Creating Land-Use Plans or Maps from In-Game Screenshots

By Dr. Nikolaus Wilson, May 26, 2010 18:40

For my entry no. 3 I made a Land-Use Plan (in German: Flächennutzungsplan) of the City of GRUNEN.

Here is where you can learn a way how to do such plans / maps.

1. Make an in-game screenshot

Make an in-game screenshot of the zones view of the desired area. Be sure to photograph considerably wider and higher then the area you want to make the plan of. Due to required skewing and resizing a good part of the edges will not be usable for the making of the map, at least if you want to have a map facing true north (see no. 3 below).

For really big maps a mosaic of screenshots will be required (I did a four picture mosaic to create the basis for my Land-Use Plan of the City of GRUNEN). Please refer to one of the tutorials on mosaics if you have questions on how to make them.

In-game zones screenshot of SC4

Creating a mosaic of four in-game screenshots

2. Skewing and resizing

Now take your favorite image editing software, e.g. GIMP or Photoshop, and skew the picture along its horizontal axis until the north-south facing roads are vertical. After that skew the picture along the horizontal axis until the west-east facing roads are horizontal.

Screenshot after skewing

(Horizontally) distorted screenshot after skewing

You will get a top down view of your city with a true north orientation. You will notice that the picture is heavily enlarged along the horizontal axis. It has to be resized. To get the best possible result watch out for a squarish zone (e.g. a 2 x 2 residential zone) and resize the picture to the point where the zone has actually a squared appearance.

Screenshot after skewing and resizing, no distortion, facing true north

Screenshot after skewing and resizing, no distortion, facing true north

3. Cropping

The outer edges of the picture are now aligned in an odd looking shape. As you will want your map to have rectangular edges you have to cut out the desired area with the (rectangular) selections tool of you photo editing software. You will note that a considerable part of the picture along the edges will be lost. That is why I recommended in step 1 to take a screenshot of a bigger area as needed for the actual making of the plan.

Cropping a map facing true north

Cropping a map facing true north

However, there is a possibility to use a much bigger area of you screenshot as basis for the map if you rotate the resized picture to a straight position. You buy that bigger area at the cost of losing the true north orientation of your map.

Cropping a bigger part of the map after turning, true north orientation is lost

Cropping a bigger part of the map after rotation, true north orientation is lost

4. Put roads and streets on a layer

Select the roads using the magic wand selection tool. As you will want to have major and minor roads in different colors edit the selection to encompass the (proposed) major roads only. You can do that by using the subtract function of the selections tool of your software. Simply cut off (“subtract-select”) all the roads you don’t want to have in your main road selection.

(You are free to include minor roads in the selection if the Land-Use Plan will provide for a future upgrade of this roads. Look at my Land-Use Plan; the bright yellow line is the major road for through traffic. However, the screenshot used as basis contained streets only. I selected a part of the streets to be upgraded thus being a main road in the future and even included a part of yet undeveloped land.)

Add a transparent layer to your picture and fill the selection with the color you want to use for main roads. Then use the “select edges” tool on your selection with a width of one pixel. The result is a selection of a one pixel wide border around your road selection. Fill it with black. And – fanfare – you now have a layer containing your main roads nicely colored and bordered.

Hide the selection and use the magic wand selections tool again on all road and streets of you screenshot. This selection now represents the minor roads. (Don’t bother to exclude the previously selected main roads. We will simply put the main roads layer on top of the minor roads layer thus hiding the minor road where a major road is.) Add a new layer, fill the selection with the desired color for minor roads, move the main roads layer above the minor roads layer and – bam – you have minor and major roads nicely arranged.

Major and minor roads layers applied on the basis screenshot

Major and minor roads layers applied on the basis screenshot

5. Put the borders for proposed zoning on a layer

Now, add a new layer, take the pen tool of your photo editing suite and draw lines in black around the proposed zoning areas. To follow coastlines you may want to use the magic scissors selections tool and trace the line of the selection in black. You will come up with a map of empty zones.

Land-use map with empty zones

Land-use map with empty zones

6. Add color

Fill all those little zones with the color you want to apply for its specific use. E.g. in my Land-Use Map pure residential is kind of red, mixed zones are brownish, zones reserved for public services (schools, water treatment, ect.) are pink. Be creative!

Land-use map with the zones layer finished

Land-use map with the zones layer finished

7. Add whatever you want to make your plan bright and shiny

You now can add symbols, a north-arrow, descriptions and whatever you want. Again, be creative! I added some symbols explaining zone-types and special services as schools, swimming areas, water treatment plants.

8. Add a legend

If you want a kick-ass realistic Land-Use Plan add a legend. I prepared the legend in a different picture with the same height as my map. The finished legend I copied over to my map picture on a new layer and aligned it at the right side of the picture.

9. Save your map

Switch off the screenshot layer and save your map.

Reload it and admire it. Do some self back-slapping. Close it. Reload it and again, do some self back-slapping.

Finished land-use plan

Do some self backslapping

10. How to create an overlay

If you want to, you can create an overlay of your Land-Use Plan with the actual zoning. Just load the plan and the skewed and resized screenshot you used as basis in two different layers of a picture. Adjust the opacity of one layer to 30% to 50%. Here is one example. It shows how I used the screenshot as a basis for creating zones for the Land-Use Plan:

Overlay of Land Use Plan and real development

Overlay of Land-Use Plan and real development

That’s it, folks. Easy as pie – wait – no, not really :-) .

I hope you liked the tutorial. Please let me know if you come up with a land-use plan or other map. I really like to see what magic you can work.

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