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 »

  1. Maximinus says:

    I liked the maps featured in Jedi Knight, the true Fallouts (1&2), and Far Cry 2, as previously reported. I don’t want to sound like a salesman, but I am currently developing a video game which concept is based upon the map of the whole planet Earth, with real satellite photos from a well-known american space agency : Globe Clicker, website, Youtube Trailer.

  2. GS says:

    Crysis, it had working GPRS co-ordinates which tied into your bi-nocs

  3. Cooper says:

    Again for thief – not lacking enough detail to be useless but impossible to use as a guide alone – and fit the theme of the game perfectly. If only it allowed me to make scribbles on it, and I’d have loved it even more.

    Also another vote for EVE’s – excellent map given how much information they cram into it, but can still be a bit confusing at times, especially in 3D (I always tend to flatten it.)

    • kyrieee says:

      EVE’s map is terrible and buggy (at times)
      If you’ve tried using a 3rd party map this quickly becomes apparent

      It’s cool to look at the universe though

    • mpk says:

      They’re not bugs, they’re features.

  4. Krikey! says:

    Check out the map in System Shock 2 too. Very complex looking – fitting to the theme. I don’t want a map that doesn’t show me anything. I want a map that looks complicated, something that tells me more than just the fact that I’m in a room with 4 walls.

    Or, how about the “maps” that are in Thief? These don’t follow standard “guidelines” – they differ from level to level, place to place, depending on other factors too, like whether you bought a better copy from the store or not. Just some ideas…

  5. deABREU says:

    diablo II. it stays out of your way, while occuppying the whole screen with guidefulness at the same time.

    and I don’t even like that game.

  6. Heliocentric says:

    Sup com and sins of a solar waffle, sots to a degree. The game is the map, every strategy game where the map isn’t the game and you can’t scroll at any level inbetween pisses me off madly.

  7. manintheshack says:

    Modern Warfare. I spend half my game time looking at that map and find it simple and brilliantly informative. I mainly use it for stealth and when you’re behind enemy lines it’s essential for locating and prioritising threats. Brilliant stuff. When it’s taken away in MW2 by the jammer you really feel the pressure.

    • rhizo says:

      There was a map in MW2?… I guess I missed it then :(

    • manintheshack says:

      @rhizo:

      Only on the pause screen in singleplayer which is pretty useless, but in multiplayer it’s a pretty innoffensive square in the top left.

  8. Dominus says:

    Just played Ultima Underworld again, gotta say that kind of map has enough information for me, not very complicated, good idea where you are, also you could write things on it too, just like Thief maps! :)

  9. Sajmn says:

    Battlezone’s 3D wireframe minimap.

  10. Psychopomp says:

    Thief or Far Cry 2. The shittily scrawled Thief maps, and pulling out a map and GPS are nice touches.

  11. Lilliput King says:

    Swat 4′s maps. Either complex floor plans or something scribbled on a napkin, depending on the situation. Sometimes so precise you could plan a whole assault by them, sometimes completely useless.

    That said, I know all the maps like the back of my hand now, but it was interesting for the first playthrough, trying to visualise what you were seeing on the floor plan/napkin in 3d, guessing which rooms would be most difficult, how you’d need to approach them etc.

    • ascagnel says:

      SWAT4 had it right in the sense that you only had what you’d expect in the situation. The business had blueprints, while the club was a cocktail napkin sketch. The entire lead-in to the missions, including the timeline and the 911 call, created a great atmosphere and might provide little hints to the missions.

      I still need to go back and replay the SP. MP was a riot, too.

  12. ben says:

    Supreme commander because if you wanted to you could zoom ALL the way in and use it as another tactical view! (especially with 2 monitors)

  13. EaterOfCheese says:

    Thief maps were the bomb – though I’d have to go back to Ultima Underworld’s awesome auto-mapping for my absolute favourite. In Underworld, you really, really needed an excellent map, and amazingly enough, there was one.

  14. Psychopomp says:

    I would also like to nominate the maps from the original Metroid and Bards Tale games.

    • Antsy says:

      The ones you had to draw yourself on graph paper you smuggled out of maths class? :P

    • kitchendon says:

      yes! Making my own map in Bard’s Tale was part of the fun. Same with the old Infocom games. The text adventures weren’t really on a grid so it made for some crazy connections and squiggly connecting lines.

      I remember using lots of maps in the original Everquest – many of them downloaded from the Allakhazam website. First time I remember a site being so full of user generated maps and other info about a game. I ran a sort of guide service, shuttling people back and forth across the game world and those maps were quite useful.. One wall of my computer room was plastered with dozens of maps.

  15. Kris says:

    Second the Phantom Hourglass shout – like the way in all Zelda’s that the level design subtley nudges you to the map and compass, but instill a sense of being lost in the unknown until you obtain them. Same goes for 16bit Metroids onwards as well.

  16. Quercus says:

    Sins of a Solar Empire – lovely map. Seemless zooming.
    I also liked Freelancer’s map it was very useful within the game.
    Far Cry 2′s map was absolutely necessary as well. The GPS mini-map was very difficult to make sense of while driving.

    • Fergus says:

      That’s a second for Freelancer’s map, very easy to use, filled with information if you wanted it, but also just a very useful how-to-get-from-a-to-b deal.

  17. Fashigady says:

    I enjoyed the way both Far Cry 2 and Dead Space had maps that were in-game, and not in a game-pausing menu.

  18. tikey says:

    Hitman. The First one. It was essential for planning a successful assassination yet it didn’t tell you everything (like it did in subsequent games)

  19. Mythrilfan says:

    Mafia – because I know the damn thing by heart after all these years.

  20. Stense says:

    I loved the maps in Thief too. They were wonderfully stylised, but did give a good idea of level layout without babysitting you and getting you to put a little more thought into planning your route through.

    I’d also say that the maps in Metroid Prime were superb aswell. Studying them after getting a new toy or power up, then spotting a place on the map that looks like it could now be accessed was always a fine revelation. And it was detailed but remained easy to use and navigate, which is always a bonus.

  21. Kieron Gillen says:

    Supreme Commander’s map was awesome, in a very different way from any map mentioned here. So good, you played most of the game from it.

    KG

  22. JKjoker says:

    i liked dead space and diablo 2 ones, Farcry 2′s map was ok but it was annoying during driving because it was a little hard to watch the road and the map at the same time

    i remember the descent maps, awesome but unpractical, ive never been able to find anything, of course d1 and d2 level design was just freaking insane, but the guidebot was awesome (does it count as part of the “map” features ?)

  23. Jeremy says:

    The same thing as many commenters said sprung to my mind when I first saw the post: The FC2 map is among the best I’ve seen in a while. I used to run around with it enabled, which is a great thing to be able to do. it showed enough of the real world to allow you to run around, but not enough that you could play the whole game with the map on.

    I don’t remember the STALKER maps, though it’s been awhile since I played. And I’ve always liked the Fallout maps, even fallout 3′s.

    As for non-FPS maps, I think Rome: Total War is my favorite, since the game was played on it. Not played any other TW games though, so no idea how their maps are.

  24. Timmy O'Otoole says:

    This may be a bit redundant, but I want a map that gets me where I want to go. For that reason, I like Fable 2′s “breadcrumb” trail. It was a really nice way to keep you in the game at not staring at a minimap in a corner of the screen.

    For an open world, Fallout 3′s compass and map marker system was good.

    In a more closed setting, I like Dragon Age’s map and mini-map displaying points of interest. It always me to get to where I need to go quickly and just play the game. I do not like the “hunt for the peasant who has your next quest goal” mini game that so many titles seem to have.

  25. Persus-9 says:

    Well I love the way Far Cry 2 had the nice in game hand held system because it kept you in the game but that good work was completely ruined by the actual map design because just a glance at it tells you it isn’t a map of a real place.

    Test Drive Unlimited had a really realistic map (they just used the island of Hawaii) but the implimentation within the game was down right shoddy and it helped ruin the game by letting you fast travel.

    I think in the end my vote has got to go to Dark Forces. It was pretty well implimented with a basic heads up version and a pause menu version that let you look at different floors and stuff. It was also really necessary at times because those levels got pretty damn confusing at times. However most importantly of all however (no, I’m not being serious) it was the only map to ever really help me in combat and shoot the switch puzzles. See Dark Forces didn’t have a crosshair so if you wanted to shoot a stormtrooper or a switch then you just had to judge where the center of the screen was a hope for the best. The laser bolts would adjust to hit stormtroopers and other bad guys and you would be able to see where they hit but when making long distance switch shots I found I often had to take multiple shots at it, particularly with shots that weren’t on the level thanks to the lack of up/down mouse look, it was basically just a real pain. The heads up map solved this problem because it always put the red mark to indicate your location in the exact centre of the screen and adjusted the level around it – instant cross hair! Thanks, Dark Force’s map!

  26. Diziet Sma says:

    I vote for Far Cry 2, which i’ve only just started playing, as it’s integrated and useful. Also Supreme Commander, it’s map system has ruined almost every other medium/large scale RTS for me. Why can’t I zoom out to distance x+dx in your map ffs? You’ve got a fully functionally 3D engine what’s the problem? (C&C and RA i’m looking at you amongst others).

  27. Simon says:

    I’d like to take a moment to nominate the worst map in any gave, ever, as far as I can tell: Splinter Cell (Chaos Theory and Pandora Tomorrow for definite – can’t remember what they were like in the original and never played Double Agent).

    They’re the only maps I’ve ever seen which make finding your destination more confusing.

  28. Mark H says:

    I’m torn between the first Rainbow Six and Diablo II as my favorite

    The first Rainbow Six could have you spending as much time planning the perfect execution of your mission as you actually spend executing it. It worked great for me.

    Diablo II’s map was simple, versatile, and very effective. I loved being able to make it full screen when I wanted to run around or switch it to minimap when I don’t need it constantly.

  29. Meayn says:

    I think the map in Dead Space is a strong contender, although my decision is possibly influenced by the slick user interface design rather than the actual map itself. The slick map is more a by-product of process than an actual feature. Either way it’s still good to use and doesn’t leave you unaware of your surroundings like some map interfaces.

  30. KilgoreTrout XL says:

    Ghost Recon & Ghost Recon 2. Sleek, simple, and effective (though not pretty)

    I liked the maps in Shadows of Amn a lot as well (pretty).

  31. disperse says:

    I have a nostalgic fondness for the cloth maps provided for the Ultima series.

  32. ShavenMonkey says:

    Whilst the maps in Op Flash One were unwieldly, that was mostly due to having simply massive maps. Having a compass and a map with contour lines was a big part of the immersion though and really added to the “I’m standing in a field” effect.

  33. KIngC says:

    I like the implementation of maps in games like OFP, arma and IL2 for example, as with realistic settings you don’t see your position straight away, but you need to interpret the map like in real life.

  34. Cynic says:

    NOT The X2 or X3 maps, god those things were annoying to use to get anywhere manually. Being able to set the autopilot to go to where you’re looking was the best feature.

  35. Walsh says:

    Far Cry and Crysis because of the GPS/Awareness/Binoc tagging. Much joy performing hit and run attacks.

    Far Cry 2′s map was inventive and immersive in execution even though world looked like boxed in silliness.

    Oblivion/Fallout 3 because of the fast travel feature. I feel it’s more immersive if you mod out the point of interest indicators on the compass however.

    Total Annihilation/SupCom for the various filters for range, radar, etc you could display on the map.

    MS Flight Simulator series because the map was so detailed and replicated a lot of NCAO/FAA paper maps, heck you could use a real paper map to fly in game. It would display current weather (pulled from the real world if you wanted), navaids, etc. You could instantly zip to anywhere in the world, change the time of day and weather. It had flight recording so you could trace your movement on the map with airspeed/altitude etc.

  36. nabeel says:

    I guess my vote goes to Far Cry 2. Immersive and non-intrusive.

  37. Andrew says:

    I submit Dragon Age’s map. It’s functional and stunningly beautiful: looks as though it was made by a master cartographer.

  38. Troy Goodfellow says:

    God, where do I begin. I wrote a whole series on strategy game maps for my own blog (which you can check out at your leisure) but a good map is so dependent on so many things. How tightly is it integrated to the game play? Does the map art evoke the theme? When does a map transcend a “board”?

    So short list of favorite maps:

    1) Imperialism series
    2) The Total War maps post Rome engine
    3) the map script generator in Rise of Nations

  39. Chaz says:

    The map that springs to my mind straight away, is the one in Doom. It’s nice and simple, easy to see where you are at a glance, and best of all you can still move around whilst in the map view, making it a snap to find your way out of mazes or locate those hidden doors.

  40. GC says:

    Maps in Operation Flashpoint and ArmA because they are… maps. Options allow you to see or remove what you want on it so that everyone can like it.

    For anything RTS Supreme Commander did it the best

  41. amoe says:

    siren blood curse had a pretty cool looking 3D map.

  42. airtekh says:

    Two votes for me.

    ArmA series/OpFlash1 – for pure geographical accuracy

    Thief series – for having maps which were not fully detailed (in a lovely hand-sketched format) and encouraged you to explore.

  43. Big X says:

    Battlefield 2

  44. Wulf says:

    I like a map that has the following…

    - Clearly defined lines, no obfuscation for the sake of it (a cartographer would balk at some MMO maps).
    - If there’s a minimap, it should be square and the only details present should be the important ones.
    - It should have clearly defined points of interest, or allow me to set my own.

    I liked the square map mod from NWN2, I found that Torchlight had very clearly defined maps and was enhanced by the brighter map and square minimap mods, and I rather liked the main map of Champions Online but hated the minimap.

    The thing is, a cartographer might draw frills on the edge of their map, but they wouldn’t go out of their way to draw every tree, and every bush, and there’s a reason for that. It’s because maps shohuld be easy to understand and follow, if a map is too “pretty”, it fails at that purpose.

  45. Now wait a sec... says:

    Kick Off 1 and 2, extremely important map. Without it I would suck even more.

  46. Dave says:

    Red Faction: Guerrilla had a nice map system. While it suffered a little from consoleportitits, the ability to set a waypoint anywhere and have it generate a path that renders in-game for you is quite nice.

    Just the sort of thing Borderlands could have used. Can I anti-nominate Borderlands? Inconsistent waypoint markers, completely unintuitive scrolling, unlabeled zone transitions and a general laxness about actually helping you navigate.

    • Wisq says:

      Seconded for RFG. Saints Row 2 had the same map system (being by the same company and all), and did much better pathfinding, although that’s obviously because they had the luxury of being in a city with well-defined roads and non-destructible buildings.

      The map is always north-oriented, meaning you get an idea where you are; the minimap is either north-oriented or forward-oriented based on your game options. Solves both problems — knowing where you are, and knowing how to get places.

  47. Man Raised By Puffins says:

    I really can’t think of any particular stand-out favourite.

    BrĂ¼tal Legend has a gorgeous hand drawn map (yes, yes, I know this is console heresy, but I honestly can’t think of a nicer looking one), somewhat let down by its low level of clarity.

    GTA4 has an almost functionally perfect in-game map, crisp and clear, you can whip across it, zoom in and lay down GPS markers with ease. Unfortunately that clarity means the paper map carries a lot more useful information (eatery locations, clothes shops, place names) which could have easily been included in a secondary, information dense, mode for the in-game map.

    My opinion of the Far Cry 2 map is similar in the sense that while I find the implementation is great, looking down to check your position while driving works a treat, you still need to occasionally pause and consult the paper map because it shows all of the checkpoints, while the in-game small scale map doesn’t.

    • Benjamin Finkel says:

      Love is wunderbar and all that, but if the map isn’t the most useless token at this point I will eat someone’s hat. That map is *not good*.

      May as well just jump on a big tower and see the planet for yourself – it certainly works better.

      Ben

    • Jacques says:

      It’s not good as a map at the moment, but it’s got a massive amount of potential, unlike most of the other stuff mentioned here. And it’s also interesting to look at.

  48. minipixel says:

    Another vote for Diablo 2′s. A very effective design.

  49. Chiller says:

    Thief, because it fit in perfectly with the gameplay, giving enough information while encouraging exploration (actually, Thief 2, since it had the useful automap feature that highlighted zones you had visited thus removing some of the confusion that was possible at times).
    And, of course, Oblivion, because it had fast travel :D