This special report originally appeared in issue 365 of PC Gamer magazine.
When a post praising the thousands of game cards created by StarFighters76 circulated on Twitter, the stunned responses didn’t just come from people introduced to them for the first time. Tons of responses were from players who had used his cards before and were unaware How he had created. “These cards got me out of SO much jam bro,” one said. “Scream if you used these cards for FF pixel remasters,” says another. “Sometimes a good simple map is just easier to read than one trying to use in-game screenshots,” yet another points out.
The collection of over 3,700 cards created by StarFighters76 is impressive, but perhaps even more so is the number of players it has helped across over 300 games.
For nearly 20 years, StarFighters76 has been posting game maps to GameFAQs, a long-standing archive of player-submitted guides and walkthroughs. Although his cards have changed over the years, it’s no surprise that people recognize them. Since the early 2000s, StarFighters76 has created maps with bright, basic color palettes and thin black lines that don’t hide their Microsoft Paint origins.
They seem simplistic at first – and some of his early maps were certainly more streamlined versions of what he produces now – but even his early works contain numbered legends, helpful arrows and other instructions that elevate his recreations maps. artistic to real visuals. walkthroughs with puzzle solutions and directed paths. His previous posts are more voluminous and utilitarian, but already in his 2007 maps of Final Fantasy IV (opens in a new tab) you can see how it faithfully reproduced the pseudo-3D top-down style of 90s JRPGs.
It’s a charming artistic choice that shows the care given to each. His more recent maps, while retaining the simple colors and distinct aesthetics of MS Paint, lean even more towards art. His Link’s Awakening maps replicate trees in the environment instead of just delineating passable areas with lines, and use additional light blue to mimic depth around water edges.
“I actually use old school MSPaint, like from the early 2000s,” says StarFighters76. Besides being an antique, old-fashioned painting is really not a forgiving program. He could definitely keep his visual style while using a program that adds flexibility with more powerful layers and tools. “I should, honestly,” he says when I ask him if he’s ever considered switching 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 its software choice, StarFighters76 says its process has remained largely unchanged all these years too. He begins by drawing a map of the game on paper as he plays, taking notes that he will need later. Eventually, he moves on to recreating those sketches in Paint, switching back and forth between drawing and playing. While 2D games can be translated pretty directly into his style, things like 3D platforming take a little more imagination to succeed.
The repertoire of games that StarFighters76 has created cards for is huge. Although there are hundreds of games he has now mapped, some patterns show up. There are plenty of descendant JRPGs with big maps and treasures: plenty of Final Fantasy games, several Pokemon games, and a few Dragon Quest games as well. Many Resident Evil and Silent Hill games are also represented with detailed layouts and puzzle solutions.
As for how he actually chooses which ones to map, “the game itself has to grab my attention somehow for me to work on it,” he says. “Whether it’s the game itself or the particular layout of the game, there must be something special that appeals to me.”
Many are games where navigation is part of the puzzle of the game. Others, like the early Zelda games, are a joy just to see entire game areas laid out in a contiguous fashion. (opens in a new tab) in a way that only a good map can make immediately understandable.
“It’s a lot more fun for me to map things out while exploring something new because I’m always curious about what’s around the corner,” says StarFighters76, though he also worked on mapping some old favorites. “It gives me a chance to relive the fun I had with them, as well as appreciate these games for what they are.”
Outside of their obvious uses as guides through game areas, StarFighters76’s maps are undoubtedly a nostalgic trip as well. I walked through areas of some of my favorite childhood games, enjoying seeing them through someone else’s eyes. Just seeing the shapes of his Paper Mario cards immediately brings back details about their game – visiting the item shop in Boo’s Mansion basement or clinging to the bottom of his chandeliers.
StarFighters76’s card collection generally leans towards retro, often digging into games originally found on the original Super Nintendo or PlayStation. “I haven’t touched on a lot of current gen games because I know they can be really big, complex games,” he says. “I should be mentally ready to take on huge projects like current gen games.” He would love to dive into bigger current games, he says. For now though, the classics are a great trip through gaming history.
StarFighters76 has been publishing its cards on GameFAQ for almost twenty years, giving its work almost the same longevity as the site itself. “GameFAQs was the first game site I went to when looking for help,” he says. “It’s kind of become my internet home.”
As a poster, StarFighters76 also originally created written walkthroughs. Some of his older guides, like the one for Castlevania 2 from 2008, still contain features from the early 2000s: large text-art intros and maps recreated as text. Despite those early walkthroughs and his continued practice of creating maps containing text notes, the act of mapping is what he really loves.
“I’ve been mapping since I was a teenager,” says StarFighters76, describing the process of exploring the city he experiences as he would later do with games. “It started with my curiosity and my adventure, so I would circle around the neighborhoods I was in, then venture further afield when I was ready.” He even created his own map of the city he lives in several times over the years. “Because I taught myself how to navigate my city, friends literally called me their ‘human GPS’ – no kidding either.”
“Cartography has always been part of my life,” he says. This sense of dedication is the connecting factor in how StarFighters76 talks about every part of its long history by drawing cards. He sticks to GameFAQs because it’s been his community for decades. It has not abandoned classic MS Paint as it is a reliable tool. He continues to make cards because it’s something he’s loved all his life.
There is something to envy in this continued commitment. I always wanted to be someone who could say that I’ve been posting in the same forums for a decade, or that I know of a particular game series because I’ve followed it from the start. Where the grass looks greener, StarFighter76 says it’s not just sunshine all the time.
“After hitting 3,000 cards in 2019, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do,” he says. “After all these years and thousands of maps, it’s really hard to keep going – to do the same thing – without much else. Don’t get me wrong, the art of game mapping is fun in itself. But doing it for twenty years can sometimes get to me because I feel like I’ve done everything I could do, even though there’s tons more I could do.”
Even for someone who enjoys creating maps inside and outside of games, sticking to one hobby for decades can last. For this problem, the sudden interest and gratitude generated on Twitter (opens in a new tab) in August 2021 was actually fortuitous.
Players who remembered his cards showed up in droves to comment their thanks and share the posts spreading his work even more. “Thank you all for the kind words,” he said at the time (opens in a new tab), after creating his own Twitter account just to respond. “You have no idea how much I needed this.”
The amount of attention he garnered took him by surprise. “I really needed that boost,” he said two months later. “Being on Twitter helped motivate me a bit.”
With 3,705 cards currently to his name on GameFAQs, StarFighters76 has spent two decades dedicated to his style, his favorite drawing program, and his Internet home. Here’s hoping a quick injection of internet appreciation will take it to 4,000 and beyond.