RPS Asks: Maps In Games?

By Jim Rossignol on December 1st, 2009 at 12:09 pm.


People of the readership, I need your help. I need to know what the best in-game maps are, and why. To be specific: I need your reason. Is the map you mention best because it’s the prettiest? Because it maps things in a unique way? Or is it just a fun piece of design? Or is it something that is actually so integral to the game that it makes the game? Your nominations, please.

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239 Comments »

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  1. Sun says:

    EVE Online. Hit F10. Lovely

  2. Ragnar says:

    The map of Europa Universalis 3. The game is played on the map and a lot of information about the world is displayed on the map.

    • moss says:

      Theatrum Orbis Terrarum even makes it look like a map (and better overall), http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/showthread.php?t=359352

    • rhizo says:

      +1 for TOT, though I’ve enjoyed the 2D maps of the earlier Paradox games even more than the EU3 map. The Paradox games depend on the map view and the massive map not only puts the grand scheme of things into proper perspective but also creates the perfect feel for the marvellous historical strategy games that leverage it. One of the most crucial aspects of ever making the decision to dive in to the EU series was the look of the map back in EU2. Considering that EU gaming sessions usually last for hours, the map really needs to be pleasing for the eye. For a “history enthusiast” such as myself there is always that little something about well made maps that makes me inexplicably excited.

  3. shiggz says:

    I liked the maps in Vietcong, the realistic map helps with immersion. When they look and feel like the sort of maps some soldier might have scratched down to drag around.

    Too often of late however the maps are a small a part of the screen. Likely a port from the console issue. Oblivion’s terrible default map that seemed to be designed for people playing on 13in’ black and white tv rather then1600x1200+ resolution pc monitors.

  4. TotalBiscuit says:

    Well since you just showed the best map, case closed.

  5. Tim says:

    Diablo. I couldn’t have explored each dark corner were it not for that transparent bastard of a map.

  6. cqdemal says:

    Test Drive Unlimited. Very pretty, even with delayed LOD. Zooming into the game feels very seemless. And it’s HUGE. Being based on a real-life location helps too.

  7. Eproxus says:

    +1 for the Vietcong maps

  8. Laurence says:

    The Original GTA map.

    Real paper and ink- none of this pixellated nonsense!

    • GibletHead2000 says:

      +1. Something about driving around a new city with an actual paper map, checking it and looking for landmarks, just like we used to do IRL before satnav.

      Incidentally, I think the satnav in GTA4 ruins it a bit. Sure, it’s more realistic and makes the game more approachable, but there was something very satisfying in the GTA3 based games where you got The Knowledge, and ended up knowing the quickest route from anywhere to anywhere. I still know my way around when I go back to those games. With GTA4 (just like RL today) you end up not knowing where you’ve been because you just followed the directions on the computer.

  9. Antlia says:

    ARMA II. Works like a real map and if you turn off the markers that show you on the map, you really have to do a bit of orienteering with the compass. It’s a lovely feature that you can also arrange the clock and the compass wherever you want… Also I like that if you don’t know where you are, you can ask from the villagers.

  10. Finn says:

    The Far Cry 2 map is a good example; I think it depends really, for an FPS or an open-world game the more detailed the better, in some other cases it’s more of an aesthetic choice than anything else (Dragon Age’s map, for example).

  11. Fenchurch says:

    I must mention that Morrowind/Oblivion had awful maps because the “fog of war” you uncovered with each step was so small you never got a helpful “local map” at all, and only ever really used the “national” map to move about broadly.

    Was the map in SS2 any good? It never worked for me for some reason. :-(

    My fave map ever was in the sadly neglected Deep Space Nine: The Fallen game, where whipping out the tricorder gave you a little 3D view of local enemies, points of interest etc. Not 100% a map like you’re asking but I loved it to bits.

  12. phanteh says:

    Supreme Commander?

  13. phanteh says:

    Oh wait…

    Forza 3 ¬_¬

  14. monchberter says:

    wireframe overlays! The likes of which you got in Doom and Dark Forces! :)

  15. Arnulfo Briseno says:

    i like the maps in ofp and arma 1 y 2 they can be really detailed.(or not) you can choose.

  16. Kleevah says:

    I always found the map in the original Jedi Knight totally amazing. It mapped out the complete level in 3d wireframe as you went along. Sure it wasn’t easy to navigate by, but it was very impressive looking, especially for it’s time. Only games I’ve played since that has sort of done the same thing is the Metroid Prime games on the GameCube.

    • CMaster says:

      Descent did that too.
      The maps weren’t a huge amount of help in decoding the very, very confusing levels, it has to be said.

    • Markside says:

      I totally loved the old-skool wire-frame rendering. Sure, the maps didn’t actually help you navigate at all, but they did enhance the feeling of isolation and scale; of being one lone Jedi battling through an immense sci-fi drainage system.

    • Manley Pointer says:

      I remember Daggerfall building some kind of spectacularly confusing 3D map for you as you explored its dungeons. I feel like it was simpler to draw a map by hand than try to figure your way out of some of the larger randomly generated dungeons in that game. Then again, I haven’t played the game in years and memory may be faulty.

    • Manley Pointer says:

      Wait, Rinox already said that below…I fail

  17. Sitting Duck says:

    best map for me is Uplink: Hacker Elite. The map IS the game, and what a game.

  18. David says:

    Fallout 1/2. Overland map is awesome as it gives the game the feeling of being larger than it really is. And the town maps are old and battered, dripping with character and atmosphere.

    • moyogo says:

      Yes!
      Local maps should be scribbled on a postcard, or be those tourist maps with no sense of proportion.

  19. Derf says:

    A couple that pop into mind:

    – Red Orchestra: Simplified, centered and instant.
    – Knight of Honor: The ‘Political View’ map is a major part of the game. Brings a smile to my face when I see thing such as a Lothian kingdom stretched across all Engand to northern France, or “Sweden” reaching all the way down to the black sea.

    • Derf says:

      Oh! And the Caesar III minimap. On-screen, my city would look pretty messy, but the minimap would reveal a logical structure to the whole thing. You know, aqueducts evenly spaced, housing blocks evenly sized, etc.

  20. Phoshi says:

    Metroid Prime.

  21. Langman says:

    I like the local dungeon maps in Dragon Age, they have a nice HeroQuesty feel to them – although the world map is pretty pointless.

    Back in the day, the Doom auto-mapping was actually quite unique. Ah, memories….

  22. Paul says:

    FarCry 2 and Stalker had great ingame maps! Though what I missed in FC 2 was a compass and ability to use watch at any time (and it was there, but I suspect they removed it thanks to consoles).

    Simple – I like any map that does not break my immersion. Mafia had also great map.GTA4 could learn from that.

  23. Redd says:

    de_dust. :|

    idk, EVE’s springs to mind as being both beautiful and stuffed full of delicious data. And you can’t deny the detail of Dwarf Fortress’ world maps (if you can decipher them and know enough about how they’re created to appreciate the depth of simulation).

  24. Danny says:

    The maps in the Ultima games, where you actually had to buy certain maps to find areas of interest. Besides that I normally don’t like maps, as I tend to enjoy games more when I need to figure out everything myself.

    I loved MMO’s like UO, Everquest and DaoC for that reason. It actually felt like a world, not like some small areas that you can view instantly using maps that show too much detail.

  25. diebroken says:

    DOOM episode progress map – all you ever need! : http://www.doomworld.com/pageofdoom/graphics/Wimap0.gif

    Also System Shock 2 maps: http://www.starshipvonbraun.com/

  26. Acidburns says:

    In Defcon the deaths of millions of people are conveyed with little white circles on your map, while ICBMs trace beautiful little arches overhead.

  27. Davee says:

    Vietcong and FarCry2 because of the immersion. EVE because of the prettiness and crapload of info you could get from it (altough its very hard to navigate properly).

    @ Paul: Stalker’s map was okay for it’s belivability (a GPS hand computer makes sense) and immersion, but it had so many bugs/flaws that I just can’t nominate it myself.

  28. Dzamir says:

    L4D2, without maps, but the survivors always point out the right way to follow

  29. Tunips says:

    I think it was Empire Earth that had a strategic map where players could draw borders and Napoleonic attack arrows at each other.
    On a faintly related note, Cossacks 2 has the best in-game Napoleonic attack-arrows.

  30. Tom Armitage says:

    Far Cry 2 is probably my favourite of recent years.

    Spinny 3D maps: Descent, Jedi Knight, but also Dead Space, which at least has a crack. Still not super-useful; the line-in-the-ground is a more useful route finder than the map. But, I’d argue my favourite historical map would be the Ultima Underworld maps – useful, auto-generated, but with a pen so you could annotate them. And lovely pixel fonts.

    Also, special note for Rogue, where (and I say this thinking of Jeff Noon’s Pollen) the map is the game.

  31. mojo says:

    descent map ofc.

  32. RGS says:

    Vietcong – One of the most immersive FPS in game maps IMO. + no silly ‘game’ icons like in FC2 above, you had to work it out for yourself (also one of the first games to use iron sights btw…).

    ArmA 2 – (though only played the demo, *very* tempted to get the full game as it’s so much my sort of thing + a true PC title + really like the dev’s attitude – but the mouse lag’s a killer…) Map looks very, very good here too. Detailed, realistic + tailored for PC.

    Empire Total War – Very nicely done + conveys a lot of info. Mixes well the feeling of being a paper map with 3D animations + effects.

    • Paul says:

      Hi, mouse lag is fixed in patch 1.04 in Arma 2, you can turn mouse smoothing to zero in options which eliminates it completely.

  33. Gregg B says:

    That was the first map system that came to my mind too. Very robust and a great help when you were trying to find a specific location without physically going there. I don’t remember there being any way of making notes in it though which I sort of expect from a map especially with games of their size.

    The other maps I really liked were in the Thief games. Vague enough to allow some element of surprise but drawn with the mission objectives in mind. They also allowed notes but due to the smaller levels I didn’t really need that sort of functionality.

    • diebroken says:

      Seconded; discard all others. Thief’s maps were just simply great.

  34. Kakrafoon says:

    Maps are all fine and dandy, and I don’t like my games without them. However, I submit to you that games make it too easy for us to get around. In most games, you can just ignore the map and follow an arrow to your next objective, with the arrow either on the (mini)map, in the corners of the main view or floating above the character in immersion-destroying obviousness. This development parallels humanity’s growing dependance on navigation gadgets, which will, as some geographers say, deprive us of our ability to get around and read our surroundings.

    • Clovis says:

      My favorite side missions in GTAIV were the ones where it turned the map pointer off: the text message based find-a-car. You got some clues like an area of the city or a landmark, a photo of the car, and sometimes some more landmarks in the photo. I really enjoyed driving up and down the streets looking for those cars (or flying through them in a heli). The GPS was great, but really the player should be making the decision of where to go and placing the marker themselves.

  35. faelnor says:

    Well I loved the morrowind map :/ Though what I used most was the paper map.

  36. JuJuCam says:

    Obligatory Thief nod. Surprised it hasn’t been mentioned already. I was far too late to the party to enjoy Thief except for vicariously, but I still love the idea of an ambiguous map scrawled on whatever.

    • JuJuCam says:

      and of course I’m beaten to the punch while going for a toilet break mid-comment…

    • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      I was far too late to the party to enjoy Thief except for vicariously
      Nothing’s stopping you experiencing them firsthand, you know!

  37. Cunzy1 1 says:

    I know it isn’t PC (LULZ) but the map in Pokemon Mystery Dungeon is pretty good.

    Not for any particular amazing reason other than you could have it as a transparent overlay, displayed on the top screen or just totally off.

    Gives us options for the goddam maps people and map heavy games that don’t let you set your own waypoints should be banned, exiled, defiled and stomped on.

    • Clovis says:

      Also not PC, how about The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. Making notes on the map was great with the stylus, and the game pretty much forced you to keep track of the best route through the Temple by using the map.

  38. Gregg B says:

    Ah, crap, I meant that as a reply to Metroid Prime.

  39. The Sombrero Kid says:

    dead space without a doubt, the augmented reality idea is a great one and one i’m going to embrace personally.

  40. LionsPhil says:

    All hail the automap. I quite like System Shock‘s version, with marker placement, and the fact that it’s supposedly really there in my field of view due to cyberware.

    Nice point about Fallout and GTA3 maps above, though.

  41. Markside says:

    Yeah, I’d also like to big up paper maps! Like the one you got with Mafia, which doubled as a poster. Or the one you got with Oblivion, which doubled as a much less interesting poster.

    Also, a quick shout out for Fallout 3’s map, which was okay until you got into DC, where it becomes icon soup. I mean, I know I’m at the Raven’s base, but I have NO idea where I am. It took me hours to find my was to the glasses shop… and so many dead…

  42. MinisterofDOOM says:

    The way I see it, a good map must fulfill two duties: finding your way to your next objective (whether it be game, story, or self-assigned) and orienting yourself in your current surroundings. Unfortunately, the qualities that make a map well-suited for one of those duties makes it ill-suited for the other.
    So, in my line of thinking, a combination of both is the best. To fulfill the fomer, you need a high-detail map that is pannable and scalable (and maybe even rotatable if the game world has lots of altitude variance). That map should support some kind of point-of-interest marker system, a user-placeable marker system, and some variety of user-placeable waypoint setup.
    But to fulfil the latter duty, you need a small minimap. It does not need much detail, only enough to give the player an idea of his place in the grand scheme of game locations. It needs to be similar enough in design to the “big” map that the user can easily correlate the two to make the most effective use of both. It should also echo any nearby POIs, user-placed markers, and the user waypoint for even easier orientation. But it should also be out of the way when not in need. Making the map small and transluscent helps there. It might even have a “quick hide” option like the minimaps in some of the 3D zelda games so the player can make full use of the viewport when necessary.

    One other very important thing to keep in mind is that striving for extreme realism with maps is sort of beside the point. In the “real world” we have an innate sense of orientation. We don’t need maps to get our bearings to the same degree we do in games. Maps in games are a sort of compensation for the lack of sensory feedback in games. They help us make up for that lack of natural orientation. So the minimap needs to be as naturally and easily readable as possible. It is not breaking the realism because there will never be realism in that respect until PCs are replaced by holodecks. The more effort/time a minimap takes to read, the less immersed in the game a player can be. Having to pause or even not pause to bring up the “big map” every few seconds is not “realistic,” it’ i tedious. It breaks immersion and more importantly breaks enjoyment. The UI/HUD exists purely to serve as an information buffer. Whatever info a person would have available in “real life” but can’t because the game isn’t real must be presented as fluidly and easily accessibly as possible on screen. Pausing for more detail is great as long as you’ve got the minimal orienting detail available at all other times.

  43. unitled says:

    Pretty much any space game… Think of Sins of a Solar Empire’s maps (integrated beautifully into the gameplay), or the sprawling maps of the X universe.

    At the moment I’m playing Nexus: The Jupiter Incident (an absolute bargain on Steam!) which has an extensive map of the solar system. It’s just a pity you can’t explore it more… It’s almost a map without the game to match.

  44. Tei says:

    Doom…or was Doom2? I have fond memories of these vectorial 2d maps.
    The Farcry2 of he screenshot is also rather good.

  45. Mr Pink says:

    OK, so it’s not a PC game, but I don’t see that in the brief… I liked the map in Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. Being able to scribble on the map yourself was a revelation. It’d be great if more PC games did this (especially as I have a graphics tablet!). Probably won’t happen though.

  46. Premium User Badge

    Rinox says:

    The map for the Daggerfall randomly created dungeons

    ….OH NO GOD NO

  47. unique_identifier says:

    command and conquer / red alert minimaps – remember how you needed to build and power a structure before the game granted you a minimap? seems almost quaint these days, where an ever functional minimap in an real-time strategy game is very much an expected part of the interface

    total annihilation – for a minimap mechanic that distinguished between line of sight and radar signatures. for the thrill of powering up advanced radar to see a horde of enemy contacts but having no idea what exactly they were. for automated radar targeting.

    that far cry 2 map – adding to the immersion, and especially good fun during car chases through rough terrain, where pulling up the map would block visibility and lead to accidents

  48. Craig L says:

    Morrowinds map was beautiful. And I can recall most of it from memory.

    • matte_k says:

      Seconded. I know the shortest route from Balmora to Vivec on foot better than I know some parts of my home town…Is that sad?

  49. Garg says:

    NWN2: Storm of Zehir addon had a kind of meta-world map that you could wander over and use to manage your trade empire. It was a cool idea, that just didn’t fulfil its potential.

    One thing I loved inordinately is the map in World of Warcraft; specifically the fully zoomed out one showing the Outlands on one side and Azeroth on the other, and how the surrounding godlike figures were illuminated as you moved your cursor over to one or the other world, which would change the light source. It’s a silly little thing but I liked it.