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Middle-earth Height-map
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Joined: January/25/2003
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Posted: June/14/2003 at 8:06am | IP Logged  

Until I'm able to get an actual webpage created for this project I figured I'd at least post a few FAQs for folks to familiarize themselves with the project...

1. What's a height-map?

Height-maps are typically used to capture topographical information on terrain elevations.  Frequently satellite photos or GPS data is used to create height-maps of actual landmasses.  The height-map itself can come is several formats but most use 256 colors or shades of gray to depict the various levels of elevation.

2. What does your map include?

My map is based on Pete Fenlon's map of Endor created for Iron Crown's Middle-earth Role Playing (MERP) way back in the early 80s (1982 sounds familiar).  However, this map wasn't overly detailed and I've used countless resources in completing this project.

3. How far along are you?

I'm pretty much done with the terraforming and am now concentrating on labeling the various locations.  I'd gone through an exercise last year of cataloging all of the places in northwestern Middle-earth and ended up with a list over 500 names long, so it may take me a while to apply it to the map.

4. How big is it?

Big.  It had to be in order to achieve the level of detail I was aiming for.  The scale is approximately 1" = 30 miles with the map encompassing about 14 million square miles.  Needless to say I won't be printing it any time soon unless I have aspirations of wallpapering my living room wall, floor to ceiling.  The electronic format is a little over 80 megapixels and has now exceeded 1.4 gigabytes.

5. How detailed is the map?

As detailed as one can get with a resolution level of about 1/5 of a square mile, which is actually pretty good for such a large landmass.  It includes all the mountain ranges, hills, vales, swamps, islands, lakes and nearly all of the rivers.

6. What do you use to create the map?

My primary resource while creating the map was actually existing material on Middle-earth.  Having always been a Tolkien fan I've amassed an extensive library of books and maps on the subject.  They've been absolutely invaluable.

Tool-wise, I use Adobe Photoshop to create the basic landscape.  From there I use several industry-standard terrain rendering apps and some custom scripts I've made to achieve various results.  It's nearly impossible to create a realistic mountain range just by using Photoshop.  You'll end up with what looks like a series of big featureless dirt-piles, albeit large dirt-piles.    There are quite a few applications designed specifically to terraform landscape to capture that eroded look and feel.  I've found that not any one app will do it all and have ended up using several different apps in the process. 

It also takes a lot of hardware to pull this off.  I ran my P4 2ghz with 1gb RAM into the ground with the heavy processing I was doing.  I'm now running on liquid-cooled dual 3ghz Xeons with 2gb RAM and an Ultra320 SCSI RAID Array.  I also rely heavily on my trusty Intuos2 graphics tablet, of course!

7. Are you going to make the map publicly available?

I likely won't make the raw height-map available simply because it's far too large to host anywhere.  But I do have plans on releasing the height-map in rendered form.  I will also be creating a working model of Endor to run with the game Morrowind.  If you already play the game check out the other forum on this site regarding that project.  If you're interested in playing Morrowind check out their site,  It's turning out to be a great engine for showcasing the continent of Endor!

I will also be working with another game engine shortly which is better geared to the shear magnitude of this height-map.  Watch for details in the coming months! 

8. Do you have any future plans for the map?

Actually, I'm in the midst of trying to source the lost ICE MERP modules that were never published.  Several of these modules included information on areas of Endor east and south of the northwestern corner everyone is used to reading about.  I'd love to be able to merge this new material into the map as well!

9. Can I help?

I'm always open to new mapping techniques or innovative terrain editing software!  Email or post if you have something cool to check out.  If you're a Tolkien fan and feel you might have a lead on some rare source material I'm also eager to hear about it!  Again, post or email me!

10. When are we going to see pictures?

I'll be getting around to putting a webpage together for this project soon hopefully.     Once that's up I'll post some excerpts from the renderings and possibly even sections of the map... 

11. What is your motivation for doing this?

Ever since I was a wee lad I've been a huge Tolkien fan and spent countless weekends playing Middle-earth Role Playing (MERP), a pen and paper RPG, with school chums.  That, and I also love maps!  For the past three years I've been familiarizing myself with the computer game industry and one area that I was eager to work in was the art of cartography.  What better subject to study cartography on than Middle-earth!

Edited by Duredhel on June/20/2003 at 9:46pm

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Posted: June/04/2004 at 2:03am | IP Logged  

Be sure to check out the eight minute movie featuring the NorthWestern corner of Endor.  It is a rendering of my height-map from within Terragen.

Download it here.

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