Real Digital: Game Maps Drawn From Memory

By Alec Meer on January 11th, 2012 at 12:14 pm.

Guess the game without cheating

This is wonderful, and as fine an example there is of how videogames exist as something far beyond pixels on a screen. Mapstalgia is a Tumblr blog consisting of videogame level maps drawn (mostly) by hand – from memory alone. Digital worlds recreated solely from the echoes they left in brain-flesh. Obviously there’s a lot of Zelda and Sonic and that lot, but you’ll also find Quake, Freelancer, Vampire Bloodlines, Morrowind, Team Fortress 2, Battlefield 1942 and even King’s Quest II and Zork in there. Marvel at how they evoke places you know well, how they get it both right and wrong and most of all that these layouts continue to exist in human brains long after they were last seen in the digital flesh.

I’m going to have a go at drawing Quake III DM17 from my addled memory alone in a bit – I’ll add it to the post once done, if it’s at all legible.

Via @liquidindian.

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64 Comments »

  1. Gira says:

    Rhymes with “mud-signs”.

  2. Hypnotoad says:

    i often comment about how I can’t remember half of the important memories of my life, yet can accurately recall every Raven Shield map, the layout of star systems in EVE around Dodixie and when playing an old game navigate the maps like I never left them.

    • Tony M says:

      Same. The best map I could draw is probably Quest For Glory 1, or maybe the First map of GTA 3. I guess the Battlefield games, but mapping a multiplayer game seems like cheating, those games are all about memorization of a level.

      I have a strong memory of Wonder Boy, but I only remember it as I play it. Pause at any time I think I could draw the next screen, and where to jump.

    • Starky says:

      Same, birthdays, family celebrations, other “important” events are all hazy and undefined (even the ones that didn’t involve alcohol), yet I can easily remember every corner of almost every map in counter strike, bosses and timings for WoW raids, I’m a living bloody strategy guide for final fantasy 7 even though it’s been more than 5 years since I last played it (though I did sink 300 hours into that game if not more).
      I can still remember trade routes in Frontier Elite, and specific and detailed things about games I played when I was a pre-teen on my Amiga 1200.

      The human brain works on lossy compression – I wonder if one day I’ll regret compressing all those real life events to something vague and generic to make room for endless facts, figures, and specifics about video games.

    • MiniMatt says:

      Oh god yes, I reckon I can still (assuming it’s not been changed) run the (90 odd minute) route from Freeport to Qeynos in Everquest (1) and it’s been around a decade since I played that.

      Sat-nav needed every single time I go visit the parents though.

    • Rob Maguire says:

      I spent a year thinking I was one year older than I actually was, but I can remember every little detail of the Fueling Station from Jedi Knight perfectly, down to what spawns/puzzles change on each difficulty level.

      Helps that it was the demo level, so I played it repeatedly for months until I found the game in stores.

  3. Tusque D'Ivoire says:

    The above map for example took me about 5 seconds to figure out!

    btw: looking at the other maps, i remember mazes and spaceship battle-scenes that me and a friend of mine used to invent and draw back in grade school. classically making noises while drawing. They looked a lot like some of these.

    • Alexander Norris says:

      The “taxi” was the first tip-off, then the relative position of the hospital and diner confused me for a second until I saw the description of the building at the very bottom.

      Also, that’s not where the gallery is (mind you, I only remember because I replayed the game three months ago – I’d already forgotten the junkyard was even there).

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      Got it in a few seconds too.

      God I’m a geek!

  4. Out Reach says:

    Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines.

  5. mrwonko says:

    Great thing, thanks! Will probably submit a map or two later.

  6. Dreamhacker says:

    Hm, they got the direction to the beach wrong, the closest door is from the south parking entrance.

    • Rinox says:

      Also, Mercurio’s place is marked under ‘not important’. For shame!

    • Ritashi says:

      Mercurio’s place is on the other side of town, fastest rout is through the alleys behind the club. That “unimportant” place only contains some sort of computer parts shop on the back side.

  7. abigbat says:

    I started working on the first level of Descent, but then I got a migraine and had to go lie down.

  8. The Tupper says:

    My memory’s getting so bad I could barely draw you a map of the route from my own study to the bog.

  9. frenz0rz says:

    Hah, realised what game that was as soon as I saw the diner.

    I can tell this site is going to consume a sizeable portion of my afternoon.

  10. Dzamir says:

    I just made the map for a typical Call Of Duty level http://imgur.com/CKazz

  11. Network Crayon says:

    I can draw you a map of facing worlds from UT on here:

    Tower===-===Tower

  12. CaspianRoach says:

    And half of it is silly console platformers. Ugh. Do not want.

  13. mrpier says:

    de_dust2 is still burned into my mind.

  14. netizensmith says:

    Every map I’ve every played of any game ever is just a scribbly mess to me. They were all like that *while* I was playing them too. I have almost zero spatial awareness.

  15. SiHy_ says:

    This is a great idea. Just submitted Monkey Island 2, Scabb island town. Played through that game far too many times. Hmmm… Haven’t played it in a while actually…

    • Prime says:

      Valve’s terrible writing/shoe-horning of game design into awkward story?

    • Starky says:

      Or because Freeman was a messianic like figure, near worshipped by a vast chunk of the population, and by that point in the game the combine were hunting him down, and there is no way he could just catch a train.

    • LionsPhil says:

      No, I think Prime got it there.

      But haha at “there was another coast, but it’s lost”.

  16. Alexander Norris says:

    This is the best map. Had me chuckling for a good five minutes.

    • Kefren says:

      Ah, iconic pair of ladders, even though I only ever played the C64 version (and managed to complete it once, during a sunny session one morning when I had just got out of bed).

    • SiHy_ says:

      Yeah, made me chuckle too. Yeah, my brother finished the C64 one back in the day. I don’t think I ever got past baby satan.

    • Kefren says:

      With the mini-devil in the C64 you had to run back when it dived, and hope the bugs didn’t reset it further back in an impossible position. I used to think of the positioning bugs as just being an extra level of difficulty! I have no idea now how I ever defeated that final dragon, I just remember it being over quickly.

  17. Kefren says:

    That made me look twice – at first I thought it was a map I’d sketched. It’s surprisingly close to the map I sketched here http://www.zombie.greenisp.org/PentrefBychan.jpg (except the junkyard is on the opposite side, and I didn’t label the beach on my map). Weird because my map is from my RPG/novel mentioned here http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2012/01/09/post-modern-roleplaying-rebooting-dd/#comment-886661, not from a game. Yet Vampire TMB is something I have played loads – did it subconsciously affect me? The only thing that makes me say ‘no’ is that I never thought of the first big hub as looking like that, I always picture the locations in a first-person view. Still, there is some resemblance.

    • Alexander Norris says:

      Your RPG is set in Wales? :P

      The book sounds interesting, though. I might have to check it out when you publish!

      Edit: That’s a pretty interesting video – thanks for linking it!

    • Kefren says:

      Sorry for the confusion, that one-off game (I should have said ‘scenario’!) was set in Wales, then the novel was based partly on that, and a stay on Ynys Enlli with no electricity for a week – mentioned in a recent talk I gave here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-c9wbjFvSc&feature=player_embedded (I’m afraid I don’t run on and do a Steve Ballmer).

  18. Josh Millard says:

    Hello! Nothing could be more exciting than to wake up and see this idea featured on RPS. It’s been enormously fun seeing contributions come in the last couple days, and I’d can’t wait to see what else comes along.

    To address a couple things:

    - Bad at drawing? Hazy memory? Who cares, submit anyway! This is about shared memories of places, fractured and poorly rendered as that may be. Poor maps are just as interesting as eidetic recapitulations. Do that one screen you can remember and throw up some HERE BE DRAGONS handwaves for the stuff around it that you can’t remember.

    - Duplicates are great. One memory of a level is fine; five different people’s memories of it, in all there little differences, is fantastic. Don’t be put off on doing your favorite map just because someone else did. Just try not to look too hard at theirs first so you can keep your memory unfreshened.

    - Consoles games are present and accounted for, yes, but PC games are awesome too; there’s several PC maps up already and I would specifically love more maps from them. (I need to try to crank out some bits of X-Com and Fallout, personally.) Old console stuff is kind of an obvious first-blush route for a lot of people because the limitations of e.g. the NES made for memorably blocky screen-sized architecture, but there’s no reason to let some fun Mario and Zelda maps turn you off from putting together something for your favorite PC title.

    Anyway, I’m freakin’ delighted here. Hope you all enjoy, and I’d love to see your maps.

    • Alexander Norris says:

      Pretty much the first thing I did after clicking through the archives was make a submission of my own. :P

      (mp_strike, in case you’re wondering.)

  19. povu says:

    Deus Ex, Hell’s Kitchen Warehouse district. It needs to be done. :D

  20. westyfield says:

    Love this idea so much. I just submitted a map from The Best Battlefield. Realised half-way through drawing it that I basically never played that map on conquest (Titan ftw) so I had some difficulty remembering where all the flags were.

  21. deadly.by.design says:

    I love how it exposes the linearity of certain maps.

  22. sfury says:

    It got me thinking which map I can draw out of memory and I didn’t have any immediate thoughts…

    Then I read Alec’s Quake III line.

    Q3DM17.

    Now that’s a place etched in my memory, almost 10 (haven’t played the last 2-3) years of playing Quake on the same damn map. O_o

    Especially multi-player maps where you had to memorize every nook and cranny to get some advantage, those are ones many of us would easily recall.

    Hell, give me a rocket-launcher and drop me there right now, I’d be ready to go!

  23. Bureaucrat says:

    Oh, man. If I get time later, I’m totally trying to draw up Sorpigal from the first Might & Magic game.

  24. Quine says:

    Is it a bad thing when you find yourself backing through an FPS map without hitting the walls?

    90% of my memory must be filled with this sort of stuff.
    Maybe I’ll get 2fort (TFC and TF2 versions) drawn up later…

  25. Gothnak says:

    Pfft, that’s the easy level of Adventure, where’s the difficult one?

  26. empath says:

    I’ll just draw a map of one of the Ninja Gaiden 2 levels. It’s going to be two platforms and then **FUCKING BIRDS***

    That’s as far into the game as I got.

  27. The Codicier says:

    I remember the topic of map drawing in games coming up on the Quarter to three podcast last year.
    I believe it was this one

    http://www.quartertothree.com/fp/2011/08/22/qt3-podcast-spoofychop-and-wizard-wars/

    They were talking in particular about one guys maps which were used in a exhibition (apparently in liverpoo possibley this one: http://www.fact.co.uk/about/exhibitions/2009/space-invaders-art-and-the-video-game-environment)

    Tom Chick rambles huuugley (but its good rambling IMO) so if you want to skip to the related anecdote and chat skip to the 1h 5min mark .

    They seem to concentrated on games drawn WHILE playing unlike mapstalgia which as alec said seems to be from memory alone.

    They mention this site
    http://plagmada.org
    which seems to focus more on D&D than anything else but is still worth a quick nose about if the idea of someone collecting maps drawn while playing interests you

  28. Carra says:

    Now you’ve got me nostalgically thinking about the super awesome demo map of Return to Castle Wolfenstein. It’s what got me into multiplayer shooters.

    • Bostec says:

      Ahh, Depot, many countless hours of running around that map.

  29. Lamb Chop says:

    When I get some free time, I’ll see if I can draw every non-mappack level in MW2′s multiplayer with perfect accuracy. What’s most interesting to me thinking about this is that I visualize the layout as a first-person experience – recreating it my head by running down various paths.

    Also, I’m pretty surprised not to see a statue of liberty yet. I have a pretty good mental image of it but I’m a little worried about its accuracy (I’d never remember how the containers stack up in the back). That has to be one of the most iconic level designs in gaming history.

  30. Yosharian says:

    Oh god, I instantly recognised that map.. I feel like a true nerd now.

  31. Navagon says:

    Q2 DM1 is where it’s at. But it’s so reliant on the 3rd dimension that drawing it would be tricky.

  32. Iskariot says:

    I could draw all bloodlines maps without a problem. I’m still playing Bloodlines all the time. There’s no real alternative for the vampire minded.
    So weird that in these days, in which vampire movies and books do so extraordinary well, there still is no new vampire action rpg. I would pay a shitload of money for a Bloodlines sequel in an open city world like Liberty city.

  33. nabeel says:

    Awesome tumblr, I might give this a try myself. I like to think that I have impeccable spatial memory while playing games, which is why Metroidvania games are some of my favourite in terms of level design; however, I never draw maps and and I’m pretty sure I would be unable to draw an accurate one purely from memory.

  34. Dark_Oppressor says:

    I submitted my favorite level of Nethack!

  35. Rane2k says:

    This is wonderful!

    I might draw one or two when I get home, so many memories of great games :-)