Graphic designer Matthew Stevenson creates retro video game maps in the style of real-life subway maps, reimagining your favorite virtual heroes' adventures as mundane commutes. His NES Subway Maps project incorporates games like The Legend of Zelda, Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy, and Metroid. Each one is based off a real subway map from cities like Lisbon, London, and Tokyo.
"I started with the D.C. Metro map since it was the city I was most familiar with," Stevenson tells Design.Co. "Metroid was one of my first NES games back in 1987 and I remember my brother and I getting seriously frustrated by the maze-like quality of the game world. Metro, Metroid: the idea practically formed itself."
Since then, Stevenson has gone on to create other maps that marry Nintendo and underground transit. Stevenson chooses games with non-linear paths to make the maps more interesting. Games with only one path would appear as straight lines, so titles like Zelda II work much better when drawing out branches and curved lines.
The key to making a successful map, surprisingly, is not simplicity. When the designs were too minimalistic, they started to lose their familiarity. "One of the things I learned as a designer through this series is that sometimes simplifying a visual system doesn’t necessarily make it easier to use," Stevenson says. "I found myself staring at the finished Moscow Maniac Mansion map saying to myself, 'I know it’s visually simpler, but why does it seem unfamiliar now?'"