There Goes Your Entire Day: GeoGuessr

By John Walker on May 13th, 2013 at 10:00 am.

Somewhere in Birmingham, right?

If you weren’t connected to the correct Twitter tubes this weekend, there’s a chance you may not have spent every waking moment playing GeoGuessr. So let’s put that right now.

Anton Wallén’s clever repurposing of Google’s Street View magics dumps you in the middle of somewhere, and you have to try to figure out where that is. You can move around in Street View as you might expect, but obviously you can’t zoom out to see the map you’re in. Once you’ve wandered about, hunted down clues to a location, and feel pretty sure of where you are, you drop a pin somewhere in the world on the map top right, and you score points based on how close you were. And then you keep doing that until you’ve forgotten to go to bed tomorrow night.

What’s so fun about it is the sense of a successful deduction. You may well find yourself in the middle of a forest, or quite frequently in the endless stretches of a desert. But there are clues to be found pretty quickly. Vegetation is one, but road signs are another. Road markings themselves can often give away at least a continent. You may be pretty certain you’re in the United States Mid-West, but then the Chinese characters on what looks like a parking sign tend to point you away from that theory.

Another time you may be in a busy street, and the language is going to be easy to find. But if it’s an unfamiliar language, and despite searching you can’t find any useful roadsigns pointing to nearby towns you may recognise, a neat trick is reading the advertising. The URLs will at least help you out with the specific country, but spotting a town name that appears on many of them can be a big hint. So you’ve figured out you’re in Poland, but now you know you’re in the region of a big town, Konin. Narrowing it down further is going to require more exploration, spotting more subtle details, or – you know – bumping into a sign with the name of the town on it. So, for instance, that image above – turn around and head around a corner and there’s this:

Which is a start… My guess is Scandinavian? I think Sweden.

Heading down the road for more clues I had a real moment of cognitive dissonance. Having spent far too much of my time playing Neverwinter recently, seeing a noticeboard by the side of the road seemingly covered in sparkles bemused me. Here:

Does this mean the locals create quests for each other and post them here? I really hope so. Then, bingo:

Indeed Sweden. And a quick scour of the map top right and I find Umeå, and from the distances I can make an educated guess as to where I am. That’s how I play, at least.

Geography has always been an enormous weakpoint for me, so I’m both surprised to learn what I do know, and further humiliated to reveal what I don’t. Discovering I’m in South America generally means embarrassment is ahead. And those desert roads can often lead to a wild guess, sometimes tens of thousands of kilometres out as it turns out that yet again this stretch of Nevada is in the West of Australia.

There are five turns in each round, scoring you points based on how far out your guesses are. And my results tend to be a mix of surprisingly close and woefully far apart:

But it’s a real joy to just stumble upon amazing sights. Highlights for me have been:

It both demonstrates what an extraordinary endeavour Street Maps is, and indeed what a lovely implementation of its ideas this is. As the game says, let’s explore the world!

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148 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge

    The Sombrero Kid says:

    If you beat my score you’re a liar and a cheat, just saying
    http://t.co/UEhhg1qalK

  2. Shadowcat says:

    It’s like some kind of nightmare, dressed up in game clothing.

    • Shadowcat says:

      Oh god, it’s actually worse than I imagined. Street View only lets you travel a few metres at a time — you can’t click in on the road the distance to jump there! Which is an understandable restriction really (I think it should be do-able iff they have height data, but it would add a tremendous of complexity), but to have that restriction in a game like this? Holy crap. Are people actually spending time painfully clicking and loading their way down roads at this pace? That’s awful. (I do keep thinking that “really enjoying the scenery” might be a mitigating factor here, except not so much when each new photo is only a few steps away from the last.)

  3. WarderDragon says:

    Awww. I live in Umeå!

    • John Walker says:

      In that case, can you drive about 28 miles and figure out how that noticeboard is sparkling?

      • WarderDragon says:

        Well, clearly it’s a vampire noticeboard. If you’ve played Skyrim, you know the north is bat country.

        (And it’s 28 kilometres. Cause we’re civilized!)

      • SuicideKing says:

        Reminded me more of Far Cry 3′s boards, but maybe that’s because i haven’t played Neverwinter.

        Or maybe all quest boards look the same :|

    • Shadowcat says:

      Did anyone else initially read that as “I live in Unreal” ? :)

  4. wodin says:

    On google maps the street around the corner from the one I lived in has a swastika painted on the telephone pole…if you see that it’s Anfield Liverpool off Pinehurst Avenue..

  5. Premium User Badge

    Schmudley says:

    What was behind the USA/Australia debacle?!

    • John Walker says:

      Long stretches of desert road with nothing for miles in any direction.

      • Gormongous says:

        I feel you and everyone else. My kid sister lives in Amarillo, TX, so I’ve driven there half a dozen times, but I still mistook a stretch of highway there for something from the Outback.

      • meepmeep says:

        Just check which side of the road the streetview car is driving on.

        • Xocrates says:

          Except you can’t see the car. So if there is nothing else around it’s pretty hard to tell.

          I myself have found out I’m completely unable to tell Australia and the US apart.

      • Klaus says:

        Boy, that has happened to me several times already. Anything with long roads of nothingness is either America or Australia.

        • Ralphomon says:

          Although sometimes if there’s barely a road, you’re either in Australia or somewhere in southern Africa.

        • Davie says:

          Or Canada, as I have found out. Saskatchewan is very, very empty.

      • Paul.Power says:

        For some reason I can usually get the Australia/USA ones by paying attention to the road markings and signs. The one that really throws me is Mexico/South America, it catches me out constantly. Perhaps I should pay attention to whether the shadows are facing?

    • Kitsunin says:

      I just guessed California instead of Australia…apparently both places have a town called Pendleton, and a nearby Kern Valley Resort. Weird.

  6. paulnewmanseyes says:

    My girlfriend is tenacious, and will. not. stop. clicking down a road until she has found out which country and town we’re in. As a result, our high score is 25,357. Proof: http://twitter.com/alexhern/status/333858907808227328/photo/1

    The guantlet? She is thrown down.

    • Jams O'Donnell says:

      Aw, dang. I was going to put on my bragging hat and share my 24,900ish score :(

      (it was helped by one of the locations being right in front of a cathedral I’m going to be visiting in a couple weeks’ time)

    • foop says:

      27,672. But I’m a dirty cheater. I scooted around until I found a business I could look up in Google in another tab. My come-uppance arrived in the form of a long, long, straight road through pine trees. North America, yes, but where?

      • paulnewmanseyes says:

        Christ, I’ve been put on that road too. (The locations aren’t random.) It was… Minnesota? Is that right?
        Anyway, I should point out we got that score without any googling so there.

    • Ross Angus says:

      Paul: I own you an apology: my internal spam filter was triggered by your first sentence. You are real. I know that now.

    • modomahu says:

      Ahem. http://goo.gl/gZMJs
      29973

  7. Tony M says:

    You have alot more patience than I do. I play glance and guess, and am pleased if I manage the right country. Although I guess my method doesn’t take advantage of the power of Google maps.

    • UncleLou says:

      That’s how I do it as well. I basically consider walking about cheating. Because otherwise I can’t justify my low score. ;)

      • Premium User Badge

        VelvetFistIronGlove says:

        I’ve been playing this way too–just going off the clues visible where I start. No walking, no cross references.

        My second-worst guess: the language on signs looked like Finnish, and there were road signs indicating a junction between highways 13 and 409 up ahead. After zooming in on the map in the corner, I noticed it showed the highway numbers. So I duly scouted around for quite a while until I found them both, put the marker in about the right place near the junction, and… found I was off by over 50km. Turns out that those roads intersect twice.

        My worst guess: it was a dead-end road, beside a park, and with a view across a river or inlet opposite. My first thought was “huh, that view looks a bit like the view across the Derwent from Hobart [Tasmania, where I used to live].” Then I started looking for specific clues to the location: the kicker was the gate onto the park had a coat of arms on it, and it had a lion and a unicorn, not an emu and a kangaroo. So obviously, I thought, it must be in England somewhere. So I picked what seemed like a likely area and… yeah, it was Hobart after all. The Queen’s Domain—and I’ve been there, down that little street on a number of occasions! Stupid coat of arms.

  8. foop says:

    You bastard, Walker. I’m supposed to be productive at work, not fritter my time away proving my inability to distinguish New Zealand from Guatemala.

  9. Barnox says:

    I got a rather difficult one. Cars were on the left of the road, 0800 business numbers, a Punjab Tandoori House and http://i.minus.com/iPqdxB5euz4uh.jpg . But it was sunny, and said “School Zone: 40″, which I don’t think is MPH…
    Turns out it was New Zealand.

    Alaska/North Europe is a difficult one too. Lots of pines.
    Twice I’ve had tiny islands near Taiwan. One looked like Japan, the other China (because of the ugly lion-dog statues).

  10. Premium User Badge

    c-Row says:

    I like how you are sometimes dropped on a road in the middle of nowhere and yet can manage to find a road sign that says “Route 69″ to narrow the target area. My guess was still a few hundred kilometers off, but it’s great fun to gather clues.

  11. spectone says:

    I had that first picture shown above, which means the locations don’t seem to be random.

    • Premium User Badge

      JB says:

      I’ve certainly ended up at the same place twice (though not in one game) and so has one of my daughters. Lots of fun though, we’ve been playing a lot this weekend.

      • AshEnke says:

        It’s strange, because the changelog states :
        New version out, now with hopefully less Australia. Also:
        - Better randomization
        - Increased points for really close guesses
        - Bugfixes

        • The Random One says:

          It may refer to how it randomly chooses entries from the existing ones, not how it randomly chooses places out of the entire planet.

    • Nemon says:

      Yeah, me too. This one place in the Gulf of California seems to pop up now and then.

  12. Arglebargle says:

    Wow! What a fun way to be lost….

  13. Premium User Badge

    Lacero says:

    Game of the Year

    • sleepisthebrotherofdeath says:

      I’m waiting for the GOTY with all the DLC included before I play

  14. Porkolt says:

    Hardest one I’ve done so far:

    For some reason, I just got dumped on what appears to be a cruise ship, and I can’t move around – all I have to go on is the coastal skyline. How did a streetview car get here? Maybe it’s some sort of pier. No, wait, there’s a big LED screen displaying a cruise ship which looks similar.

    I don’t recognize the flag the ship itself is flying, but then it probably wouldn’t help much (the ship could be from anywhere, except Switzerland or something). I’ve spotted a docked navy ship, but it doesn’t help much, as I can’t make out a flag. There’s a sign in the distance which might be asian characters, but it’s too far away to see.

    There’s a woman in front of the camera licking an ice cream cone. Through the blur I’d guess she’s hispanic, but I can’t be sure. A guy walking up from further away is definitely caucasian, though.

    While wondering about the ship’s odd design (it’s all very colorful and there is all sorts of pointless scenery around), I suddenly notice something. On the chimney is what appears to be Mickey Mouse’s head in white. Is this some sort of Disney cruise? Google confirms it. All the logos work out: I’m on a Disney cruise liner for some reason.

    So we’re probably in some tropical region. Judging by the way people dress the climate is definitely warm. Disney plus tropical equals Florida? But the compass tells me I’m on the north by northeast coast of something, and Florida doesn’t have any coastline facing that way.

    I zoom out the map to look around a bit further, then I spot it – the Bahamas! The coastline of Grand Bahama perfectly fits the shape of what I’m looking at. That must be it! …Oh, but there aren’t any buildings there, so it couldn’t be.

    So… The Bahamas? The Florida Keys? I don’t think I’m gonna get much closer. I put my marker somewhere off the coast of Florida and make the guess.

    225 kms, just off the north coast of Nassau. It was one of my potential guesses. Whew!

    • Premium User Badge

      Oozo says:

      As a son of a Swiss sailor and a regular drinker in the hangout of Switzerland’s mariner club, I beg to differ!
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merchant_Marine_of_Switzerland

      • Porkolt says:

        Well technically I was right because it wasn’t a Swiss ship.

        Also that article clearly indicates Switzerland is not in posession of any cruise ships.

    • somnolentsurfer says:

      I got ditched outside an anonymous house on a dirt driveway in a field, otherwise flat to the horizon. No navigation controls, and only the shadow of the photographer to tell me this wasn’t taken from a car.

    • Fenix says:

      For me the hardest was when it dropped me on some highway in some elevated and greenish zone. There were no signs or any other discernible clue, so I just started wandering around a bit, and after like, 10 minutes I finally found a half blurred sign with only one word recognizable, which was Pinell. Some googling later and I end up here: http://www.blm.gov/ak/st/en/prog/recreation/pinnell_mtn_rec/plan_your_visit.print.html

      From there finding Fairbanks and following the highway and trying to guess where in it I was was quite difficult, and in the end I ended up about 30 kms south of the place.

      I would have NEVER guessed it was Alaska just by looking at the scenery.

  15. Premium User Badge

    Dimonte says:

    Done before and arguably done better: http://pursued.nemesys.hu/

    • AshEnke says:

      It’s great too, but I like the random nature of GeoGuessr
      (And it doesn’t require me to log in via social media to “unlock” more “levels”)

  16. phelix says:

    Great game! Reminds me of Wikispeedia.

  17. Jams O'Donnell says:

    32079. I am the best at not being lost in an imaginary scenario given full access to the Googles.

    • Premium User Badge

      Lacero says:

      32356
      http://bit.ly/10S5DwJ

      But yeah, it does feel like looking the exact spot up in google maps, confirming the streetview, then clicking on it in the main map is cheating a bit :)

  18. somnolentsurfer says:

    There is little more frustrating than a distant blurry unreadable road sign in the desert, the Google next photographs directly from the side.

  19. Premium User Badge

    harvb says:

    Absolutely in love with this game, I sank hours into it yesterday. My highlight was actually spotting somewhere I’d been and leaping around the house terrifying both wife and cat.

    Yes, my life really is that exciting, folks.

  20. Premium User Badge

    MajorManiac says:

    For me the best bit about this game is discovering new places I’d like to visit.

  21. Magus44 says:

    It’s official, I hope I never get get lost/stranded/dumped in a desert. With every click down this stupid road I get more and more tired!
    I got a 8400 guess before. yeaaah.

    EDIT: Been clicking lots… Cars on the left… Somewhere in America maybe? There were some skidmarks a while back.. looked like someone had crashed a while ago…
    Last road sign I passed said PB 150… I’ve got a while to go…
    EDIT2: When I said cars on the left… I meant the Google car… But then I realized… I could be looking backwards… Then I think I got turned around…. What if I’ve been repeating my steps the entire time… That FLOODWAY road sign looks familiar…
    I cant even navigate by the sun… I JUST WISH I COULD SEE SOME WILD LIFE!!!
    EDIT3: PEOPLE. THANK THE STARS!!!! They had Trucks.. markings on them.. Budget… I know that company… Australian..The signs on the road are Australian the more I think of it… ALMOST THERE!
    EDIT4: A SIGN! But it was blocked out partly… It looked like it said Cheeky Plains Station… But there isn’t a Cheeky plains station… Or anything like it in Australia… I passed an abandoned Ford a ways back… It had Bullet holes in it… I hate to think how far I’ve travelled…
    EDIT5: Well that answers it… The last distance marker I read said PB 110. I’ve “walked” at least 40 kilometres. I’m going to get 5000+ on this If its the last thing I do. I past some Creek Markers.. but they were just generic names, like Shingle and Gumtree…

  22. meepmeep says:

    I think it’s too easy if you can just travel about until you find roadsigns and the like.

    I play it with the additional challenge that you cannot move from the initial spot.

    Also, there appears to be a limited number of specified locations – about 100 I think? It started repeating them.

  23. flaillomanz says:

    Challenge: After seeing where GeoGuessr drops you, physically go there and take a photo as proof. Hard mode: Go to the spot you first guessed it to be at before going there.

    Anyone who does this is made completely out of the pure essence of awesome.

  24. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    I am not very good at this game. I am too impatient – I just look around for a minute and go “Hm. This is probably in Portugal *click* … or Brazil. Well, close enough.”

    Some games were weird though. Two times I could only look at a 360° image, but not move around. One time I started underwater. I could move (swim?) around for awhile (I saw a ray) until I was suddenly on a beach on a tiny island, which I could explore for a bit. Apparently someone made underwater photos, and that got used as streetview data. My guess war totally wrong, but the island turned out to be “Wilson Island”, near the city of Gladstone in north-east Australia.

  25. Winged Nazgul says:

    This is even starting to affect upcoming eagerly-anticipated games:

    https://twitter.com/RagnarTornquist/status/333594933858557953

    “Sorry, guys. Chapters will be delayed because of #GeoGuessr. Also, we won’t ever need any more games. We’re done now. http://geoguessr.com/

  26. olemars says:

    I got dropped in the middle of the Japanese gardens in Portland, which was confusing. Especially since I couldn’t find any way out of the park.

    I wish Google wouldn’t blur out so many roadsigns. Is it just the automatic license plate blurring that is a bit overzealous or are they blurring out everything with letters on purpose?

    • eroticfishcake says:

      Pretty sure it’s the licence plate censoring being overzealous as it’s counter-intuitive for a map finder to blur out obvious things needed to find yourself on a map with.

  27. DrMcCoy says:

    Reminds me a bit of Mario is Missing!. :)

  28. Premium User Badge

    Lambchops says:

    Got 9559 on my first go. Managed to identify Brazil (convenient lorry with .br address), Hong Kong (there was English and Chinese on the road markings) and coast of Canada (handy flag) but was fooled by too open expanses of road, one of which I decided was Utah and the other Australia, unfortunately they turned out to be the exact opposite!

  29. suibhne says:

    Sure, you can do a workaround…but this would actually benefit from a TV-friendly interface and a hotseat mode.

    Also, this is absolutely e-mazing.

    • Koozer says:

      It works well with the WiiU browser I hear. Haven’t tried it myself.

  30. Magus44 says:

    I dont know. I like it. But those middle of nowhere places are silly. I got dropped in a backwater middle America place. With 2009 era grainy photos. Absolutely no details. All I saw was a School bus. And some Fords etc. Clicked for ages down one road and got stuck, and couldn’t be bothered going backwards.

    Not sure I like the 5 guess limit either. Mebe you could crowd source some destinations? Then time how long people take to do it? Or how many clicks?

  31. pegolius says:

    Yay, 21725 points. And by the way. Russian locations are hard :/

  32. Premium User Badge

    Siresly says:

    This is truly ingenious. Deserves to become some kind of something. It’s fun, like a point n click where there’s no designed puzzles, it’s all you investigating and deducing, plus you learn some geography and get to sightsee around the world.

    The only question is; to google or not to google. Think both are valid and fun. You get way closer by googling stuff though. And it makes you feel smarter. So that’s what I’m doing at the moment.

  33. Danny252 says:

    And when you get bored of just guessing where you are, you can try the Airport Game!

    Setup:
    1. Go to http://www.mapcrunch.com/ (GeoGuessr might work, but it’ll keep bugging you for a guess…).
    2. Select “Stealth” mode, to hide your location.
    3. Select your countries (go on, select “all”, you like a challenge) and hit “Go”!

    How to play:
    Woah, you’re looking rough there! I guess you were drinking last night. It turns out that, during your drunken revelry with an incredibly rich friend, you have somehow woken up in a foreign country and you have no idea where you are! Luckily, you also happen to have enough money in your pocket to cover a flight home, but you have no access to the internet or a travel guide, so there’s just one problem…

    Where’s the airport?!

    Your objective is to navigate until you find an airport – you aren’t allowed to use outside sources (e.g. Google), but obviously you can follow road signs to the “Aeroporto”! You can also change the difficulty slightly (Do you want a direct flight home, or are you happy to ask that dodgy guy who owns the only plane to fly you to a large airport? Do you restrict yourself to English-speaking countries only?).

  34. Joe Duck says:

    Ok, this is the reason why games should be forbidden. I really need my last 3 hours back, please.

  35. Koozer says:

    The first three rounds it put me in the middle of a clearly American highway, along which I travelled until I got bored of clicking arrows and seeing eligible fuzzed out signs and made wild guesses.

    Fourth it plonked me inside a museum which was pretty ‘cool’ as the kids say these days. Wandered around the exhibits for a bit before heading for the entrance to find a sign, but the front of the building was blank and was dead-end route. Only things I had to go off was the south-east coastline and the what I thought to be Chinese characters, but it turned out to be Japan.

    Fifth round I was dumped on a tropical beach with nowhere to go. A rusted can an the shoreline, and a wooden fence behind me concealing some sort of wooden structure were my only clues. Made a wild guess at Hawaii, but turned out to be Cuba. :(

  36. InnerPartisan says:

    So… I pretty much just learned the Cyrillic Alphabet. Thank you, Mr. Walker!

  37. eroticfishcake says:

    Best guess I made so far is finding myself between Bon Arrivée cafe and Botswana airport at 14 meters. Made myself so proud. \o/

  38. sinister agent says:

    Whaat, you moved around? But that’s cheating!

  39. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    I managed 15107 without the joyless cheatery of Google. I did allow myself to wander around a bit, and I also got lucky when my fifth one was a small town on what I immediately recognised as the NSW south coast.

    http://bit.ly/16uF09R

    I reckon I could do better but I’m embargoing this thing before it sucks every spare second out of my schedule.

    Absolutely brilliant. Whoever owns the rights to Carmen Sandiego should hire these people and reboot that series with a vengeance.

  40. lunegov says:

    Pure madness: http://yadi.sk/d/zE4TkRRp4na4w Did Google streetviewed every farm in US?

  41. Shinwaka says:

    Awesome game!

    Game finished!

    You got 15019 points in total.

  42. LionsPhil says:

    My first location appears to be somwhere where they drive on the left, have white plates (argh, fuzzy imagery!), and there’s a BP garage…but fuel prices above 150? Don’t remember them ever getting quite that bad here…

    Agh! A tactically positioned tree obscures the something Pier Hotel from all angles!

  43. Premium User Badge

    Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    Australia is my nemesis. I always end up thinking it is Florida. Perhaps we should petition for an international resolution to ensure there are more kangaroos by the side of the road or something.

    • LionsPhil says:

      I suspected my one above was Australia, and even got the city name, but couldn’t find it along the civilized coast. Its Spanish-sounding lean combined with plentiful palm trees let someone convince me to stick a pin in the tropics instead.

      Mistake. Blasted Australia, over on the south-west.

    • WrenBoy says:

      Mistaking New Zealand for Ireland gives 17 points. Ouch!

    • Guvornator says:

      The clue is the roads. They drive on the left in Oz whereas they drive on the right in the US. However they also drive on the left in bits of Africa as well which can be confusing…

  44. Freud says:

    Good idea but it really needs a “travel a mile forward” button. Clicking forward hundreds of times over 30 minutes to get out of a desert road gets old very quickly.

  45. xyzzy30 says:

    Though the search engines isn’t explicitly out-ruled, it seems reasonably clear from the 1-2-3 steps that it’s probably intended that they aren’t to be used. On the other hand, I’m interested in the nitty gritty details and want to glean information that will provide me a completely accurate location, though I won’t go down roads for more than a kilometre or two in street view. So, ultimately what is cheating to you is down to what you want to get out of it. I think it’s a fun distraction to chase the locations all over Google, 27802 so far.

    • Guvornator says:

      I’m prepared to chase clues across google but not place names. So for example I guessed Australia by locating a truck with a name on it then tracking it down. As I had to correctly guess that it was transporting milk for it to work, I felt I’d worked my brain enough to earn it. However I wouldn’t, say, see a road name , enter it into google maps then just eliminate incorrect answers.

  46. abandonhope says:

    My first score: http://tinyurl.com/d78lpot

    Only found helpful flags in Norway. In Bulgaria, in a remote, off-highway settlement, I found all the flags. I was like, oh come on! http://tinyurl.com/cx74mvj

  47. DXN says:

    Unless I’m missing something, it doesn’t ‘bookmark’ your original starting location, so if you go wandering, and you can’t find the same place again, you’ll be out by however much you wandered. That would be a nice feature!

    • Guvornator says:

      I think your points are where you ARE rather than where you were. Certainly my point weren’t based on my original starting point. However, I’ve just been teleported into a place from which I cannot move. Which is a bit of a bugger…nice, though…maybe I’ll stay awhile…

      EDIT: turns out I was at The Sandal’s Whitehouse Resort Jamaica. Also I was wrong about the bookmarks. So there you go.

      • Premium User Badge

        Matt_W says:

        I have found my exact current location using Streetview, and been off by more than 1km. I’m pretty sure it uses your original location.

  48. caulder says:

    Any clues as to where is that picture of the farming family from?