Poets have tried to describe Ankh-Morpork. They have failed. Perhaps it’s the sheer zestful vitality of the place, or maybe it’s just that a city with a million inhabitants and no sewers is rather robust for poets, who prefer daffodils and no wonder. So let’s just say that Ankh-Morpork is as full of life as an old cheese on a hot day, as loud as a curse in a cathedral, as bright as an oil slick, as colourful as a bruise and as full of activity, industry, bustle and sheer exuberant busyness as a dead dog on a termite mound.”
from “Mort” by Terry Pratchett
I was introduced to the world of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels a little over a decade ago by a wonderful woman I was seeing who loved turtles.This actually is relevant since the aforementioned Discworld actually is a disc-shaped world which is held up by no less than four elephants on the back of the Great A’tuin, a massive star-faring Turtle.
The Discworld books are wonderfully written fantasy/comedy books on their own, but I am pretty sure one of the draws for her was the fact the round-yet-flat world soared through space on the back of a giant turtle.
Sadly I am not as huge of a fan of non-mutated turtles of the non-ninja variety, but the books really don’t mind. They haven’t complained to me yet.
The Discworld series, as of this writing, is 39 novels large, not counting as a number of short stories, physical maps and guides that serve to immerse you fully into the universe Sir Terry Pratchett has invented. This app focuses on the bustling hub of scum, villainy, and other legitimate forms of commerce – Ankh-Morpork.
When I first installed the (iPad-only) app, I was giddy with excitement to explore the city that is central to many of the novels in-depth. Unfortunately I had to wait a while, as the download was over 700 megabytes and the app installs to over 830 megabytes. Thankfully once it was finished, I was treated to an experience I could not have expected from a “map”.
There are two views available, street map, which is what you think of when you hear “map”. Then there is the “Living Map” Think what would happen if one of your favorite fictional cities was given the Google Maps treatment. This is that. That is this. Whichever works, because the map works, and suddenly the install size makes sense. (Even though many things on the disc don’t make much sense, the install does at least.)
Zooming in, you see little people wandering throughout the city, entering buildings and going about their daily business. Sadly the detail on the people isn’t really spectacular and the wandering individuals all seem pretty generic overall, but they serve their purpose of bringing the city alive. Chimneys puff, and bells clang. At points I felt like a voyeur spying on the lives of Ankh-Morporkians as I searched for my favorite locations from my favorite stories.
One of the first places I headed to was the Central Post Office. Now I am sure this isn’t very exciting for most of you, since a trip to the post office usually results in long lines and annoying people trying to ship hazardous chemicals and others sending adorable cats to Abu Dhabi. For me, it was an exciting trip to see what the map had to offer. When I finally found it (Yes there is a city directory, but I wanted to see if my knowledge of Ankh would help me get there without it.) a brief in-world summary of the Post Office appeared as well as a sample postcard. In-universe artifacts, ads and quotes are a common things found in most of the major locations that were featured in the books, and serve as exciting tidbits to immerse you in the world.
There is also a guided tour mode where historian Hortensia D’Antiqua (Voiced by Helen Atkinson Wood of Blackadder fame) takes you through walking tours of the city’s most famous landmarks. I hope to see more of these in future updates, since they make the app feel even more robust.
Discworld: The Ankh-Morpork App features Game Center, but is clearly not a game in the traditional sense. The 79 achievements included serve to help you explore areas or characters you may have read about in a book years ago but didn’t think to look for on the map, like Gaspode, the Wonder Dog. They also assist in keeping track of where you haven’t explored yet, which comes in quite handy with a map this in-depth.
The only real complaint I would have is that it stays a bit too in-universe for me at times. This may seem like a minor issue, and I suppose it is, but when characters or major events are referenced, I would like to know what book I can read to discover more without having to leave the app and search google for it, or ask my Discworld (and turtle) obsessed lady friend, but that will inevitably lead to us going out to get coffee and discussing intricacies with the Night Watch or hours of the Discworld board games, and neglecting my other duties like writing reviews or working….so developers please, if you are reading this, save my job and what little free time I have and add in a “learn more” function that will maybe even let me download the appropriate e-book.
Finally we come to the price. $13.99 is on the very high end of the spectrum for apps, but is an appropriate price for an interactive e-book, which this really ends up being. Keeping that in mind, the price feels justified. Of course, I don’t mind paying for quality apps, and this certainly fits the bill.
Would I recommend this?
Definitely. However, if you are a fan of Discworld and have an iPad, you probably already own it! I’d like to see this come out on the iPhone as I feel it would still work well (especially with the iPhone 5’s larger screen) but I suppose we will just have to wait.
If you are just getting involved in the Discworld universe, I would pass for the time being, since there is no context for the quotes, so you may feel lost as you won’t chuckle at the references or background humor as much as long-term fans. However, once you watch the three live-action mini-series that are on Netflix (Hogfather, The Color Of Magic and Going Postal) and read a few books, you will hit that buy button with absolutely no regrets.
Now excuse me, I need to arrange a day of coffee and Discworld with an old friend!