This Special Report was originally published in PC Gamer magazine issue #365.
When a post praising the thousands of game walkthrough maps created by StarFighters76 circulated on Twitter, the astounded responses weren't only from people being introduced to them for the first time. Tons of replies were from players who'd used his maps before and weren't aware just how many he'd created. "These maps have gotten me out of SO MANY jams bro," says one. "Shout if you've been using these maps for the FF pixel remasters," says another. "Sometimes, a good, simple map is just more easy to read than one trying to use in-game screenshots," points out yet another.
The collection of over 3,700 maps that StarFighters76 has created is impressive, but the number of players he's helped through more than 300 games may be even more so.
For nearly 20 years, StarFighters76 has been posting game maps to GameFAQs, a long-running archive of guides and walkthroughs submitted by players. Although his maps have changed some over the years, it's no surprise that people recognized them. Since the early 2000s, StarFighters76 has created maps with bright, basic color palettes and thin black lines that make no secret of their Microsoft Paint origins.
They look simplistic at first—and some of his early maps were certainly more pared-down versions of what he now produces—but even his early work contains numbered legends, helpful arrows, and other instructions that elevate his maps from artistic recreations to actual visual walkthroughs with puzzle solutions and directed paths. His earlier posts are more blocky and utilitarian, but already in his 2007 maps of Final Fantasy IV you can see how he faithfully reproduced the pseudo-3D top-down style of JRPGs from the '90s.
It's a charming artistic choice that shows the care put into each one. His more recent maps, though they've kept the simple colors and distinctly MS Paint aesthetic, trend even more into artistry. His Link's Awakening maps reproduce trees in the environment instead of simply delineating walkable areas with lines and use an additional light blue to mimic depth around the edges of water.
"I actually use the old school MSPaint, like from the early 2000s," StarFighters76 says. Aside from being an antique, old-school Paint really isn't a forgiving program. He could certainly keep his visual style while using a program that adds flexibility with layers and more powerful tools. "I should, honestly," he says when I ask if he's ever considered changing programs. "But MSPaint has been with me since day one and hasn't let me down yet so I don't want to turn my back on it."
Like his choice of software, StarFighters76 says that his process has largely remained unchanged all these years too. He starts out by drawing a game map out on paper while he plays, taking notes that he'll need for later. Eventually he switches over to recreating those sketches in Paint, going back and forth between drawing and playing. While 2D games can be translated to his style pretty directly, things like 3D platformers take a bit more imagination to nail.
The repertoire of games StarFighters76 has created maps for is enormous. Although there are hundreds of games he's now mapped, some patterns do turn up. There are lots of top-down JRPGs with large maps and treasures: many Final Fantasy games, several Pokemon games, and a few Dragon Quest games too. Quite a few Resident Evil and Silent Hill games are represented as well with detailed layouts and puzzle solutions.
As for how he actually chooses which ones to map out, "The game itself has to catch my attention in some way for me to work on it," he says. "Whether it's the game itself, or the particular layout of the game, there has got to be that special something that pulls me in."
Many are games where navigation is actually part of the game's puzzle. Others, like early Zelda games, are a joy just to see entire game areas contiguously laid out in a way that only a good map can make immediately comprehensible.
"It's much more fun for me to map things out while exploring something new, because I am always curious about what's around the corner to discover," StarFighters76 says, though he's also worked on mapping out some old favorites as well. "It gives me a chance to relive the fun I had with them, as well as appreciate those games for what they are."
Outside their obvious uses as guides through game areas, StarFighters76's maps are undoubtedly a nostalgia trip too. I've looked through areas from some of my own favorite childhood games, getting a kick out of seeing them through someone else's eyes. Just seeing the shapes of his Paper Mario maps immediately brings back details about playing them—visiting the item shop in the basement of Boo's Mansion or grabbing onto the bottom of its chandeliers.
StarFighters76's collection of maps does generally trend towards retro, often digging into games originally found on the Super Nintendo or original PlayStation . "I haven't tackled many current gen games because I know that they can be some really big complex games out there," he says. "I would have to be mentally ready to take on huge projects like current gen games." He would like to dip into bigger, current games, he says. For now though, the classics are a great trip through gaming history.
StarFighters76 has been posting his maps on GameFAQs for nearly twenty years, giving his work nearly the same longevity as the site itself. "GameFAQs was the first gaming site I went to when looking for help," he says. "It's kinda become my internet home."
As a poster, StarFighters76 originally created written walkthroughs too. Some of his old guides, like one for Castlevania 2 from 2008, still contain hallmarks of the early 2000s era: large text art introductions and maps recreated in text form. Despite those early walkthroughs, and his continued practice of creating maps that contain text notes, the act of mapping is what he truly enjoys.
"I've been into mapping since I was a teenager," StarFighters76 says, describing the process of exploring the city he lives in the way he later would with games. "It started out with me being curious and adventurous, so I would go around neighborhoods I was in and then venture out further when I was ready." He's created his own map of the city he lives in multiple times over the years, even. "Because I have taught myself how to navigate throughout my city, friends have literally called me their 'human GPS'—not joking either."
"Mapping has always been a part of my life," he says. That sense of dedication is the connecting factor in how StarFighters76 talks about every part of his lengthy history drawing maps. He sticks with GameFAQs because it's been his community for decades. He hasn't given up on classic MS Paint because it's a reliable tool. He keeps on making maps because it's something he's loved his entire life.
There's something to envy in that ongoing commitment. I've always wanted to be someone who could say I'd been posting on the same message boards for a decade or that I know a particular game series in and out because I've followed it from the beginning. Over where the grass appears greener, StarFighter76 says it isn't just sunshine all the time.
"After I reached 3,000 maps back in 2019, I wasn't sure what I was gonna do," he says. "After all these years and thousands of maps, it's really hard to keep going—doing the same thing—with not much else going for it. Don't get me wrong, the art of game mapping is fun by itself. But doing it for twenty years can get to me at times because I feel like I've done all I could do, even though there is tons more I could be doing."
Even for someone who loves creating maps inside and outside of games, sticking to a single hobby for decades can wear on. For that problem, the sudden interest and gratitude generated on Twitter in August 2021 was actually fortuitous.
Players who remembered his maps showed up in droves to comment their thanks and reshare the posts spreading his work even further. "Thanks to all for the kind words," he said at the time, after making his own Twitter account just to respond. "You have no idea how much I needed this."
The amount of attention it gathered caught him by surprise. "Really I needed that boost," he says two months later. "Being on Twitter has helped give me that boost in motivation just a bit."
With 3,705 maps currently to his name on GameFAQs, StarFighters76 has spent two decades dedicated to his style, his favored drawing program, and his internet home. Here's hoping that a quick injection of internet appreciation carries him through to 4,000 and beyond.