Future of Game Design: Mini-maps

March 19, 2008 at 10:23 am | Posted in My two Gil | 1 Comment

Now how in the hell did he know to go get the key from that random guy in the back alley who he has never met in a town he has just arrived in?

Mini-maps have become a staple of game design, and for good reason. They allow developers to direct players in the right direction inside the worlds they meticulously created. This would be a much harder task without mini-maps and would probably leave the player wandering around helplessly. Mini-maps and the subsequent waypoint system have been a big help in allowing developers to create more realized worlds with the limited technology they have had access to.

The problem is that they are becoming detrimental to certain games and genres as of late. In a lot of ways it feels like an easy way out from a design point. They have become a staple design decision in order to give the created world’s some semblance of order. However, mini-maps and waypoints are not the one and only answer to this problem. I am of the opinion that there are more clever ways to keep players on track inside the rapidly expanding game worlds.

My main problem with mini-maps as of late is the fact that they tend to make me feel detached from the environment I am supposed to be traversing. I sometimes find myself travelling without looking at my surroundings, and just leaving the navigation up to the mini-maps. In my case this really drains the fun out of exploring and I usually realize it after an hour of being bored with this ‘Point A to B’ formula.

I have most recently experienced this feeling with Assassin’s Creed. This is a type of game that is right up my alley, with a sandbox world where you are given quite a bit of freedom. I have always loved this style of game and the feeling of exploration it provides. However, I found myself quickly getting bored about 2 hours in because of the way the game tries to hold your hand. The GPS system in itself is extremely useful, too much so in my opinion. I went into the game thinking I was going to have to plan my own attacks and find my own information but it quickly turned into follow the GPS to the next way point until I was ready for my real mission.

Thankfully I found a way to save the game for myself. After reading a little online I ran across someone who recommended turning off the GPS mini-map, which I had no idea you could even do. Although I would sometimes have to refer back to the main map in order to get my bearings straight, most of the time I traversed the cities on my own especially towards then end when I got more familiar with them.

In some ways it feels as if the game was originally being developed with this type of play style in mind but the idea being abandoned in favor of a mini-map and waypoints. Parts of the game work perfectly well without the mini-map. For example, the viewpoints are easily identified because of the hawks which circle around certain high landmarks as a signal. I loved this aspect and would never check my map for these objectives.

The main nagging problem that I ran into while playing without the GPS was finding certain key locations for interrogation and eavesdropping missions. I would be told what area I needed to head towards, but given no means by which to find it without the map. I believe this could have been fixed by fleshing out the interrogation aspect of the game better. I was disappointed to find out that all of the interrogations were just story related. If there was the possibility of interrogating other random NPCs in order to acquire information such as directions I think the game would have flowed pretty well without the GPS system. Even a simple dialog system with NPC characters in order to obtain simple information would have worked.

I have yet to play a game that manages to give order to a sandbox world without the use of a mini-map and waypoints.  I understand the challenge in accomplishing this but if done right it could possibly move this genre of games forward a bit. In some ways Assassin’s Creed managed to do this but in other ways it just fell a bit short. I am just thankful for the option of turning off the mini-map because it really did increase my enjoyment with the game.


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  1. “That was no watch, that was a dragon ball locator!”

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