Right from the very first Terry Pratchett novels that I read – The Colour of Magic and Mort received as Christmas gifts – it was the world he’d created that gripped me.
That was partly my young mind turning cartwheels at the thought of a disc-shaped planet balancing on giant elephants (which in turn balanced on a giant turtle), but it was just as much about the bustling Ankh-Morpork city that formed the backdrop for the Discworld books.
The more books I read, the clearer a picture I had in my head about what Ankh-Morpork was like through Pratchett’s descriptions and the cover artwork by Josh Kirby. The city felt real and living to me in a way that Tolkien’s Middle-earth never did.
Now in 2013 there’s an iPad app trying to map it out. Discworld: The Ankh-Morpork Map is the work of publisher Transworld and app developer Agant, and it faces quite a challenge.
Why? Discworld has millions of fans of all ages, so there’s bound to be lots of interest – but also high expectations based on each and every fan’s mental picture of Ankh-Morpork. Fail to match up, and everyone will know about it.
The app costs £9.99 on Apple’s App Store, and is iPad-only for now, requiring iOS 6.0 or later. It attempts to create a “living breathing map” of Pratchett’s famous city, complete with strolling characters, chuffing chimneys and a soundtrack that ebbs and flows as you explore.
You pinch to zoom in and out of the map, tapping on little icons that appear on individual buildings to find out more about them. Major locations like the Unseen University have text, quotes and artwork to provide more info, taken from print book The Compleat Ankh-Morpork.
There’s a separate top-down street-map with its own index, which is ideal for looking up roads mentioned in a particular book, and n mock-tourist style, there are also “walking tours” taking you on themed jaunts around the living map, narrated by actress and comedian Helen Atkinson-Wood.
Here’s a video showing how it works (and there’s also an official trailer):
The maps structure works well for this kind of content: good for browsing at your leisure or looking up a specific location, and very well suited to a multi-touch tablet. A fun touch is Game Center achievements tracking your exploration.
By focusing on map views, the app also leaves the insides of buildings to your imagination, which feels like a sensible and sensitive design decision.
Fans will always want more, of course. I’d love a way to navigate the maps by book in a more-organised way than looking up locations and roads manually – a page-by-page references list for each novel, to keep to hand when reading.
It’d also be great to have a bit more on individual characters within the app, tracing their appearances in the novels. But then that would make this an all-encompassing Discworld encyclopedia, rather than the more-focused Ankh-Morpork guide that Transworld and Agant were making.
Like I said: high expectations, but wishing for extra features isn’t necessarily the same as feeling disappointed with what’s there. There’s lots of content to explore, all presented in a way that does justice to the books.
At £9.99 it’s at the higher end of book-app pricing, which runs the risk of appealing mainly to hardcore Discworld fans – who are in turn more likely to have previously bought and read The Compleat Ankh-Morpork in print.
I wonder if a lower price may have pulled in a few more casual fans, while providing more direct links to buy Discworld e-books and audiobooks on Apple’s iTunes Store as a revenue stream to make up for the cheaper app download.
Still, there’s no doubting the craft that’s gone into this first official app for Terry Pratchett and his novels. It’s certainly fired my enthusiasm for digging into the Discworld back catalogue.
Discworld: The Ankh-Morpork Map for iPad will be released today (11 February 2013) on the App Store. When it goes live, it will be downloadable using this link, but check its official website for timing.
Source: The Guardian