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Maps in games - a crutch for the weak? [roundtable]
Or a necessity? I dunno. Maybe my brain is wired differently, but I never felt like I needed a map for 2D games like Metroid (or Zelda or Metroidvania, etc.). I mean, you're exploring, right? Don't you just kind of keep track of which paths you've gone down in your head?

The exception, I suppose, would be dungeon hacks with no real sense of place. Like old-school RPGs. Ones with static screens or even just text. Etrian Odyssey seems like a fun spin on this concept - a game partially built around cartography. I should really crack it open.

Now, when it comes to 3D games... hmm. I guess ginormous games like the Elder Scrolls stuff (or even Wind Waker) need a map. But I find them unnecessary in the type of structured games that are far more prevalent these days. Metroid Prime would be a unique exception, since it's such a labyrinth.

What do you gents think?

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Posted: 02/01/12, 20:13:12  - Edited by 
 on: 02/01/12, 20:13:23
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@New Forms Still, I was glad the PS3 version of Bioshock had an option to turn off the vita chambers. The argument that you can just control yourself and your own game experience makes sense on the surface. Even recently with Zelda there was the suggestion that if Zelda is too easy, skip some heart containers. Etc. But that still feels less fulfilling to me than having the game built in a way where it challenges me without me having to artificially construct that challenge.
Posted: 02/02/12, 19:52:20

I can see where the thrill of a challenge could be taken away from a game that offers too many safety nets, even if they are optional.

Some games bring the pain with no remorse (Demon's Souls, Ninja Gaiden, etc.). That's great and I'm glad they're out there.

Yet I still generally stand by my theory that more options are better than less options. I know it can be abused or mishandled by both developers and gamers, but you can't fault a system based on a few bad examples.

Heck just thinking about a Save Anywhere option serves as a good example. I can't count the number of times that it has served me when having to share television viewing time with my wife. Yet some think it's a crutch for the weak (lol).

Coming back around to the OT, the same goes for maps in games. In game maps allow us to work smarter, not work harder. I mean, think about it in real-world terms. What if a friend told you to meet them someplace new across town for dinner? Would you rather use a standard GPS to get there or a simple compass? Both can do the job of course, but which is more practical?
Posted: 02/02/12, 20:01:47
Well I agree, but I think the options have to be built into the game for me to really feel fulfilled. Like, perhaps you want a save anywhere option but I think that would hurt my experience with a lot of games so I'd want to be able to turn that off. One might say why do I even need that, I could just choose to not use it, but I have a hard time just making up my own rules and sticking to them.

And really I think that in general if you don't control the experience in some ways, players will find ways to play it that are not as fulfilling to them. Really this is the logic behind having progression through a game instead of just opening up every stage to the player from the start. A few games do the latter (Bangai-O Spirits, offhand) but it never quite feels as fulfilling as working your way through.

Offcourse there is a flipside, when you try to control the experience too much and it turns people away. I think Nintendo is finding a happy medium with these cheat items that pop up in Mario games after you die a bunch of times. Even that system needs work, but it still creates barriers to overcome while giving players who are really having trouble with those barriers ways to get past them.

New Forms said:
Would you rather use a standard GPS to get there or a simple compass? Both can do the job of course, but which is more practical?

I just look it up on mapquest. See this is weird, I'm super good at navigating the real world without getting all turned around, I'm just terrible at it in video games.
Posted: 02/02/12, 20:26:38
Having options > not having options sounds good in theory, I mean just looking at it like that, it seems like it should be obvious, and yet...

I find that a more rigidly structure game design usually leads to a tighter, more satisfying experience in many cases. Sure, open worlds and games that allow you to customize the hell out of them have their virtues, and their fans, and I would not want to take their favorite games away from them.

But I really, really enjoy moments in gaming where I'm at a particularly tricky spot, then suddenly realize exactly what I have to do, and end up admiring the work of whoever was responsible for that particular segment. I dunno what it is. I like these moments that make me think "damn, that's clever", and they make me feel clever in turn for figuring them out.

And options can destroy the careful balance that the designer tried to set. Or worse: he has to compensate for those options knowing they're there. I'm fairly convinced a game like Half-Life was designed with the idea that players would constantly quick-save in mind. Not fun, to me. Goldeye's challenge in comparison seems more balanced, and the pacing of the levels much smoother.

As far as maps go, I personally think they're essential in a lot of games. Many old school games would benefit from them, in fact. Like Blaster Master. Now there's a game that I'm pretty sure was designed with the idea that kids would have unlimited time to spend in the game and learn the layout of the levels by heart. Well, it's not my case.

I'll have to look at someone's maps for the game one day...
Posted: 02/02/12, 20:49:03
@New Forms

Your own town and you have to use a GPS? Come on man, even if you live in a big city, you should be able to figure it out from streets. GPS is a perfect example of technology that certainly has its use, but people relying on it has made society as a whole stupider. It's proven that people actually learn how to get to a place by following directions, but do not by using a GPS.
Posted: 02/02/12, 20:59:02  - Edited by 
 on: 02/02/12, 21:05:06

Yeah, you guys are both right. Tight, focused design is important no matter how much freedom you give the player.

I think it falls back to how intelligently one handles crutch mechanics. Like Zero said, Mario handles repeat failures well (also the 2nd-player "bubble" was genius).

I wonder how much of it is just natural evolution and sophistication. I'm sure we can all remember a time when you had to sit down and read a new game's instruction manual from cover to cover just to get the basics of gameplay. Today, instruction manuals are incorporated directly into the game as tutorial levels seamlessly integrated into the game proper. There is really little need for instruction manuals anymore and the industry seems to think so too as they're becoming more and more just leaflets with a bunch of tiny legalese paragraphs.

To me this is nothing more than a natural evolution, just like in-game maps, quick-saves, and such.




Whatever you say, gramps!
Posted: 02/02/12, 21:04:00  - Edited by 
 on: 02/02/12, 21:07:28
@Guillaume I've even been thinking about how Nintendo's Zelda boss designers have to take into account that casuals / n00bz probably haven't found many heart pieces / bottles for potions / etc. and that is probably why a lot of the bosses are so easy. Because in reality, especially in the late game, the "health potential" that players can have can be wildly different, and it's probably your most casual / worst players that also have the least health potential. So if Nintendo is making the game for everyone (as they usually are) they have to consider that someone might be there with barely any health upgrades at all.

Now, there are a lot of better options than just making easy bosses. Still, the more open-ended nature of the health upgrades kind of spoils the boss designers' ability to create a very specific experience.

Are we still talking about maps?
Posted: 02/02/12, 21:06:28
@New Forms
Well, of the games you've mentioned, I've only really played Arkham Asylum. And I definitely regret spending 80% of my time in Detective Mode. But it's so much more efficient! How can you pass up that extra functionality?

I'd rather see the game world in the most natural way and retain some of the tension of not knowing what's around the corner, but I just couldn't give up seeing through walls. Is that my personal weakness? Maybe. But I bet that it's a hell of a lot of other people's, as well. Just like grinding, unnecessary DLC, etc., it plays on many gamers' worst tendencies (although not in as evil of a way).

To use a Nintendo example, Zelda. Recent entries have been too easy, in general. So why not just do a three-heart run and make it more challenging? Because it is almost IMPOSSIBLE to resist the lure of that glowing Heart Container, the constant positive feedback of gaining virtual strength. And it feels like you're not 'playing the game right'. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think so.

EDIT: FUCK, Zero just said the same thing! I didn't read his post before responding, I swear.
Posted: 02/02/12, 21:09:34  - Edited by 
 on: 02/02/12, 21:10:16
@New Forms

You won't be calling me gramps when the aliens come with their giant ray that destroys all electronic devices and I'm the only one who knows how to get to the super market!
Posted: 02/02/12, 21:13:00
I'm going to be really sad when they invent a pill that instantly bestows all of the world's knowledge. All of that work - for nothing.

Google is already bad enough.

Zero said:
I just look it up on mapquest. See this is weird, I'm super good at navigating the real world without getting all turned around, I'm just terrible at it in video games.
OBJECTION! (Thanks for the ride, though.)
Posted: 02/02/12, 21:15:18

I just go with the flow.

I didn't use Detective Mode much in Batman primarily because I enjoyed the visual presentation so much I wanted to soak in all those gorgeous graphics without ruining them with Detective Mode's blue-tinted x-ray look. That was just a personal choice.

I think I bring a different attitude to the table based on my mood at any given moment. Sometimes I fire up a console and am ready to crack some skulls. Other times I might be tired after a long, tough day at work and want a more relaxed experience.

With intelligent crutch mechanics (I'm coining that term), I play the same game either way. That provides a lot of flexibility for the end user. When I play Forza 4 I can customize the game based on the experience I want to have. Suggested driving lines, gas/break/steering assists, auto/manual transmission, rewind flashbacks, and a whole host of other toggles let me shape the experience.

As I've gotten better at the game I've turned of virtually all assists, and that makes me feel like a bad-ass when I'm screaming around corners with zero crutch mechanics. Yet I'll still boff a turn or two and have no shame over rewinding and attempting that corner over again.

I love the level of freedom these types of options offer, not only for myself, but for gamers of all skill levels. It makes many games far more approachable to a wider audience. But it doesn't sell out. It serves both the hardcore and most casual of players.
Posted: 02/02/12, 21:23:15
@Anand Dude, I was the one who found your taco shop! Don't objection me! As for taking the wrong turn on the way back that wasn't because I was lost, it was because I realized too late that I was in the wrong lane and didn't want to cause an accident trying to get over! I still found our way back didn't I?
Posted: 02/02/12, 21:27:09
@Zero @Anand

Enough about dinner, get on to the juicy part of the date.
Posted: 02/02/12, 21:28:19
GPS would have had you in the right lane WAY before you had to turn!

+1 GPS / -1 MapQuest
Posted: 02/02/12, 21:28:56
@New Forms
You probably still crutch the clutch, right? Full auto?

I will say that Forza has a really impressive amount of options and adjustments for different levels of players. I think that aspect of the game is brilliant. But I don't think that what works for a normally impenetrable genre like racing sim would necessarily apply to a tight, authored experience.

I loved the size of those tacos. Not the price, necessarily, but...

What could be juicier than a fresh pork... oh.
Posted: 02/02/12, 22:14:46
The taste was good...

... but my brother and I basically spent the entire time that you were in the washroom trying to verbally work out how that place was so popular. Like, did all of those people grow up living in the city eating this way and they don't know that there are cheap yet tasty taco joints? Or did they grow up in the suburbs eating cheap food like the rest of us and now they live in the city and are trying to prove to someone (or themselves) that they're higher class now? What's the deal? I just can't fathom how a place like that can be so popular. It would get destroyed in the suburbs by the multiple much cheaper (yet still good) taco alternatives down the block.

Well, whatever they do with their own money is fine. But I hope the people who eat at places like that regularly aren't the same people who complain about how expensive it is to live in the city. Even though I'm sure they are.
Posted: 02/02/12, 22:22:36  - Edited by 
 on: 02/02/12, 22:23:47

Long story short: I didn't think they were the best tacos ever. I thought they were good, and the salsas were bold. You can go to Pilsen and get great, cheap tacos, as well. Or Oak Forest. But not everywhere.

But, yeah, that place was super-hot and trendy, in a trend-driven hipster area, and the chef was famous. That's what chefs do now. They open taco and hamburger places.

Speaking of which, it's restaurant week in two weeks! I'm excited.
Posted: 02/02/12, 22:33:25  - Edited by 
 on: 02/02/12, 22:34:24
See I like food and all, but the idea of following a specific chef is kind of beyond me. I think you have to like food a lot more than I do to get that hardcore about it.
Posted: 02/02/12, 22:38:18
I dunno. Celebrity chefs can be a bit overrated at times, but it's similar to following your favorite writer/director/development studio/band/etc. Some people refuse to pay attention to THAT, which kind of blows my mind.

Regardless, there's a certain level of excitement inherent in trying the hot new thing.

I'm kind of a food nerd.
Posted: 02/02/12, 22:40:40  - Edited by 
 on: 02/02/12, 22:41:10
I think the difference is you can experience your favorite writer/director/studio/band almost anywhere. So you can grow up in the suburbs following them. Whereas you can't really follow chefs when you're stuck in the suburbs. Although I guess you are in the suburbs so I'm probably wrong there. But you don't grow up having a favorite chef as a kid or anything when you're going to Wendys and Subway all the time. I'm not even sure if notable chefs have suburban restaurants. Maybe.
Posted: 02/02/12, 22:43:03  - Edited by 
 on: 02/02/12, 22:43:31
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