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Alternative Planet Mapping mod - Ideas collection + discussion


SirJodelstein
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In my opinion, generating elevation maps of distant planets and moons is a must-have for a space game. And while i love ISA MapSat and it's approach to simulate the scanning process in a realistic way, i think it has some issues that probably won't be solved anytime soon:

- Memory hog (dev version) and/or compatibility issues

- Unknown state of the developer (Innsewerants)

- scanning only with active vessel, at limited time warp

To address this issues, i am considering making a new attempt at a mapping mod. Most important aspect is overcoming the "active vessel only" burden. I want to be able to have multiple scanning satellites working at the same time (scanning different planets or scanning a single planet with multiple sats). Obviously, ISA MapSats approach of actually scanning the planet via single scan rays that pull elevation data from the game itself won't work here. I am willing to trade realism for usability. Currently i am thinking of having an initially hidden high-resolution heightmap image that is uncovered as satellites pass overhead. It should be possible to perform these bitmap operations fast enough to allow multiple scanners at once. Maybe there could be several map images (low-res, high-res, elevation, photo) and different parts and conditions to acquire them (think of Narrow-Angle-Camera vs Wide-angle-camera on the Mars orbiters). I am not sure how these images could be aquired, but i'm sure there will be a way.

The plugin would need a central controlling MonoBehaviour that keeps track of all mapping-equipped vessels, and triggers their scanning modules in each Update. Acquiring this list could be done by looking through FlightGlobals.Vessels.

So, this thread is here to test the waters. Throw your, feedback and criticism at me. Stop whining about how mods "die out" and take this as a chance to rebuild something even better. Ideally, i would like to find fellow programmers and modellers willing to invest some time into this as well, because i think this mod is big enough to develop it with multiple persons once the basic plugin layout and interfaces are defined.

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Pretty cool! It sounds like a workable plan. Do you have any thoughts on gathering the initial data? It would be easy to distribute pre-generated maps, but one of MapSat's strength was the ability to deal with any new terrain it saw, including anomalies. The Universe Replacer and Kerbtown mods will be making dealing with dynamic terrain more important in future.

As far as the multiple-resolutions go, you also have the option of taking a deterministic pixel average to generate the lower-resolution images. Multiple levels of detail depending on distance, equipment quality and power consumption is something I would like to see in the game. It would fit in well with the new tech-tree. You could also offer different colour arrangements such as heightmap, full colour and black and white. Early spy satellites used black and white film which required the film canisters be returned for processing.

I've developed some (unreleased) plugins myself, so I can offer some assistance. I'm looking forward to seeing where this mod goes. :)

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One consideration: It really ought to work equally well at any time-warp. It always bugged me that ISA MapSat (and the Kethane detectors for that matter) start missing cells at higher time warps. You know where the satellite was the last time you added a cell, and you know where it is now -- it ought to be trivial to fill in all the data in between, rather than just at the current point...

("It ought to be trivial" is what a usually say before I dig into the code and really come to understand the problem... lol)

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A suggestion: If at all possible, the mapping software should be able to 'play nice' with other mods, i.e. one should be able to find a set of coordinates on this map, such as those of an anomaly, and carry them over to another part of the game like the MechJeb landing guidance module. Also, the ability to overlay map data from this mod directly onto the globe on the map screen would be awesome. Just a few ideas, but I have no idea how to implement these things, I'm a player, not a modder. :)

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One consideration: It really ought to work equally well at any time-warp. It always bugged me that ISA MapSat (and the Kethane detectors for that matter) start missing cells at higher time warps. You know where the satellite was the last time you added a cell, and you know where it is now -- it ought to be trivial to fill in all the data in between, rather than just at the current point...

("It ought to be trivial" is what a usually say before I dig into the code and really come to understand the problem... lol)

It also ought to work when not the active craft. This is the biggest thing keeping me away from mods like Kethane, Mapsat, Extraplanetary Launchpads, etc. It is possible to have this kind of information processed on an inactive flight, as we see in KSP Interstellar.

So, this sounds very promising, good luck!

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ISA's limitations are mostly built around how it functions. The actual height of terrain is based on a lot of independent systems so you can't just ask KSP "What will the height at this point be", instead you have to fire a ray at the ground and see where it hits. ISA does this a bunch of times every second with slightly different angles, and it turns out that shooting rays at the PQS is really fricken expensive (technically speaking it's not supposed to happen at all)

Other mapping systems don't have to deal with the in-game result being generated from many unknowable factors so they can figure all this stuff out in code and have tables to save time.

Maybe you can do the same kind of thing to make mapping faster and work with fewer limitations, but you might run into problems with Squad depending on stuff...

That may sound pessimistic, but I am supportive of this idea, competition breeds excellence and it's been six months since the last time somebody tried to compete with ISA. I just wanted to frame the reasons for ISA being the way it is, so those can be taken into account.

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The actual height of terrain is based on a lot of independent systems so you can't just ask KSP "What will the height at this point be", instead you have to fire a ray at the ground and see where it hits.

You can absolutely ask KSP for the terrain height at a point. (To be precise, you ask the planet's PQS controller.)

For what it's worth, I don't like "reveal" schemes as they're being pitched, mainly because they focus way too much on textures. Forget about textures and images. Store the important data ("what areas have been scanned?") and optionally cache the terrain data, but neither should be stored as a texture. You could get fancy with quadtrees or density maps or what have you, but it could also be a simple grid. I just don't want to see ISA replaced with another technical nightmare.

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Majiir, didn't you mention something a month or so back about working with the geodesic grid to make it more compatible with things like prospective ISA replacements? I think doing another mapping mod in geodesic would look insanely awesome. I'm not well enough versed in coding to speak intelligently but I do agree with Majiir that actually extracting the terrain data off the planet is a much better idea than firing rays or revealing textures as that then eliminates any potential compatibility glitches when planets are changed/added.

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Majiir, didn't you mention something a month or so back about working with the geodesic grid to make it more compatible with things like prospective ISA replacements? I think doing another mapping mod in geodesic would look insanely awesome. I'm not well enough versed in coding to speak intelligently but I do agree with Majiir that actually extracting the terrain data off the planet is a much better idea than firing rays or revealing textures as that then eliminates any potential compatibility glitches when planets are changed/added.

I was, but it involves reengineering the geodesic grid from scratch, and I've run into trouble with a few of the necessary algorithms. It'll take a good few days of solid whiteboarding to solve, and I'm unlikely to have that sort of time for a month or two. Something like a quadsphere would accomplish a similar objective but just look a little different, so I might even attempt that instead of holding out for the improved grid.

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  • 5 months later...
I won't be adding anomalies or other data to the hexagonal grid, but I've been working on another type of overlay that will be suitable for geographic data. I'm still not sold on displaying anomalies, but other types of data (altitude, slope, biomes, et cetera) will likely be there.

This is what Majjir told me on the 3rd of January, so it's underway, and this would be the most important mod for me. It would give sense to probes that could actually give you science over time and useful information you could use to choose your next landing site.

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I think it would be fun if planetary surfaces were not exposed in the map view until a map satellite has traversed them. Perhaps replace the surface texture with a grey featureless blob and then reveal them on a hex pattern like with kethane. That would make mapping both necessary and interesting.

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I think it would be fun if planetary surfaces were not exposed in the map view until a map satellite has traversed them. Perhaps replace the surface texture with a grey featureless blob and then reveal them on a hex pattern like with kethane. That would make mapping both necessary and interesting.

This is too restrictive, and you can see the surface with telescopes or while in orbit around it. Plus it would be very compilcated to mod, just to make the game uglier. As Captaiin Sierra said:

I do agree with Majiir that actually extracting the terrain data off the planet is a much better idea than firing rays or revealing textures as that then eliminates any potential compatibility glitches when planets are changed/added.
The probes are used for more precise readings giving you useful info like biomes (to be able to find every biome and visit it), and altitude readings that would sight anomalies due to altitude spikes. The mapping would be truly useful if they gave you 1 science point per hexagon of the grid, It would, over time, if you placed your probe in a nice orbit, a nice amount of science points that represent the amount of knowledge gained by radio wave readings that would give us info on the planet's composition but would have no use in-game. Edited by Aknar
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This is too restrictive, and, You can see the surface with telescopes or while in orbit around it. Plus it would be very compilcated to mod, just to make the game uglier. The probes are used for more precise readings giving you useful info like biomes (to be able to find every biome and visit it), and altitude readings that would sight anomalies due to altitude spikes. The mapping would be truly useful if they gave you 1 science point per hexagon of the grid, It would, over time, if you placed your probe in a nice orbit, a nice amount of science points that represent the amount of knowledge gained by radio wave readings that would give us info on the planet's composition but would have no use in-game.

Yea...check out ScanSat. It's been out for a while and it allows for you to collect science based on maps.

http://forum.kerbalspaceprogram.com/threads/55832-PLUGIN-PARTS-0-23-SCANsat-terrain-mapping

Also, that was kind of a necropost. This conversation ended months ago.

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Yep, already checked it out, but I don't find it convincing enough, while Majiir is spot on. I hope to revive this thread since the mod idea isn't dead and I deamed fit to update by showing work is being done on this and I really hope to show there is still intrest in it so we can hope to see it come out in the next few months.

Edited by Aknar
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Yep, already checked it out, but I don't find it convincing enough, while Majiir is spot on.

Perhaps you could elaborate? This discussion (and my participation in it) was much more active before SCANsat came about. It seems people are mostly satisfied with it. What would you rather see?

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I spoke to you a while back (in January) and you told me that you where working on a display, somewhat like the hexagonal display you have for kethane for showing altitude, slope, biomes and more. Scan sat is a nice mod but I find it would be so much better with the kethane grid and your scanning units models that are both great eye candy. The display directly on planets would prove to be useful and it's simplicity would be truly appreciated as it would allow to scan the whole planet without those aggressive maps and annoying left undiscovered holes you can't get rid of. Science would be more rewarding and interesting. Also, this would allow for a finite amount of science points since once you scan each parcel of the planet, you retrieve all the useful data you can.

Edited by Aknar
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