back to article UK mapping agency the Ordnance Survey is heading into gaming territory with £6m tender for dev team

UK map maker the Ordnance Survey is looking to hire £6m worth of game developers. Publishing a contract tender notice, the publicly owned cartographer is asking for bids from "organisations with strong game development experience to help us deliver our new gaming app." What exactly that gaming app involves is anyone's guess …

  1. Rol

    Virtual exercise?

    I like the idea of being able to cycle the Yorkshire Dales from the comfort of your fully blinged up exercise bike - you know, when you're cycling up a 1 in 4 the exercise bike increases the difficulty accordingly.

    Add a screen for those lovely views, and you too could be pacing along in a triathlon event - just need a USB cable for my bath and armed with a tread wheel I'd be set.

    1. Eyebeebe

      Re: Virtual exercise?

      This is already a thing. Smart trainers onto which you attach your bike and the software controls the difficulty to simulate the terrain changing, while watching on a screen. Even smart bikes which do away with the need to attach your own bike (like a fancy exercise bike).

      Main players are Tacx (now owned by Garmin) and Wahoo.

      Software ranges from virtual worlds like Zwift to reproduction of real routes with 4K video recordings e.g. Tacx or Fulgaz. They also typically come with structured training plans to make you faster. Zwift will also take inputs from a treadmill to move you around a virtual world, but for alleged safety reasons no one seems prepared to let it control the incline on the treadmill.

      Unsurprisingly these companies have shown a large amount of growth in 2020.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Virtual exercise?

        but for alleged safety reasons no one seems prepared to let it control the incline on the treadmill.

        That gives me an idea. Home skiing.

        Adjustable custom treadmill attached to computerised system, as described. Skis with wheels on the bottom that mate with the treadmill - so you can be sliding down it with the treadmill speed increased as the angle does. It could work something like those pools where you swim against a jet, that adjusts its speed as you swim closer to it, to push you away.

        What could possibly go wrong?

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Virtual exercise?

          Home sailing. You stand in a cold shower throwing non-waterproofed iPhones into the water

        2. JetSetJim

          Re: Virtual exercise?

          This just needs shrinking a bit. There's a few indoor ski treadmill places about. Not tried one, and would hope that crash detection and applying the brakes is well designed.... Scarily, they put more than one person on at once...

  2. Peter2 Silver badge

    I would imagine that the OS have looked at the latest Microsoft Flight Simulator which attempted to realistically map the entire world into their game and decided that it'd be worth figuring out what sort of additional work they need to do to their maps to be able to flog datasets to game developers in the future. And what better way to advertise your huge dataset than actually using it? (and fixing the problems while your at it so paying customers don't have cause to scream at you)

    1. Cederic Silver badge

      Much of the OS detail would be wasted in a flight sim, unless you had a stupidly powerful computer to render the detail.

      Support for things like Arma or a proper 'drive around the country' game would however be fantastic. I'd love to see the OS enhanced version of Euro Truck Simulator 2, with all the roads, hedgerows, walls, buildings and street furniture in it, even if the terrain was auto-generated from height maps and the presence of water.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        I was just making the point that the MS flight sim probably made them think about it. The flight sim that has already done it is obviously not a great target market since they have already done it and so don't need to do it.

        However, if you could realistically import OS Maps into game engines then it'd allow for the instant creation of a huge open world type game and reduce the work required for developers down to designing internal rooms etc which is probably worth something to somebody.

        It'd also allow for the creation of historical games, since the OS has it's inhouse maps going back to the 1840's for it's own maps, and they do overlays showing the roads as far back as the Roman road network, so it's not entirely improbable that they could produce (partial) data sets of considerable vintage in the future if they started making enough money out of it.

        1. sed gawk

          Re: The getway / PS2

          The Getway for PS2, had a failthful enough rendering of London, that i could drive around my old haunts and take the short cuts in the game, that I would have cycled IRL.

          I suspect that if you explored the entire game world, there would be deltas, but as a Londoner, I was v impressed.

          1. sgp

            Re: The getway / PS2

            I loved that game even though the physics were off and the scenario through in half a day.

    2. Fursty Ferret

      I can't see why OS would expect to be able to flog their map data when (almost) equally good mapping / contour data is available for free from Openstreemap.

      Ordnance Survey seem somewhat behind the curve here - historically they've been obsessed with protecting their data from third parties (ahem "taxpayers") to the extent that they completely missed the boat.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        It might thereotically be available, but if OS has the option to buy a digital download of your city/county of choice in the right format for your game versus "hire a development team to start developing something that might perhaps be cheaper, if it works at all" then i'd say that a known working solution off the shelf would be an attractive option.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Except it's the other way around.

          Openstreetmap - start straight away with a bunch of existing code that devs all over the world are already using in game engines vs. hire a bunch of lawyers to negotiate with OS about the specific uses and licenses for their data and then develop on their API using only the 3 devs in the world familiar with it and have a product that only works in the UK.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            I wonder how many of the contributions to OpenStreetMap come from people who have actually surveyed the land in question, versus those who just scanned-in the results of someone else's mapping and uploaded it? I foresee more rich lawyers in the future...

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Most of the actual topographic/cadestral data is from government sources (outside the UK the taxpayer often owns the IP that it paid for) .

              Most of the public contribution is tagging names/locations and unofficial routes such as footpaths and hiking trails.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Let's see what I can see on OSM for my local area. Can I find countours? No, no, oh, yes if I select cycle map. What about field boundaries? None here but plenty over there. They seem to be only inside the National Park boundary. Follow that up a bit & suddenly they appear outside the boundary. Head a bit further up and they stop inside the boundary.

        One thing the OS has that OSM doesn't: consistency. Sorry, but that's the way it is. If I want good mapping of the UK I'll stick with OS.

        1. tiggity Silver badge

          @Doctor Syntax

          If you want OSM to be better, contribute to it!

          1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

            Re: If you want OSM to be better, contribute to it!

            I would guess that a problem with free-for-all mapping is that triangulation using a flawed datum point could lead to the types of inconsistent effect that Doc Syntax alluded to. There has to be some kind of backbone where everything has to be anchored to otherwise the map will be like blancmange.

            (In my area there is a milepost that has been resited twice in the time that I have lived here. So time is an extra dimension to accuracy).

        2. JetSetJim

          OSM even has quite a few errors with roads. Was doing some route-matching a while back and there were intersections where the roads didn't join up, off-ramps that didn't join a road, etc... Too many holes to fix quickly

  3. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Walking simulators?

    See games like Everyone's Gone to the Rapture, Firewatch, and so on.

    1. Alan J. Wylie

      Re: Walking simulators?

      Or another Augmented Reality walking in real life game, similar to Ingress?

  4. RockBurner

    "The idea of using real-world mapping data in gaming is not new. In 2018, Google opened up its Maps platform to gives game developers to access real-world geographic information"

    I just wish they'd kept the PacMan overlay for GoogleMaps active - great fun!

    (yes there's an app, but not quite the same)

  5. macjules Silver badge

    hold their phone up to a landscape and see a series of labels pop up on their screen ...

    .. as they stumble over the edge of Pen y Fan and drop 300m straight down because they are so locked onto watching their screen.

    Yearn for the time when hiking meant using just a map and a compass.

    1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

      Re: hold their phone up to a landscape and see a series of labels pop up on their screen ...

      And checking in at a location meant punching holes in a card to prove you visited a certain location.

      I do miss orienteering. Need decent woods or the North Yorkshire moors to really take me back though.

      It's also a total arse trying to use a phone in the pissing rain instead of a waterproof map (and no fun at all intentionally putting checkpoints on the map folds anymore...).

      1. macjules Silver badge

        Re: hold their phone up to a landscape and see a series of labels pop up on their screen ...

        Fond memories of 3 day orienteering exercises in the Brecon Beacons.

    2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: hold their phone up to a landscape and see a series of labels pop up on their screen ...

      Surely it's hold their phone up to a landscape and see a lack of network indication? It usually is where I go walking.

  6. Headley_Grange Silver badge

    Mobile App

    Maybe they're hiring them to fix the iPhone app which deletes all downloaded purchased maps every time the app updates. According the OS help it's a security feature. I made it even more secure by deleting my account and the app and buying (waterproof!) Harvey maps instead of Ordnance Survey ones.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What exactly that gaming app involves is anyone's guess right now.

    geo-caching for a flu vaccine? spotting an illegal imigrant, click here? reporting an os copyright breach? There are SO many ways to spend money on useful things!

  8. MudFever

    Great White Elephant App

    How about a game that allows you to game national scale infrastructure projects, like a new high-speed railway, an extra runway at an airport, a new airport, or widening a motorway. AI could provide the aeroplanes, trains, automobiles, and idiot humans.

  9. Howard Sway Silver badge

    Imagine the possibilities....

    Hours of gaming heaven could be yours with Rural Planning Permission Officer 2020. You have to approve or reject new building proposals,making sure you let the local toffs build anything they want whilst launching prosecutions for any plebs who so much as use the wrong colour to paint their garage doors. At the same time as fending off the dangerous hordes of the dreaded Nimbys. Where to allow that new LIDL? Get it right and see your area prosper as crowds of jaded upper middle class Londoners move into your area. But get it wrong and a scathing review on the Crap Towns website will lead to your downfall.....

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Imagine the possibilities....

      Ah, you mean SimCity, with nobs on?

  10. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    Game Developers

    They will pinpoint the best places to hunt hare, pheasants and partridges.

    Potential competitors will no doubt be reviewing their anti-poaching employment clauses.

  11. gobaskof

    Why not actually hire developers to develop maps that scale and vectorise properly. The paid OS app still simply moves you around on digital copies of their print maps. Yes they are wonderfully detailed maps, but the interface is dogshit. OS should be concentrating on providing a good interfaces to the nationally important data they hold, not developing games. If the games make them so much money they can do this other work then I will eat my flat cap. Mostly likely they will waste millions on a game that about 12 people play.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      They do if you want to pay $$$$$$$ (or £££££) but 97% of the OS work appears to be preventing other people using the data or you using data you paid for in ways that aren't explicitly mentioned on the license which appeared to be written in 1745

  12. Mystic Megabyte

    Try this!

    I had couple of visitors who wanted a walk, my dog was ill so I couldn't go with them. Parked their car near the Sandy Loch and then drove them to Murra. I then gave instructions to scale the Kame of Hoy.

    Stop halfway up, sit down and check out the view. It seems that you are on the edge of a huge bowl that drops into the sea. It is very scary/impressive.

    Walk along the tops via Enegars then descend the ridge of the Cuilags back to the car. Easy! Just a four hour walk.

    When they came back I asked to see any pictures they had taken. Their reply was, "We didn't take any, it's seared into our brains!". LOL!

    Here's a handy OS map from Bing.

    1. Threlkeld

      Re: Try this!

      Those Bing maps, which are free, work very well with the app Back Country Navigator. I've been using them with BCN Pro for years

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Been there, done that..

    Did exactly this kind of R&D project for a Big Corp (you have their products) subsidiary that had a huge GIS database back in the 1990's. You've probably used that too, under different owners. If the OS were really thinking creatively they would use the game-engine expertise of a game dev team to produce a whole family of killer apps for vertical commercial market segments. The people who actually have very deep pockets and the need for (very expensive) regular data update subscriptions. The tech needed is exactly the same as for the gaming market. Vertical markets are not as sexy as games but you at least have a sporting change of making the serious big bucks as a ROI. The games business is just like the music business. The hits make all the money and almost all that money stays in the pockets of the big guys.

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