Would it be possible to make a custom zoomable world map (kinda like google maps), where you can have all the cities of the world but are able to zoom out to the whole world (and no longer see the cities). What programs could I use to make such a map?

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    $\begingroup$ I believe it is even possible to use Google maps with a custom map. The main problem isn't actually the zoom and moving around the map (which is fairly easy to implement) it's having a map of suitable size and detail to make it worth bothering. I've been toying around with ways of generating these kind of maps for years and never really succeeded. $\endgroup$ Aug 28 at 21:49
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    $\begingroup$ What this question has to do with world-building? $\endgroup$
    – trejder
    Aug 29 at 12:00
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    $\begingroup$ @trejder Making a map is creating the shape of your world, so it feels like world building in the most literal sense. The question looks like it is the perfect Venn Diagram intersection of worldbuilding-resources and map-making. $\endgroup$
    – jb6330
    Aug 29 at 13:07
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    $\begingroup$ @jb6330 Map MAKING truly is. Questions on software / solutions / protocols needed for mapmaking certainly are out-of-scope of Worldbulding. We are not asking questions here on Word. Which certainly is used in world building, right? $\endgroup$
    – trejder
    Aug 29 at 14:38
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    $\begingroup$ I'd say this is clearly about worldbuilding related resources. Fairly specific need and well defined scope. It's on topic here. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Aug 30 at 0:05

3 Answers 3


AlexP is right of course, you should ask on a geography stack... but that can be daunting/overkill.

The main thing to understand is that worldmaps have too much detail to load at the same time. So they (practically?) all divide the world in "tiles" of increasing resolution --- say the world in a Mercator projection as 1x1 tile (so about 40K x 20K km), then 2x2 (each a quadrant/half-hemisphere), 4x4, 8x8, ... , 1024x1024 (still 4x2 km), ... up to whatever resolution. You can change coordinate systems but you will want to stay with the default/ what people are used to. [In reality of course it's square tiles.] You can choose to limit movement or instead scroll around the world infinitely East-West (not North-South across poles, typically).

The way it works is you get a few tiles (say 2x3, or 12x8) fully displayed on your map plus partial ones on the edges, and it dynamically loads in tiles in the direction you are scrolling. If you zoom in/out one or more steps, it hasn't pre-loaded any so may hesitate a second.

Now the interesting thing are the map suppliers: Openstreetmap is well-known, but e.g. Stamen makes striking ones ("toner" stark black/white maps, my favourite "watercolor" one). Keep in mind there's local ones (say, cycle paths of Switzerland) you can use globally and not see much in most places. The thing is that maps are many layers: a geographical one (e.g. satellite-based suggesting vegetation and height, or political boundaries), one of name-labels (in local language/script, or French, English, ... ), zero or more of "fixed" features (roads typically, or buoys on a seamap; landmarks on a landmarks map), zero or more of "data" features (current weather, local voting results as a choropleth, GDP by county or country, ... ).

You can make your own "tileset" of a fantasy planet, or somewhat abuse it to display a gigapixel image of an artwork you have [see 'non-geographical map']. I vaguely remember a tutorial of taking a 19th century map (of I think Buenos Aires) and generating the tileset; there's also providers like Arcanum.com or the National Library of Scotland who have done the work with historical maps.

I personally use LeafletJS for all my maps. It gives you all the usual functionality, and you can choose what map to move around on, what coordinates and zoom-levels to limit to, etc. There's a good Leaflet Providers Demo page to easily compare, to see what layers you want to combine (a satelite map with country & city labels plus current cloud cover? Just the Stamen Tones outlines without labels?). You will have to be able to use Javascript if you want to add features (mostly options turned on/off in the right places, and filling in your own location coordinates) or advanced interactions; but what you describe is just copy-pasting from given examples.

  • $\begingroup$ Would a tileset include information of where roads/buildings/coast/etc are or is the tileselt purely visual? $\endgroup$ Aug 30 at 0:20
  • $\begingroup$ This wildly understates the complexity. $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Aug 30 at 1:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Fattie obviously. But what part you feel is essential here for OP to understand in more detail? $\endgroup$ Aug 30 at 15:00
  • $\begingroup$ @GabrielTellez Depends. See e.g. leaflet-extras.github.io/leaflet-providers/preview (as said, I'm most familiar with Leaflet so that's the example). e.g. OpenStreetMap has all-in-one; e.g. Stadia.StamenToner has all but Stadia.StamenWatercolor has only background; scroll far down (search!) to SafeCast: that and the following layers ones are not-backgrounds --- there's separate layers of Stadia's version of Stamen Toner's lines and labels, toggle on/off with the tickbox; you'd use either, both or neither with Stadia.StamenWatercolor / Stadia.StamenTonerLite. Or mix-and-match provider. $\endgroup$ Aug 30 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ @GabrielTellez now I re-read your question, if you mean it as an edge-detection issue, I'd go with "purely visual". E.g. stackoverflow.com/questions/59557325/… about detecting coastline (solution is mostly: Use a coastlines database, duh; don't invent a complicated algorithm to detect it once more from a map). $\endgroup$ Aug 30 at 15:16

This kind of applications are called Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The Stack Exchange network has a dedicated stack, appropriately named Geographic Information Systems SE.

One of the best known GIS applications is ArcGIS; of the free and open source GIS applications, I would say that the best known is QGIS. Wikipedia has a comparison list of GIS applications.

If you don't really want a full-blown GIS suite, there are many free web-based applications more-or-less suitable for the creators of fantasy worlds. One of the most commonly used is Azgaar's Fantasy Map Generator a.k.a. Azgaar's FMG. It is very much simpler than an actual GIS suite, but gets most of the job done quite nicely.

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    $\begingroup$ It's utterly, utterly, utterly inconceivable the op could "use" ArcGIS ! i feel it's somewhat confusing to mention it breezily like this. The final paragraph here is perfect and says it all. $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Aug 30 at 1:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Fattie: One cannot write an answer about database management systems and not mention Oracle, although it is indeed vastly more likely that the querent would be perfectly happy with MariaDB or even LibreOffice Base. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 30 at 7:09
  • $\begingroup$ for sure, @AlexP The OP is obviously asking as a totally non-technical, non-programmer. Hence, your correct explanation (paras 1/2) could perhaps be prefaced by "In answer to your specific question, you could not do this" and then (just as I say) "The final paragraph here is perfect and says it all." $\endgroup$
    – Fattie
    Aug 30 at 10:50

Google Maps at least used to have a feature that allowed you to use their entire feature set with your own geographic database. I recall this was actually done for the MMO game There (for their online map of There's world); this started no later than around 2005 (might have been earlier; There opened in 2003).

  • $\begingroup$ Does this feature still exist? If so, please provide instructions or a link. If not, -1 from me for an answer that doesn't solve the problem $\endgroup$
    – automaton
    Aug 29 at 19:03
  • $\begingroup$ @automaton I never knew how There developers did it in the first place, I just asked one of them online when I noticed the game map was feature for feature like Google Maps that I used locally. I'm sure contacting Google Maps support would lead to a fairly quick answer on both concerns. $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Aug 29 at 19:21
  • $\begingroup$ Could you link to the game There? Due to its simple name it is not easy to find using google. $\endgroup$ Aug 30 at 0:21
  • $\begingroup$ @GabrielTellez I can't actually visit the site (game sites are blocked on my work network), but I'll put a link to the client download page above. I think it's still open (it closed in 2007 or so and came back after a bit more than a year with a different business model; last I saw it had only a couple hundred regular users left but was "sustainable" at that level). $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Aug 30 at 11:01

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