And now... FLASH MAPS!
We'll try to be as brief as possible.
First, we have a new system for updating our maps. That's quite obvious. :) So to explain the reasoning behind it, lets take the High Street shops map as an example.
Prior to the new system, maps were edited by hand. In the case of High Street, there are about 15 versions of that one map. Different icons appear depending on age, country, language, etc. At times, there are more than this, but we'll use 15 in the example. Anyway, one change to this map meant that 15 versions would have to be updated. 15 isn't so bad. :) However when you multiply it by 11 languages, you end up with 165 GIFs needing to be altered and exported by hand (for the HTML version). Then another 165 SWFs (for Flash versions) that also needed to be exported by hand. That's 330 images! BY HAND! It took days for someone to compile all that and put it all together. Then there needed to be an image map for each base GIF variation. As you can imagine, it was a very, very tedious job and it required quite a lot of production time from various people.
Our new system uses something called Flash Turbine. It allows PHP (the scripting language we use here at Neopets) to generate SWFs automatically! Basically, an alteration to a map now only requires someone to use the fancy admin we built to modify some variables on a map's icon. Turbine then generates all the necessary SWF files for us. Days of work is now down to about 30 minutes. That's it. Our map editor is a very, very happy camper now.
As most people have guessed, this system ONLY works with SWFs. We can't use it to generate GIF files, and there's obviously no main art file for the map now, so we can't export GIFs manually. The SWFs have taken over. If you were using the HTML option, you're not alone. Quite a few of us here used it, too! But because of how long it was taking to do maps manually, a new solution had to be found and it was decided (based on various statistics... how many people had Flash, how many people were connecting to the site at what speeds, how many people actually used the HTML option, etc.) we'd use this new system instead.
We know you were hoping to hear something like "We're working on HTML maps, YAY!" but we won't lie to ya. ;) That's the scoop, and we all hope you can understand the necessity for the change. If anything comes along that might allow us to easily put GIF maps back in (and we've looked at a lot of solutions so far), we'll most certainly check into it, but until then, we're all SWF-bound.