A sci-fi-inspired algorithm creates detailed topographies based on principles of natural science

Inspired by fantasy novels from his teens, Martin O’Leary, a glaciologist at Swansea University in Wales, developed a bot that could continue to generate unique maps long after he finished writing the code.

The bot, called Uncharted Atlas, begins by taking broad brushstrokes, placing/spacing dots and drawing a rough outline. Next, it layers on blobs, randomized slopes and water fronts (as the illustrated process shows below).

O'Leary specialization comes into play as flowing water that erodes the randomly generated landscape and carves something that resembles a settlement. Drainage channels appear, islands and coastlines come take shape and voila! You have a fictional world as an end-result.

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