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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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To me, maps are a necessity in every game. I'm always checking the map.
Posted: 02/01/12, 20:19:55
I remember having to draw my own maps for games back in the day.

What a pain.
Posted: 02/01/12, 20:25:06
I like maps. They aren't necessary most of the time in games, but I like having them. Ant it's not just a video game thing, I just love maps. I like having my GPS on in my car all the time because I like knowing where I am even when I know where I am. I keep all the maps for cities/locations that I travel to. Maps are awesome.

I mean, there are games for which a map would seem superfluous. A Mario game, for example, does not need a map on screen while you are playing the level, but the world maps are totally cool, obviously, and gave the Mario games a sense of travel and exploration. But even with 2D platformers, there are times when I would love a map; just a simple representation of how far into the current level I am and how much further I have to go. This would of course only apply to games that are focused more on difficulty than on finding secrets. Because then a map would totally give the secrets away... obviously... unless the developer hid locations that the map didn't reveal.

@New Forms
I actually used to love drawing maps for games. I remember waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back when I used to play BBS games that were entirely text based, and I would have stacks of graph paper with super intricate maps. That was half the fun for me.

"You come to a crossroad, do you continue forward, turn left, turn right, or go back the way you came?"

Even when I played table top RPGs like D&D I would always be the cartographer for our group.
Posted: 02/01/12, 20:33:37  - Edited by 
 on: 02/01/12, 20:37:17
I never drew my own maps. Too lazy. But it definitely wasn't easy to navigate stuff like The Bard's Tale and Pool of Radiance.

Yeah, I was thinking about those MUDs, and shit like that. Zork, etc. It was pretty uninstinctive to explore that way. One of my MUD-addicted friends would just type in a string of 20 directions at a time, though. Crazy. If you think about it, that's a hell of a lot more time-efficient than just walking around. It's like text vs. voice acting.

I'll also say that maps are a good way of finding hidden nooks and crannies, but that seems like a bit of a cheat. Not in Zelda I dungeons, though, where they gave essential clues on where the hidden rooms were and what the bombable walls could be.
Posted: 02/01/12, 20:56:37
I like when games are able to get around having maps by having unique enough worlds that you can figure out where you are at any given moment. Arkham City is the most recent game to come to mind and the map was still necessary for Riddler trophies and initial exploration but eventually you get used to the major landmarks, the look of each area and the general shape of the overall map so that once you want to go somewhere you can just go without having to remember where it is.
Posted: 02/01/12, 21:04:07
I don't think they're a bad thing at all. If there wouldn't have been maps in the Metroid Prime games, I never would have finished them because I would have gotten lost. However, some maps make games almost too easy.

More games should maps like Star Ocean: Till the End of Time did it. As you explore an area, the map draws itself. So you still have a map for whenever you return to the area, but you don't get it all right away.
Posted: 02/01/12, 21:31:59
What if your head is too scattered to work that way? My head just can't hold this stuff well. Without a map I end up running all over the damn place over and over and over having no idea what I'm doing anymore because nothing looks familiar and even when it does, I can't remember what is there.

And that's not even taking into consideration what happens when I drop the game for a few weeks and try to come back.

Nah, I like maps.

@Stephen Arkham City?! I imagine I could get used to it, but the whole city is one dreary similar looking environment (kind of supposed to be, no?) It's not like navigating say, I dunno... Link to the Past where there are lakes and forests and towns and yada yada so it all stands out.
Posted: 02/01/12, 21:36:08

Nah it is definitely different. Without looking at the game I can tell you that the overall map is a horse shoe which wraps around the restricted area with Wonder tower being clearly visible as it is the highest structure. At each end of the horseshoe is a distinct area, the industrial section where Joker hides out, and the Museum district with Penguin. Going from Joker's district you have the flooded section of the city with all of the businesses, leading up to GCPD and Poison Ivy's hangout. This leads in to the city section where the church and courthouse are. Then you wrap around and get to the city part where there is the museum and the connections to the subway tunnels via those street sections with glass ceilings.

Branding it all as a city is like branding LTTP as just the outdoors. Despite being accurate it is too broad and over simplifies things.
Posted: 02/01/12, 21:45:49
Yeah but I'm talking about immediate visual cues. I don't doubt that it feels notable to you, but I'm like 10-15 hours into the game and it's still just HUGE CITY to me, and I rely on my map a lot. With one exception, the waterfront, but that's mostly because the buildings end so of course it's notable, lol. I dunno, just felt like an odd example to me since I feel like the game specifically tried to get a single unifying vibe (DREARINESS) from the environment (and it succeeded.) It's a bit tough to navigate for me next to games that have a lot more varied environments. Even if they come off as uber unrealistic like Zelda and its ilk's worlds often do (you can walk from an ice world to a desert in like 2 minutes, etc.) it's still a fact that those are a lot easier for me to navigate.

But as I said to Anand above, I don't have the best spacial memory in games. Lots of people are saying Metroid II is easier to navigate than the first, but to me it's just a big mess of SAME. And all in the same color to boot. I need striking variety or it all blends together for me.
Posted: 02/01/12, 22:21:36  - Edited by 
 on: 02/01/12, 22:22:37
I like well-made maps in games. I did beat Metroid 2 without a map though. I was surprised I was able to do it actually.
Posted: 02/01/12, 22:22:30
Games are a means of downtime for me. I want the challenge to be in the gameplay, not in figuring out where stuff is (unless that's a core challenge of the game). It's a convenience. It gives direction to a less linear world. It allows me to come back to a game world after long breaks and still be able to figure out where I'm going. It allows me to get a "big picture" perspective of the environment I'm playing within. Context.

Is it a crutch for the weak? I guess it could be. But in my case I find it to be something that enhances and streamlines an experience to better allow me to focus on the fun aspects of a game rather than the tedious ones.
Posted: 02/01/12, 23:28:38
Playing Metroid Prime, I'd check my map every other room. It was horrible. Crutch City.

I do think they're unbelievably helpful though. I like the ones that you find, or piece together. Those are the most fun, usually found in games that have some sort of Pirate theme (like Pirates!).
Posted: 02/02/12, 00:12:00
Posted: 02/02/12, 00:22:02
Maps are great! They don't have to be a crutch, and if designed well, can add difficulty levels for different types of players. Super Metroid has areas completely off the map for the ambitious hundred percenters. Nothing beats the satisfaction of stumbling upon one of those areas and nabbing a delicious energy tank. But for the rest of us, the Zelda-style map that fills itself in until you find the dungeon map is perfect. We can still explore, but we won't get lost when we inevitably have to backtrack. In fact, my most frequent use of the maps in Metroid games is to plan the most optimal backtracking routes. It's all part of the fun.
Posted: 02/02/12, 05:45:46
I think maps are generally less of a necessity in games that have better level design. While yes, I relied on the map in Metroid Prime heavily during my first playthrough, eventually I got the lay of the land, and I started to need the map less and less.

While at the beginning of Metroid Prime, I look at the map and say "I need to get to this side of the room, and then this side of THAT room," at the END of the game, I can say "I need to get to Phendrana Drifts so I basically need to keep going in this direction." Rooms get more unique, and you kind of get the idea of where you're supposed to go.

Contrast that to the original Halo, and even though it's a very linear game, it's actually quite easy to get turned around because at times, every corridor looks the same.

On the other hand, sometimes when a game has a map, I just stare at it way too much, and I'm almost playing the map more than I'm playing the game. Final Fantasy X jumps to mind here. Because areas are often prerendered or have invisible walls, I have no idea where I can and cannot go at times. So, I wind up just looking at the map half the time. FFVII was a game that was also prerendered, but it didn't have a map. I just figured out where I was going and accepted the game for what it was. It really didn't need a map.

I think about this stuff a lot from time to time. I DEFINITELY thought about it while playing Skyward Sword, and I had to traverse the Eldin Volcano over and over. I always got turned around. While the subscreen map was more detailed than in past Zelda games, I would've KILLED for a compass to just let me know which way north was. I must've paused Skyward Sword hundreds of times to look at the maps in the game. How many times did I run around the forest area thinking I was going in the right direction, when really I wasn't? Zelda is a slower game, so an on screen map isn't a terrible idea - I can look at it briefly without being distracted. Mario 3D Land, on the other hand, wouldn't need a map at all, because if you look away from the screen, there's a good chance you'll be dead.

I'm actually excited to have the WiiU tablet screen there, if just for a map. Honestly, I'd be fine if it was just relegated to being a map most of the time. I'm not into holding it up to the TV to see things differently. I'm not into moving it around to use the motion control (unless it's something like Fluidity). I AM into having a super convenient map that I can refer to that doesn't require me to pause the game, and doesn't take up screen real estate.

So yeah. WiiU. Maps. And multiplayer where the tablet player is doing something different from the TV player. Yep. And HD.
Posted: 02/02/12, 06:13:39
Exploring is fun, being lost is generally not.

Therefore, maps are good.

That said, in games where maps RUIN everything (Like the original Assassin's Creed.) I'll turn the map off, since exploring is super-easy.

The later ones I've just left the maps on because I got my "exploration fulfillment" from the first game, but I really don't even remember why you were supposed to turn the map off in the first one. It's been a long time.

Generally I like the option of the map, and if it makes the game too easy or ruins the fun of exploration I'll turn it off.
Posted: 02/02/12, 07:05:18
For some games its necessary. Yes, I think it gets in the way or some games or replaces intelligent level design, but I don't think i would've really done as much in Metroid Prime (especially 2 or later) without those maps. Though, to be honest, I think those maps needed a little help to be even more readable in a number of cases.

The maps in Zelda aren't quite necessary in a lot of places, but many they're a really nice help and are actually sort of neat. Like (skyward sword spoiler) in the Lanayru desert with the past/present pathways. The map was integrated into the gameplay in a neat way. The Wind Waker map was also pretty fun because you filled it in with your own exploration--too bad you had to feed the stupid fishes to have the block filled in.
Posted: 02/02/12, 07:14:39
A map is an option. Options are never bad.

Go play some old crpgs if you want a taste of what things used to be like and then thank God they have changed. Manually imputing notes so you remember where shit is, vague quest descriptions with absolutely no definitive place to go. You used to spend hours looking for shit. It's infuriating. I play games to unwind and have fun. If I'm lost, I use a map. Period.
Posted: 02/02/12, 07:23:41
I agree with most of you, in that the ideal is a game so well-designed that it doesn't even need a map. Is that always possible? Maybe. Or maybe the type of people who always get lost in real-life would get lost in such a world, landmarks be damned.

But the Metroid (I) thing... explain it to me. Is the map really THAT complex? There are vertical rooms with horizontal corridors leading off. Can't you just explore systematically? It's fun to do things systematically!

I get lost in Metroid II.

Those were pretty amusing.

Options should never be bad, but I feel like some gamers just can't help using every tool at their disposal, even if it ultimately detracts from their experience with a game. Like endless Quicksaves and Quickloads in FPS games. Hell, I'm guilty of it, too.
Posted: 02/02/12, 18:56:52

But if someone is using an option as a crutch, how is it detracting from their game experience if it's what they want to do?

I can think of a few recent examples with BioShock, Arkham Asylum, and Skyrim. Each of these titles have crutch options that one can use, abuse or totally ignore. In BioShock you had the Vita-Chambers that gave you zero death penalty. Batman: AA had Detective Mode that let you see through walls as long as you want. In Skyrim you can instantly fast-travel anywhere on the map.

I've used all these crutches sparingly in my time with these games, but the bottom line is having the option was better than not having them at all. While I mostly played these games "cleanly", you can bet your buns that there were times when I just didn't feel like walking 3/4 of the way across that map in Skyrim, or feel like reloading the double Big Daddy face off once again in BioShock, etc. etc. Sometimes I welcome the path of least resistance and that's okay.

I know "gaming the system" can be unfulfilling, but that is only if I deem it so. Many people have less time, patience, or skill levels and just want to plow through a game by any means at their disposal. Nothing wrong with them using crutches if they want, esp. if it makes them enjoy the game more. Same goes for me policing myself so I don't cheese my way through a whole game. That's my choice.

It's just a matter of balancing our own personal goals with any game. Sometimes I'm in the mood to use developer crutches in games, most of the time I'm not. But I either way, I value the player choice these options give me, regardless if I ever use them or not.
Posted: 02/02/12, 19:45:52  - Edited by 
 on: 02/02/12, 19:50:54
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