Where did Pokemon Go get its maps from?

No, it's not quite relevant, but I've been waiting my whole career to use this photo. Image: Getty.

For gamers, Pokémon Go is remarkable thanks to its massive popularity after only a week's release, and its innovative combination of a retro game beloved of 90s kids (Pokémon) with the latest in Augmented Reality (AR).

For us, it's interesting because of the maps. 

While the game has only been officially released in the US and Australia, users have played it all over the world – from my road in Harringay, north London, to the front line of the war against Isis in Mosul, where a former US marine volunteering with Christian militia managed to catch a Squirtle. The game has inserted Pokémon all over the world map, plus "Pokéspots" and "Gyms" where you can lure extra creatures or make them fight each other.

Nintendo seems to have taken the bulk of its map information for the game from Ingress, a previous, much less popular game from Niantic, the company which worked with Nintendo on the game. An Atlantic piece notes that "portals" from this game seem to match the Pokéspots in Pokémon Go. It also notes, though, that the game doesn't credit any street map producer, such as Google or OpenStreetMaps – unusual for a map-based game. 

A player locates a Goldeen. Image: Getty.

However, John Hanke, the CEO and founder of Niantic, was one of the founders of Keyhole, which created Google Earth (and may give us a clue as to the maps' source). He told Mashable that the Pokémon Go team mined Google geotagged photos for public art which could be used as Pokéspots. Others were submitted by Ingress players and then approved by game moderators. Some of the most popular portals from Ingress were then chosen as "gyms" for the new game. 

The benefit of this method is that these are places people (well, Ingress players at least) do visit, and implies they should be easily accessible. This doesn't mean it's foolproof: several people have already reported that their homes were marked as gyms on the game, meaning random gamers turned up outside their doors or lurk about outside. Given you can "own" a gym on the game, some opened with the slightly worrying line: "this is my gym." 

Pokémon themselves are scattered fairly randomly in the game, though water Pokémon appear near or on water. Hanke told Mashable that another, secret set of geographical data was used to match Pokémon to their locations:  "That gets into more [geographic information system]-type of data... and we utilise that to map Pokémon species to appropriate habitats." 

Again, this does lay the game open to goofs. Today, there were reports that a poison gas "Koffing" Pokémon appears when you visit the Holocaust museum in Washington DC.

One final mapping fact: in 2014 Google ran an April Fools Day game in which you could locate Pokémon on its maps feature. The game went down so well that Hanke reportedly wondered whether it could take off as a real game, with the hunt for Pokémon  transposed onto the real world. Nearly eight million downloads later, looks like he was right .



Sadiq Khan and Grant Shapps clash over free bus travel for under 18s

A London bus at Victoria station. Image: Getty.

The latest front in the row between Transport for London (TfL) and national government over how to fund the capital’s transport system: free bus travel for the under 18s.

Two weeks ago, you’ll recall, TfL came perilously close to running out of money and was forced to ask for a bail out. The government agreed, but offered less money, and with more strings attached, than the agency wanted. At present, there are a range of fare discounts – some up to 100% – available to children depending on their age and which service they’re using, provided they have the right Oyster card. One of the government’s strings, the mayor’s office says, was to end all free TfL travel for the under 18s, Oyster or no Oyster.

The Department for Transport’s line on all this is that this is about maximising capacity. Many working-age people need to use buses to get to their jobs: they’re more likely to be able to do that, while also social distancing, if those buses aren’t already full of teenagers riding for free. (DfT cited the same motivation for banning the use of the Freedom Pass, which provides free travel for the retired, at peak times.)

But in an open letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps, the mayor, Sadiq Khan, wrote that TfL believed that 30% of children who currently received free travel had a statutory entitlement to it, because they attend schools more than a certain distance from their homes. If TfL doesn’t fund this travel, London’s boroughs must, which apart from loading costs onto local government means replacing an administrative system that already exists with one that doesn’t. 

Some Labour staffers also smell Tory ideological objections to free things for young people at work. To quote Khan’s letter:

“It is abundantly clear that losing free travel would hit the poorest Londoners hardest at a time when finances are stretched more than ever... I want to make sure that families who might not have a choice but to use public transport are not further disadvantaged.”

London’s deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander, is set to meet government officials next week to discuss all this. In the mean time, you can read Khan’s letter here.

UPDATE: The original version of this piece noted that the full agreement between the mayor and DfT remained mysteriously unpublished. Shortly after this story went live, the agreement appeared. Here it is.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.