Some Critical Essays on Maps in Speculative Fiction and Fantasy

The summer 2018 issue of Modern Language Studies had a “special cluster” on maps and speculative fiction (special cluster presumably being what you call it when your special theme doesn’t take up the entire issue). Behind a paywall, but there appear to be articles on planetary cartography and Le Guin, maps in mythopoeic young-adult fantasy, and comic book and game maps. Thanks to Andreas Skyman for the tip.

The online sf/fantasy magazine Strange Horizons (which, note, I review for) is in the middle of their annual fundraising drive. Their special fundraising issue includes an essay by Noemi Arellano-Summer: “Maps, Worldbuilding, and the Journey in Fantasy.”

The Problem with Worldle

Meanwhile, among the many many Wordle variants and games-inspired-by-Wordle out there is one that map aficionados ought to appreciate: Worldle. Every day you have six chances to guess the name of a country based on an outline map. If you guess wrong, you’re given the distance and direction to the correct answer.

The problem with this is that if you know your geography it’s astonishingly easy, at least in default mode. It’s rare for me to need more than one try—unless, for a totally hypothetical example that has nothing at all to do with one stumper last week, it’s a nondescript atoll in the middle of the ocean, and then it’s as much because you didn’t think it was on the list, like a Scrabble set that unexpectedly includes þ, ð and ß. But you can increase the difficulty level by rotating the country image, or by hiding it: then you have to rely on the distances and directions alone. I should try it that way.

Mapping Wordle Scores

WordTips map of average Wordle scores by countryWordTips maps Wordle scores. Using Twitter data—what, you thought someone couldn’t do something with all those Wordle results you keep tweeting out?—the word finding site looks at which countries, U.S. states, and cities are the best (and the worst) at the viral game. The country with the best average scores? Sweden. The U.S. state? North Dakota. The U.S. city? Saint Paul, Minnesota. You know, I’m sensing a trend there. [Toronto Star]

The ‘Critical Role’ of Maps in Video Games

In a long piece for Canadian Geographic that came out in May 2019, Aaron Kylie explores a subject that really should get more attention: maps in video games. “Maps have long played a critical role in video games, whether serving as the primary user interface, a player reference tool or both. This virtual cartographic world (and its remarkable Canadian connections), however, remains widely unheralded, even as mapping has become increasingly important to many games.” The focus of the article is Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, though Kylie touches on other games as well. [The History of Cartography Project]

A History of Maps in Games

Matthew Edney explores the history of maps and games, beginning with the three basic forms of early map games: playing cards, board games, and puzzles, all of which had the “improvement” of youth as their aim. Over time game maps became more abstract (grids, simplifications) and puzzle pieces didn’t follow territorial boundaries. Edney doesn’t get very far into modern-day computer games, where the map becomes synonymous with the playing field, but that’s understandable: it’s too big a subject on its own (I’ve left it out of my fantasy map work for that reason).

The Magnificent Maps Puzzle Book

The Magnificent Maps Puzzle Book (cover)I missed Philip Parker’s Magnificent Maps Puzzle Book when it came out in Britain from British Library Publishing last October, but it seems to be available in North America this month (the logistics of delivering physical books during a pandemic permitting). From the publisher: “It features carefully devised questions inspired by general knowledge, observational skills, cryptic dexterity and mapping history. The result is a highly entertaining and satisfying means to explore some 40 inspirational maps and charts ranging from medieval portolans to the latest digital renderings. It’s beautifully designed and presented in durable flexi binding to allow for portable carto-quizzing.”

As a British Library publication, The Magnificent Maps Puzzle Book naturally features examples from their holdings. Another book that does so is Tom Harper’s Atlas, which I reviewed in 2018.

Related: Map Coloring Books and Games (Bookshop).

The Magnificent Maps Puzzle Book (cover)The Magnificent Maps Puzzle Book
by Philip Parker
The British Library, October 2019
Amazon (Canada, UK) | Bookshop

Earth Puzzle

Earth Puzzle

This is wild. The Earth Puzzle is a 442-piece jigsaw puzzle with a difference: based on an equal-area icosahedral projection, the puzzle can be built from any starting point, and in any number of configurations: there is no defined centre or edge. One of Nervous System’s infinity puzzles (one for the Moon is also available), it costs $120 and (at the moment) ships in three weeks (so if you’re shopping for the holidays, get on it). All is explained at Nervous System’s blog. [Kenneth Field]

Atlas Obscura Shares Your D&D Maps

Remember how Atlas Obscura put out a call for Dungeons & Dragons maps? They’ve received a pile of entries and are featuring two dozen of them: “[Y]our D&D maps are more incredible than we could have imagined. Every single one calls out for exploration.” Some of them are familiar in form, others are really out there, which I appreciate.

Previously: Atlas Obscura Wants Your D&D Maps.

Atlas Obscura Wants Your D&D Maps

Atlas Obscura is looking for your Dungeons and Dragons maps. “Not unlike the maps found in many fantasy novels, DIY D&D maps act as blueprints to imaginary spaces. Usually, once a campaign is complete, these maps get tossed out or put up on a shelf somewhere, but it doesn’t have to be this way! We want to help share your dungeon maps with the world.” There’s a form at the link, and instructions on how to share your map; they’ll post their favourites in an upcoming article.

The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Book

Today is the publication date for The Ordnance Survey Puzzle Book (Trapeze), a collection of map quizzes and puzzles—a “mix of navigational tests, word games, code-crackers, anagrams and mathematical conundrums” contrived by Gareth Moore—based on some 40 Ordnance Survey maps dating as far back as 1801. It’s out in the U.K. only; North Americans will have to try third-party sellers on Amazon (or elsewhere) or order directly from British vendors.

Ms. Pac-Maps

Google tends to release wacky things around April 1st, as well as some more serious things (like Gmail). Ms. Pac-Maps is one of the former, and the latest strange thing to be added to Google Maps around this time. In the same vein as the Google Maps Pac-Man feature from 2015, it enables you to play Ms. Pac-Man on the road grid in Google Maps, and runs on the most recent Android and iOS apps as well as on the desktop until April 4th. [The Verge]

The Mapping Tech Behind Pokémon Go

Bloomberg Businessweek looks at Niantic, the company that developed Pokémon Go, and its CEO, John Hanke, both of whom have a long history in mapping technology (Hanke was the founder and CEO of Keyhole, which became the foundation for Google Earth; Niantic started as a Google startup and focused on location-based apps—including, among other things, the game Ingress—before being spun off).

Hanke says Niantic’s focus has always been its underlying technology, not any one game, and the success of Pokémon Go has already attracted partners interested in using his mapping software for projects of their own. “Maybe you want to build a real-world vampire game where you control a clan of vampires and battle with other clans of vampires,” he says. “You could invest in re-creating our core technology and all of our data, which would require a fairly large team of very sophisticated Ph.D.s, or use our platform.”

[Benjamin Hennig]

Previously: Pokémon Go.

The RPG Maps of Dyson’s Dodecahedron

Dyson Logos, “Crypts and Sewers,” 2016. CC licence.

Dyson’s Dodecahedron started out as a blog about role-playing games that over time transformed itself into a source of dungeon maps; the impetus was a dungeon he’d written up for a one-page dungeon contest:

I wasn’t happy with the map I drew for that dungeon, and started looking at the maps drawn by other members of my various RPG groups. I started to develop a new style for my maps. Not an “original” style overall—it is strongly based in the cartography I enjoyed from old Palladium and Chaosisum products, but significantly less like the style of the traditional D&D map which is very grid-oriented.

Then I started to post maps drawn in this style. As I practiced the style, I challenged myself to draw a geomorph every other day until I had at least 100 geomorphs. The blog got pretty boring during this stretch, but I learned a lot about mapping and dungeon design, and the blog got a reputation as a mapping blog.

Dyson’s archive of maps is now quite extensive; the maps are generally free for personal use and available under various licences. He’s also got a Patreon page. [Boing Boing]