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Map Making Tip - Contour Lines - Avoiding spikes and pits


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From time to time when I am playing on a previously unplayed map I run into spikes or pits (inverse spikes), including on at least one of BF's Battle Pack maps. While in the rare case this may have been intentional it is more likely an error of contouring. This may occur in two ways. The first is the 'accidental' click that goes unnoticed. But more often it occurs when the author placing contour 'points' too far apart. The game engine then sometimes does not smoothly blend the hoped-for contour. TIP: I find it is best to trace continuous contour lines.  This however, also produces an unwanted effect from time to time. When such are too close together you get a stair stepping effect instead of a blend. In this instance it is time to break up the continuous line until the desired effect is achieved.

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Do you have a picture to show us exactly what you mean? With contour, spikes and stair stepping effects I understand that you are talking about the elevation and how sometimes the result of changing it is not what was intended.

But a picture, or pictures, could still be of help for those who haven't made their own map yet.

You could for example add one picture with the changes done the wrong way on the 2D map and the result in the 3D map and a picture with the changes done the correct way on the 2D map and the result in the 3D map.

In a map I'm making now I wanted to raise the land a little bit on certain places in a river to  make it look like there are rocks in the river across which the troops could move to cross the river and behind which they could hide if they were shot at. On some parts of the river it looked quite ok but on other parts there was those annoying spikes pointing straight up like stalagmites. I tried to correct those spikes but it didn't matter what I did, those "rocks" still didn't look ok. So in the end I kept only those that looked good enough.

One thing that would make these spikes and pits occure less on the 3D map would be if the action squares were a lot smaller. It would then be easier to raise and lower the elevation on the 2D map without getting unwanted effects. I also think that if the change in elevation wasn't 1 meter but 50 cm the elevation would look better in the 3D map and the troops would lie more corrrectly in the ditches.

Edited by BornGinger
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Map making is like painting. Even with everyone using the same tools, some people produce good results, others are mediocre or not in practice or haven't mastered the technique. Even among the experienced map makers you can often tell this map was made by scenario maker A while that map was made by scenario maker B. find a map you like, open in in the editor and try to figure out how they did what they did.

My advice on terrain spikes and stair-stepping? Delete-delete-delete elevation points. Somewhere on the map you've got a 26 elevation point sitting next to a 22 elevation point. Find it and delete it. Problem solved.

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I had the same thing happen to me when making the map for the scenario I'm working on now. When changing a contour line like from 30 to 40 and your line isn't straight to begin with and the numbers cover several hexes. When you go back over it and miss one or two you'll get some big pot holes and can be hard to find especially if it's not part of the map you look at a lot. The numbers are small in the editor and I had to use a magnifying glass to go over it to find them all...😀

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10 hours ago, WimO said:

I find it is best to trace continuous contour lines.

This is the way I do it. I always do continuous contour lines first following the source map, prior to any other work. Then refine again after roads, etc are in.

We tested a lot of the elevation techniques in the base Red Thunder game, as there was a suspicion among some that it was more processor-intensive to have that many points set with such huge maps. It was not an issue that made any additional impact, and it lends a gentler grade to the contours. The spacing is indeed something to watch between the contours, but that is easy enough to watch out for.

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Proper use of the game's elevation tools will make or break the look of a map. It probably the number one thing that can ruin a map for me (right alongside large blocks of the same tree model in one place).

I'm a big fan of the adjust tool - set the delta to one and alternate between clicking and shift-clicking to add elevation differences between your contour lines. Adds realistic undulations that can help break up LOS and prevents the stair-step effect you can sometimes get with continuous contour lines.

Also, if you set the adjust tool to 0, you can "lock" the height of a tile... if you want to create a stream bed in the side of a hill, lock the height on both sides of the area where you want the stream bed to be, then go back and shift click with the adjust tool (but this time set at 1) to lower the terrain of the stream... if you do it right, you can create a realistic steam that follows the slope of the hill. Works on roads too!  You can create a sunken effect (like a dirt track) or elevated effect (such as a graded paved road), which you'll find on almost every road in the real world.

 

Edited by SeinfeldRules
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Skillful use of the elevation tool can indeed make a huge difference in the quality of the scenario. Imo it is not only HOW you design the elevation changes on the map but also WHERE...

Some of the more skillful scenario designers are able to provide the player with both great challanges as well as oppertunities simply by using the elevation tool. Even some subtle changes to the elevation in the right places can have a huge impact on gameplay and tactics...

Playing on such well designed maps is indeed great fun compared to playing on more or less flat maps...

 

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1 minute ago, Bulletpoint said:

For performance, it's better to use dappled contour lines. Each manual elevation point reduces perfomance, so the fewer the better.

Did they not change this in a patch a few years ago ? I kmow it used to be this way but is it still ?

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Yes, it's usually a good idea to dot along contour lines, rather than tracing them out in full. You still want to dot every 3-4 action spots or so sometimes, at least for the more complex height changes..

It can look better if you actually dot two spaces at a time (i.e., Direct-ly assign two adjacent action spots, then another pair four squares away, or something like that).

 

Edited by domfluff
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Again - It did not have any additional, perceivable impact in our BFC testing during the original RT tests for making master maps.

There are multiple maps that you probably play on since CMFI that have these full lines - nearly every one I've made has 'em. Just check the CM:FR map folder for the maps that I made (all but one in that folder, IIRC) for that latest iteration of mapping - they are fully using gradual contour lines drawn as they are on the source maps, with many more points where needed in between. They are necessary for naturalistic maps in the way I do them, and most people have the machines now to handle the small impact they have for what you get. I suspect most people like these maps, as they seem to be constantly being converted into other games.

Fixating on this, rather than trees makes my head hurt. Space 'em out, people. Forests have gaps.

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In support of benpark's comment re contour lines, I have made a number of large to huge master maps. In all of these I have used mostly continuous contour lines without noting any impact on processing. These same maps are chock full of forests or bocage and orchards as well as flavour objects. While loading times may be a bit slow in some cases, game play is just fine.

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Loading times are the shared pain we must undergo, it can be tough when they get bigger. Just don't inadvertently press a button, and crash it out. Lost part of Berlin that way...yeee-ha that hurt.

I do notice that if I use my Mac, it is far faster with the 64bit processor in play.

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 2/7/2022 at 9:47 AM, domfluff said:



It can look better if you actually dot two spaces at a time (i.e., Direct-ly assign two adjacent action spots, then another pair four squares away, or something like that).

 

This is great tip. It vastly improved some northern Apennines maps I've been working on. Thanks!

 

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  • 1 month later...
On 2/7/2022 at 9:27 AM, SeinfeldRules said:

I believe manual elevation points increases map load times but doesn't have any effect once the scenario is loaded.

Does it??

If true, that would indicate that the game is running the elevation solver every time the scenario is loaded, and the scenario file is only saving the fixed/direct elevation points. Which doesn't seem like a very good design.

The alternative would be for the scenario file to store the elevation of every individual square. The elevation solver runs in the map editor every time you make a change anyway, so why not store those already solved values? Even on a large map, it's not a lot of data. The trade off between processing power/time vs storage doesn't seem to make sense to recalculate every time it loads. But I could be wrong in that design choice.

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55 minutes ago, George MC said:

I'm a continuous contour man myself. 'Spot' contours lead to odd elevation artifacts like cones or chasms. I avoid for that reason. Minimum impact on load times no impact in game play.

George- I've had some problems where things come out very terraced when I use the entire contour line. Could that just be because the ground is steep and maybe use the entire contour line, but only on the 5th contour line (ignoring the ones between when close together)? Any suggestions?

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1 hour ago, Blackhorse15A said:

George- I've had some problems where things come out very terraced when I use the entire contour line. Could that just be because the ground is steep and maybe use the entire contour line, but only on the 5th contour line (ignoring the ones between when close together)? Any suggestions?

Aye putting radically different contours in parallel together does create that terrace look. One solution is only put in place the key contours and let the game engine smooth the slope. You might have to play about to get this to work and create the terrain effect you want. 
 

But also keep in mind some valleys might have terrace features due to ancient river systems post ice age. 

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Thanks George.

If anyone from the Dev team is reading- might be helpful to another option, like Alt click, that would tell the solver to directly set the elevation (at center of patch) but NOT make a ~6x6 area that is leveled out. Allow the patch to have a steeper slope but still set what the elevation is there (and around it)

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11 hours ago, Blackhorse15A said:

Does it??

If true, that would indicate that the game is running the elevation solver every time the scenario is loaded, and the scenario file is only saving the fixed/direct elevation points. Which doesn't seem like a very good design.

The alternative would be for the scenario file to store the elevation of every individual square. The elevation solver runs in the map editor every time you make a change anyway, so why not store those already solved values? Even on a large map, it's not a lot of data. The trade off between processing power/time vs storage doesn't seem to make sense to recalculate every time it loads. But I could be wrong in that design choice.

I know it increases load times when I’m editing the map in the editor. It may be baking that information every time. 

10 hours ago, Blackhorse15A said:

George- I've had some problems where things come out very terraced when I use the entire contour line. Could that just be because the ground is steep and maybe use the entire contour line, but only on the 5th contour line (ignoring the ones between when close together)? Any suggestions?

If you are running into terrace issues I would recommend “skipping” some blocks while painting your contour lines, especially when they get too close together. That can help the algorithm create smoother elevation changes. Some “reinforcing” elevation points in between contour lines can also help. 
 

And I can’t help but notice the username - a sun baked veteran trooper of the Mojave Desert I presume? 

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