--- Free Software ---
Due to the ever-changing nature of web links, the links presented here may break from time to time. Please leave a comment if you notice a broken link and I'll try to fix it as soon as possible. This document may change often. Feel free to suggest additional world building software too! Thanks for visiting.
--- World Management ---
So, if you are as addicted to the creation and building of worlds as I am, you have to check out World Anvil ( www.worldanvil.com/ ). You can do so much for free. Just check it out. You'll thank me.
--- World Building Software ---
Wilbur (last update: July 2019) ( www.softpedia.com/get/Multimed… )
Wilbur has been around a very long time, relatively speaking. It's been freeware for as long as I've known of it. I believe the link here should remain around, though (the previous link is now expired - thanks to Biggest-Baddest-Wolf for pointing that out!), and as a bonus, this appears to be the latest version. I hope this remains. Wilbur has a little learning curve to it, but after you get used to it, it is very simple to use to make realistic planets quickly (in my opinion).
Terragen ( www.planetside.co.uk/ )
Terragen is a terrain maker that creates stunning, photo-realistic scenes and has come in many versions throughout the years. The first was completely free and came out back in 2005. The original was an awesome program that created amazing landscapes with very little effort and ease. The learning curve for the first version was pretty easy. Then Planetside Software came out with Terragen 2.
It's successor was a completely different way of making landscapes. It took much longer to learn, but was certainly more powerful. The people who put this out have kept Terragen free, and even more fortunate for us, continues to develop it, which is rare when most either succumb to the pressures of profit or simply fizz out due to their deveopers having this powerful need to eat. Not rest on their laurels, they went on with a Terragen 3 and now Terragen 4, which is not only the most current and most powerful, but also, the only one left available. And best yet, it's all still free! (Well, free until you want to make a buck from using it, then you have to buy a commercial license. But until then, it's great for us starving artists.) That's right! Who needs to shell out huge bucks for those other software programs when this one does just as much? One small difference is that past versions gave you the full experience and you didn't need to buy upgrages. Terragen 4 is tiered between Free, Creative, and Commercial. That's just fine though because the free version does a lot.
World Machine 2.3 ( www.world-machine.com/ )
I have not personally used this or learned this landscape creator, but it appears to work very similar to that of Terragen 2. I don't know if it has better support than Terragen 4 (the current version since Terragen 2 isn't offered any more), but I haven't compared them in enough detail. I'd be curious to hear feedback if anyone has tried both of these.
Celestia ( celestia.space/index.html ) or ( sourceforge.net/projects/celes… )
Celestia is completely open-source and completely free. It is a beautiful program besides, and if you like astronomy, get it for that. The program is very easy to use for that purpose. But more than that, you have the ability to upload and create your own solar systems! Celestia Motherlode ( www.celestiamotherlode.net/ ) has a number of already created and beautiful worlds ready to download and install...again it is very simple to do. And if you want to create your own worlds, there are a number of tutorials that can teach you how to do so in less than an hour! Used in combination with other programs, and you can really create some great worlds!
Note: The original site, ( www.shatters.net/celestia/down… ), went down for a period of time. It looks like the recent version has much more life to it, but just in case it does so again without warning, I've included a link to SourceForge. I highly recommend using the shatters.net one, but in case there is an issue, SourceForge might work.
SpaceEngine ( spaceengine.org/ )
Very similar to Celestia, this is another gorgeous universe-maker that also has the capability to write your own scripts for fictitious planets. Because it is procedurally generated, there can exist more systems than anyone could find in a lifetime. That's good if you want to explore a galaxy and discover random stars, planets, and other astronomical phenomenon without having to create your own. The website itself is gorgeous. Let me give you the developer's (just one guy) description:
SpaceEngine is a realistic virtual Universe you can explore on your computer. You can travel from star to star, from galaxy to galaxy, landing on any planet, moon, or asteroid with the ability to explore its alien landscape. You can alter the speed of time and observe any celestial phenomena you please. All transitions are completely seamless, and this virtual universe has a size of billions of light-years across and contains trillions upon trillions of planetary systems. The procedural generation is based on real scientific knowledge, so SpaceEngine depicts the universe the way it is thought to be by modern science. Real celestial objects are also present if you want to visit them, including the planets and moons of our Solar system, thousands of nearby stars with newly discovered exoplanets, and thousands of galaxies that are currently known.
ChView ( chview.nova.org/chview )
Before I discovered Celestia, I found this program. It is sorely outdated, and I wouldn't bother much with it. I include it here only if you are curious about it. It reminds me how quickly innovative people can evolve into better programs like Celestia.
WinStarGen ( www.eldacur.com/~brons/NerdCor… )
If you only use any this program and never any of the other programs listed here, I will still be very happy. This is the most essential program (web or download) for the creation of solar systems you will ever encounter. The original program is based on a solid science-based algorithm called ACRETE. Anyone can make a random solar system, but this one makes believable worlds. Anyone who tries to do the same thing and wants to sell it to you is a crook because underneath any bells & whistles is this open-source program. It isn't a graphics program, but gives you the information to make whole solar systems, and Jim Burrows has done an outstanding job to incorporate visual appeal. I use this to make the solar system I want, and use the information to program into Celestia. Then I use Celestia to place it in the sky and represent it visually.
Everchanging Book of Names (last update: March 2009, 64-bit) ( ebon.pyorre.net/ )
Some people can make up fantastic names, and some cannot. While I consider myself able to create imaginative names, I use this name-generator when I want consistency. This program uses mathematical algorithms to create names of people (and sometimes even races, places, and even medicines). Most "chapters" are from familiar books, like the Lord of the Rings or Star Trek or Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones, etc.). This is free shareware, so it has a few limitations and needs to download other "chapters", but if you don't mind generating only 5 names at a time, you'll be okay. The site is French, but the English instructions are easy. My only wish is that I didn't have to download each chapter individually, but the price tag makes it worth the work.
Blender ( www.blender.org/ )
Say you want to make 3D models, but you can't shell out the money for a program like Maya, Bryce, or other modeling software. That is the beauty of Blender! It is open source and free! It is very powerful, too, and will give those other 3D programs a real run for the money (pun intended). The drawback is the learning curve. This is a very powerful program, and it takes a while to learn. The tutorials used to be few and far between, but these days there is a lot more available. Still, there are some amazing things that the program can do...it may just take some time to figure out how to do it all. There is pretty good support in the online community...plenty of very helpful and creative folks who love the program.
DOGA L2 & DoGA L3 ( www.doga.co.jp/english/downloa… )
If you want to create spaceships or robots without having to worry about all of the little details, this is a good program that can even do some basic animation. It's like working with a bunch of virtual Lego pieces that you get to put together quickly and easily to make some pretty impressive stuff. The basic model building is pretty easy to understand. The drawback is that this is a very old program from Japan, so English help is very difficult...non-existent really. It's worth a look, though, and fun for a time.
HeroMachine 2.5 ( www.heromachine.com/heromachin… ) & Heromachine 3.0 ( www.heromachine.com/heromachin… )
GIMP ( www.gimp.org/ )
The GNU Image Manipulation Program is not bad for the price...free! If you can't afford Photoshop (like me), this is a pretty nice program. Again, it is open source and free. There is a lot of support and help for it, and it gets better all the time. Again, you just can't beat the price.
AutoRealm ( www.rpglibrary.org/software/au… )
I was so happy to find this again! It is a free mapping software I used way back in the day on my Windows XP computer. It's meant to be for role-playing games (think Dungeons & Dragons) but I actually find a lot of worldbuilding in many RPG games to be quite good at getting the old creative juices flowing. AutoRealm is free mapping software that is useful for making localized town and castle maps. I've tested it out and it will run on Windows 10. What I like best and haven't seen in most other programs is the ability to use fractals to create lines and curves. But there are many other features that actually create a pretty good map for free. Please see the website ( www.rpglibrary.org/software/au… ) for a few more support files, like the help source file and add-on symbols. While you are there, check out a host of other free and low cost sites found in the RPG Library.
donjon ( donjon.bin.sh/ )
Fantasy Map Generator ( azgaar.github.io/Fantasy-Map-G… )
Thanks to Stellina-90 for contributing this and to Biggest-Baddest-Wolf for informing us about the update. I'm pretty impressed with how much you could do with this web-based map generator. It can do a lot very quickly and easily, and I completely agree with the developer's vision: "Map should be interactive, scalable, fast and plausible." It meets these criteria well. But even more, in its current state, it gives you a glimpse into the coding. If you're not into that kind of thing ("Just give me something that works!") then another feature you might enjoy is that whatever you make can be saved and then reloaded. There is a lot of control and that lends to trying many different features. I hope this link remains and that the developer/s continue to improve upon it.
--- Writing Software ---
Apache OpenOffice 4.1.0 ( www.openoffice.org/ )
So, you don't have a fancy word processor and you believe Bill Gates' evil spawn isn't worth any more of your hard earned coin... Here is one solution. You can get a descent word processor, spreadsheet (good for those pesky astronomical calculations), database, simple drawing program, and a PowerPoint-alike for that word we all love... free! Also,
Google Docs ( drive.google.com/ ) Google Docs as part of its "Drive" series also offers some word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, and drawing capability for that same price ($0, in case you lost track ). If you can't even afford a computer, at least you can use and store things through Google if you can get access to a public site, like a public library. Hey...several long years ago, it was Bill, Steve, or nothin'. We've come a long way, baby.
--- Low Cost Software ---
I can't always get what I want for free, unfortunately. In cases like that, I do sometimes use low cost software. There are two gaming companies I've used (I won't provide the links, though):
ProFantasy Software ( secure.profantasy.com/default.… ): Campaign Cartographer 3 ($45 USD); Fractral Terrains 3 ($40 USD)
The one I actually invested in was Fractal Terrains Pro (a predecessor to FT3). The guy who developed Wilbur worked on this, so you'll see similarities. FT Pro was a bit more powerful...but even then it only went so far. FT3 looks pretty similar. It may have improved on some things--like creating rivers, altitude, climate, temperature, and rainfall calculations, and other features which helps the feel of the world. It even lets you edit and tweak your world in case that peninsula looks a little too...erm... endowed. If you do invest in this, you will get more than Wilbur, but you have to decide for yourself if it is worth $40 more... I suggest playing with Wilbur or the other terrain-makers first. If they just can't do what you'd like, check this out. ProFantasny also has a host of other programs at similar prices. If you are a hard-core D&D player, you will love these.
NBOS Software ( nbos.com/ ): Fractal Mapper v8.0 ($34.95 USD download); AstroSynthesis v3.0 ($34.95 USD download)
On the one hand, AstroSynthesis has the ability to make an impressive 3D universe surprisingly quickly. The map output is actually in 3D, which is so very important when making a universe. There are many people who just give up and make their universes like giant earth oceans dotted with island planets...not realistic. This tool will help...but only if you really need a huge quantity of random worlds in a 3D universe. It does create whole solar systems, and can map those out. It makes names and even can make some surface terrains. But the name-generator for the worlds drives me nuts, and I find the mechanics of world-building only so-so. It's an interesting program, and if you are in the business of creating a lot of worlds in large universes quickly, it may be worth the investment. But I really think that all of that can be done with WinStarGen, Celestia, the various terrain-building programs, and your own imagination. I got AstroSynthesis v2.0, so maybe some of the issues I mentioned have been addressed in v3.0.
Fractal Mapper is a program that looks interesting. I don't have that, but it sure does interesting. Look at the features shows a host of levels of map and world making, from the simple, local map to a Wilbur-like representation of the world on a globe.
Scrivener ( www.literatureandlatte.com/scr… ) : Scrivener ($40.00 USD download) is a great friend to the writer. As the site says, it's "a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents." This means that is helps you organize your writing, from novels to screenplays, including college papers, into a workable form. When you're writing, the fancy, shmancy formatting is a moot point anyway since the content is what your readers are interested in. Still, it gives you plenty of formatting options, letting you focus on getting that first draft done.
--- --- --- ---
Of Talk and Talismans
A World Building and Novel Writing Guide
Worldbuilding Part1: Mapmaking
World Building Settings Part 1
It's the INFORMATION AGE!
"Oh, so they have internet on computers now!" --Homer Simpson
Imagination is great. It's the spark that helps those of us who build worlds. But it is nice to have help sometimes, especially when some of us may lack technical, artistic, or scientific skills that can really give those awesome worlds a realism others can enjoy.
Here is a small list of some of the software I use to help me with my world-building. I invite others to share their favorites as well.
Now, none of us are made of money. (Of course, if you are, please give me a call as soon as possible!) There are all kinds of fancy proprietary software available, but why shell out a few hundred bucks when you can do a really good job for free and use that money for more important things?
I hope you find these programs helpful to you, especially if they can do the job you need without costing you an arm or a leg...or that next ! Please, feel free to comment on these if you've had experience...what do you like or dislike? Also, if you have any other free or low cost software resources you would like to share...by all means, don't hold out on us, man!!! Share and give your own comments and critiques.
You are very welcome. There has been an explosion of worldbuilding software out there, and a lot of it is both of good quality and free (yay!). I'm very glad you found my links and personal experiences helpful. Happy worldbuilding!
I see others (and you yourself) already mentioned worldanvil.com - I've used and liked this one, too.
And Stellina-90 brought up Fantasy Map Generator, which you added a link to; at that link there's an easily overlooked popup (overlooked as in "easy to click away without reading) informing that there is a newer version, and that popup links to the newer version too, titled Azgaar's Fantasy Map Generator at the new address.
Certainly lots of features/settings, but only as "difficult" as deciding whether you want your coffee with sugar, milk, whipped cream, or just black...
Also, that first link to Wilbur (http://www.ridgenet.net/~jslayton/software.html) no longer works, I've actually seen Wilbur hosted somewhere else too, not too long ago, but I can't remember where.
I'll see if I can find it back.