Saturday, 4 December 2010

Campaign Cartographer - a précis

Having tried this software for just over a week I thought it high time to write a brief review.  Sadly, this is unlikely to endear me to the folks at ProFantasy Software.

My reasons for purchasing Campaign Cartographer 3 (CC3) were twofold:  Firstly, I wanted an application that would enable me to apply a constant theme to a series of maps and deliver predictable results.  Secondly, I feel capable of producing what I want in pen and ink but the idea that one error could muff up the whole effort was daunting.  These days I am a bit ham-fisted - I blame child-related exhaustion!

Anyway, I viewed the rather good tutorial linked to ProFantasy's website and decided that if the application could render a "Pirate Island" sized 1000 x 800miles  it could certainly cope with Beimbach-Schönau.  (on a 200x200 mile background)  After playing around with the software, I can report that it is more than able to do so.  My first effort shows, in low-resolution,  the revised State boundaries.

The system works with "Sheets" and "Layers".  A new approach to me but apparently old hat to CAD diehards.  A good way of describing this to a layman would be to think of  "transparencies".  Your work is laid upon your background via a series of transparencies, each one laying upon the other with user-defined levels of opacity.   Thus some can show the details on previous sheets others block the sheets below.  

In practice this is simple to grasp, in reality things get confusing.  My confusion stemmed not from user error (well not too much!) but from the rather annoying way the software automatically adjusts sheets and layers when you choose various map building features.   For example you want (for your own peculiar reason) to add mountain graphics to your Contours layer.  The software will change the layer to what it thinks is best as soon as you click on the mountain tab.  This happens with sheets also and if you don't keep your eyes open you can get into a real mess.  

I am sure there is a setting to turn off the "thinking" process but I didn't want to dabble too deeply in the advanced user settings when making my first map.

Another problem was creating an infill up to a border.  Complicated jargon but in my case what I wanted was to show the State dissecting a given terrain feature without the terrain having to end just short of the border.   Try as I might I could not find a way to do this other than tracing the border in extreme zoom and hoping you don't slip.  This was the same annoying process that I had to use for the coastline and after many tries I was literally screaming at the PC.  Again, there is probably a command to do this but I didn't find it after days of exploration.

For the record, the software crashed when trying to open different symbol sets - disheartening as your progress is lost.  This was mitigated somewhat by the autosave but nevertheless such problems are annoying.

Finally comes the most serious, and in my case fatal, flaw.  Apparently, when your map is highly detailed  (mine is both small and simple) the ability to save your work as a large BMP, PNG or JPEG no longer works.  The file becomes too unwieldy at anything but low-res (seen above).  At this point higher-res images have to be saved in PDF format.  I had no idea this was the case when I purchased the software.  As I wanted to post various maps online and (eventually) use them in a work of fiction, it has really been something of a terminal problem.  To have to upload pdfs and then provide links to said is very clunky and not what I wanted.  Additionally I went ahead with the pdf save as an experiment and the damn process changed the properties of my map - making lines thicker and so on.   It looks not nearly as good as it does when opened in CC!  

ProFantasy suggest that this is not an error with their application but is due to the inadequacy of users' systems.  My Desktop is approaching three years old but has a fairly fast quad-core processor, decent RAM and  full gamers-standard graphics acceleration.

After much stress I think that, for me, CC3 is not worth the effort.  It is possible to create beautiful maps and once the interface is mastered, do so quickly.  However, the inability of the software to turn the lovely high-res images into high-res PC viewable graphics files is a deal-breaker.  

Your author will be taking advantage of the 14 day money back guarantee - pronto!

Steady that hand and get drawing!


  1. I looked at a demo of an earlier version of CC and found that for me the learning curve was too severe.

    I'm sure that with enough effort you could master the program . . . but mastering a complex program is not the goal . . . making maps isn't even the goal, it is just a step in the process of gaming.

    What you want is something that is simpler to learn to use at an adequate level . . . and I fear that I've not used any mapping software in about a decade . . . so you'll have to look elsewhere for advice (but even that long ago, I found CC to be too fussy).

    -- Jeff

  2. Thanks for the review, it is very informative. I have never seen the software but thought that it was a great idea. Too bad that it is complicated to use. Your map does look good, however.

    I have never invested in a specialised mapping program, having Adobe Illustrator on hand. That program is very capable and has lots of features and functions that I will never, ever use. It makes vector drawings and layers, etc and can probably do everything CC does, though it is not the most user-friendly program for new users.


  3. Glad it helped. It isn't a bad application it just doesn't do what I was led to believe it could!

    I reckon it's time to get my map drawn by hand (should take only a few hours) and scan it. Then I can move on to getting the fun-stuff done.

    My razor-saw is hungry for new victims and the paints are standing by!

  4. Thanks for the review. I know to my cost how complicated sheets and layers can be, having worked on book covers only to find most of the labor lost due to some wriggle in the program.

    FWIW, MicroSoft Picture It! does a good job of map making, but were it not for lack of space, I'd rather revert to tried-and-tested paper and colored pencils.

  5. I always draw my maps, avoiding the hassle and expense of yet another bit of PC software. My maps may not be perfect but I always enjoy drawing them

    -- Allan

  6. Even lo-res, that's quite a nice map! I daresay small villages and minor roads have been left out. You would really want to use as much of the map as you can for campaigns. hence 'infilling' some of the infrastructure. I wonder if you could simply use this map as 'background' and overlay, say, minor roads, then use that map as backgound to overlay small settlements (hamlets, farms, chateaux and the like). You wouldn't need many of either to give the country more strategic depth...