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Freedom: Ode to the Auto-map.

Freedom is central to the video gaming experience, and it can take many different forms in many different genres. Today, I would like to focus on one of its manifestations that we unfortunately see less and less these days: The FPS auto-map.

The auto-map was a tool. In real life and in games, good tools often give us freedom. As teenagers, our cars freed us from the whims of our parents. The invention of the air plane offered the world the chance to explore distant countries with relative ease. Tools and inventions liberate us as human beings. Likewise, the auto-map liberates us to explore.

But recently, it seems that the auto-map as I remember it from games like DOOM and Duke Nukem 3D has gone the way of the dodo (I almost typed 'dildo' there). Perhaps it is more difficult to do with the geometric complexity of today's levels, or perhaps designers just find it unnecessarily complex for an action game. But what happens when you take away this tool? You lose your ability to explore with ease. Sure, one can still explore complex levels without an auto-map, but the likelihood of getting lost and frustrated is greatly increased. So of course, most modern games solve this problem by simplifying the lay out of levels. Terms such as "linear" and "funnel" and "corridor" come to mind.

I may be in the minority here, but I miss the experience of exploring a complex level with the help of an auto-map. Even slower-paced games that actually do feature a map, such as many modern RPGs like Fallout, don't quite scratch the same itch. The levels still tend to be relatively simple and homogeneous. There's something very satisfying about utilizing the freedom that a good tool grants you, whether it's in a video game or in real life, and I miss it.
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About stevesanone of us since 11:25 PM on 02.22.2008