Bringing Your City to Life – Part 3b (by Ari Gilder)

Drawing Inspiration from Real Cities

While we’re looking at other cities, it’s a good time to talk about drawing inspiration from the real world. There are many marvellous structures of cities that have been built, or evolved, over the years. It is well worth your time to explore cities you know and cities you’ve never been to with some sort of GIS program. My preferred option is Google Earth. Since New Cassia is a coastal city, I explored a variety of different coastal towns in Italy on Google Earth to see if there was anything interesting I could use. Some were on mountainous ranges (not the terrain I’m going for, but inspirational if I was), and some were boring. I chose Venice as the basis of my inspiration because of its network of canals, but I added elements from Barletta and also drew some inspiration from cities like Bruges and Prague:

Venice

Venice, Italy – note the major canal and smaller ones acting as roads. Buildings have hip roofs, red clay tiles.


Barletta

Barletta, Italy – notice the mix of dense and looser packed buildings, intermingled with park, a church and a castle. Buildings have mostly flat roofs, with a few gabled roofs intermingled.


Bruges

Bruges, Belgium – another city with canals. Buildings have mostly gable roofs, with some hip roofs, and also red clay tile.

It can be helpful to search for things that you’re looking for and which cities have them. The city of Manfredonia’s marina was helpful inspiration when I wanted to build a shipyard:

Marina

Marina of Manfredonia, Italy

You can also draw inspiration from the roof styles (see next section) of various cities – different regions will have very different styles, so you can decide if there’s anything you want to mimic (all 3 of Venice, Barletta and Bruges above have different roof styles).

Experimenting with Building Styles for your District

Now at last, let’s draw a building! But just one. You can either use symbols which you’ve picked out from our earlier symbol set review, or use the house drawing tool. Similar to your symbol set review, review all the options of house drawing style. Pick one you think looks good and draw it – the shape doesn’t matter.
House Shapes 1

Now maybe draw another one next to it, with a different shape. Finally, do one more, either the same or different shape, but select a different house drawing style. Examine the three buildings: do you like how spaced apart they are? Is this district going to be very crowded with very little space between the buildings, or will there be wide alleys, or even room for fences and gardens? Does the roof style match the theme of your district? Are there multiple styles of roof (e.g. a mix of thatched roofs and shingle roofs) in the district? What about the color: do you want a single color of roof in your district, or do you want multiple colors? We’ll talk about the potential significance of building color in the next article.
House Shapes 2

If you are still unsure, draw a few more buildings with different roof styles and/or colors. The most important part of this phase is to experiment and see what “feels right” for your district. Refer back to your notes/micro-decisions about roads, terrain, purpose, etc. to help guide you on what feels right; there are no wrong answers!

After enough experimentation, you’ll start to get a feeling for your district’s building style: spacing, roof style, color – combined with the local road networks and the landmark(s) present. With these technical attributes, you can start dreaming up in your head the answer to the most important question when in comes to district planning: “How will characters know they are in this district, versus another district? What sounds, sights, smells will they perceive to know where they are?” Note: it is a valid answer to say, there is no way to distinguish! Maybe your city is intentionally homogeneous or nondescript and it’s hard to tell where you are – this could make getting lost very easy, which would necessitate the main characters to have other ways of wayfinding and locating themselves. The process of answering this question will give you a lot of information and micro-decisions to write down in your notes about this district, which in turn is excellent fodder for city story/history material.

In the next article, we’ll discuss how to translate this district building style into the Street tool, and other ways we can enhance our district style (squares, markets, terrain, trees, additional landmarks, etc.). Until then, Happy Mapping!

Ari Gilder is a software engineer, and has been interested in maps for a long time. He spent seven years working on Google Maps, working on features like local business search, Google Maps and Navigation on mobile, and studying the way users understand maps. He even proposed to his wife using maps. He often spends hours staring at maps in fantasy novels, and in 2013 starting putting together some of his own dungeon and battle maps for a D&D campaign. After a hiatus of several years, he recently dived back into cartography with CC3+, tackling more overland and city maps in preparation for a new D&D campaign. He is a father of two, and has recently introduced his older daughter to cartography, both hand-drawn and with CC3+ where she insists that black and purple varicolor trees must surround everything.

One Response to “Bringing Your City to Life – Part 3b (by Ari Gilder)”

  1. Hi Ari, I really wish I’d found these articles before starting on a map for my use in my scribblings about a culture definitely modern, if not future-fantasy. That said I’m using SS5 almost exclusively because the enemy is one which can’t be seen, and strikes when it’s totally dark and cloudy.

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