VGMaps.com's 10th Anniversary
How time flies! VGMaps.com: The Video Game Atlas has been live since May 6, 2002. Back then, I wasn't sure that I'd be running a web site for over ten years, but apparently now I have!
Time for a retrospective! Now, I don't wish to bore you with a detailed history lesson. There are online resources such as archive.org's Wayback Machine if you really want to see what VGMaps.com looked like or what content it had at a certain point in time. But I will instead recap a few things that haven't necessarily been covered thoroughly before, such as the origins of the site which I only briefly alluded to here and there, and so might as well cover it all here in one place. On that note, we might as well jump in. Cue the flashback sequence...
PLAYING WITH POWER
These days, I get new Nintendo hardware on the first day that it's available, but it was not the case when I was younger. The Nintendo Entertainment System seemed to be the ultimate in video gaming while I was in elementary school, certainly a step up from the aging ColecoVision that me and my brother had ever since I had any sort of hand-eye co-ordination, or the Atari 2600 that some of my friends had. My brother and I longed for our own NES for maybe a couple years, though it felt like an eternity, but eventually my parents seemed to begin to consider getting one. ...Maybe.
One day in the summer of 1989, after shopping at the then-relatively-new Mill Woods Town Centre, me and my brother and mother were walking back to the bus stop to go home. My mother took a misstep off the curb near the bus stop, and injured her foot. She didn't think much of it then, other than that it hurt a bit, but by the late afternoon it had swollen and was excruciatingly painful to walk on. Upon examination at the hospital it was found that she had fractured her ankle, and would need to rest and avoid putting any weight on it until it healed. My mother was suddenly concerned that she couldn't take me and my brother out anymore (oh darn...), and so to keep me and my brother occupied for at least the next few weeks, we would need something to entertain us. Some new video games (or "TV games", as my mom was in the habit of calling them), perhaps? She pressured my dad into buying an NES for us, and before the day was even over we had an NES Power Set, which included the triple Game Pak of Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt and World Class Track Meet, along with a Zapper and Power Pad to play the latter two. This wouldn't just entertain us for mere weeks...
Okay, that was really more the origin of how I became a Nintendo geek. But as I'm not sure how soon I would have gotten an NES, if at all, if not for my mom's misjudgment of where the curb ended, it makes it kind of an interesting story, as if something like fate were involved in turning me into a Nintendo gamer. I could write tomes about nostalgia...or "NEStalgia"...but I digress. Moving on...
Though my love of video games is of course vital to this web site, the seeds of VGMaps.com really came into existence when I obtained a preview issue of Nintendo Power. This was a special preview issue, which only had a dozen or so sample pages of Volume 8 (Sept./Oct. 1989), intending to showcase the various features in the actual magazine and entice one to subscribe to Nintendo Power. There was part of their feature of Duck Tales on the NES, and as was common at the time in this magazine, such "features" were more than just a few screenshots with a blurb, but rather a dissection of most of the featured game! They would be chock full of strategies along with, of course, screenshot maps! Looking back, it's amusing to see that these early maps were often crudely made with photographs, obvious with their varying shades of brightness and an occurrence of the player character sprite on every "screen".
I didn't actually have a subscription until more than a year later. There was a subscription offer where a Dragon Warrior cartridge came as a subscription bonus - yes, an actual NES Game Pak. Not just any game, but an epic game! And subscribers also got a Dragon Warrior guide, a levelling-up reference card, and a poster for its sequel. So full of value, my parents couldn't refuse. And I sure loved that first issue I got, Vol. 20 (Jan. 1991), which was also when Nintendo Power began with regular monthly issues. It featured Mega Man III on its cover and with an in-depth feature - my favourite Mega Man game, for sure. (I would later make reference to this first Nintendo Power issue of mine by recognizing Revned's Mega Man III maps in the first Maps Of The Month feature in May 2004.)
The next year, Nintendo Power gave to subscribers the first four of many "Player's Guides" (not to be confused with their earlier "Strategy Guides"), which were books with more in-depth coverage. Rather than focus on one particular game like strategy guides typically do, these early Player's Guides covered multiple games. The first was the NES Game Atlas. As its title implies, it's an atlas, covering maps of the biggest NES games. Eighteen games from eight franchises were covered, and so just about anyone who's ever owned an NES would likely find something useful in this book. It's like the best of the Nintendo Power magazine, distilled down to its very essence.
This book is, of course, a direct and obvious inspiration to VGMaps. I loved flipping through this book, even if I wasn't actually lost or looking for something in particular within a game - and I imagine (and hope) that sometimes people do enjoy browsing VGMaps.com for some of the same reasons...the memories, the nostalgia, etc. These are the games that many of us (at least those around my age) grew up playing, so it's like a photo album of the places that we've all been to and all experienced together.
But, let's not get ahead of ourselves here, VGMaps.com wouldn't be around just yet! Nintendo Power was an incredible magazine, easily among the best, at least in its peak, which in my mind, was 1991-1994. With the Internet for looking up game walkthroughs and cheats, impending 3D/polygonal games that couldn't easily be represented on paper, and increased competition with the introduction of the PlayStation and other consoles, Nintendo Power wasn't as relevant anymore from the mid-nineties and onwards. Somehow I kept my (initial) subscription going on until Dec. 2001, a solid eleven years. That's a lot of time, between Mega Man III (NES) to Super Smash Bros. Melee (GameCube). In those last several years, I wondered why Nintendo Power, and gaming itself, didn't have the same "magic" that they seemed to have when I was younger, and rationalizing that 2D games were from a past era only increased the yearning for simpler times. Revisiting old games was technically not a problem, but I felt that since I'd played and replayed so many of these old games before, even back when they weren't "old", I felt there was something more I could do with them. For me, the video games culture I longed for included more than just the games themselves, but also related material, like Nintendo Power and its maps!
So one day I just started taking screenshots of Bomb Man's stage from the first Mega Man game and started putting them together, just to see if I could create a screenshot map using actual screenshots. Not really understanding how to work around the limitations of 256-colour palettes, screenshots that had colours that were not present in the first screen had some of their pixels changed when I pasted them in, and so I ended up with this mottled map that wasn't accurate to the pixel. I've had a hard drive crash or two since, so I don't have that shoddy map anymore, but I seem to recall that I deleted it at the time anyway because I thought it looked like junk.
In the spring of of 2001, I decided to try again with one of my favourite games, if not my absolute favourite single player game, The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past. It started with a corner of the Lost Woods. When completed, I noticed its image area was 1024 pixels by 1024 pixels, a perfect square. I then mapped the other areas of the Light World, also finding them to be the same size (at least if you split Death Mountain in two and combine the four quadrants of the Great Swamp). I enjoyed putting together these maps, and noticed how they were neatly arranged across the Light World, and that I only had to fill in the screens in between these distinct areas to make one large coherent map (which was also a square)! Of course, I had the first single-game-specific Player's Guide, the one for this very game, so I suppose I already knew its size and shape, but there was something about assembling the pixels with my own hands. Soon I had this 4096 x 4096 image, which was the largest image I had ever put together, and it was over three megabytes (before I learned about PNG compression), so at the time, I thought this was quite impressive! (I would later print off this map and frame it proudly.)
2001/2002 included my last year in university, working towards a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in Film and Media Studies and minoring in Philosophy. But even while I was attending university - watching a lot of films, and doing a lot of abstract thinking - I was still making time for video games, and if I wasn't playing them I was on GameFAQs message boards daily talking about them, particularly on the GameCube Social Board. Games were always on my mind. I remember doodling Super Smash Bros. Melee icons during a class about Kurosawa films, and sneaking a look at an IGN preview video of Adventure mode of that same game during some cyber philosophy class. I remember a few nights of contemplating how I would get all the Gold Medals in Star Wars: Rogue Leader while waiting for a ride home after a late film screening. So if I had time enough for games during my studies, you can bet I had a lot more free time after graduating, when devoting time to homework and studying were no longer required.
It was April 2002. Exams were finished, and I was done with school. I would soon have a job at Playdium at West Edmonton Mall, thanks to a referral from a university friend who previously worked there, but I wasn't working yet. Games-wise, there just wasn't anything to play on the then-only-a-few-months-old GameCube, especially after unlocking everything in Super Smash Bros. Melee. I had tons of free time, so I needed a hobby or a project or something.
Looking again at the A Link To The Past maps I made a year earlier, I wondered if I should make more maps, or do something with these. I even contributed these maps to some Zelda fan sites. While browsing the Internet, I found that there were various small sites dedicated to specific games, but nothing like GameFAQs that attempted to cover every game possible. Before even trying to submit these maps to GameFAQs, I noticed (at the time) that they had image size restrictions, and I had heard that they don't usually take screenshot maps, certainly not labelled without some sort of valuable information like strategies or item locations. So I felt that I should look elsewhere. And since that "elsewhere" didn't really exist yet, I had the idea to make such a place myself!
Discussing this on GameFAQs message boards (looking back, it's kind of silly to be sharing ideas like that, but anyway), other users didn't think it would be a successful idea, and some figured that having a focus on images instead of text, would cause the bandwidth usage to be astronomical.
I was not deterred; I figured the only way to know if it was a good idea or not was to try it. I knew what HTML was, but had little direct coding experience, and didn't yet feel like learning how to code, so I instead made up some pages in Microsoft Word and saved them as ".htm" files, avoiding manual coding. That seemed to work well enough for the indexes for the very few maps I had. Thinking of GameFAQs, I figured a similarly simple name would work, so I looked at "GameMaps.com", but it was taken. "VideoGameMaps.com" seemed to long, so I went with VGMaps.com, hoping that people would get that "VG" stood for "Video Game". Thinking of the NES Game Atlas, I thought a good subtitle would be "The Online Video Game Atlas" (though the "Online" would drop off a few years later). And as GameFAQs was (and still is) blue and white, I thought a vastly different colour scheme like red and black would be a good contrast, which is why the original look is rather...dark. The comparison to GameFAQs was silly, so I guess I was overambitious in that regard. But whatever the case, I told myself - we'll try this for a year and see how this goes. This early on, my brother helped too.
Though I had acquired the domain name and set up hosting for VGMaps.com by April 30, 2002, there was an issue with the "index.htm" file (I seem to recall it turned out to be something silly, like the ".htm" was in capitals or something) but I got it working on May 6, 2002, and VGMaps.com: The (Online) Video Game Atlas was born!
I immediately mentioned/"spammed" my site on some GameFAQs forums, and was so proud that I got 48 hits by the end of that first evening. Sure, that's not a huge number, but it was exciting that I now had a web site! A site to share my maps...hmm. My maps? I didn't have very many maps, and I wasn't likely to be able to make more maps quickly enough to keep interest in the site. Turning to GameFAQs yet again, I started by asking a few people who had already contributed maps there if they wouldn't mind submitting to VGMaps.com. I imagine they must have thought this was a measly site, and perhaps rightly so, but thankfully some people replied and were okay with me using their maps. Everyone has to start somewhere, right? Over time, the site built up momentum. Soon I didn't need to ask for maps, and with regular submissions from more and more people, I would have some new maps to put up almost every weekend.
The rest, as you know, is history. I said I would do this for a year, but I've done it for ten, and don't intend on quitting anytime soon. Now featuring (just shy of) 20,000 maps, from over 1250 games on 40 platforms, we've come a long way from humble beginnings, now a decade ago.
Note I said "we". Though I started with the idea, saw it through, and tend to the submissions that regularly come in every weekend, the maps here are made by you folks. I thank you all, as I've done very little mapping myself; the vast majority of this site's content is primarily everybody else's!
There's quite some ingenuity here; some of you have created programs to assist or automate your mapping, become code crackers to come up with cheat codes (like "walk through walls" codes) to make things easier, worked around parallax scrolling and transparencies, and even devised ways to map 3D/polygonal games. There's also some dedication here; some of you have mapped not only single games thoroughly, some even with annotations and strategies, perhaps even enemies and treasures labelled, and some have mapped almost entire series of games. There is also some perfectionism; some of you have redone maps, even multiple ones, to fix the most minute things that most people wouldn't even notice.
I don't know if VGMaps.com will be as cool as Nintendo Power was (something can be said about having cool artwork and comics as well), but I'm sure our work must be appreciated by gamers around the world, even those who didn't play the NES.
I thank my brother for helping me to start VGMaps.com, and bustin98 for the setup and fixes and maintenance in the forums with which we can meet and discuss our projects, and the hundreds of mappers, including the dozens of regulars. We've been here for ten years already, so I hope that with everyone's continued efforts, VGMaps.com: The Video Game Atlas continues to last for years more!
TEN INTERESTING THINGS FROM TEN YEARS
● Even before smartphones and tablets were commonplace, with their "apps", people I handed my business cards to often misread my web site as "V-G-M Apps".
● Probably the most static atlas on VGMaps is the Xbox section. It still only has one map by Dark Pho for The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (which could have just as easily been for the PC version) which was added on October 3, 2003. That was the same day I put up Alex Foster's Dark World maps to The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past, complementing the Light World, my very first maps, as mentioned earlier.
● The real peaks of popularity all seemed to have happened in 2005:
● I was once offered $60 for the purchase of this entire site. Needless to say, the sale didn't happen because I thought that was a ridiculous offer.
● The only time I got the same map by two people at the same time was when Grizzly and Geminiman each submitted maps for Mega Man: The Wily Wars for the Genesis. Strangely, they each mapped and submitted a few stages, and there wasn't much overlap, except for one; Crash Man's stage. Apparently the honour for that one ended up with Grizzly, though Geminiman and Grizzly teamed up to map the remainder of the game.
● One of the strangest ways I "spammed" VGMaps.com was at Playdium, where I worked for a couple years. We had a Soul Calibur II machine, which features a "Conquest" mode not found in the home versions of the game. In this mode, you could create a character - whose progress is saved - and pick an army (designated by red, yellow, green, or blue), and fight against AI versions of other players' created characters to gain territory, like in the classic Risk board game. As an employee at Playdium, one of the benefits was a free TimePlay card with every shift, meaning that I could play as many games as I wanted as long as time remained on the card. So, eventually over the span of a few months, I played over 80 hours (including seven hours straight in one day!) with a Nightmare named "VGMAPS.COM", and battled until I got over 10,000 wins, before a regular guest with a Cassandra named "KAI" did. Except he had to pay to play, so I guess I had that advantage, though I was surprised that he kept trying even after seeing that I worked there. Every time the world/board was reset, the top four players would become the leaders of the four armies, and as no one managed to come close to my record, "VGMAPS.COM" was always prominently visible to all players of the Conquest mode of Soul Calibur II at Playdium Edmonton (until it closed down, unfortunately). These days, I might just leave a Safari page open to VGMaps.com on some iPads at the Apple Store...
● Despite that he was already a regular at the time, I didn't know that Peardian was male, and only found out otherwise after I posted about "her" Super Mario RPG: Legend Of The Seven Stars maps when they were honoured as Maps Of The Month in June 2005. For at least a year afterward, I sometimes still thought of him as a "her".
● The forums have gone through at four versions, five if you count the current simple machine forums as separate, pre-hacking and post-hacking:
● Rey from VGMuseum.com once mentioned to me that a maps section was considered to be a possibility there, before VGMaps came along.
● The April Fool's joke maps were completed close to the end of the day on March 31. I recall that The Legend Of Zelda: Oracle Of Hours (2008) didn't have much time to spare and Metroid Dread (2009) was done literally minutes from midnight - thank goodness I left work early that day to finish it up in time! Similarly, this retrospective-of-sorts is completed very, very close to the end of May 5th, the day before the 10th anniversary. I don't usually consider myself a procrastinator, but I guess I do cut things close.
Here's to VGMaps.com, and thanks again for all your hard work! :D We've had a great ten years, so let's keep going!