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  1. #1

    Designing a Monster Map: Fulda Gap, World at War '84 (Winter 2019)

    Lock 'N Load Publishing Collaborator, Keith Tracton, posted wonderful updates on the design of the new World at War '85 series, kick-off first game, "Storming the Gap". (His Designer Notes are in quote bubbles, below.) This one is on his method in designing a monster map, to represent the Fulda Gap in 1985 Germany.

    Keith Tracton: The Fulda Gap Maps – The development of the Fulda Gap Monster MapMy buddy Steve Overton (he’s developing Kontact Now: Red Eclipse for LnLP) called me last night and said What About the Fulda Maps? How can they be historical AND geomorphic?? (Yeah, he practically yelled at me.). A fair question. So, I had try and tell him how I made them. And thereby hangs a tale…

    Our first draft of the monster map was just to see if it could be done, so we used modern satellite data of an area northwest of Frankfurt-am-Main. But our map artist (who is in Germany) insisted that for the FINAL draft we needed something else, as the terrain in the modern Fulda area was nothing like Fulda back in the day. Germany is much more built up than it was then. Denser, more extensive woods, less urban, etc. I knew he was right. We could not use modern data for this project.


    So, I went looking for a map of that area – or anywhere in the Fulda Gap - that was from 1985. I needed something in the 1:25000 scale or less, as I needed enough detail to make maps with 150 yard hexes.


    OK...so there's a big one to notice: 1:25000 scale. Remember, we are talking platoon-level, with hexes representing 150 yards (note: I think he meant meters) each. For anyone inspired to design a map for a platoon-level game, this is one of the keys to the kingdom!

    When we look at wargames, we often wonder (at least I do!), what are the tricks of the trade? If they are out there, it's in little snippets like this.

    Keith Tracton: That turned out to be a pretty difficult quest for the timeframe we needed. At least for my limited map research skills.
    My friends who had been in the US Army there in 1985 did not come back with their maps (What? Didn’t they know back then that I would need them??). And my research did not turn up any 1985 maps of the proper scale.

    Enter Tony Costa, to the rescue. Along with being the other half of Steve Overton’s Kontact Now: Red Eclipse development team, and all-around nice guy, he also had a lead on some 1:25000 maps of West Germany made by the good old US Army in 1955. Score!


    The important thing in designing this kind of map is to get the “feel” right, and this needed to feel like a less developed Germany when compared to modern Germany when you translated it onto a hex gird where there was a declared terrain type every 150 yards. And 1955 West Germany had to be less developed than West Germany now, but CLOSER to West Germany in 1985. I really did not have too much choice. I chose to use the 1955 map, deciding that it would feel closer to 1985 than anything else I could come up with in the timeframe I had.


    It's the last paragraph here that is the key point to absorb: Getting the 'feel' right. That's what makes the next statement a mind-blower....

    Keith Tracton: As we all know, game maps are representations of the real world, not the real world itself. In fact, the problems of terrain are codified in our wargames, so we can solve them as a formula of movement points versus terrain cost. But the real world is, again, as we all know, messier than that.


    'Representations of the real world'. That's brilliant stuff! I've always noticed this but never really thought in-depth about it. I hear some wargamers complain about how cities look, or the crest of a hill. It's really all in the designer's brain, translated to the artists' eye!

    But the real point to notice is the explanation of how we codify our wargames, so that we can solve them as formulas of movement versus terrain cost. That's a huge key to wargame map design.

    Keith Tracton: I started with the real world: I overlaid a grid of eight of our hex maps on top of the 1:25000 map at the proper scale, and began to “sketch” on top of it. I would declare any “hex” that contained woods terrain that touched three or more hexsides as a woods hex, but if there were three hexes where the woods symbols only touched one or two hexsides, and the three were immediately adjacent to each other, I would mark the “center” one as woods to represent at least some of the woods obstacle. Same for Cities.
    OK, so every bit to this point has been great, but this is MEGA! Keith's methodology for using hex-sides as the deciding factor on size of terrain is brilliant.

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    Original Map - Drawn Map - Final Map

    Keith Tracton: Roads I traced, but it turned out that in post-WWII West Germany there were roads EVERYWHERE as you approached a city like Frankfurt. Huge undeveloped woods, as well as huge garden and orchard areas, all inundated with precise, cross-gridded roads. SO, roads there would be. More roads than you may be used to from other games, and so many that it was not possible in some cases to keep them all! Fighting in areas like that, I thought, would be VERY different from more conventional “generic” maps.

    Rivers, as I mentioned, were traced along hexsides, the widths on the 1:25000 map matching nicely to our proposed 150-yard width (as I mentioned above).


    Cultivated and Rough terrains were judgment calls: multiple terrain types from the key on the 1:25000 map equated to “cultivated”. While Rough terrain is not always necessarily boulders: very steep terrain within a single hex is also a type of rough no matter what direction you come from and are not necessarily high enough to block line of sight, but do provide limited cover.


    Hills were tough: how do you model contour line differences on a real 1:25000 map with ONE Hill level. As it turned out, there were two styles of hills and slopes in the area we picked.


    One type was where there was a large area that gradually sloped down, typically toward a river valley, but not always. Only one or two contour lines would appear in most hexes for the entire map. For these I opted to make major plateaus to give the sense that the entire map was “above” the next entire map, as in fact the contours indicated. Where the contours came together on the map – and you could see the valley on the 1:25000 map in the middle of where one slope came down from one direction, one from the other - I opted to make more Ridgeline shaped hills, so that you looked into the valley from, naturally enough, either side.


    The other style of hill is where the terrain became much steeper. Any hex with three or more contour lines that ran through it I declared the center of a hill, and each adjacent hex would be included. That seemed to match the feel of the slopes indicated by the contour lines, and, as you gradually move south and east on the complete Fulda map there are more of these hills.


    But I still needed the maps to be geomorphic. What good would eight maps be that could only be used in one configuration? To my mind, if I could make the maps geomorphic too, they would be a tremendous value-add to the first game, and any subsequent games. (that is for you all to say, not me.)


    “But how could they be both historical and geomorphic?” I heard Steve cry. Well any map is an adaptation of the real world, as I mentioned. I had to compromise, but I wanted to do that as little as possible. The edges of each of the eight component maps are where the geomorphic connections are apparent. I needed the real-world rivers and roads to both go in the direction they were going on the 1:25000 map as much as possible, and also connect at the geomorphic points to the NEXT map. In the event, and as a pleasant surprise, most roads/rivers cooperated with that. There were a few cases where I had to slightly divert a river or a road, but I tried to maintain the direction (that always worked, I am happy to report!) and which city/woods/etc hexes were on which side of the river or road that had been adjusted.


    Despite all the issues of timeframe and geomorphic-ness and map key symbols, ninety to ninety-five percent of the map, is unadulterated Fulda Gap. Of course, the caveat is as it is seen through my interpretation of the maps key (yep, risky, that).


    Now some of you may have driven these very roads and crossed or otherwise have navigated these rivers just northwest of Frankfurt. My hope is that the flow, the direction of things (if you will) feels the same to you “experts”. Nothing can beat being on the ground (and Thank You For Your Service!). But for those of us who are civilians taking the experience for a test-tank-drive, I think these maps are fair Fulda, and will fit the bill.
    If you can't be a good example, be a horrible warning

  2. #2
    Super Moderator josta59's Avatar
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    Interesting reading. That's dedication.

    Some of my virtual tables used Google Earth images of the areas around modern Fulda, so I feel a bit familiar with that area...from a bird's eye point of view.

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