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Old 01-30-2011, 11:07 AM   #9
Pedro
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Re: Rate this 'article': Video Game Maps (i)

A diversion - adventure game mazes.


Once a staple of adventure games, the video game maze has seen a decline in its fortunes as games have become more sophisticated. This is no bad thing. Adventure games made use of three main devices to block progress and hold the player’s interest: the sometimes logical and sometimes deranged puzzle, the defeat of an enemy, often purely by means of having the correct item in one’s possession (Use fish on bear), and the dreaded maze.

Encountering a maze meant that if you hadn’t already been mapping your progress (see previous entry), you had better start now. They consisted of interconnected locations, all of which were either described or shown to be exactly the same. The only variation might be the location of the exits. Get lost in a maze and you might never find the exit; spend too long there and it wasn’t uncommon for your character to expire. In King’s Quest V, for example, the maze was in the form of a desert, with screen after screen of identical dunes. After a certain number of moves, your character would get thirsty, and if he didn’t find water, would die of thirst shortly after.



Mazes either had a quest item at their heart, or connected two important locations in the game, and as such was a significant barrier to progress. The King’s Quest maze above is not too demanding, in that it follows a logical pattern. If you left your current location by walking to the north, then you arrived in the location directly north of where you left. As such, mapping this maze was done more through trial and error than anything else. If you walked seven squares to the west, and expired from thirst, then at least you’d have those seven squares mapped. If you reloaded, you could map another seven, and so on. You were also helped by the handy oasis in the middle, and once you found that, you could retrace your steps and drink, and set off in another direction. Mapping out the maze on graph paper was undemanding, soothing even. It also served to draw you in to the adventure.

Code:
You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.

>GO NORTH

You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.

>GO WEST

You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.

>GO WEST

You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.

>SCREW THIS

There is nothing to screw here. 
You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.
However, mazes also came in another flavour – the maze which bends reality. While the ‘logical’maze drew the player in, the ‘illogical’ or non-Euclidean maze tried to recreate the disorientation one would feel in a real maze. The mechanic used to achieve this was highly suspect. Now, if a player moved north, the subsequent location might be the room to the north, it might be a room to the south, or it might be the same room the player just left. To emphasise, if the player went north, and then immediately south, he may not be in the room he just left. As all rooms were identically described, it was extremely difficult to identify one’s true location. This led to much frustration, and often death, as your lamp began to flicker and various giant spiders and bats began to close in. How could such a space be mapped?

The solution was delightfully simple. The adventurer could generally carry several objects in his inventory, and in each room, he dropped one of these (not the lamp!). Now, if you came to a room which you had previously visited, the description would incorporate the object you dropped:

Code:
>GO NORTH
You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.
There is a moose head here.
This enabled you to map out the relationships between the available exits and the rooms they led to, and eventually it would become apparent that the huge maze you’d been lost in for an hour actually consisted of six rooms. In no time at all, you were free, and could continue the adventure in another part of the world map. The disadvantage of this type of maze was that once the player knew the means of solving it (no mean feat in pre-internet days), that lesson could be applied to every other game, and the initial objective of disorienting the player was redundant.


Hand Drawn Map of a maze in Colossal Cave. Click through for magnified version and map key.


As a sometime modder (Mount & Blade), I’ve toyed with the idea of including a maze like this in my modded copy of the game as part of a quest, and in homage to the old text adventures. The idea was to have a number of rooms with four exits, all of which led to another identical room with four exits, some of which folded back upon themselves as described above. However, there are some in-game restrictions - you can’t drop items in Mount and Blade and have them still appear persistently in the world – which prevent that way of mapping the maze. My idea was to have the each room have various ‘identical’ features – a painting on the wall, a table with a bowl of fruit, a stool in the corner etc – which would differ slightly in each individual room. If the player identified these differences, he could map the maze pretty easily. If. I had also thought to have a random enemy spawn in each room, which would have to be defeated, and which would further confuse and disorient the player. In the end though, it is hard to see what this would contribute to a quest other than player frustration, and I eventually decided that the ‘homage’ (or in-joke) would detract from the game much more than it would add to it. It is probably best that we leave these artifacts back in the Eighties where they belong. We can only take nostalgia so far; sometimes it's best left alone:



Last edited by Pedro; 01-30-2011 at 11:17 AM.
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