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Old 01-14-2011, 03:26 PM   #1
Pedro
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Rate this 'article': Video Game Maps (i)

[I don't know whether anyone is even interested in this type of thing, and my points are perhaps overly obvious, but I'll put it out there anyway. I was thinking of a series of articles about mapping/maps in video games - for example follow up articles would be one about the extraordinary maps\worlds in Fallout3 and F:NV, and a slightly retro one about mapping out text and graphic adventures on graph paper and what that added to gaming experience and so on. Anyway, for the introduction, read on...]



I first became aware of maps and what they could contribute to the enjoyment of fiction when I read The Hobbit as a child. I was fascinated by the map of the Wilderland printed inside the cover, and frequently referred back to it as I followed Bilbo through the Mirkwood. The map made the world more real to me, it allowed me to track the progress of the protagonist towards his goal, and by the time the heroes escaped the Halls of the Elven King in empty wine barrels, I was so immersed in the tale that I immediately traced the route of the Forest River and where it led, in anticipation of the next stage of the journey. To this day I find fantasy novels much more enjoyable if there is a good, detailed map included at the start.

In this and subsequent articles I would like to discuss the role of maps in video games, and examine the different ways in which the map can impact a game and the player. To do this, I need to define my terms, as the concept of a ‘game map’ deviates from the normal definition in some ways.



A treasure map from Red Dead Redemption.

A video game map can be one of several things. It can be an in-game map, which serves as a navigational aid when traversing the game world, and which highlights points of interest. Secondly, the game world itself can also be referred to as the game map, whether strategic or overland map, and the player traversing the map and traversing the world are synonymous here. There are maps which exist inside games, such as treasure maps, or subway maps, which are graphical representations of the game world within the game. Red Dead Redemption is an example of a game which combines all three of these elements – a beautifully realised game world with mountains, rivers and towns, a 2d representation of that world in the game map, and a fusion of the two with the hand-drawn treasure maps which the player matched to physical features on the terrain.


Look familiar?

My (somewhat loose) definition of a video game map therefore, is any representation of the game world in-game, including the game world itself, which explains that world, or offers a perspective on that world to the player, represents physical or political points of interest, enhances navigation and planning, or pinpoints the player’s position in the world.


Star Ruler's galaxy map. Each circle is a star system, complete with its own sun.

There are almost as many map types as there are game genres. RDR has an open world set in the fictional West. Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas have open world maps which are recognisably based on real places. Older games, like Zork or the King’s Quest adventures, relied on the player mapping the game himself, on graph paper. For strategy games, the map occupies a position front and centre, combining the game world and critical game information, sometimes shrouded in a fog of war. Choke points, resources, and supply lines need to be identified. Space operas have galaxy maps, which need to represent three dimensional space. Level maps for action games, though perhaps less complex than the previous examples, also qualify as game maps. On the opposite end of the scale are the procedurally generated maps in modern rogue-likes such as Dwarf Fortress, which are both the map and the game world, often needing further interpretation in the form of a character map or tileset as a result of being represented in ASCII. The modern shooter comes with multiplayer maps, designed with very specific principles in mind


A dwarf fortress.

Not only does the map in each of these examples offer a distinct view of the world to the player, but each affects the game in different ways. World exploration is generally of utmost importance, whether it is to lift the fog of war and reveal enemies and resources, or whether it is to access new locations, which are the basis for receiving new quests in RPGs. Imminent threat can be identified on a minimap. Routes from A to B can be planned – for example in Fallout: New Vegas the player finds the most convenient routes north from his starting location to be blocked by enemies several orders of magnitude tougher than he is, and must plan an alternative route which funnels him towards early-game quests. The player’s place in the world can be visualised through gradual discovery of important locations which are marked on the map. For real-time and turn-based strategy games, conquests can be planned and executed, and success is often measured in territory claimed. City building games let the player create the map, while rail and truck simulators mimic real-world routes. There are even instances of fan-made maps created in other games, such as this recreation of Ultima 6 in the world of Minecraft.


The Hex-based map of Solium Infernum.

In short, maps in video games can approach a similar level of importance to the UI in that they govern the player’s physical interaction with the world through in-game actions. The traditional concepts of map use – navigation, communication of information – are utilised, but game maps also fulfil many of the same functions as The Hobbit’s map did, such as adding verisimilitude to a fantasy world, aiding immersion, and allowing the player/reader to plan or track forward progress. I hope to show in some follow-up articles how different aspects of game maps affect the player experience in significant ways.

Last edited by Pedro; 01-18-2011 at 05:30 PM. Reason: Typos
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Old 01-15-2011, 02:31 PM   #2
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Re: Rate this 'article': Video Game Maps (i)

It sure help to have a map when the story itself doesn't make it clear where places are located relative to one another, so in this respect, maps do add a useful dimension to storytelling. Especially in fantasy fiction, where the world exists only for the story, so you wouldn't be able to find a map anywhere else (maybe that's not true today, but it must've been when The Hobbit first came out).

I believe maps are an important part of gameplay and are a necessity for games that want to take place in worlds that aspire to be more than just a maze for Pac-Man to run around in. In this respect, maps are unavoidable.

Even so, I would never have guessed that maps would inspire a deep discussion like this, so I'd be interested to know what you have to say on the subject.
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Old 01-16-2011, 07:03 PM   #3
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Re: Rate this 'article': Video Game Maps (i)

Hey Pedro,

I like your writing style and organization. Everything is crystal clear.

I guess my only issue with this piece is that it doesn't challenge me or really tell me anything I don't already know. Admittedly, you acknowledge this possibility with your editor's note intro, and note that it is a set up piece. I *am* interested to see where you take the rest of the articles.

Last edited by Odofakyodo; 01-16-2011 at 09:48 PM. Reason: HTML formatting
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Old 01-16-2011, 09:33 PM   #4
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Re: Rate this 'article': Video Game Maps (i)

Agree with Bandit and Odo - very well written, Pedro. KEEP GOING!
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Old 01-17-2011, 02:24 PM   #5
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Re: Rate this 'article': Video Game Maps (i)

Hey, thanks for the encouraging words, folks. I initially meant to post this intro plus a proper second piece, but time caught up on me and I thought, what the hell.

Will try and get a semi-interesting piece up next. I'm still not sure I really have a huge amount to say, but hey, at least we can look at a couple of interesting game maps
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Old 01-17-2011, 08:22 PM   #6
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Re: Rate this 'article': Video Game Maps (i)

Good read, I also enjoyed it. It's been said that this piece doesn't challenge anything, but I'm hoping to see that in future articles.

If you've played any of Metroid, Metroid II, or Blaster Master, it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on those titles. Those always occupied a happy medium, I thought.

Text games like Zork pretty much required you to draw out your own map--without visuals, there was pretty much no way to imagine how the game world fit together.

On the other hand, in games like Super Metroid or Symphony of the Night, maps are handed to you on a silver platter; even if you don't find in-game maps, the game generates a map for you as you go along.

In games like Metroid or Blaster Master, though, you have visuals, so you get a grasp on the space the game occupies without having to draw a map yourself. On the other hand, the game doesn't give you a map, so you're forced to learn the game's layout.

But anyway, I digress. I'm interested to hear what else you have to say on the matter of maps!
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Old 01-18-2011, 03:10 PM   #7
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Re: Rate this 'article': Video Game Maps (i)

[Golem, I intend to write about self-mapping and the old adventure games in the next part of this if I get to it - I even have my old Zork maps ready to scan ;-)

Below is part II; again, it's hard to say if I'm saying anything interesting here. It would be nice to be profound and original, but I'm learning about the gap between having a general 'Durr, I liek maps' feeling and being able to translate that feeling into something intelligent
]


Mapping the Wasteland.

Contains mild spoilers for Fallout 3 and New Vegas, including the world maps with all locations revealed, though generally illegible.


If you drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, you take the I-15 freeway out over the Mojave desert, gaining altitude all the time. Eventually, having passed the World’s Largest Thermometer in Baker, and the memorably named Zyzzyx Road, you crest a hill and start a long, straight descent to the Nevada state line. If it’s evening, and if it’s your first trip, then it’s easy to mistake the glittering neon carbuncle of Primm, a thousand feet below, for Vegas itself, and your heart soars in anticipation.



It ain't Vegas.


At the start of Fallout: New Vegas, the video game, I made my way south through Primm, pausing to shoot some villains from its decaying rollercoaster, and struck out towards Mojave Outpost, looking for work. Just as it was getting dark I laboured to the brow of the hill, and having examined the impressive statues of two rangers shaking hands, I turned around to look out over the wasteland. I instantly had a flashback to several years before. The Interstate, or what was left of it, descended in a long straight line to the basin floor ahead of me, and in the fading light Primm twinkled gaudily in the distance. For a moment, reality and video games merged, and it felt like I was having an epiphany.


It passed, of course, but it made me wonder. Why would the worldmakers of Bethesda\Obsidian make this insignificant corner of their map so like its real world equivalent? Elevation, road layout and the view from that vantage point all matched reality. Perhaps this is unsurprising with a ‘fictional-but-real’ location like New Vegas and its surrounds, but the attention to detail here is only surpassed by the realisation of another real-world location - Washington DC in Fallout 3. Surprisingly, the map work was done by a different team for each game, and it is interesting to see where their methods diverge.


The Grand List Of Console Role Playing Game Cliches includes the Law of Cartographical Elegance, which states that the world map always cleanly fits into a rectangular shape with no land masses that cross an edge. While this is generally applied to entire worlds, such as the Two Worlds II map, it applies also to the more regional Capital and Mojave Wastelands. Both are reproduced below with all locations revealed.



The Capital Wasteland The Mojave Wasteland

The most noticeable difference between these two maps is around the borders. Fallout 3 utilises the whole space, with locations distributed evenly right up to the edges of the map. The player can visit these locations, but if he tries to walk off the edge of the map, he gets a ‘Turn back’ message. Fallout: New Vegas’s map on the other hand, shows a much more naturalistic game space. The Vegas basin is bordered on the west by bluffs, on the east by the Colorado River and more cliffs, to the southeast by Searchlight Airport and to the northeast by Nellis Air Force base. In other words, the player is kept well away from the edge of the map by seemingly-natural obstacles. How well this works is debatable, as I’d imagine many players were as nonplussed as I was to encounter a vast and empty Searchlight Airport, the only purpose of which was to block progress. It took a while for this to register, and when it did it perhaps took me out of the game more than a ‘Turn Back’ message would have. But kudos to Obsidian for trying the more realistic approach.


The other big difference between the two games, map-wise, is the role of roads. In New Vegas, the player is encouraged from the start to stick to the roads, and most of the main action takes place along the thoroughfares. A cursory look at the two maps illustrates that roads feature strongly in New Vegas, and not at all in Fallout 3. The point has been made that though New Vegas has the larger map, the game space feels smaller.


I also feel that there’s more of a channelling effect at work in New Vegas because of this; the player is being funnelled towards Vegas itself, whereas Fallout 3 was more of a sprawling setting, to be explored at one’s leisure by setting off in any direction. I should note that once the player made it into Washington DC, there was a heavy emphasis on subway systems linking discrete areas, and some of this open world atmosphere was lost as the city became more oppressive. Which approach is better is a matter of personal preference, but it’s evident that the player experience is subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, affected by this way of mapping the world.


One thing the two games do have in common, and which is done extremely well, is the way the setting affects the characters who inhabit these worlds, and influences the quests available in each. The state of Nevada was a frontier state – the southern, California branch of the Oregon Trail crossed it in the north, the economy was built on prospectors and miners and it is dotted with ghost towns. In the time of New Vegas, it exists still as a frontier, with the NCR and Caesar’s Legion both attempting a land grab of nineteenth-century proportions. Talk to any of New Vegas’s NPCs and they will show the independence of the frontiersman, with neither political alternative attractive to them. They rebel against governance of any kind, even if it will bring safety and stability. The political reality of the Mojave Wasteland is conveyed with skill and sympathy, and is tied into both the setting and the strategic landmarks such as the Hoover Dam.




Similarly, Washington DC in Fallout 3 is as well-realised a combination of the setting and some of the cultural touchstones associated with that setting – freedom and liberty – as one could hope to see in a videogame. There’s a visceral thrill to stepping out on the Mall for the first time, and seeing the ruin of the Capitol, and using it as a backdrop to the conflict between two potential governing bodies in the Enclave and the Brotherhood of Steel. The quests that the player is given tie in with these ideals also, and are each tied into an iconic landmark for extra resonance – fixing the radio transmitter on the Washington Monument for the free radio station, recovering the head of Abraham Lincoln and the significance of that to the freed slaves.




Though it sounds facile, in each of these games the world map is not merely a map. It fulfils the needs of a role playing game, by providing a navigable world to the player, with new places and characters to discover, and guides progression through the game. It provides a starting point for exploration and a framework for the imagination. But the world map also gives expression to the deeper resonance of each location through the glorious realisation of the landscape and the monuments to liberty and idealism, slavery and venality, that are strewn about it. One of the great achievements of the Fallout games is not only the marriage of fantasy and reality to produce truly unique worlds, but the deep-rooted link between the games’ themes and the landscape the player traverses. That, and the wonder of Primm in a video game, of course.
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Old 01-21-2011, 02:04 PM   #8
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Re: Rate this 'article': Video Game Maps (i)

You have been eaten by a Grue.




Adventure\Colossal Cave


Year Zero for video game cartography is probably 1976, which saw the creation of Adventure\Colossal Cave, a text adventure created by Will Crowther. Text adventures, also known as interactive fiction, present the game world to the player through descriptive prose passages, and the player progresses by entering simple phrases such as OPEN DOOR, or GO NORTH (shortened to N). These commands were interpreted by a parser and translated into action in the game. The player opens up new areas by solving puzzles, using items in his inventory, or often by merely hitting on the correct combination of verb and noun expected by the parser. The game world was sketched sparingly, and so existed to a large extent in the player’s imagination, and an important part of both visualising and navigating that world was through mapping it. Making a misstep or losing your way in these old games generally had one result – a sudden and instantaneous death.



MUD1


Of course, mapping the game really did mean mapping it - taking out a sketchpad or graph paper, and physically drawing that location on the page. It helped to annotate all the available exits, which corresponded to compass points, and perhaps any noticeable objects or features in the location which might assist in solving puzzles later. There might be stairs leading up or down, or a tree to climb, or a portal to another part of the map. There might be an actual puzzle that you should make note of, such as a locked grating or a rope dangling just out of reach. There might be a strange symbol etched on the wall, or an NPC or quest-giver to talk to. All this meant that making a map was not only vital to playing the game, but had the effect of turning the player into an amateur cartographer subconsciously wrestling with problems of scale, projection and symbolisation. Starting in the centre of a blank sheet of paper and extending the boundaries of the known world outwards in all directions fed both the imagination and the practical need for progression through the game.



A map of Rhem 3. Source.


This physical act of making a map resulted in both player progression and the simultaneous reinforcement of the ‘reality’ of the game world. It also had a number of other effects, the first and foremost of which was immersion. If the player was creating a map, then he was also creating a world which was deeper and more personal to him than that conveyed by just the words on the screen. He took ownership of that world, and the game space existed in large part because of the player’s actions outside the game. So as well as engaging in a virtual journey, with his game character (not really an avatar, in those days) discovering the world, there was also the important task of physically translating that space onto the real-world medium of paper. It seems reasonable to infer that this physical act resulted in a much greater emotional investiture in the game world.



Adventure\Colossal Cave Map. Source



It must be remembered however, that this means of engaging the player was specific to the genre – the act of mapping the game supplemented the sparse text through which the world was presented, and I am not claiming that these games presented a level of immersion which has never been surpassed. The early Eighties – the period during which the text adventure was most popular - was a golden time for user-created maps across all genres, as can be seen in this map for Jet Set Willy, an addictive platformer. This type of map, however, was more of a game guide than a tool for aiding immersion. For text, and later graphical adventures, making the map was an important component of world creation, and the player had a role equal to the developer in the creation or visualisation of that world. If we fast forward to the modern day, we can’t say that those worlds were more immersive than the world of Bioshock, for instance, in which Rapture is sumptuously realised and the means of traversing that world is so different. The point is rather that the reliance on the player’s imagination, and the leveraging of that imagination, led to a unique type of interaction with the game world.



Zork.


The next section will deal with a particularly nasty subdivision of game mapping, that of the text adventure maze, and the challenges associated with mapping these places. In the meantime, let me leave you to ponder this user-created map of Doomdark’s Revenge, for which words are not enough.
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Old 01-30-2011, 11:07 AM   #9
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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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Old 01-30-2011, 07:45 PM   #10
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Re: Rate this 'article': Video Game Maps (i)

ZORRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRK!



Thanks for the nostalgia juice, Pedro. I really like the way this article is evolving!
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Old 01-31-2011, 01:20 PM   #11
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Heh, thanks for reading.

To be honest, I pretty much took a 20 year break from gaming between 1987 and 2007, so I can't really discuss many games between 1990 and 2000, say. So if anyone wants to jump in and do a piece on Doom-type games, or some of the games Golem mentions above, be my guest! I really don't know anything about the transition from self-mapping to auto-mapping.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Golem View Post
If you've played any of Metroid, Metroid II, or Blaster Master, it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on those titles. Those always occupied a happy medium, I thought.
I made some notes at the start of this and the next topic for me is possibly going to be Star maps (4x & space sim games mostly) or city maps (GTAIV vs Saints Row 2 for example) or something about exotic city settings (Rapture being favourite). So I'm skipping some interesting years there.

Also considering doing something on Rig'n'Roll truck simulator and Railworks train simulator, at which point the thread will no doubt implode.
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Old 05-10-2011, 04:08 PM   #12
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I’m not sure exactly what it was that persuaded me to buy Rig’n’Roll, a truck simulator from 1c Company, but I’d imagine the following blurb helped:

Players will step into the shoes of a young man in the year 2014 as he arrives in California to pursue his dreams of road domination and capture the Californian cargo transportation market. There are miles of highways to conquer and cities and towns to reach as he becomes the greatest trucker on the highways. Rig’n’Roll is a sequel to the famous Hard Truck series. This time the game world is true-to-life. Gamers can race high-powered Semis along thousands miles of real Californian roads, visiting San-Francisco to San Diego, San Jose to Los Angeles.

Leaving aside my dreams of road domination, it was the last bit – thousands of miles of real Californian roads – which hooked me and reeled me in. I lived in California for several years, and the promise of a true-to-life game world was intriguing. Real roads and real maps! If 1c could pull this off, it would be amazing. Plus, the idea of driving a truck from Mojave to Reno, country music blasting from the stereo, appealed to me a lot:





In real life, that journey would take eight hours. In the game it takes fifteen minutes. I have no idea what I was thinking – who on earth would sit down at a PC and drive a virtual truck for eight hours? – but I had assumed the routes would be the complete routes. I remember wondering how they’d render all those miles of highway and scenery. Upon firing up the game and seeing each journey timed between ten and thirty minutes, I felt pretty foolish.





Each journey is a condensed version of the real thing. For example, San Diego to LA, which takes two hours in real life, takes twenty minutes in-game. 1c have stripped the journey down to the bare essentials, and this can only be a good thing. You leave a warehouse and pass through San Diego’s dinky downtown area, and head north past the San Onofre nuclear plant to LA. It actually does feel like driving the route in real life.





One of the first things I did was pick up a load in Oakland, which the game intended me to deliver to San Jose. Instead I headed west, across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco. The route was remarkably similar to real life. I wanted to see how far off track I could go, but the mission timer and the fact that all secondary routes were blocked off meant that I didn’t get far. The freeways are pretty much true-to-life, if shortened, and I was surprised to see other parallels with actual locations in San Francisco.



Lombard & Van Ness in-game



Google Street View of Lombard & Van Ness


All in all, though the emphasis is on the actual driving (which felt ok), I have to give 1c kudos for their map-making as well. There are miles and miles of road in this game, and while absolute verisimilitude will always be out of reach, they did a really good job with what they had.



Crossing the Bay Bridge to SF.

Last edited by Pedro; 05-10-2011 at 04:15 PM.
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Old 05-18-2011, 03:09 PM   #13
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Re: Rate this 'article': Video Game Maps (i)

Demon's Souls


People are still creating video game maps, though I suspect this is only so they can be included in strategy guides. With the prevalence of in-game maps, most games don’t need to be mapped out in detail. But as a deep and intricate game, which can be played through differently many times, Demon’s Souls benefits from this treatment. The full suite of maps is here, but the map of Level 1-1, the Boletarian Palace is shown below:





Demon’s Souls is typified by its excellent level design, which makes great use of verticality to turn twisting passages and switchbacking staircases into a coherent game world. Having spent hours inching through the Boletarian Palace, for example, I was surprised to turn a corner and see my starting area a few hundred yards away, albeit a hundred feet below. The internal geography of the levels is great, and is wholly consistent.




For anyone who has played Demon’s Souls and is looking at the map above, the first question that springs to mind is Why? After all, due to the unforgiving nature of the game, every player has probably been through each of these levels a couple of dozen times, and is likely familiar with every nook and cranny. So why create a map? Why document the game so minutely?


The obvious answer is that the game’s depth lends itself to mapping. The ability to play a New Game+ each time you finish the game, together with many secondary objectives such as weapon collecting and upgrading, means that a quick-reference map for loot and material drops is extremely useful. It is very useful to know exactly where that moonstone-dropping Crystal Lizard is situated, or where you can get your hands on a Cling Ring.




It’s difficult to imagine these maps being useful on a first playthough, as their abstract nature means that they can only really be understood once the player is already familiar with the level. So here we have an example of game maps where the purpose is to provide a guide to the game world, but only once the player has completed one playthough. This, like the game itself, is pretty hardcore. Essentially these maps are functional in the extreme, in that they are a guide to where stuff is, rather than aides to helping the player navigate the game world.


That said, I don’t mean to detract from the achievement that these maps represent. The mapping effort here is phenomenal; each level is broken out with great economy, and the detail (every enemy represented!) is amazing. The maps reinforce the beauty of the level design – make a level that fits in a small space, but which gives the impression of a huge world, and which is internally consistent.



Alternative map of a small section of the Palace showing vertical level design


It’s interesting to compare another map on that site, Level 5-2, the Leechmonger Archstone, to another user-created map. Look at this and compare to this map of the same level:


The first map is extremely professional, but I have to say the second one has a lot of charm. The player enters the level at the bottom right, and has to make his way around three sides of the map to get to the boss at the top right.

And the great thing about it is that everything important is there. We have the giant goblins (aren’t they great?), the slugs, the jellyfish, the bloatflies, the unique pickups, and the various NPCs. There’s even a little lever for dropping the drawbridge shortcut on the right hand side. Though it doesn’t detail every single item or drop, it’s extremely useful navigation aide to a level which is dark and open and confusing. This is a charming and brilliant user-created map, and though it will never be included in a strategy guide, it makes me happy that it exists.
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Old 05-18-2011, 11:21 PM   #14
Richard Naik
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Re: Rate this 'article': Video Game Maps (i)

Hey Pedro, this is some interesting stuff to be sure. However, I'd like to see a review of something if you've got it in you. It's much easier (for me anyway) to evaluate someone's writing when looking at a review rather than an editorial like this. If you're up to it, pick a game and let me see what you've got.

Thanks!
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Old 05-19-2011, 05:45 PM   #15
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Re: Rate this 'article': Video Game Maps (i)

Hey Richard, thanks for taking a look at this stuff; as you can probably tell, I'm really just indulging myself by continuing it. I'm enjoying it though.

I'll think about a game review; don't know if I do have it in me to be honest, but we'll see. Cheers!
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