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I've been reading devs would like to make exploration something worth experimenting in NA. As I agree it could hardly become a main feature of a game that is supposed to be played in the long run, I think it would add to the immersion – and immersion is important in an Age of Sail game. Exploration is linked to navigation, which at those times relied on observation and techniques. Devs said they're fine with a navigation map like the PotBS one. That brings up questions about the possible ways to deal with travel time scale, seasons duration, and all the situations where distance has to be taken from reality in order to provide an entertaining gaming experience – while maintaining a close relationship to immersion. I'll guess the map used is the map of our world. But basically, everything could be translated into a fantasy world. 1. World maps, views and mini-maps To keep things clear, I'll use this distinction between the different representations of the environment: - the world map is the map the captain has in his cabin - the navigation view is the perspective of the player when navigating - the navigation mini-map is where the player can display a map when in navigation view - the local view is the perspective of the player when fighting other ships - the local mini-map is where the player can display a map when in local view There could be different types of world maps displayed on the mini-maps: - an approximate world map (drawn by amateurs, or deducted from rumors) - a cartographer world map (more precise and giving the best possible information) - a landscape map (corresponding to what a captain on the deck could draw when looking around) The approximate world map and the cartographer world map would be used on big scale and small scale, as the landscape map could only be used on small scale (for tactical navigation moves). I'm not sure how far it would be interesting to go with realism. Maybe some maps could be purchasable, salable, or shareable within a society or a nation. Maybe some maps could be lost. But that doesn't matter much yet. 2. A quick look at navigation techniques from 16th to 18th century The purpose of sea navigation techniques is to determine where a ship is. There are two factors that make it an approximation when one leaves sight of the shore: the wind and the current. Because of those, the true course of a ship (course over ground) can't be determined without further calculations than the observations given by a speed log and a compass. In dead reckoning navigation, only a speed log, a compass and an hourglass are used, and a correction is applied, estimating the influences of the wind and the current. The position is estimated from known land, point after point. The more time spent at sea, the less precise the estimated position will be. In celestial navigation, the position is determined whatever the time spent at sea. It can be separated into two parts: latitude determination and longitude determination. The latitude of a ship is the angle between the pole axis and the straight line passing through the center of the Earth and this ship. In the northern hemisphere, it can be determined with an astrolabe by measuring during the night the angle between the northern horizon and the Pole Star. From the end of the 15th century, the latitude was quite easily determined by measuring the Sun meridian height and using a declination almanac. The longitude however, was more difficult to determine (because the Earth is turning). In astronomy, the longitude is the difference between the hour angle of a star at the actual point and the hour angle of this star at a reference point (usually the Greenwich meridian). The hour angle of a star at an actual point could be quite easily determined, but the difficulty was in determining the hour angle of the star at the reference point. There are two ways to achieve this: either doing measures at the actual point and using an ascension almanac, or keeping the precise time of the reference point. The first way has been used by measuring the angle between the Moon and a star, and using a Moon almanac. However, this method wasn't reliable: any error in the measure results in a 30 times bigger error in the longitude estimation. The second way just requires a precise stopwatch, which didn't existed yet during those times – and an error of 0.1s results in an error of 46m. So basically, from the 16th to the 18th century, the sailors had a quite precise estimation of the latitude, but only very rough data about the longitude (that explains why some maps look so strange). Many traders, to reach a destination, just sailed to the latitude of that destination and set course full east or full west, correcting it every day to stay on the same latitude until the end of the trip. 3. How to make navigation exciting My guess is navigation in games usually rhymes with boring travels. That's because we know exactly where we go: our position on the map is our position in the world. By making the position on the world map different than the real position (when leaving the sight of the shore), navigation becomes exciting. After an oceanic trip, I get to an unknown land. Until I reach a port I know, the information displayed by the world map might be inaccurate: I drifted during the travel, and either my sextant isn't precise enough or my pilot skilled enough. If I can recognize the land I see, I'll find my way easily. If I don't though, I'll have to sail blindly until I reach a place where I can resupply. And we are running short of hardtack... For that to happen, there has to be two parameters that make a ship drift: winds and currents. The surface currents often match the winds because they are partly created by them. Some currents are quite stable during the year. For example, the Gulf Stream (discovered in the beginning of the 16th century, mapped in 1769) provides a drift to the north east on the north of the Atlantic. The equatorial currents however, can change depending on the seasons. The monsoon for example, provides in the Indian Ocean a drift to the south west in winter and to the north east in summer. How does that translate into the environment representations ? Quite simply, by drawing an estimation zone around the ship in the world map. Using dead reckoning navigation, this zone would be a circle, and using celestial navigation, an ellipse. I won't put the formulas here, but they are quite simple. I don't know if sailing in a battle will feature wind drift, but if it doesn't it might be better to remove it as well from the navigation. Then there would be only currents, represented by arrows on the map. There should be an option to force the ship positioning on the world map if we have a more precise idea of our position than the one given by the estimation. Finally, even if the arrival might become surprising, the travel itself would still be boring. That's why the oceans should be shortcut, and maybe continents as well. It wouldn't remove so much to the immersion (it might actually add to the immersion), but would add so much to the gaming experience. Also one last thing that could make oceanic navigation less boring: a news system. I guess that with port building, economy in general, conquest (maybe diplomacy ?), the world would change quite fast. Everyone would be interested into how it changes depending on their interests. What if each time we reach a supply port, we got news to read about the mainland or the zone we are heading to ? That might be tricky to implement though, and may be circumvented by Team Speak especially concerning conquest. Still a possible feature. On the main trade routes, many other players could be met anyway. 4. What to explore ? Players would quickly get bored of exploring if there is only land visuals to explore. To make exploration exciting, interesting and useful, the game has to feature the use of land or sea characteristics that can be discovered, remembered and exploited. The first characteristic is of course the land visuals. The navigation map should feature a “fog of war” that would disappear when we sail in a zone. If we navigate in an unknown zone, our range of sight would be the horizon i.e. quite a small part of the navigation view. There would be no indication of the land beyond. If we navigate in a known zone however, the navigation view would be almost fulfilled by the landscape over the horizon. Then there are the weather and sea characteristics that could be actively observed and measured. Winds, currents, but also seabed heights depending on the tide, or ice floe limits. This exploration is more about local weather than oceanic weather. It gives information about how to sail next to the coasts. Is it possible to reach that trading post in the lower Kaveri river during spring ? Where does it become dangerous to proceed up the St. Lawrence during winter ? Will my frigate be able to flee from this 4th rates patrol if I sail around those reefs ? Should I set sails to load my smuggling shipment tonight or wait for a favorable tide current ? For example, the Iroise Sea in the west of Brittany contains lots of reefs. When zooming in on the approximate world map, those reefs would be approximately displayed with a map code such as ^ ^ ^. When zooming in on the cartographer map, they would be displayed as a slightly red zone whose limits would depend on the tide height and the draught of the ship. This way, a well informed captain engaging a battle would have more safe tactical options at his disposal, or could take more risks. Observing the winds, measuring the currents, plumbing the shoals should be done passively when navigating. The observed zone should be a circle around the ship. For immersion purposes, maybe a light speed debuff could be applied. But basically this activity would be boring and should be made easier than in reality. Lastly, the characteristics of the land regions and the port locations could be explored. I guess the map would contain many possible port or beach sites all over the coast. When entering one of those sites, the player would become aware of the region resources and the build-able port or military infrastructures. How well the port would be protected from the weather by natural things such as a bay ? How high would be the seabed next to the coast ? Would there be heights around the harbor ? All those kinds of information would be critical regarding the possibility of building high-end infrastructures in this location. Finally, the players should be given the possibility to jump on the local view when they want to. It would be great if the local maps would superpose to the navigation map. Also there are two things that would help exploration to remain interesting in the long run: a big world map, and tuning the economy (especially the infrastructure costs) so that the world would always have some uncontrolled territories left. 5. Immersion After our main trading post of Ambon in the East Indies has been conquered by the Swedes last week, the United Provinces lack a supply port to provide cloves to our mainland market. Since our military forces are held back in the Northern Sea to fight against Britain, my society decided to find a discrete port, give it economical infrastructures and restore this lucrative trade. We set sails from Amsterdam with three Indiamen and two 44-gun frigates. An escort of four 3rd rates has been provided by the Dutch Navy until we pass the British coasts. They help us to sail safely to the Iroise Sea, and we leave sight of the coast. One of my society mates knows the trip to the East Indies. To avoid any patrolling British force, we pass a long way offshore of Gibraltar. Sailing with the Canary current in the west of Africa, and then the Alizées around the Equator, we head to the east of Brasil. When we reach the 33°55' south latitude of Cape Town, we proceed full east with the West Wind Drift, and reach the Dutch port where we can resupply. Since we are in mid-spring, the monsoon can help us to cross the Indian Ocean. To avoid any risk with the British, we won't resupply in India. And since the Admiralty told us that the Malacca Strait is also controlled by the British, we will reach the East Indies by Java. We pass Madagascar by the south and leave sight of the shore once again. When we get to 10° south, we sail full east all over the Indian Ocean, and eventually discover some unknown land. As we are about to set course to a fishing village, we spot sails on the horizon. We turn back as soon as we discover this is a Swedish fleet ! We sailed too far to the east and reached the zone controlled by them. Fortunately our ships are faster, we manage to get out of sight and set course to the north west. We eventually find the town of Cilacap controlled by the Banten Sultanate, who welcomes us and proposes to resupply our five ships. They are cloves here, but they aren't cheap ! Conquering this town would for sure decrease the prices, but the garrison is strong and we don't have enough men. Since the monsoon can bring us here regularly, we decide to observe the local winds and currents, and plumb the shoals around the coast while looking for a good site. After a few tries we land on a location further east in the southern coast of Java. There are many cloves in the hinterland, and the shore presents a deep lagoon, difficult to identify from the open sea. That port will be called Orange Town. We'll come back here with a bigger expedition tomorrow. But for the time being, the winter monsoon is coming, and we decide to go back to Cilacap to load a cloves cargo. It will sell for 300% profits anyway. 6. Scales and travel times I'm not sure how much time trade players would be willing to spend navigating. If a player has one hour of play time, I think he should be able to sail to the East Indies. This trip would give the best profits, but shouldn't be required to become rich. In reality, the back and forth travel took about 20 months. The fastest captains could do a one-way run in 6 months (including stops). In PotBS, sailing from one edge of the map to the other took about 20min, and sailing from Whitby to Matthew Town took about 1 min. If sailing from London to Amsterdam would take 1min, sailing to Cuba would take 20min, and to Indonesia one hour. With the use of currents and cut oceans, maybe the duration could be divided by 2 or more. This could give a 30min trip to Indonesia, or a 2min travel to Amsterdam. Crossing the Mediterranean from west to east would take 10min. Anyway, I'd say the minimum could be 30min to sail to Indonesia (1 year per hour), and the maximum could be one hour to sail to South Africa (1 year per 4 hours). The seasonal currents would fit to either. If a year duration is too short, players may find unfavorable winds after a long battle. Then the night/day cycle shouldn't be displayed on the navigation view (at best there would be 40sec per day). The tides could be random for open sea fights, and chosen by attackers in port battles. Even if the global map would be the map of our world, the coasts could be drawn with more fantasy, in order to create interesting battle maps. One complaint of the PotBS players was the lack of port battle maps. With tides, winds and currents changes, there would be no need to create more maps in order to provide a diversity in tactical options. All the proposals aren't meant to be core features of the game. I just wanted to mention those possibilities. Still, it is the sum of every little added feature that will create the global immersion of the game.
I think that a map would be nice on the "Plan your strategy" window. The text is pretty cool but sincerely, I may not remeber where "Seminary" was and by providing how would be the battlefield if I chose certain option, might fix the awkward situation of having to play in a bad postion. It may be difficult to implement or maybe it'll "casualize" the game, but I really think that a simple minimap would help choose the next day's strat. I have more minor issues but they're already being covered on the forums so I won't insist more.
Not sure if you found this yet, but it sounds like it is right up your alley. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/A-Cutting-Edge-Second-Look-at-the-Battle-of-Gettysburg.html