One method to convert paper maps to game maps for Combat Mission

One of the best features of Combat Mission is, in my opinion, the ability to edit and create scenarios for the game.  The result is that it is quite possible recreate the multitude of small scale actions which occurred during WWII and refight them.   However, one of the main problems is how does one convert a paper map to something useable by Combat Mission?

Here is one method that I've worked out.   It relies primarily upon a program called Campaign Cartographer, which is actually a cut down GIS (Geographic Information System) which is marketed by a company called Profantasy (don't let the name put you off!  Imagine if you will the problems I had when my wife opened the Credit Card bill to discover we'd been billed by a company with that name! ;-).    It is an excellent application which is aimed primarily at the fantasy gaming market but which, as you'll see here, as applications outside there.   However, its not for the faint-hearted.   In order to get the sort of simple results I have below, it took me over a fortnight of hard, daily practice and many false starts.  Its by far biggest advantage this system has is that it will automatically scale and draw both square and hex grids over a map.  Which when compared to some of the more laborous methods which have been advocated, such as using Photoshop, Emacs or specialised programs such as HexMap .

Step 1

As the old Chinese proverb predicts, the journey of a thousand li, begins with the first step, and it's usually the hardest.  Before we can begin, we must first get hold of the map of the action we are intending to model.   In this case, for example, I've chosen the Commando action at Vaagso, on 26 December 1941.  While it is a little bit out of the period for the game CMBO, I decided to see if I could "stretch" the game a little and see how if it could be used to model this intriguing operation.

First I looked through my library to see if I had any books which might contain maps and came across the old favourite, Commando by Brigadier Peter Young (published McDonald and Co., 1970) and yes, it had a pretty basic map:

It gave a general outline and the location of some of the more important buildings.    So I turned to the web and discovered this map:

While more detailed, it sufferered from having been obviously distorted when it was scanned, while it was blurred in places, suggesting that it was not placed squarely on the bed of the scanner.

So, before beginning first I had to do some cleaning up.   Firing up my trusty copy of Paint Shop Pro, I rotated the image to the left by about 4.5 degrees and used the "sharpening" filter to get rid of the fuzziness.   The reason why I turned it was primarily to make the existing scalebar horizontal, making it easier to scale the image in the next step. The result was:

This then had to be saved as a bitmapped image, in order for Campaign Cartographer (CC2) to be able to use it.

Step 2

After firing up CC2, I selected a 5 x 8 km map template (the smallest standard template, I could have created a smaller one but didn't think it worthwhile).  I then inserted the above file and with a bit of fiddling, managed to scale it to fit proportionally in the template, thus:

Step 3

Now, I'm sure that you'll be asking at this point, what is the point of using CC2?  Well, like all GIS, it utilises a system of "layers" (or as another, far more expensive GIS prefers to call them, "coverages" or as they are referred to in the military "overlays"), which allow you to edit the various layers of information and which can then be overlaid over one another, to produce a finished result.  As they are effectively transparent, it is possible to trace the image on the layer(s) below, allowing it to be duplicated and improved.

In this case, I wanted to basically make the information on the map, much clearer and also overlay a square grid, making it easier to transfer the topographical information to a CM style map.   In this case, the first thing I cleared up, was the road, the buildings and the escarpments, producing this:

Step 4

I next added the rivers and large dam, above the town, on the main island:

Step 5

I next added land areas and hid the original bitmapped image:

Step 6

I filled in the oceans, thus:

Step 7

I finally added the square grid, first at 100 metre intervals and then (in red) at 500 metre intervals:
 
(Campaign Cartographer produced image with grid) (Campaign Cartographer grid over original image)

It is obvious that the CC2 produced image is clearer and more easily read than the CC2 produced grid over the original image.   Obviously, this depends very much upon the quality of the original image.

Whilst it would have been quite possible to produce a 20 metre square grid, my experience is that it basically makes it impossible to work with the maps, particularly on this scale, obscuring far more than it informs.

Step 8

At this point I printed the map, above, out and then started to enter the information into CM's map editor.   This is the single most labourious part of the process.   However, it could be speeded up a great deal, if Big Time Software (BTS) was to make available the code it utilises in the text files to enable a simple program to process the information produced in the above maps.

"How the hell would it be able to do that?"  I hear you ask.  Simply, really.   What we would do, would be to add another layer, for text.   The would be cartographer/player would be required to type into each grid square, the major dominating terrain type, present therein.   That layer would then be saved as a seperate graphic file (in a similar manner to the above files) and then processed by an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) system of the type utilised with scanners to produce output text.  It would produce a text file, saying perhaps "F P F W R" (which would translate to Forest, Pines, Forest, Wheat, Road, for example).   This would then be parsed into the encoding utilised by BTS's map files.   In turn, CM could then read the file and you'd have a near perfect rendition of a map, entered utilising this method.   Alas, BTS refuses to release its encoding.

Even so, here is several pictures of the completed CM map:

The two flat objects in the foreground of the first view, are not aircraft carriers but rather wooden bridges, which are being used in this instance to represent a troop landing ship (the Prince Charles) and a Cruiser, HMS Kenya.

Further, because of the limitations of game design, if one wants to have liquid water and snow, it is impossible to actually set the scenario up using the normal scenario designer. So, what I basically did was replace all the summer terrain tiles with the winter ones, so that literally, we could have snow in June.

In order to do this, I have included, with the scenario files, a seperate zipped file of winterised summer terrain tiles. I would recommend backing up your normal bmp directory, before unzipping the files into that directory. Then, once you've completed the scenario, you should then be able to restore your old files, simply by using your backuped up directory. One of the limitations though, which I've found in using this method is that white parallel lines appear on the water tiles, for some reason. They do not though, detract from the overall effect.

The Scenario is downloadable from here.

It is best played as British, against the German AI.


'Combat Mission' and 'Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord' are registered trademarks of 'Bigtime Software Inc.' For more information on this 'World War Two' company and battalion level tactical wargame, click the URL to go to http://www.battlefront.com/

Copyright 2001, Brian Ross.
Contact the author, Brian Ross if you have any comments, questions or additional information.
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