Mapping with Mischief

A company called The Foundry is based around a piece of drawing software named Mischief.  I found Mischief while casting about for sketching software to use with a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and was enamored with the promise and potential of the software.  In a nutshell, Mischief promises infinite zoom, digital paper with no borders, an endless level of detail, an unlimited range of choices unhindered by anything even marginally resembling planning.

Simple sketch made with Mischief
Simple sketch made with Mischief

Originally, I was only interested in being able to sketch and play with line and color.  The pen is extremely accurate and responsive – a joy to use!  I sketched and played happily with the new tools – both the tablet and the software being almost equally unknown to me.

As I played around with the software, I discovered that it had a wide range of background ‘paper’ that you can use and that some of the paper was graph paper which made sense because you needed something to gauge scale against.  Well, for a guy like me, a piece of graph paper is meant that perhaps I could use this software for mapping.

Simply drawn structure outlines waiting to be painted
Simply drawn structure outlines waiting to be painted

I started very plain-jane, with simple overhead line-art for village mapping.  No need for a lot of detail – I would place the buildings, rotate them as needed, and then color in the shadow.  So I started creating a wide range of what would be copy and paste structures – the more the merrier.  After a few hours I had a goodly selection of structures and had even put together some fences and rounded buildings.  I put together a test page and started placing buildings and then tried coloring and toning them but discovered a missing tool.

When you have infinite zoom, it evidently is impossible or impractical to have a paint bucket tool.  It would fill the page…infinitely – or when memory ran out which would happen quickly.  I had intended to fill the buildings using a paint bucket tool, and that was not possible.

When you have infinite zoom, it evidently is impossible or impractical to have a paint bucket tool.

Instead, the buildings became rather cumbersome.  I would have to use layers and start by putting a white layer under the building, then I would have to apply color in tones based on how the light was falling.  All in all, it was going to be so clunky that I felt that I might as well render isometric structures rather than overhead.

Going 3d with isometric structures
Going 3d with isometric structures

Well, the first problem is that none of the graph paper is designed for isometric drawing.  I was able to download an image of that type of paper and you can then set the entire Mischief application to be transparent – it allowed me to sketch the linework loosely and to roughly get the effect that I was hoping to accomplish.  It wasn’t perfect, but it seems to show what is possible.  It again became evident that layered approach with an opaque white layer was going to be mandatory.

Proof of concept image for isometric mapping
Proof of concept image for isometric mapping

So I put it all together and created a single building and then placed it firmly on the ground.  To this point, I had been working lightly, not really trying to achieve a finished look.  To this point, I had been experimenting, looking for the best path to take.

The opaque white was colored in such a way as to suggest lighting and form – shadows were made on the grass to give the building some solidity and the hint of a path to the door to ignite the imagination.  My only unhappiness being that it was more than a little labor intensive, but once I had created several dozen structures, they could be copied and pasted with ease.

Copying and pasting mountains is dangerous business
Copying and pasting mountains is dangerous business

It occurred to me that campaign mapping icons were far less detailed than the buildings it would take to make a village or town.  So I started out with mountains.  Lots and lots of different mountains since variety is mandatory when you intend to copy and paste (and still look good).

These were all three layer creations.  The highest layer being the dark work, the middle layer being color (largely gray), and the bottom layer being pure white, drawing neatly inside the lines and blocked in with a large pen.  Each one took a while – say 10 or 15 minutes, perhaps a little more.  They are also faded via transparency at the base so that they will sit rather than float.

Then I turned my attention to the hills, drawing them exactly as I had the mountains.  Three layers each, with the bases being gently feathered.  Green with a hint of earthy brown, each hill was shaded to have shadow just as the mountains.

As I had worked, I compressed the layers.  Mischief can only have 24 or 25 layers.  As I made each hill or mountain, I was forced to merge it down until the item was all on one layer – then I placed it and compressed it into the larger store of items.

I started dropping mountains and hills like a mythic god of old

Campaign mapping test
Campaign mapping test

Finally I put enough of it together to play!  I painted out a huge patch of green – the green, green ground – and then I started dropping mountains and hills like a mythic god of old.  In a short time I had a range of mountains surrounded by hillocks and valleys.  With a bit of sketching, I added rivers, road, and trail and the demo map was very much suggesting some epic old-world-that-never-was sense of fantasy adventure.

It was at this point that Mischief decided to be…mischievous.  It blasted an error message onto the screen and refuses to work with the image beyond loading it.  It will not export it as a jpg, will not allow me to add to it, to zoom, or to do much of anything.

So I sent the people at The Foundry my work so they can perhaps correct the error, fix the thing that is wrecking my document and perhaps restore some of the trust lost when I watched more than a few hours of work become unusable.  Then I ordered real isometric and graph paper – I’ve got things to do and trust my scanner.

I am not abandoning Mischief – not yet, anyhow – but I am unwilling to invest further time into mapping with the software.  Sketching, yes, still doing that and love it.  But mapping – no, it doesn’t seem stable enough but the potential still leaves me starry-eyed and hopeful.  Being able to draw an epic-scale campaign map in my own hand is just too much to give up on.

-Kilgore

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Author: Kilgore

Long-time gamer, alpha techno-geek, and former infantryman

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