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. d00d3n says:

    I always found the map in Little Big Adventure 2 to be impressive. The in-game graphics are somehow very suited to being used both as a map (heavily zoomed out) aswell as the normal overhead view. Because of this the map becomes an essential part of how you visually experience the game rather than just a utility.

  2. underproseductor says:

    Maps in the first few Rainbow Six games and Heretic automap is good enough for me.

  3. Meesh says:

    The map in Natural Selection – as it gives you a decent overview of what’s going on from the commander’s viewpoint, as well as providing a good overview for people who don’t know the maps by FPS-view only. (I recently found a vent in the ns_ayumi level i never knew about…)

  4. Flint says:

    I like the one in Metroid Prime games. You can zoom in and out and rotate it however you want in order to get the right view you wish and the legend is detailed enough.

    However, even that lacks a feature which I find to be absurdly rare in game maps – the ability to write notes on the map. I don’t want to rely on my memory only where a suspicious looking object is, let me write it down for future reference!

  5. bananaphone says:

    There’s a mod for Oblivion that makes the map look really lovely, does that count?

  6. SheffieldSteel says:

    Best ingame map: Thief 2.

    Reasons: It is a plausibly hand drawn object, such as might be given to your character by someone who knows the location. It does not show your exact location beyond reminding you which room you’re in (in case you forgot). It does not magically update to give the current positions of enemies, quest givers, and any interesting shiny objects that you OUGHT TO LOOK AT.

    In short, it is a navigational aid rather than a nanny.

  7. Adrian says:

    i think the best map i know is the one of supreme commander forged alliance. i just love that game and map are not 2 different things anymore but that you can just zoom out until it looks like a mini map! i don’T know why but i can use this so much better than a fixed mini map!

  8. Jeremy says:

    I wasn’t really as thrilled with the FarCry 2 map as a lot of people seem to be. I can appreciate them trying the immersion thing, but when I’m looking at a map, I kinda want the world to stop. Generally, when I feel the need to look at the map, I don’t also want to be driving/dodging bullets/avoiding trees. For me it was actually more annoying because I had to find a safe spot to look at the map, and while realism is a great thing in games, there’s sort of a plateau where the reality ceases to be fun.

    My nomination would be for Sins of a Solar Empire, because of the ease of moving between a tactical and strategic view, and always being able to get exactly the information you need at any point. If I need to zoom in and control a group of ships, it’s incredibly simple to go from one side of the galaxy where you’re building or developing, and then to zip across a couple star systems and immediately be in a battle controlling individual frigates. Lovely stuff.

    I would say the Diablo 2 map is nice as well, the only problem being that I realized I was no longer playing Diablo 2 but, Fill in the Map and Make sure the Red Thing Doesn’t Go Empty (working title).

  9. jeremy says:

    It has to be Silent Hill. The Silent Hill games combined the authentic looking sketched/found quality of maps of the town and specific areas, and as you explored the environment dynamically edited those maps with your character’s red pen annotations, making it perfectly clear where each every one of the infamous “broken locks” were located without breaking immersion.

  10. dhex says:

    far cry 2 did it pretty dang well and in character.

    going back in the day, ultima underworld! loved that map.

    • Magnus says:

      I was going to mention Ultima Underworld!

      It was detailed enough so you could find your way about, and had plenty of space for writing notes. It was perfect for me, because I hated using squared paper, but I also don’t particularly like some modern automaps, which try and map everything for you (and sometimes don’t even have a note feature!).

  11. Agrajag says:

    WAR had a very nice map. Informative, just enough for you to know where to go and narrowed down the search areas, you could navigate even in map mode (and run into a tree). Everything borderlands map isn’t. As for tactical maps, R6 and R6.2 were excellent. No two ways to interpret where you can or can’t go, what’s an obstacle no matter how it looks (“What do you mean I can’t jump over it?”). Cod4 had was also very informative and simple to read, gave you quick tactical info – you, friends, enemies and possible routes.
    Having said that, l4d2 sometimes feels it can use a map. But I’m glad it’s not there.

  12. Sulkdodds says:

    The best map in a game was in the dinosaur management game Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis. Every time I added something new to my park on screen I would build a corresponding feature in lego on my floor. As my in-game park grew, so too did my lego floor kingdom. However, this probably counts as user-generated content.

  13. mpk says:

    I remember playing about 80% of Heagemonia from the map.

    Other than that, Doom.

    • Iain says:

      Goodness Jamie, when will you *ever* learn how to spell Haegemonia correctly? ‘Twas indeed a good map, though.

      And I’d have to second Doom, too (along with Dark Forces, which used a similar transparent overlay map). It’s really nice to be able to see yourself moving in the map as you go without it distracting too much away from the action at hand.

    • mpk says:

      Hedgemonnia?

    • jsutcliffe says:

      Standard replies:

      “bless you”
      “heads you monnia, tails you…”

  14. linfosoma says:

    The GPS in Test Drvie Unlimited was cool, I liked the way it zoomed in and out.

  15. Zoso says:

    Another vote for Descent, full on 3D madness, and this was back in the early 14th century. Or maybe 1995.

  16. Jim Reaper says:

    The first thing that sprang to mind was the map in the original Dungeon Keeper. Gave you a nice clear view of what was going on….

  17. PleasingFungus says:

    Since we’re not limiting ourselves to PC games, and since no-one’s mentioned it yet, I feel I have to put in a mention for ODST’s maps. Google isn’t finding any good screenshots of it, but it’d be hard to get one that really shows off its true eye-candy nature, because it’s [i]3D[/i]. Far fancier than it has any need to be. Made me say “oooo” every time I saw it.

    Plenty of people have also given nods to Thief; the maps there were excellent for all kinds of reasons, but most memorable are the times in which you go off the map, your position now noted with something along the lines of “Where the hell am I?”

    Oh, and Flint’s comment reminds me about the Metroid Prime maps. “Beep-beep-beep-beep-beep!” [zooooooom-out]. “Beep-beep-beep-beep-beep!” [zooooooom-in] Good times.

    • ybfelix says:

      I found its 3D buildings unneccessarily obscure the routes under it

  18. Bret says:

    I don’t know if it’s anywhere near the best (In fact, it kinda sucks for the more complicated 3D designs) but I like the Marathon series’s aproach to mapping a fair deal. Button to bring up a full screen automap, which stays up until you either figure out where you mean to go or you decide that you can’t kill the enemies attempting to slaughter you with a map in your #^%#ing face.

    Makes navigating the levels a lot easier once they’re clean, provides a little more tension when there are still folks out there that want you dead…

    I like it. All I can say.

  19. kateri says:

    Nobody has mentioned Etrian Odyssey yet? For shame.

    You have to draw your dungeon map yourself on the DS touchscreen, and you have lots of little icons you can add for traps and such, it’s the most fun part of the game, and gives you the fun of the oldschool without the hassle of the actual paper!

    • Vinraith says:

      Yes, the Etrian games do warrant special mention here, despite being on DS. They are, after all, the natural inheritors of the venerable PC Wizardry series, it’s just that they conveniently provide you with graph paper in-game.

  20. SirKicksalot says:

    Fuck all other answers, R.U.S.E. is the One True Winner.

    *goes back to playing the beta*

    • Schmitzkater says:

      I hate how, whenever you move the camera even the slightest bit the angle that you’re viewing the game at snaps back into some kind of standard position.
      Really made the beta pretty much unbearable for me.

  21. MyVote says:

    Operation: Flashpoint’s which (I assume) are based off of military terrain maps. You had to refer to it often since you were frequently given orders to go to whatever grid sector which added immersion (no quest compass arrow here!) and allowed to tactically plan a route using cover and obstacles.

  22. sidereal says:

    Civ IV. The game is played on the map.

    Diablo 2 (did Diablo 1 have this?) for introducing a semi-transparent minimap that you can just leave on as you play.

    LOTRO, for putting quest icons on the map, so you don’t have to spend any time trying to find anything.

    • Edgar the Peaceful says:

      There’s nothing quite like slowly revealing a CIV IV map during the Ancient age – little inklings of resources, river valleys and other civs here and there. – Best bit of the game.

  23. stormbringer951 says:

    Thief series

    It was an actual parchment map, an in-game object of sorts. It didn’t have a fancy compass attached to it, with your view oriented. If you lost your way, you’d lost your way. Go find a landmark and reorient yourself. And if you wanted to use a compass, well, you had a compass as another item, right?

  24. Owen says:

    I have to second the mention of Defcon as the perfect map wielding game. While one could argue that any strategy game is wholly reliant on its map, the fact that Defcon has only been mentioned once ( I believe ) so far, for me, sums up what makes it so unique.

    The entire game is a map, not a landscape or terrain but a map.

    Despite that, it becomes so much more.

  25. Scalene says:

    I’m going to go for a non-PC game… Fable 2.

    It has one of the most beautiful maps in a game. Minimaps fucking blow, you’re looking at this tiny, grainy image instead of admiring your surroundings. The map in Fable was *lovely*.

  26. Simon Jones says:

    Far Cry 2 is probably my favourite map, because it actually feels like a map. Rather than, say, a menu screen. Although the Far Cry 2 world is disappointingly simple and there isn’t a huge amount of interesting things to actually FIND on the map, it still is the only map I’ve ever encountered in a game that gives the feeling of *using a map*.

    In real life, maps don’t conveniently pause life while you figure things out. When you’re walking or driving, using a map is a hazardous thing. That’s absolutely essential to a good map – if it doesn’t have that thin line of panic and discovery, it’s not a map. It’s just a computer game interface.

    On the flipside, I loved Morrowind’s map. The map itself was interfaced very simply, but it was beautiful – as was the paper version. There was so much on it, it felt like you were really charting unknown territory. Epic.

    A combination of the two, please!

  27. PHeMoX says:

    A map should be functional. Lots of fancy looking maps aren’t very functional.

    I think among the best mini-map designs is the GTA one, first introduced in GTA III. Useful, clear and fast. Add an overview map of the entire city and you’ve got all you need.

  28. Yunny says:

    Silent Hunter III and IV, anyone?

    You can go as realistic as to mod your own icon out of the map so you would have to do celestial navigation. You could manually enter markers for all contacts reported from hydrophone or from the observation scope. You could manually plot courses for contacts and make interceptions.

    Of course you could turn on all the assisted stuff, too (that’s why your crew members are there, right?), and plot your torpedo attacks manually instead.

    The map is detailed and accurate (some mods make it even better, with reference charts and graphs on the side). The tools they provide for marking and plotting are easy to use.

    Even though SH3 and 4 are both 3D sub sims, 90% of the game is actually played from the map.

  29. DMcCool says:

    Another vote for Morrowind’s lovely, lovely map. The way it showed the world -precisely- how it was somehow excites me to this day. Not that I ever used the map that much as the real life one they provided you with was even lovlier.

  30. Canarduck says:

    Mercenary. Apart from inventing from scratch the concept of a 3D sandbox world, it had a very elegant map system. Once you found the jet plane, you could go straight into the sky to see the whole city layout from far above, then zoom in seamlessly to any location by navigating your jet towards it. Like Google earth, but in a game. On an 8-bit machine. In 1985. What now, I’m too old for this site?

  31. Stijn says:

    The “map” in the alpha version of Love I played was unusable, but looked very pretty.

    (It basically was a 3D view of the surroundings, with a tiny cube for every object. Except all cubes looked the same and there were so many you couldn’t really recognize anything. It looked awesomely magical and mysterious, though)

  32. Collic says:

    Add another vote for Morrowind. What I loved about it was you had to actually to read it; along with your compass it was the only way of navigating the world. One of the few maps I’ve ever had to actually use, you know, like a map while playing a game.

    Far Cry 2′s map deserves mention for trying something different, but once the novelty wears off, trying to find out where you need to be heading while driving into trees, or being attacked by plastic skinned, shirtless men loses it’s appeal. I think i’d remember it a lot more fondly for preserving the immersion if there weren’t so many other elements in that game that cruelly destroy it for you.

    Insta -re-spawning guard posts anyone?

  33. Web Cole says:

    Yes, I would say Morrowind’s map as well. Despite having played it a very long time ago, and not for all that long, something about that map impressed me.

    I always used to love drawing imaginary maps when I was a kid, a good map should make you want to explore, or should act as a kind of focal point that connects everything in the players mind. Warlords Battlecry 2 did that pretty well, and had a lovely campaign map as well.

  34. sebmojo says:

    Hired Guns on the Amiga. Stunningly beautiful and clearly a labour of love for the programmer. Also completely useless (it’s just a non-interactive backdrop for choosing the next mission) but that wasn’t the question, was it?

  35. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Maps are awesome. Then again, I’m also the kind of guy who likes making maps for his own use when the type of game makes it worthwhile (in that it’s usually that, downloading one or wandering around blindly).

  36. duel says:

    Populous: the Beggining

    zooming out to see the globe was the epiphany of god games.

  37. Hobbes says:

    The star map in ‘Warhead’. I used to spend ages just playing with it.

  38. Bib Fortuna says:

    Strange. No-one mentioned Fallout 3…

  39. Thants says:

    Yeah, the Marathon one was good. I liked that you could still walk around while looking at the map.

  40. Kroker_bambambam says:

    Hostile Waters: Antaeus Rising by Rage

    Both the war room map and the 3-D-mesh-topgraphy-and-elevation-and-bogey-speed-and-altitude-and-offmap-objects-direction-you-are-facing ingame minimap.

    The map is smooth, clear, uncomplicated, stylish, builds well into the background fluff and is seamlessly, and I do mean seamlessly integrated into gameplay; you can actually play the entire game from the war room map (by boucing back and forth with F2 to create your own ersatz full-turn-based game)

    From the map alone you can tell that Hostile Waters fully embraces its identity as an actual, honest-to-god videogame (as in digital artefact), so the minimap is all mesh topography and angry pixel-shaped blips zipping around and the war room map is all raw untextured coloured surfaces on frozen mesh.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if no other game map ever has been more honest and any more seamlessly integrated than in Hostile Waters. No muss, no fuss, and everything a videogame interface should aspire to (yes this a computer running this and yes things will look raw-digital as opposed to GPU porn).

  41. Ace says:

    There isn’t one that I like specifically, but I would like to mention the one thing I hate when it comes to a lot of games maps; they make you stop moving! It is best when you are able to continue moving while viewing them map. It helps you be more efficient and you can see your adjustments to your direction in real-time.

  42. nemryn says:

    I know it’s got a real map as well, but does the magic sword from Shadow of the Colossus count as a map?

    • Manley Pointer says:

      Maybe, but can it port the game to the PC?

      (The sword was a great idea, and I really liked the look of the SotC world map.)

  43. Tommo says:

    Operation Flashpoint, Arma1, Arma2
    Same map basically. A realistic MIL-SIM with a realsitc map. Has everything, contours, altitudes. grid refs…
    Disable your icon on the map and yo have to use GPS and environment to know wtf you are. love it!

  44. VTgamer says:

    I nominate – CIV IV, not only did zoom from close up to a representation of a globe, but i used all the zoom levels to figure out my influences like culture and religion or finding that key resource that let me have a technological advantage.

  45. e n i g m a says:

    Please for the love of FSM start designing games where players can take advantage of dual/multi-monitor displays by having a dedicated map screen.

  46. Malacola says:

    I’d have to concur with the EVE suggestion. That’s a case of a map not only being useful but also sort of iconic, such that most of the game’s history can be told with the map. It also means that there’s some interesting map vs territory elements, like faction warfare or traveling from system to system, where the map essentially is the game.

  47. wileybot says:

    The only map i can think of that was super critical was in jagged alliance, remember that game 100 years ago?

  48. dstryr says:

    The metroid prime maps were great because they were so transparent and complicated that interpreting and navigating the map became a game in it’s own right.

  49. MrSpandex says:

    Obviously, the best map was in Planetside. Not only did you get a completely separate chat box for hate tells, but your squad leader would always draw up some inappropriate ms paint masterpieces for your entire squad to appreciate while respawning. All kidding aside, the map in that game was everything. It showed you where the battle was, who owned what bases/continents/towers, how the warpgates linked, where your squad was, where you could spawn, and more subtly, took no time to open at all.

  50. Caiman says:

    The best maps are the ones we made ourselves, on sheets of square paper with lovely pencil illustrations.

    • Iain says:

      I remember doing this for the Spectrum version of Aliens. It was the only way I could ever find my way to and from the Armoury. I mapped it out all the way to Medical and the Generator room and then the lights went out. That game still gives me the creeps to this day.

    • mpk says:

      I remember mapping one of the Dizzy games with a mate on graph paper, with the intention of sending it into one of those them there olde fashioned paper magazines. Spent hours meticulously mapping page after page and then spilt some Irn Bru on it and wasted it all. Goot dimes goot dimes.