything about how the symbols get stacked on the page. Flexible and powerful and a nice feature.
Then to CC's killer feature, its symbol library. A few mouse clicks and you have whole forests of tree symbols looking almost hand-drawn. The symbols are multicoloured and attractively designed. The do tend to give slightly too uniform a feel if overused, but making your own isn't too painful and Profantasy will sell you add-on packs with more symbols for cities and dungeons as well. There're a few extras on their website too.
In the course of an afternoon I had started to feel fairly at home with CC's obtuse and painful interface (master the keyboard shortcuts as soon as you can!) and had produced a pretty decent looking map. I did feel the lack of some very basic things- filled shapes with outlines, decent import facilities from other packages, graduated fills and blends in particular. The text handling is also painful- it is impossible to edit text once placed.
AUTOREALMAt first glance Autorealm is much more Windows-like, but it soon becomes apparent that it doesn't quite work right either. At least you can click and drag to move things- but you have to click, then drag on the object's bounding box instead of on the object itself to move it. Better, you can select objects then decide what you want to do to them like in every other Windows application. (CC supposedly can do this but it doesn't seem to work with the command icons, which seems to defeat the whole object of the exercise). Ctrl-click works to select multiple things but shift-click doesn't.. Then I hit the first problem- no scroll bars on the main window. You have to use a scrolling tool. Why???
Drawing the coastline as interesting fractals was a real pleasure in Autorealm. It has a range of fractal drawing tools that allow you to roughly traced the main features; it then provides interesting wiggly bits (at a controllable depth and frequency) to add interest. Lovely, 10/10.
Drawing other features wasn't quite so neat as in CC because there were no nice icons with preset styles and layers. But it wasn't too painful and to this point had been about a factor of ten quicker and more intuitive than CC. It did have one real lack- its snap to grid and snap-to-gravity allowed me to be accurate when making rivers end at the coast- but only by snapping to already existing POINTS on the curve. CC's "On" function allows you to be accurate to anywhere on the LINE regardless of where the nearest node point might be. I can't quite work out what how its layers behave, I think they are labels a la CC rather than ordered sheets of virtual acetate like Draw. I also couldn't work out how to edit individual nodes in Autorealm although I suspect it is possible.
Then I tried the symbols. First disappointment- rather a limited selection at least with the demo version. Second disappointment- the symbols were monochrome. OK, so you can make them any colour want but it is horribly unattractive compared with CC's library of multicoloured symbols. At least Autorealm was capable of reading .EMF windows metafiles with fill colours intact so I could import clip art from other places. Third disappointment- I couldn't find any mention of defining your own symbols in the online manual. Text can be fitted to a curve in Autorealm (unlike CC) but doesn't remain editable (unlike Draw).
So whilst the map I made was done quicker in Autorealm, the final version was nothing like as attractive as that which I'd made with CC. A bit of a disappointment. I didn't get right to the end of my map because the demo version has save disabled; nonetheless I think I got a good flavour of what it can do.
COREL DRAWDraw is a very powerful tool for graphic design but it is not a CAD tool, nor does it have any helpful predefinitions or fantasy map symbols. Nonetheless, I gave it a go. Draw's freehand tool is better than CC's but not insanely great like Autorealm's fractal pens. Tracing the coast and rivers didn't take long and the ability to swap between freehand curves and straight lines in the same shape is useful. Draw's "snap to objects" isn't as powerful as CC's "on" command- like Autorealm, it will only snap to node points on other objects, not to lines. It can't fractalize the lines either, but its freehand pen behaves rather better than in the other two program so it may not be so necessary.
Draw can also use pressure sensitive tablets to make variable thickness lines, something neither of the other two can do. It also has calligraphic stroke styles and the combination of these two make the rough "hand-drawn" style map much easier to do in Draw and the final results are much more attractive for this style of map.
Filling the shapes with colour is a revelation in Draw. Graded fills allow creation of smooth colour blends in a way that is next to impossible with CC or Autorealm. Objects with variable transparency allow overlaid effects of great subtlety. Blends allow one to create a whole mountain's worth of contours by drawing just the upper and lower contours and automatically generating the rest, and fractal bitmap fills allow textures to be generated very easily and with much higher quality than CC's use of repeating .BMP files.
Layering works in a totally different way in Draw to the other two programs, as I've already described above. It isn't as flexible- it forces you to have all mountains at roughly the same place in the stacking order on the paper- but I didn't really feel that it was restricting me in any way when making my map.
Symbols are missing from Draw. One can use True Type fonts as symbol libraries (and Draw can help you define new ones with your own symbols) but they suffer from being monochrome like in Autorealm. On the other hand, it didn't take me long to make a few mountains and trees and keep them just off the page for cut and paste. Not an ideal solution by any means but the power of Draw's tools make icon design much more pleasurable than in CC. The supplied Clip Art CD contains a lot of useful symbols for animals and so on, but doesn't have much in the way of geography. Draw also imports and exports almost every file format under the sun so if you have CC you can steal symbols from there to put on Draw-made maps.
Text handling for labels is much more powerful in Draw than either of the alternatives. Text can be typed directly onto the page rather than in a separate window and remains editable. It can also be converted to curves and given its own very complex fills and effects; drop shadows can be automatically generated and so on.
One thing that Draw lacks is the automatic use of scaled rather than paper units- it can't tell you that two towns are 67 miles apart, it will say they are 12 cm on the paper and make you do the scaling by hand. Not a problem for me but others might find it limiting.
The final map I got with Draw looks more modern than the others because I probably went a bit to town on the use of facilities the others didn't provide. Its facilities for hand-drawing maps are far far superior than the other two, and its ability to work with complicated design objects like blended objects with graded fills makes it by far the most flexible of the three.
CONCLUSIONSCC is a heavy-duty CAD tool suitable for making accurate fantasy maps. Its symbol library is its main selling point and it could well be worth the asking price for many on that basis alone. Beware- its learning curve is pretty steep for those who haven't used CAD packages before.
Autorealm's fractal lines are great but its symbols are disappointing. If you really cannot get on with CC's obtuse interface, it would be the better choice. For simple maps and PC handouts it will be quicker to produce a map with Autorealm than with either competitor. Its learning curve very pleasantly shallow and will get you OK maps pretty quickly. Sadly, OK maps is probably all it will ever produce. Until those symbol libraries get a serious upgrade you are unlikely to see it used in professional products.
Corel Draw is a great program for graphics design, but its lack of a symbol library knocks it out of the running for those wishing to make good-looking maps right from the word go. It is capable of subtle, beautiful and luminous coloured shapes, text and transparency effects light-years beyond the dreams of CC. But for the specific job in hand it is undeniably more work. Its learning curve is probably intermediate between the other two; it has more to master but at least it sticks closely to Windows conventions so you stand a chance of the next mouse click doing what you expect it to do- certainly not the case with CC.
Ideally, a map program would combine the symbol library and neat layout of CC with the fractal pen from Autorealm and the line, pen and colour handling and professional design abilities of Corel Draw. Until that time (or until CC talks to Draw or Profantasy use a modern design package rather than an archaic DOS CAD package as the basis of CC) I will use CC for fantasy maps which are meant to have been drawn by cartographers... and Corel Draw for everything else, particularly hand-drawn or very elaborately coloured maps.
Style: 3 (Average)