Bringing Your City to Life – Part 4 (by Ari Gilder)

Welcome back, mappers! I hope by now you’ve read the through the blog article series up to this point (part1, part2, part3a, part3b) because we have still more cover! Last time we talked about planning each city district’s road network, understanding your symbol catalog and deciding on your district’s style. We also talked about how to draw your inspiration from real cities. In Part 1 we also talked about deciding whether each district is “Functional” or “Residential.” In short, we should now have a solid foundation for most of our city’s stylistic elements and each district’s purpose. This article is the first part about how to tactically execute on these, on a large city scale. So put on your hard-hats: we are talking street construction!

The Random Street Tool is your Friend

If you’ve tried building a city in CD3 or followed any tutorials, you probably already know about the Random Street tool. This tool is going to help us establish the basics about each district we work on which will express to the map-viewer what kind of place this is. There are two parts to this: one, roof styles and colors, we’ve already discussed; the second is your “street configuration” – i.e. the settings in your Random Street tool (right click the icon to open the settings panel).

There are four Street settings that I believe will make the biggest difference in giving your district unique character:

  • Building size range
  • Building spacing
  • Roof style mix
  • Building shape mix

1 Random Street

There are other settings such as the distance from center of the road and street width which you should absolutely play around with. But those four are the ones I’ll cover in greater detail.

Distinguishing your District

Before we enumerate each set of those options, let’s examine in detail a subsection from the map of New Cassia:
2 District

The above subsection contains four distinct districts: Blackbarrow (poor, non-human races), Mages’ Academy (wizards in training), Thornesville (main residential district), Steelpointe (primarily military).

Take a close look at each. Notice the roof styles and colors are different mostly. But also notice that the buildings in Blackbarrow are typically much smaller and much closer together – conveying a sense of a more cramped district. Thornesville is somewhat cramped too, but with larger buildings – conveying the sense that New Cassia is a packed city, but at least this section has a bit more living space. There are also trees and parks in Thornesville, which Blackbarrow lacks.

Blending District Styles for Smooth Transitions

Also notice that the Mages’ Academy and Steelpointe have somewhat similar styles. This is intentional: sometimes at the edges of a district, I will blend in the style of a neighboring district so make a smoother transition. Here is a slightly clearer example from the town of Abbasi where the Minar Market District (orange) style blends with the Ellerin District (blue):
3 District Border

Finally, looking back at the first image of New Cassia – notice how Thornesville and the Mages’ Academy have a few T-shaped and L-shaped buildings; Steelpointe has one U-shaped one. In contrast, Blackbarrow is exclusively rectangular buildings. This is meant to convey a more dynamic range of economic diversity in the other districts, as opposed to Blackbarrow which is mostly poor.

Hopefully this helps you get a feel for how street configuration can affect district style.

Setting your Street Configuration

Let’s talk about each of the four components I mentioned above:

Building Size Range

This will probably be the first thing the viewer’s eye catches on to if you juxtapose two districts with different sizes. Here’s another example:
4 Building Size

The houses in Emerald Gardens, a rich nobles’ district, are about double the size of those in Hearthsdale (mercantile/craftsmen district) and Marblegate (government/officials district).

When setting the building size, think about how the measurements of the room or house you’re sitting in should compare to the typical building size (this relies on you having chosen a 1:1 scale of CC3+ units to your real-world units [feet or meters]).

In some towns, a house length of 25 feet across might be pretty typical, but in a more upscale (or less dense/rural) neighborhood house lengths of 50-100 feet would be more reasonable to see. In fact, this is similar to my size settings for Emerald Gardens (length: 30-40 ft, width: 21-24 ft) and Hearthsdale (length: 20-26 ft, width: 12-18 ft).

One important note: I often forgot which dimension was which. Obviously length is typically the longer direction – but a better mnemonic I’ve found is that the length is the dimension that spans along (i.e. parallel to) the street; the width is what I would typically think of as the “depth” or how far the house extends away from a person standing in the street.

Be sure to conform to CC3+’s recommendations that the max width should be less than or equal to the minimum length (also, the maximum length should be less than or equal to the street width). Play around with the settings here and lay down streets until you find a sizing that you like for the district.

Building Spacing

This setting is probably the biggest control you have as a city designer in determining how crowded, dense or open a district feels. In the above image, Emerald Gardens has a spacing of 10-15 feet between buildings, while Hearthsdale has a spacing of 4-8 feet.

Now, this is one place where it’s maybe not so realistic: 4 feet between buildings is really narrow. But I found that I liked these settings visually – probably because if the shadows and glows present on buildings. What’s important is that you experiment with each district till you find a spacing you like.

Roof Style Mix

As I mentioned, we discussed in Part 3B how roof styles and colors can be used to convey different feelings. Well, you don’t have to have just one style in a district! You can mix it up! Here are the settings for each district above:
5 Street Settings

Choose however many roof styles you’d like to mix – I would recommend 1-3 roof styles for most districts (you can do up to 4 at once). Start with dividing the percentages equally, and look at the preview window, and see how that feels. If you are unsure, draw a sample street. Then mess around with the ratio.

I also like to mentally assign some rough class of building to each color/style. I typically thought of red roofs as merchants, blue as artisans/crafters/specialty stores throughout the city. Though in Hearthsdale, I used gray for artisans and in Marblegate I used gray to mean government or city-official buildings. This doesn’t mean that every gray building in Hearthsdale is an artisan and every red building is a merchant – surely there are some residences and other types of establishments – but I found that it helped me think about my roof style ratio mix to do so.

Building Shape Mix

Similar to Roof Style Mix, Building Shape Mix is also about ratios that convey a sense of diversity (in my head it is typically synonymous with economic diversity, figuring poorer folks couldn’t afford materials to build interesting shaped buildings).

You have 5 choices for your shape ratios:

  1. Length-wise rectangles (longer side parallel to street)
  2. Depth-wise rectangles (longer side perpendicular to street)
  3. L-shape
  4. U-shape
  5. T-shape

Because the last 3 can typically be harder to fit in an average street, almost all of my districts which use the Random Street tool are between 80-100% rectangle shape. I tend to prefer length-wise rectangles be a bit higher percentage than depthwise because I like that style, but you might find your tastes are the reverse!

Here are the mixes for the above districts:
6 House Shapes

Note – these shapes do not include building symbols which you manually place – those might be a range of different shapes.

Save Your Street Configuration!

7 Saved SettingBy now you’ve played around a lot with these various settings and hopefully you’ve found something you like, and maybe you’ve even actually drawn out a few streets of your road network. Once you’ve settled on something for your district, click the Save button below the “Street settings” list and give it a name – either a name of your district, or the type of style it represents.

You can always vary the settings later, even within the district – but you will likely want to be able to come back to the settings you’ve worked so hard to establish.

Straight vs. Smooth Streets

I’ve already talked about road networks in Part 3A but one additional piece is the notion of Straight versus Smooth roads. To see the difference, look at the roads in Hearthsdale vs. Marblegate – or, scroll further up to the first image and compare Halfling Hill to Ghushnun. In both cases, the styles are similar or the same, but whether the roads are straight, grid-like and orderly versus curvy or windy differs.

We already know that this subtle decision may have some reason we can ascribe to our city’s history (Planned districts? Hills? More orderly or more chaotic?). But one other aspect is the ability of the Random Street tool to conform to these roads.

Somewhat paradoxically, Smooth roads tend to work better with Random Street – buildings will be drawn to conform to the curve. Straight roads with right angles (grid network) work well too. However Straight roads with non-right-angle bends in them will typically not get all buildings drawn with the Street tool – and you will end up having to manually draw in houses that it missed. It’s not a big deal, but could be a little more work.

Next Up: District Details

Now we understand how to make the Street tool do our bidding in styling our district. In the next article, we’ll discuss more about district construction, specifically about ways to accent each district and give them detail, flair and flavor. 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.

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