“Violent, Intelligent, Profane, Endearing…”

“…obnoxious, sly, richly textured and thoroughly compelling work of cultural satire disguised as fun.” That’s how the New York Times summarized its review of the new blockbuster video game Grand Theft Auto IV.  This newest edition in the GTA universe, like its predecessors, goes out of its way to create fully immersive game worlds for the player to experience at their will.   These games are different than the video games of previous generations in that players have the freedom to go anywhere and do anything. 

Many of us have fond memories of playing through classic Mario game maps, which have now been analyzed in detail.  In these classic maps, however, players were limited to following a specific path through the world (in Mario’s case, he could only move in two dimensions).  Still, there are plenty of people around the world who know these maps and how to navigate them in much more detail than they know the map of the actual world.

Note that these maps are immediately understandable to players of all ages.  They are well designed and clearly laid out, tracing explicit paths for the player to follow.  Moreover, they accomplish this without using words, which for Japanese game companies like Nintendo means they can more easily reach a broader market (it also helps avoid embarrassing translations).  The best maps, like subway maps, are designed to be intelligible to as broad an audience as possible with the fewest restrictions possible, so a map that can be understood without using words has the best chance of reading the broadest audience.

Recent years have seen the development of more immersive online gaming experiences, complete with detailed and far-ranging game maps that allow the player freedom of movement.  Games like Ultima Online, EverQuest, and World of Warcraft continue to set many of the standards for the genre.  These games establish a world playable online, hosted on corporate servers, allowing a much broader gameplay experience with intricate and very wide-ranging maps that players can travel across. 

The Grand Theft Auto series, which began in 1997, provides players with immersive gameplay worlds hosted on their own home systems.  Though both large and detailed, GTA’s gameplay worlds are smaller than those of its online counterparts due mainly to memory and processing restrictions.  However, maps continue to play important roles in such games, particularly in the GTA series where players are frequently on the run from the law and a knowledge of game cartography can mean the difference between a sunny afternoon in the park or a gloomy evening in jail.

Online communities have begun collaborating to produce intricate maps of GTA worlds.  The map heading this post is from Grand Theft Auto IV, the most recent addition to the series, and was produced by a team at IGN.  This map works on the same platform as Google Maps, and allows players to overlay the map with the locations of weapons, vehicles, services, and a host of other important gameplay items. 

GTA IV’s map is clearly based on New York City and its boroughs.  Players have the opportunity to travel throughout the city and visit locations as they wish, in addition to the missions they must accomplish to complete the game.  Although some have criticized the GTA series for its violence, there are also some who have issues with the gameplay freedom, though they are admittedly few.

Thanks to Alex for the recommendation!

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Welcome to Cartographia

Cartographia is a blog about how we use maps to represent the world around us, and how people interpret maps today and throughout history. Please feel free to send any questions, comments, or recommendations directly to me at cartographia.blog@gmail.com.

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