How we use GPlates

GPlates has the unique problem of being used by two completely different audiences that share little to no communication. One group, of which I am a part, sees GPlates as a platform for designing fictional planets. The other group, of which I am also a part, sees GPlates as a scientific tool for reconstructing Earth’s past. The latter is the group responsible for the tool, so the U.I. is designed with a focus on presenting the data and not on creating it.

I think that the U.I. could be redesigned to suit the interests of both of these groups, but I do also recognize that it could be a very big effort to redesign it. Patience is a virtue, don’t overwork yourselves folks.

I think that there is a huge amount of potential value behind a tool that can be used to simulate the movements of plate tectonics from a blank slate. For one, this sort of tool would revolutionize our ability to reconstruct earth’s tectonic history. Having tools that are much closer to the creative process would make it possible to see the forest and not the trees-- by giving a thousand people paint brushes, one of them is bound to paint a picture that’s close to reality. We can’t get there until somebody builds that paintbrush! I think the project could get more funding if we push it in the right direction. There are creative teams for videogames that would be itching to use this sort of thing to design a new generation of open worlds.

The following are only my suggestions, I encourage anyone to continue this topic with their own.


  1. Feature collections and layers should be restructured to be handled like layers in Adobe Illustrator (or Inkscape). Each layer should have the list of its features underneath it, expandable to see their properties (when you select a feature, it should automatically expand). When expanded, it should have all the functionality of the Edit Feature menu (Ctrl+E). You should be able to change the arrangement of features within a collection, i.e. be able to control what features are viewed “on top.” The rotations data for plate IDs should be accessible and editable within these side menus.

  2. Adding a plate ID to the rotations file should be possible within GPlates, if not done automatically on creating a feature with a novel ID (I’d put it in the create menu, in the same page as the plate ID and time values.) Doing this with a clear project should automatically produce a .rot file in the project folder. This would make handling rotations much more beginner friendly, as the more complicated you get with creating things in GPlates, the more you need to deal with the extremely fine detail of the .rot file. All interactions the user has with the .rot file right now should be translated into aspects of the U.I.

  3. Some sort of brush-like tool for drawing on topologies. This would provide so much creative freedom without having to make too many changes in the underlying mechanics. The drawings should deform with the topology over time. Implementing this may be difficult. I suggest modeling the drawing tool U.I. after photoshop or gimp’s, complete with color pickers, lists of favorite colors (saved to each project), brushes, etc. It does not need to be complicated-- What I would ask for is a simple circle brush with variable size, variable opacity (alpha value, if we’re keeping it consistent with other features), and a nice color picker at that. If rendering these isn’t hard, then the ability to create brushes with .pngs would be ideal for this application when it comes to making it possible to make highly detailed works.

  4. A mode for the geometry digitizing tools that lets you enter new features’ properties on the side bar (or a persistent “digitizing properties” menu). Creating features in this mode should be as simple as drawing them and pressing enter. This doesn’t seem super difficult to implement, but it would make the process involve a lot less clicking through menus.

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