a rickety bridge of impossible crossing

video games. oh no

I love RPGs, which is bad news for someone who wants to do anything else, such as update a daily blog or make a puzzle game. If I had unlimited time, I'd probably play RPGs 4-6 hours every day. But I don't, so I rarely play them, because when I do, I end up playing 4-6 hours every day anyway and it becomes A Problem.

Recently, I got a powerful itch to replay my favorite action RPG, the Megadrive version of Shadowrun. I wanted to blog about it, but I didn't know what my angle would be. I've thought about doing a screenshot LP, but haha no, that's a good way to turn a 10 hour time commitment into a 40 hour one. Maybe if I had some sort of workflow that automated taking screenshots, uploading them to imgur, and generating the markdown, and all I had to do was add my commentary, I could picture myself doing that, but doing everything manually isn't an activity I have the patience for.

I have a lot to say about the game, so I could just write an essay about why I like it and how good it is, but that'd probably take a few hours too, and I'm too busy playing the game to spend that much time talking about it right now. So, I decided to do something I've never done before, and draw maps.

Each system in the Matrix (the Shadowrun universe's name for cyberspace) has a unique layout, and if you drew a map of every system in the game, it would be a huge boon to future playthroughs. Every node would be identified. If you get assigned a run that you're not sure if you're strong enough for, you can take one look at the map and decide if you should give it a shot or if you need to beef up your cyberdeck first. The game provides a map of each system you enter as you explore it, but it's erased as soon as you enter a different system. There's no way to save them. Oh sure, I guess you could take a screenshot of each system and add text labels, but I've been playing in Retroarch on a chromebook, and it breaks if you try to do anything else while it's running.

I didn't have any graph paper, so I printed some. The maximum size for a Matrix map is 14x14, so ½" squares on 8½ x 11" paper would suffice. I haven't gotten too deep into Matrix stuff yet, so I don't have a lot to show off, but here's a complete map of an unlisted system from a simple Matrix run (or as complete as it's going to get:)


From street terminals, you enter every system via the SAN, System Access Node, which is the rectangular one on the far right. I marked it with a star to show it's the entrance. Every node has a security rating of 1-8. The difficulty of the node is also represented by a color. From easiest to most challenging, it goes blue, green, orange, and red.

The SAN has a security rating of 4, and I labeled it B for blue. (huh, maybe I should have waited until I got some colored pens before I started mapping these. Oh well.) From there, your only path is a Green 3 SPU, sub-processor unit. These are sort of the "crossroads" of the Matrix; each one will always open up a number of other paths, and they're rarely (if ever) a terminal node.

From there you can go north to a blue 4 IOP (I/O port), which serve as entry points into a system if you're accessing it from within a corporation. Since this is just a small unlisted system belonging to no one in particular, it's a dead end. South from the SPU is a blue 2 SM (secondary module.) When you're doing a run on a corporation, these can be useful for disabling security cameras, electronically locked doors and alarm systems, and they're softer targets than trying to crash the CPU, but like the IOP, they're just dead ends in this system.

West of the SPU is the CPU. The in-game symbol for the CPU is a hexagon with a smaller hexagon inside, but that would look a little too much like an orange SPU, so I attempted to draw an octagon. I can tell what it is, so it works. It's a green 5. "Trace B" indicates it's a trace & burn, the first type of IC (intrusion countermeasure) that actually poses a threat to a decker. CPUs are protected by a barrier, so you can't just use masking to disable the security, you have to actually fight it. Not a big deal, unless the system has noticed you fooling around in there and triggered an alert. During "no alert" or "passive alert", you can just chip away at the barrier until it's gone, but if you've gotten to "active alert", the trace & burn starts its attack: a beacon appears on the screen, moving slowly to the right. If it reaches the edge of the screen before you manage to crash the CPU, it traces you, dumps you out of cyberspace, and can potentially fry your deck. It's bad news, cowboy. But this is an easy system, so most deckers should be able to get through it with just the starting deck & software.

If you get past the CPU, there's a green 4 IOP to the west with a Blaster IC, trivial to disable with masking or an easy fight. It might take a couple potshots at you, but won't do any serious damage.

South of the CPU is the good stuff: the DS. Data store. The first one is a green 4. The 🚫 symbol indicates that it has a barrier IC, like the CPU, which means you can't mask your way past it. Once you take down the IC, you learn it holds management files. The one just past that is just a green 3 DS with no IC to speak of. It contains system files.


A green 3DS. Get it

A simple matrix run will ask you to get to one or the other data store, upload or download a file, and get out of there. While you're there, you can grab up to 5 interesting data files (4, if you have one you need to bring back to the Mr. Johnson) and bring them to Roscoe the fixer. Green datastores aren't worth much, but it's still the best way for a rookie decker to make a living.

So as you can see, these maps are very information-dense, and this is the simplest matrix system you're ever going to see. Some of them look like this:


So it's going to be time-consuming, but ultimately worth it, if I have a folder full of hand-made Shadowrun maps I can pull out whenever the mood strikes me to play again.

📯 Next part gets into spoiler territory, so stop reading if you haven't played Shadowrun, plan to, and have a photographic memory

But drawing a Matrix map is easy: the game shows you exactly what everything looks like, you just have to write it all down before you go to a different system. What I thought was going to be an utter hell-slog was trying to map the Salish-Shidhe territory.

Nine out of ten of my Shadowrun games have consisted of me fucking around in the Matrix, doing shadowruns, and ultimately bailing when I got to the part of the storyline where I had to do stuff in the SST. When I finally finished the game as a kid, it was only after spending uncountable hours trudging through seemingly endless fields and forests and caves.

The SST is the most dangerous, terrifying, and frustrating area of the game. You're constantly assaulted by mages, gargoyles, wendigo, bandersnatch, and hell hounds. There's no way to teleport to safety. You can save your game, but there are no safe zones. You either make your way back to the highway, manage to find the Sinsearach who can helicopter you out of there (if you can afford the 1000 nuyen fee. Otherwise sorry chum, you're hoofin' it) or, more likely, get flatlined by monsters and barely dragged out alive when your Docwagon homing beacon goes off. It is a nightmare.

It's such a huge sprawling mess of screens with no landmarks and numerous dead-ends that I didn't think it was mappable. The best idea I had was to just represent each area as a square and go all round the perimeter of each screen, putting lines at roughly where each of the exits is, and hoping everything somehow connected up. There are no diagonal exits, and there's no more than one exit per cardinal direction, so I had hoped it'd end up sort of resembling a grid.

And you know what? It sort of did:


Okay, so I didn't have enough vertical room to fully map everything, but there's nothing down there. Everything below the squiggle doesn't matter. It's just more caves to get lost in. All of the doors I haven't mapped don't matter. It's just more bullshit to make you walk around in circles. I've managed to make a reliable map to the three things in the wilderness that actually matter:

The hut where the injured Stark is holed up is shockingly close to the entrance. There's an optional quest where you can save his life and he becomes a recruitable character. In all the years I've been playing this game, I've only managed to find him once or twice. There are just so many ways to go.

A relatively short spelunk to the south is the village of the Sinsearach (or Sinserach [sic]) elves. You can't actually explore their village, you just get a conversation tree when you enter, so the diagonal line just marks the spot in the northwest corner of the area where you find them.

I drew a cool S there, because this part of the wild is filled with these cool dragon statues, which I always thought looked like the Cool S:


I've never drawn one before, so I did it in pencil just in case I messed up. I think I did an acceptable job.

Finally, there's Licourtrix, the feathered serpent who gives you the scale needed in the ritual to find the true name of your brother's killer. He's in the Dragon Cave in the bottom left corner of the map. I labeled him with S, for "snake". Or "Dragon". I actually managed to find him before the part of the story where I need to. The developers put a contingency message there, just in case you stumble on that location before that part of the story is open to you. That was very nice of the developers.

10-year-old me would never believe what I managed to accomplish. I'll never get lost in the Salish-Sidhe wilderness again. I'll have this map forever, any time in the future I decide to play again. It took a couple hours, but how many hours of wandering around aimlessly will it have saved me? I only wish I had more faith in my cartography skills before now.

The wilderness will be there for me when I'm ready for it. I've only scratched the surface of the Matrix with this run, and I want to do something I've never done before: unlock the secrets of CHERNOBYL. With my maps, I think I'll finally stand a chance 🦝