This amateur London Tube map someone posted on Wikipedia is far better than the real thing

Well, this is much better. Image: SameBoat/Wikimedia Commons.

Over the last couple of weeks we have spent extensive time whinging about quite how bad the new version of London's tube map is. (Yes, we're obsessed, but let's not pretend, dear reader, that you are otherwise.) It's cramped, it’s unclear, and it just isn't very pretty.

Well. Over the weekend it came to our attention that someone else out there felt similarly. But they, unlike us, had decided to actually do something about it. 

This anonymous hero, a Hong Kong resident who goes by the name of "SameBoat", has been posting their own re-jigged tube map to Wikipedia since last August. Unlike Transport for London's version, this one basically abandons the 80-year old template we're all so familiar with and starts again. It retains the map's straight lines and 45 angles where appropriate; but isn't afraid to abandon them where necessary.

You can see the full version, at the correct scale, here. But to give you a flavour, here's central London on the official map:

 

And here’s SameBoat’s new version:

 

Here are some other things we like about the map:

It actually bothers to show different Overground lines in different colours

One of our biggest complaints about the new Tube map is that it shows TfL's increasingly cumbersome Overground empire in a single shade of orange, thus making it hard to tell which line you're looking at at any one time.

SameBoat's version corrects that, showing new fewer than seven different Overground routes:

We're not convinced by the names. (The old East London line is now the South Chord? Really?) But at least this version has names – and more importantly, colours, to make it clearer where there are direct trains on offer.

It shows out of station interchanges

There are a pairs of stations that are close enough to each other to make useful interchanges, and where the ticketing system will allow you to change trains – yet which the official map has kept secret. This new map makes those changes visible:

Some of these are more useful than others. It's not hard to think of journeys that could make use of the short hop from Camden Town to Camden Road, for example; whereas the long walk from Ickenham to West Ruislip is far less likely to come in handy. Ideally the map would communicate the length of the walk required, too.

But, you can’t have everything, and since those are official interchanges, it seems better to show them than not.

It shows the correct geographical relationship between the two Bethnal Green stations

No more pretending that Bethnal Green Overground is north of Bethnal Green Underground, which was always lunacy.

Now, if we could just get TfL to rename one of them.

It shows all the new lines and extensions currently in progress

That includes the new Watford branch on the Metropolitan...

...the new Battersea branch on the Northern...

...the Overground extension to Barking Riverside...

...and of course, Crossrail.

That means that, unlike TfL's designers, the people behind this map are unlikely to be wrong-footed by the arrival of a new line that's only been planned for the past 30 years.

It doesn't show that sodding cable car

Nuff said.


There are inevitably aspects of this map we're less keen on too. It’s simplified the design in part by abandoning attempts to show wheelchair accessibility, which – were it to happen on the real map – would be seen as a backward step. And in places this new map sends outer branches through weird 90 degree turns – so the Central line heads east from Loughton to Epping, that sort of thing. It's a clever way of keeping the map compact, but still looks weird to our eyes. 

The fact that the Chingford line trains don't serve London Fields or Cambridge Heath is shown, but doesn't make much sense if you're not already aware of this fact. Similarly, while it's great to see Tramlink on a tube map at last, it's a bit of a shame it doesn't have any stations on. But that said, there are numerous versions of this map available on Wikipedia, suggesting that it's a work in progress. Perhaps these things will be fixed in a future version.

On the whole, sacrilege though it may be to say it, we much prefer this version of the Tube map to the proper one. SameBoat, if you're reading this: we salute you.

PS We've just noticed that, on the proper version of this map, you can click on a line in the key and it'll flash cheerfully at you from the map. So that's pretty cool, too.

PPS This is a representation of the interchanges that'll be available at Canary Wharf once the new Crossrail station opens. We think it's accurate. It's also bloody horrible.

Can someone please do some renaming or something to sort this mess out? Okay thanks bye.

All images courtesy of SameBoat, under Wikimedia Commons.

 
 
 
 

Why do video games find it so difficult to reflect real cities?

A screenshot from Watch_dogs, set in Chicago. Image: Ubisoft.

Taking a real city and putting it in a videogame sounds like a great idea. You get all that sense of place, all that rich history to draw on; and every city has its own character, its unique blend of people, politics and culture. Great cities are more distinct to a global audience even than the countries they are situated in. From London and Paris to New York and Hong Kong, these metropolises stand as some of the most significant cultural touchstones for people all over the world.

And yet attempts to put these great edifices into a videogame can often be disappointing. Almost without exception, the best cities in videogames are fictional.

The first set of problems in basing a game in a real world city stem from geography. One example of this is the 2002 game The Getaway, which in spite of its age is perhaps the closest anybody has come to a modern Grand Theft Auto game set in London. (That said, the GTA series did dip into London in 1995’s top-down GTA: London, a dip that has fuelled rumours ever since that the series may one day return).

A screenshot from The Getaway.

The problem The Getaway had, as a GTA style game, was the driving. As a setting for a crime game you can’t really fault London – but you wouldn’t want to drive there. The game captured the absurd traffic congestion and frustrating road layout of the city surprisingly well. Which meant driving wasn’t fun, so neither was the game.

By contrast, the more recent Driver: San Francisco is a game that involves, unsurprisingly, driving in San Francisco. This is perhaps the best example of a game nailing down what makes a city work as a location for the type of play the game is offering. San Francisco is the best city in the world for car chases because it’s got those ludicrously cool hills. And from a game design perspective, everything else is a footnote.

Further problems relate to how a game and its characters treat the city and its people – and it is here that scope exists for a game to become horribly unstuck. Consider 2014’s Watch_Dogs, a game about a vigilante hacker set in Chicago.

A screenshot from Watch_dogs.

Watch_Dogs aimed for a fairly naturalistic tone, painting the city as being full of interesting yet familiar, believable characters. This would be fine, except that your principle methods of interacting with these citizens, in your role as their self-appointed guardian, is to hack into their personal information, rob their bank accounts or kill them with near total impunity. It feels very off.

For this kind of interaction with the general population to be entertaining it requires a completely different tone. This is something that recent GTA games have mastered – that cruel, overt humour, the deep sense of misanthropy and cynicism. There are almost no good people in those worlds, so everybody is fair game. Notably the GTA games all take place (with the exception of the aforementioned GTA: London) in fictional cities which draw from the very worst qualities of their real world counterparts: an evil twin of New York, or an evil twin of Los Angeles.

A game that had a much better angle on how the character interacts with people in a real city is 2012’s Sleeping Dogs. Set in Hong Kong, the game takes its inspiration very much from the movie making tradition there. There are corrupt cops, powerful crime families and a heavy emphasis on using Kung Fu to solve your day to day problems rather than guns.

A screenshot from Sleeping Dogs.

In Sleeping Dogs you played an undercover cop and were discouraged from attacking civilians. You could pick on rival criminals if you wanted to, but the game moved away from the random acts of violence that characterise GTA and Watch_Dogs.

This was an approach also adopted by LA Noire, a 2011 game that also leaned heavily on the cinematic heritage of its location, and which also saw you play a cop – albeit with a heavier emphasis on detective work than on kicking people in the face over and over again. This again is a game that sacrificed the freewheeling fun of random violence in favour of a narrower focus that fit more comfortably with the setting.

By tapping into the culture of these cities, both games are trading on familiar and accepted themes. You don’t play Sleeping Dogs and think Hong Kong is a city with a massive organised crime problem: you play it and think it looks like a fascinating place to visit, and that maybe you should watch Infernal Affairs and Hard Boiled again.

The lesson here is that, if you want to embrace the culture of a city within a game, you have to do so with a degree of affection and respect. If I want to feel a connection to a place in a game, it helps if I’m not being encouraged to brutalise the citizenry and massacre its law enforcement officials for trying to stop me.