Last fall I described what I want in a mapping program for my fantasy series, the Shine Cycle. I’ve since come to the point of needing maps, and so have had to revise my requirements down from “ideal” to “possible.” In this essay I’ll describe what I’ve tried and what I still need.
I’ve just about given up on the first “feature” of the as-yet-unwritten Fictional Cartographer, the idea of a single program for every level of detail with sensible generated content for areas I haven’t manually detailed yet. Terragen should fit my needs, but I spent at least a day trying to get it and several other programs (including FractalWorld — thanks to the Wayback Machine) to work, with little success. Perhaps the biggest problem is that Terragen is just too slow on my machine; it doesn’t help that the interface is (at least at first) not intuitive in the slightest for me. (I am not< a graphic designer.
For a first pass at the physical-map side of things (continental shape and elevation, but not yet terrain) I eventually settled on L3DT. It is far from ideal, not very intuitive (though far better than Terragen on a first pass through each), but I now have (I think) an elevation model for each of the two main continents.
For the political side I think I'll probably stay with AutoREALM if I do my mapping on a computer at all, and I may end up doing further physical mapping in AutoREALM, a paint program, or on paper.
I don't yet need the GIS features I mentioned in my earlier post, and I'm not sure I really need them; I can work around them by marking a spot (in whatever program) and making a note in some text file somewhere.
And since I'm now working on my new laptop that dual-boots Windows, I can use a Windows-only program if I have to. (All the programs I mentioned above are Windows-only, alas.)
But I'm still looking for something that better fits my needs.