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The map for the videogame Grand Theft Auto V has been leaked online, less than a week before the game’s release.  By the looks of it, the virtual world of Los Santos is incredibly massive.  The sprawling island has a large metropolis in the South, and a diverse surrounding environment filled with mountains, lakes, forests, and beaches.

Leaked Grand Theft Auto V Map (via kotaku.com)

Even if you’re not a fan of the Grand Theft Auto series (which consists of completing criminal missions ranging from stealing cars, to robbing banks, to committing murder and mayhem), or even videogames in general, some respect is due the designers of the game for making such a large, immersive virtual world. The GTA series popularized the genre of “sandbox” games, which give players the freedom to play around in a fully-developed game world, much like a sandbox, without completing the main missions.  The player could choose to run around and shoot people on the street, unleashing some pent-up aggression, or just drive around listening to the radio (which, I’m not ashamed to say, I often did with GTA III before I had my license in real life).  The game has always been about freedom, and the size of the game world has been like a barometer for the amount of freedom the game allows.

With GTA V, Rockstar (the game developer) set out to create the largest world yet, several times larger than GTA IV.  So now that the map has been leaked, does it match the hype?  Just how big is it really?

Determining scale in virtual worlds provides its own set of challenges.  The world seems large, but it really depends on the scale of the map used, not only compared to reality, but in the context of the game mechanics.  In other words, what does an inch on the map correspond to in terms of meters or miles, and how long does it take the character to walk or drive that distance in the game?  There is a scale in the lower left hand corner of the map above, but I was not able to find a version of the map with high enough resolution so I could read the numbers.

Luckily, numerous fans on the internet have taken the initiative to estimate the scale of the game world, compared to real life cities and other game worlds.  Below are a few helpful examples, though I cannot vouch for their complete accuracy:

Map of GTA V with screenshots (via Kotaku.com)

The above map shows scale by using prerelease screenshots of the game, matching them up to locations on the map, and showing how far one has to zoom to attain those views.  Seeing people look smaller than ants from above, even when zoomed in, is enough to convince me that this is quite a huge game world.

Below is a comparison between GTA V, GTA IV, and real world cities Toronto, Manhattan, San Francisco, and London, which was achieved by scaling the maps so that the sizes of city streets align.  It looks to be comparable in size to all these real world metropolises, but bear in mind that most of the island in GTA V is not urban, and with access to a car, the player would probably be able to get across it much quicker than, say, getting from one end of Manhattan to the other.

That should give some idea of the scale of the playable world in GTA V.  But players won’t know for sure until they play it, which they can do when it comes out September 17 for PS3 and Xbox 360.  GTA players are drawn to the freedom offered by a wide-open sandbox world, so if the scale of this map is anywhere near accurate, I predict GTA V will be another huge hit.

Sources: Reddit, Kotaku.