Getting Best Results with Animated Maps

Getting the Best Results with Animated Maps on Astral

We are fortunate these days that many amazing cartographers are creating beautifully animated video maps to use in tabletop RPG play. These maps are wonderfully immersive aids in playing sessions.

Astral wants to make it as easy as possible for you to use animated maps during your Astral game sessions. Every Astral account comes with a selection of animated maps you can use, and Supporter accounts have access to even more. These maps are ready for you to drop into your games with the Map Editor and use immediately.

Converting Maps for Use on Astral

If you have maps from a Patreon or some other source that you’d like to use on Astral, then this article is for you. These maps are often produced at 4K resolution, which is ideal for folks playing on a screen at home. Unfortunately, using a 2-minute-long 4K video for virtual tabletop play tends to overload things.

For best results using animated maps on Astral, we recommend that you convert the map file to the following specifications:

  • 1920 x 1080 pixels
  • Total file size <10MB (the smaller the better)
  • .webm video file format

Clip the video to something in the 15-20 second range. Try to keep the audio/visual as seamless as possible, i.e., with the loop point at the end of the clip matching back to the beginning.

Audio compression forces a small silence (usually 0.2 seconds or less) at the very beginning of every video, and no amount of video editing will let you remove this silence entirely — it has to do with signal processing and compression. For this reason, your video will have a noticeably silent skip in its audio when it plays on loop at Astral. The Astral team is working on a solution, but in the meantime we want you to be aware of this limitation.

For PC, “Any Video Converter” is a popular free video conversion utility.

For Mac, iMovie should be a fine choice for editing, although you may need a separate utility from the Mac App Store to convert/export to webm file format.

Using the Maps on Astral

Once you have your map file converted to the specifications above, simply jump into your game on Astral and press “M” to bring up the Maps sidebar. Click to create a new map and choose “Create blank” to get a new, empty map canvas. Then press “E” to go into Edit Map mode. In the right sidebar, choose the blue folder option to “Upload Assets.” Upload your webm file.

The file will take a moment to upload. Once it’s done, the right sidebar will automatically navigate to the Imported Assets folder in your Vault. There you will see a thumbnail for the new map you just uploaded (you may have to scroll down or even use the search bar to locate it if you have lots of imported assets already). You might also find that the thumbnail is still blank, showing a processing symbol to indicate that our server is still processing your uploaded file. Once the processing is finished, click the asset’s tile in the right column and then click on your map canvas to place it.

The video will form a layer in your map. To control the playback of the video, turn its audio on/off, or adjust the audio volume, you will first need to select the video’s map layer and then the controls will appear. Normally you want to keep the ambient sounds of the animated map relatively low, although it can be impressive to have the volume a little higher when you add the party to the map for the first time, and then lower the volume as play progresses in the new scene.

Concerning imported grids and other conflicting features

We recommend that you convert and use gridless versions of maps on Astral. If you prefer a visible grid during play, it's better to use Astral's own grid settings to overlay a grid on the map. If you have both day-time and night-time versions of map files, you might convert the day-time version of the map and then use Astral's own lighting settings to vary the day-time, dawn/dusk, night-time lighting of the map as needed during your play session. Similarly, if you have versions of the map with and without weather effects, then you might convert the version without weather effects and use Astral's weather settings to add weather during play as needed.

If you upload a map with a grid, you must align Astral's grid with the new map's grid in order for token snapping to behave properly. This only applies if you plan to use snap-to-grid.