Mu Cartographer

Mu Cartographer is a lovely little user interface puzzle. You’re presented with a screenful of knobs, sliders, and radio buttons, and have to make sense of them with no instructions. There’s some guidance provided by blue outlines indicating useful configurations, but only experimentation will tell you why they’re useful or how to accomplish them.

The largest element on the screen, the game’s focus, is a circular window into an algorithmic landscape. Various of the controls alter this view in various ways — the most straightforward being controls that scroll your view around, or zoom in and out, but there are also ways to change the color map, or the height of the hills, or the turbulence. This stuff makes it seem less like a real landscape and more like just a model that you’re manipulating, but the game counters this with story. Certain discoveries within the UI also reveal journal entries by three people lost in the world you’re manipulating, recording their terror and awe at the shifting mountains, their determination to somehow map the place anyway.

After a certain point, however, you’re pretty much figured out the mechanics, and the game settles into a loop, iterating on established tasks in a search for landmarks that are only visible when everything is configured just right, and their attendant journal entries. This phase of the game lasted longer than I would have liked, but it’s still a fairly short game for all that. One thing worth noting: There is a part of the UI that’s essentially a hint system, providing pointers to the landmarks, but using up a limited supply of fuel to do so. I didn’t understand what the fuel gauge was indicating until it was empty. If I had, I might have used it differently, saved it up for the times I was really stuck. On the other hand, maybe the initial floundering stages were the part where I needed it the most. It’s hard to say.

The ending… well, in a sense, there isn’t one. There definitely isn’t a roll-credits moment, but that’s not what I mean. There’s an endgame after you find all the landmarks, a new set of options that let you unlock a semi-hidden epilogue for each of the three explorers, summarizing their condition. But nothing changes for them. They’re still just as lost as when you started. It’s the sort of ending that leaves you wondering if that’s all there is. And to be clear: I’m not complaining. It’s kind of haunting. I suspect this ending will stick with me more than a conventionally satisfying one would.

3 Comments so far

  1. Jota on 2 Jun 2019

    I’m not sure that what you saw was a fuel gauge. If you’re referring to what I think you are, I think that was just a meter telling you how many of a certain thing you needed to find. Once you found them all, the UI for locating them stopped doing anything useful.

  2. matt w on 16 Jun 2020

    I looked at the thing about the fuel gauge and went oh, and then I looked at Admiral Jota’s comment and went hmmm…. I may have found all of those things, which is a shame, because finding one of those things was the only reliable way I had found of making progress.

  3. matt w on 16 Jun 2020

    Naturally, having posted that, I immediately discovered another part of the UI that I hadn’t realized was interactive and Found A Thing.

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