Harnessing the Google Maps API

A friend and I were talking about how to handle mapping a big RPG world. He’s big on world-building and storylines, and takes pleasure in crafting the broad strokes down to the smallest detail.

We concurred that a digital map is better than a hand-drawn map. Vector art is more scaleable but not strictly necessary. Freeform is preferable to cell-based (discrete hexes or squares). But what program to use? Paint.NET is a decent free alternative to Photoshop. And I’ve found that when opening a single-layer .PNG image in MS Paint and then in Paint.NET, the latter uses a lot less system resources than the former.

(I typically draw everything in MS Paint)

But the most relevant feature of Paint.NET over MS Paint is that you can choose a zoom level, which means you can set a scale of one pixel to one foot and zoom out to start painting in coastlines and mountain ranges. When you want to detail an area, zoom in to the scale you want and start painting details there.

And then I had an interesting thought.

What about using the Google Maps API with your own digital map sections? You can use the elevation / terrain / road overlays. I doubt anyone would want to go through the effort of a sattelite overlay but it’s possible. You could set up a search database of locations with longitude/latitude coordinates. You can reverse-search for a location by clicking the map and finding the nearest keyed location.

I saw a small implementation of this on a college campus website. The explanation under the full-feature Google API map was that they used their own images and did not access Google’s maps at all. So it’s possible. I don’t know how much work is involved.

You’d need to draw the maps and upload them, tell the API where to look for it, key your locations in the database, set up a protected wiki for further information on keyed locations and regions, and install the API in the wiki so it’s accessible on every page.

I’m not so sure this would help a tabletop game. I’ve come to be less a fan of laptops at the table. They have their uses, but I find I interface with the computer too much when I should be connecting with the players. For a PBEM or online gametable this would be an invaluable resource. For a pickup-group West Marches campaign the players could be given account-based rights to annotate the map or even edit map sections.

The search for tutorials continues.

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2 Responses to “Harnessing the Google Maps API”

  1. Restless Says:

    The small implementation may be the one described here. It gives a high-level guide to getting started.

    There’s more information on doing things like this at Mapki, but I’ve never done it. It seems like more work than it’s worth, but it would be definitely interesting.

  2. 1d30 Says:

    Looks like it. I saw it a while back, so I can’t be sure. And it does look like a lot of work :/

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