Bringing your City to Life – Part 6 (by Ari Gilder)

Hello again mappers! Thanks for coming back to my series on infusing your city or town maps with a rich milieu as the backdrop for your stories. If you need to refer back to previous articles in the series, check them out here: part1, part2, part3a, part3b, part4, and part5. Last time we did a thorough deep dive on how to make your districts both unified and unique across the city. This time, we’ll cover a whole bunch of assorted tips & tricks on map-making in City Designer 3.

Tips for Street & Building Placement

Back in Part 4 we covered how to use the Random Street tool in terms of settings for your streets. But beyond just settings, Random Street is going to be the backbone of crafting most large towns or cities, just because it automates a lot for you. But the tool can be a little quirky, so let’s talk about how to get the most out of it:

● If you don’t like the buildings that the tool generated for you, just move the mouse up and down or side to side to regenerate all but the first building (if you want to redo the first building, you need to cancel the tool and try again).

● A key point of the Random Street tool is to quickly make houses that conform to your roads. If you don’t like what you get after placing the buildings, that’s OK! You can move, scale or rotate those buildings (an easy way to do this is Quick Move via Ctrl+Q) or even just erase and hand-draw to fill the gaps. If you have to hand-draw with the House tool for only a few, you’ve still saved a lot of time.

● Don’t worry about overlapping buildings – reuse them instead! While placing buildings, you may find the tool suggesting doing something like the following:
1 Overlapping Placement
You might be tempted to exit the tool and try again until you get a building shape that fits your constraints. Unfortunately, this wastes time when you are mapping dozens of such streets. A better way is to keep everything the tool generates for you. Then, you can move the trickier buildings around to a spot where they fit, shrink or rotate them, and move/scale/rotate other buildings to fit the newly vacated spot. Remember, vertical houses can become horizontal and vice versa. This way, you now don’t have to draw a house by hand.

● Similarly to the last point – let’s say you wind up with houses that just don’t fit:
2 These don't quite fit

That’s OK, don’t delete them! Instead, just Quick Move them aside to an empty area that you’re not working on right now. You’ll start to form a bank of pre-made buildings which you can then use to slot into tricky spots so you don’t have to use the House tool to make a custom fit.

● If you are faced with some empty land and aren’t quite sure where to draw a street, try using the Random Street tool to draw a “road-less street” – click the tool, then click a point that isn’t on a road:
3 Roadless street

This can help serve as a good visual test for what a road would look like there.

● Speaking of the Road-less drawing mode, it’s also a good way to quickly create a bunch of houses which you can then slot in to place by hand, which is quicker than manual house drawing.

● When placing houses – either via Random Street or the House drawing tool – try to select a neutral color in the Color Picker. There is currently a bug where sometimes the selected color bleeds through the edges of the house. It is possible to change this later with Edit Properties but then you need to be sure it’s the same color as the house’s Roof Ridge – otherwise changing the color will change the Roof Ridge color too.

Tips on Sheets and Shadows

Here are a few assorted tips related to sheets, sheet order and how that affects shadows:

● I find if very useful to have at least 3 different sheets for symbols with different shadow heights – a SYMBOLS LOW, SYMBOLS MEDIUM, and SYMBOLS TALL sheet – in addition to a SYMBOLS FLAT sheet (no shadow). For the ones with shadow, the exact scale of the shadow effect depends on your map, but play around and see what looks good to you.

● Take advantage of your sheet order. You can use the sheet order to hide things – for example, hide some terrain under a river, or a house can be partly hidden under a wall. This can help make things more realistic (there probably are some buildings being overshadowed by the city wall, for example).

● Speaking of hiding things with Sheets – this is one of my favorite tips. Some symbol sets, SS5 in particular, have some terrain included as part of the symbol (e.g. a stone floor). This can lead to disconcerting shadows at first:
4 Gate Shadow

We could switch this gate symbol to our SYMBOLS FLAT sheet and get rid of the shadow entirely:
5 Gate no Shadow

But now that looks a little funny – this gate is supposed to be big and imposing; no shadow just looks funny. Instead, we can create a new sheet, one I called BUILDINGS GATE, and place that under the sheet with this symbol (which I called SYMBOLS GATE). I set up the shadow effect on the BUILDINGS GATE sheet to reflect the height of the shadow I wanted for the gate. On SYMBOLS GATE, I put no shadow at all (so, same as SYMBOLS FLAT).

On the BUILDINGS GATE sheet I drew this little House:
6 Building Shadow

Now I have a nice looking shadow, I can layer the gate (which is flat/has no shadow) to get this final result:
7 Final Shadow

The stone floor still obscures a little bit of the shadow, but now this feels like it has a lot more depth to it regardless.

Technical & Performance Tips

Here are a few assorted technical CC3+ tips and performance speedups:

● When you complete work on a district, create a Layer for it and move all the buildings, symbols and roads in that district to that Layer. Then, you can just hide that Layer entirely when you move on to the next district. This will help with rendering speed a lot, since CC3+ doesn’t have to redraw all those extra symbols. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.

● You can disable Aligned Fill Styles for a slight boost in speed; this can be helpful when working with a large map. You can also change the bitmap quality to Medium (I don’t recommend Low for a city) for a little bit more of a boost. These are available in the Display Speed Settings dialog:
8 Display Speed

● Don’t be afraid to create your own drawing tools, especially for things like roads which you may need many of, but may also need to vary the size, shape and smoothness. This especially applies for Roads as well as Terrain. Here are some of my drawing tools:
9 Drawing Tools

● For some symbols, you may want them to always go to one particular sheet. For example, I want all my docks symbols to go directly to my SYMBOLS DOCKS sheet. To do this, I need to open up the Symbols Manager (Symbols Menu > Symbols Manager or the SYMMGR command) and find the symbol(s) I want:
10 Symbol Manager
Then, I click Options and I can check off the Force Sheet option and specify which sheet:
11 Symbol settings

● Remember the keyboard shortcuts! I find the most useful one is Ctrl+Q for Quick Move. By default, Quick Move will only move one entity you click on, put you can press S when you need to select multiple entities.

If you are feeling brave, you can edit your .mnu files to create keyboard shortcuts for other common commands like Erase and Random Street. Make sure to edit the correct .mnu file – for example, SS5 and CD3 have different .mnu files.

Applying Finishing Touches

When you complete a district, or even your entire city map, make sure you take the time to put the text labels you need! You can choose to do this on the map, or on a side legend.

Some things to consider applying text labels for: District names, major landmarks, major streets, parks, squares and other noteworthy features (see Part 5). You can also label more minor locations which may be significant to your characters or players.

When you finish each district, and once again when you finish the whole map, I suggest you do a “consistency check” for your sheets and layers. Hide all except one sheet and check all the entities/symbols on that sheet. Make sure the ones you see are the ones that are supposed to be there (it’s easy for some things to snap to a SYMBOLS DEFAULT sheet, so be meticulous! It will pay off in fewer mistakes when you print or export your map).

Repeat this process for every single sheet and every single layer. This is a last-ditch backstop intended to prevent missing or awkward shadows.

Thank You for Reading!

Well, my fellow mappers, with those final tips, I’ve finally concluded everything I wanted to share with you about City Building. When I started, I wished there was some tutorial that detailed the process of city building, not just a guide on how to use the tools. As anyone who’s mapped a large town or city can tell you, it is indeed a process. Building the map for New Cassia took me about 3 months, with several hours each day (though I didn’t work on it every day, it was just a few hours on the days that I did).

As you build your city, you’ll become very familiar with all its nooks and crannies (it was you that put them there, after all) – turn that familiarity into your city’s history! Takes notes, jot down adventure ideas as you map. I set out to build this city so I could conduct an immersive urban-setting D&D campaign (versus a traditional wilderness or dungeon setting). These can be harder to work with, but if you follow these tips throughout this article series, you are sure you have a great handle on the complexity and intrigue that a large urban setting can offer.

So that’s it, mappers. If you’ve read this far, I’d love to continue the conversation. You can find me over at the CC3+ Facebook Group where I sometimes lurk and try to offer advice when I can. Thank you for reading; I hope I’ve helped you learn a thing or two about how to Bring Your City to Life.

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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