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Elsa's blog
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Elsa avatar 2:39 PM on 11.09.2011  (server time)
real men don't need maps!

... but this woman does! I love playing open world WRPG games and recently completed Fallout: New Vegas and I'm just currently finishing Divinity 2. Both games have shitty maps. I spent many frustrating hours in Fallout, heading for a map location only to find that it was apparently in the middle of a mountain that wasn't climbable, so I would have to slowly make my way around the entire mountain (or mountain range) looking for a path or way into the center of this inaccessible area. Yes, I often discovered new things along the way and would get sidetracked... but only to go back to circling that mountain range once again (often to discover that the only way to the marker was to take a cave entrance located elsewhere... crap!). I do love those helpful NPC's who offer to "let me mark this on your map for you"... but really, couldn't they offer a little more information about how to get there! At least in Fallout there is that perk you can take that shows all the locations on the map... so many little distractions, with many turning out to be very unimpressive tourist stops... yeah, the equivalent to seeing the World's Largest Ball of String.

That "El Dorado Dry Lake" ... not really a good tourist stop!

In Divinity 2 it's even worse. Rarely does anything appear on your map until you actually find it. In particular, when you are in your dragon form there are loads of cliffs with small areas and you have to land on to see if there is anything of actual interest at that location. I spent a lot of time morphing in and out of Dragon form and becoming anal retentive about examining each location where I could land (and there were a LOT of them). There were few if any quest markers on the map and once again they tended to be a very vague pointer in the general direction with little in the way of specifics. Worst yet was that quest givers weren't noted on the map so trying to turn in a quest and get your reward often entailed visiting tons of old locations to try and remember where in hell that NPC who wanted you to recover his dead Mamma's earrings was!

Designing maps for large open world games is an art form. Putting everything on the map with easy directions destroys the sense of exploration, however on the other hand, putting a location on the map with no obvious way to get to it can lead to frustration. Having too many locations on a map can lead to being overwhelmed, while too few things on the map means why even bother with a damn map? On looking at Skyrim's new 3D mapping system I think that hopefully they've got it right. When one of those helpful NPC's marks your map, you'll at least be able to see a possible path of how to get there... taking a long or short route is up to you, but finding a location should no longer be a frustrating quest of uselessly wandering around and around the bottom of a mountain range.

The ideal situation is being able to see what you want to see on a map. I like games that give you options... little tick boxes of what you want to see. Do you want to see towns... voila! Quest locations... there ya go! Everything and anything... that too. If you only want the main quest location and leave everything else to exploration, then that option should be there too. I also like the option of seeing what locations I've already been too... and which one's I haven't been to. It's too easy to forget where you've been and what you've done.

Maps are important in games, not just in open world RPG games, but also in shooter games. In MAG I find I am continually keeping an eye on my mini-map, but additionally I flip to the full map to see enemy/ally movements. When first playing MAG, using the full map was truly essential in learning the basic map layouts and in many shooter games, this is a good habit to acquire because it gives a more overall sense of what is happening in the game and can allow for better strategic decisions in addition to better seeing where objectives might be.

Kill the red dots!

Minimaps are also essential. In both RPG's and shooter games they often give indications of enemies in the area. Gamers that play shooter games generally become reliant on their minimap and often end up saving their ass by seeing that sneaky little enemy coming up behind them on the mini-map. One thing I dislike about shooter games though is that often the minimap is not well defined in terms of what shows up and what doesn't. In some games you show up if you are firing a weapon, in others if you are running. In MAG I still have no idea if I appear on an enemies minimap when I'm running or firing a silenced weapon while wearing a fully perked out sensor jammer. The minimap in shooters is such an essential tool that somewhere it should be clearly defined what and when marks show up on the minimap!

I admit it. I've become a bit map-addicted. A great map makes me squeal with girlish delight at how awesome a tool it is. A bad map generally has me haunting the internet looking up locations I need to find. I think that people read maps differently though. I NEVER use the North, South, East, West thing but instead use left or right (or straight or behind me), so a triangle marker showing the direction I'm facing is crucial. I use landmarks a lot and tend to remember where something is in relation to something else. I rather wish that noticeable land marks were more often noted on maps and I think this is something that Fallout tried to incorporate, but they should have just noted the location as a landmark rather than an actual "location" - thus avoiding the tourist syndrome of disappointment on reaching the location to find virtually nothing there. In shooter maps it would be nice if buildings were noted... so I can see I have to go left at the church... or so that I can better tell my teammates that there is a sniper somewhere to the left of the church. Sometimes the buildings are nondescript and they need a descriptor so that everyone can see the location and know which building you are talking about! This is particularly maddening in shooter games where on the map all the buildings rather look the same and descriptions started to get convoluted... and men start to sound like women and saying things like "it's that dusty building with the patio facing our spawn that has a hole in the wall between the two rooms and has that room with the linoleum floor... but the guy was up on the area that has the wood floors". Really? Wouldn't it just be easier if it was called "building A" on a map!

So... describe where that sniper is!

After playing with the terrible map on Divinity, I can't wait to luxuriate in the awesomeness of the new Skyrim 3D map - though I hope more locations are actually labeled than what is shown! I do wish that devs would include those wonderful fold-out maps in game cases again - I miss those. Alternatively, putting downloadable maps on their websites would be a nice option - especially given the increased use of tablets like the iPad that can be tucked beside the chair as easy reference while I'm gaming.

Maps... love them or hate them, they are an intrinsic part of gaming - even for men.

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