App review: Discworld: The Ankh-Morpork Map

The last time I wrote something for Futurebook it was to discuss the Stephen Fry app, which wasn’t really a success for me. I did however end up greatly enjoy the audiobook read by Stephen Fry himself. The novel format (I’d include narrative non-fiction like biographies) is a format that we are used to. Even though the style changes and a few clever writers can stretch the beginning, middle and end formula, but mostly it remains unchanged. 

There has been attempts to enhance novels as apps but only the more scholarly attempts seem successful. Illustrated books are a completely different matter. One gap that not many authors can truly take advantage of is the companion app. 

Today Transworld have released a companion app to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Now this is a series of books that’s not obverse to providing additional material to its fans. You can get paper maps, books discussing the science, quiz books, encyclopaedia, and now an iPad map.

I’d love to compare the app with the book (The Compleat Ankh-Morpork) as it shares the same material and maybe I will  compare the two mediums in a future post but for now we’re delving into the app as a standalone.

Features The Ankh-Morpork Map comes with two views; the more traditional street map and a 3D living map. Several of the locations can be highlighted. There are three narrated and captioned walking tours in the living map. A city directory, which works in both street and living maps. And to give it a sense of progress there are 79 achievements, which you can also tweet when you've done them. 

Look and Feel The first thing is that the level of detail is stunning, which explains why it comes to a tad over 750mbs to download.  In terms of style the street view map is easier to use and you can see all the streets. But it is a little plainer than the living map missing build details for most part. The detail in the living map is a slightly generic when you drill right down, which was especially noticeable on the walking tour. When a grand building is pointed out it doesn’t look that much different to the rest. I’d have liked to have seen a little more attention the features on them.

 But there are constraints in building in any application. And the map is huge. The detail is does have is a massive achievement. If they do a version 2.0 or 3.0 that would be on my wish list of things to improve/add.

What the ability to zoom in and out does make you realise, is not only how big Ankh-Morpork is, but how it’s how it’s as real as any other city you or I can walk around in the here and now. 

I wouldn’t hold Terry Pratchett to it, but I’m curious about a scene in Thud! where Sam Vimes has to make a dash from one part of the city to another and how possible that is on the map. I bet it probably is.

I wouldn’t hold Terry to the exact details of the map in his fiction especially prior to the publication of The Streets of Ankh-Morpork in 1993 (something I used to own until the staples rusted and I always meant to replace it and I’m not sure I will now).

But even with a map he’s an author first and cartographer somewhere down the list, so I’d forgive the odd slip or story-required stretching of the truth even now.

Content What really makes this app come alive are all the people that walk around the living map and the little puffs of smoke that come from some of the houses, though I was slightly disappointed that you can’t seem to interact with them. I think for a version 4.0 or something having some the famous citizens talking to you especially on the walking tours would be fun. 

The narrated and visually walked walking tours are a great way to see the sights and read up on the various places. There are so many bits of trivia present. Did you know there is a Federation of Sedan Chair Carriers on Easy Street and that their president is Royston Rolls-Voyce? Nope? Neither did I. Or at least I don’t remember reading that there was. 

It’s packed full of trivia and fun facts. Granted somethings have more details than others. Some even come with illustrations. Check out the Guild of Fools & College of Clowns. They don’t look very happy. 

The directory is split into categories like Accident & Emergencies and subcategories (Embassies/Hospitals/Laws& Policing) .You can find places like The Sunshine Sanctuary (for sick dragons). There is even a list of landmarks like The Ankh-Morpork Experience (entry AM$1.50 includes gnome live commentary). The walking tours are one way to get around the city. Another is the various achievements on offer. Some are simple visits to places, some require finding certain characters, some need you to visit a certain number of similar places and some are tasks. I’d think that some are going to be a lot easier than others. 

Overall I’m a big fan of the Discworld and I’ve got several of its supplementary volumes (the afore mentioned science of, quiz books and encyclopaedia) but as it’s still growing thanks to new books from Terry and what people like Stephen Briggs, Discworld Emporium and Paul Kirby who are inspired by Pratchett’s creation bring the Discworld. 

As someone who has never entered the wonders of the Discworld this app is unlikely cause the same level of fascination and pleasure as some who has been engrossed in Ankh-Morpork for more years than they care to mention (eighteen!). 

£9.99 very well spent.