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How to handle maze cartography in the digital age

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larienna
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In the old days, when I was playing Wizardry, you took some graph paper and a pencil and drew your map while walking around the maze. For some reason I cannot explain, it was partially a fun experience. But in the digital age, that seems a bit obsolete, the computer should be able to draw it for you, but that has some consequence on the experience of the game. So I was wondering how to handle it. Here are some example from other games:

Sword & Serpent: You have a minimap in the corner that auto draw and does not rotate. The drawback, is that you never look at the 1st person view since minimap navigation is less confusing.

Etrian Odyssey: You had to manually draw your own map, but since it's a Nintendo DS game, you could use the touch screen to draw your map. So no auto mapping, but a digital tool.

Wizardry: Labyrinth of the lost soul: You must cast a certain spell to get automapping enabled with your current position. It makes teleporter, rotators and other nasty maze effect obsolete as you know exactly where you are. It makes exploration much less dreadful and a bit more dull, you can constantly watch your map making it very hard to get lost. But you don't need to draw anything.

??? (DS game I forgot the name): There was auto mapping, but it never showed your current location. So you could only deduce where you where while exploring new areas, but once the level is explored, there is no position marker so you must remember where you are. It's a bit weird mechanism, and teleporting would reveal itself. But from a game play perspective, it makes it easier for new areas, but once you have the map, you better know your way.

Wizardry 1: In the original wizardry game, you had a spell that gave you your maze coordinates to help you map the maze. That means it was a kind of limited use compass.

Possible solutions

I tried to ask myself, what makes paper cartography different. From what I can see, the lack of position marker, the possibility to make errors due to some maze effects and, of course, human errors are the possible effects of drawing maze on paper.

If I automate the system, human error is not really an option. So I could do like the DS game, hide your position marker but auto draw new areas.

The other idea could be to simulate some errors, like if there are maze events that change your position or facing, the auto mapping system ignores it and continue mapping as if did not happen. The automapping would stop drawing as soon as inconsistencies occurs. The player would need to manually erase areas of the map he consider bogus. He could also pause mapping if he knows that he is at the wrong place. The drawback of such method, is that it is much more complicated to program and to handle by the player.

Another idea is to automap without the details of the walls and doors. So you can easily know in which portion of the dungeon you are without giving you the path to reach the destination. With such map is that it does not tell you much information, so you need to know the maze. It could indicate you that you have teleported, but not giving you the path to get out of there.

I also thought of having nodes or check points that could act like a camera of the surrounding areas. It guaranties you that this position in the maze is really there, and that the surroundings are really what to expect. But there would be no automapping between those nodes. So here, it's portions of the map that is revealed instead of some type of information.

Do you prefer any method?

Is there any other solutions?

questccg
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Trying to keep it as simple as possible...

I would go the OPPOSITE way that you were suggesting with "No Doors and Walls". Instead I would do rooms with walls and doorways but NOTHING ELSE. You could then MANUALLY add "sticky notes" to say "Teleporter", "Well of Healing", "Fireball Trap", "Found Red Key", etc.

It allows you to have a MIX of BOTH automapping for the rooms (Walls and Doors) and it adds "Digital Cartography" MANUALLY for the different objects, events and characters you may encounter on your journey.

That's my take on it. Feel free to use, improve upon or disregard. Best!

Note #1: I prefer solutions that IMPROVE the UI for the players. Having to DRAW MANUALLY the map is a game in itself. Much easier if it is done automatically and then you need to keep notes about WHAT is at various positions in the rooms. Much easier to design and SIMPLER overall. But that's just my opinion.

larienna
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Your point of view is

Your point of view is interesting: make sure that there is so much stuff to do int he maze that having access to the wall and door configuration has little impact on the gameplay.

questccg
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Also as another IDEA...

I would separate the GAME and the MAPPING. So what I mean is that there is NO MINI-MAP on the main screen. Yes, I am aware many games have this... But it makes the MAPPING more complicated.

Instead I would have the GAME interface and then you can press TAB to display a WINDOW on-top that would show a larger map but not the entire level...

This could DRAMATICALLY increase PLAYABILITY and keep it VERY SIMPLE for you to add in terms of PROGRAMMING. I've seen only a few games that do it that way and I think "Lands of Lore" did it that way. Google "Lands of Lore 1 interface" or "Lands of Lore 1 map interface" and you will see that there is NO MAP in the main interface but a COMPASS which you can click on to see a MAP you are currently exploring.

Might & Magic did something similar in Version 3. They have a mini-map on the main interface and then a separate Level map. Here is a screen sample:

That's perhaps more advanced and requires more programming effort... But the MAP View is something more like what you could do... It's Version 3. So it's pretty old too.

Just some comparison with "Lands of Lore" vs. "Might & Magic". Best!

questccg
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Something COOL to consider...

Forget the MINI-MAP in your main interface ... And do some OPEN GL Magical stuff... With the ALPHA Channel. What do I mean?

Make the DISPLAYABLE LEVEL MAP the SAME SIZE as your MAIN INTERFACE. When you press TAB (once) it shows up in an OVERLAY with an alpha of like 35%... (You can play with the setting to whatever works out best...) So the MAP is OVERLAYING all your interface as a HIGHER LAYER with an ALPHA.

In some cases this will be enough to figure out where to go next. But in the cases where you need more VISIBILITY press TAB (again) to go to a FULL SCREEN mode with the map at 100% ALPHA.

Pressing TAB again (2nd time), RESTORES the Main Interface. This is something like modern day shooters do. It's more recent in terms of "technology" but it's messing with the ALPHA Channel in OPEN GL is hardly difficult.

Once you get the FULL MAP working... Playing with the ALPHA Channel should be pretty easy TBH. And then that makes your game at bit more MODERN and advanced even if it is for an old Franchise.

Sincerely.

questccg
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I got me a copy of Etrian Odyssey on the DSi

Never seen a Game where the GOAL is to MAP a level. This is my first try. And I must admit it (the game) looks cool ... But I'm not sure I LIKE the whole "mapping DIY" aspect of the game. Like most other games, the board gets filled as you explore the level. And some areas could be inaccessible but revealed on a map such that you need to find a Teleporter or something similar.

But to be THE ONE who has to MAP out the entire level... Seems a bit too tedious for my likings. I will TRY this little DS game and see if it is more FUN than I expect it to be...

TBH I think I prefer Civilization Revolution on the DSi...

In any case, I just wanted to let you know I'm looking at Etrian Odyssey to see how FUN the game really is. Best!

larienna
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There are multiple games, I

There are multiple games, I am not sure which one has a mapping feature.

I gues mapping should not be the game, discovering hidden locations once the game is mapped could be.

I guess the only "feature" of manual mapping is the possibility of errors from the player and confusion using teleporters and rotators. Now with accurate auto mapping, those traps becomes pseudo useless ... at least for the rotator.

questccg
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Not necessarily 100% true...

I mean if you map only the walls and doors, you can keep TRAPS and TELEPORTING as items on the map which are NOT visible. Furthermore, if you don't allow a player to take notes on the map... It becomes more about surroundings and remembering that a "trap" or "teleporter" is NEAR-BY...

I think compromise of mapping the walls and doors ONLY is as you suggest: more about remembering where NOT to go in the map (and/or level).

Also I think that for Traps and Teleporters, they should lead to locations where there is "RE-SPAWNING"... So if you walk into a Teleporter, where ever it leads, you will encounter Monsters who have "re-spawned" from the area since your previous visit. But it makes Traps and Teleporters not "obsolete" once you fall into them the first time... And defeat all the Monsters. But as time goes by, those locations re-spawn making them ripe for a future visit.

Same goes with the general level: allow for some kind of "re-spawning". Not to be excessive to make it too difficult to beat a level and have to "do it again." No, just something that once you complete a level ... There will always be certain areas which re-spawn monsters so that the level doesn't ever feel "empty".

But yeah ... Feel free to use, adapt, re-think, ignore my ideas... I'm just giving you some other options to keep the game FRESH even if you have beaten a "level"...

Cheers!

questccg
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And if you want cartography to be a part of the game...

This reminds me of an old PC space game called "Starflight". It came with a HUGE MAP of the Galaxy... And there would be tons of planets to explore. We would write a bunch of notes about the locations in the Galaxy. The bottom line is that even if we could NOT do cartography in the game, we took down "X and Y" coordinates of locations around the Galaxy where you could FIND interesting things...

So maybe if you allow Auto-Mapping to do Walls and Doors ... You could have an "(X, Y)" coordinate system which could allow players to jot down locations of interest. And then you have a rudimentary type of MANUAL "cartography" in addition to the Auto-Mapping of the levels.

If effect, this does 2 things:

1> Keep Traps and Teleporters active and allow for re-spawning.

2> Allow players to jot down "Points of Interest".

What this effectively does ... Is encourage players to keep notes about the game itself and the levels they progress in. It would in a crude manner, I mean they are only coordinates with information, allow players to keep track of their own adventuring.

It would combine MANUAL and AUTOMATIC into two different mediums and offer the players who want to avoid Traps and Teleporters at all costs reasons to take notes... And keep other locations where there are IDK NPCs or Points of Interest, known via manual notetaking ...!

let-off studios
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Automap vs. DIY Cartography

larienna wrote:
Do you prefer any method?

Is there any other solutions?

If you want the player to focus their attention on cartography, then don't do any mapping for them at all. Players that are dedicated to the game - and admittedly in this day and age, it is rare - will map it out themselves. Eventually, someone will publish maps of your game online.

If you don't want part of the game's enjoyment to be about creating accurate maps, then do full automapping, with all relevant features included.

In my view, your dilemma seems to be about how much immersion you want to have in the game. If you want to cater to "today's gamer," where the notion of auto-mapping comes as standard in even the most basic of games, then a full automap feature is required. Otherwise, it's left to your personal preference.

Personally speaking, I like your nodes/checkpoints idea a little bit. It seems like map-making would be either a small part of the puzzle, or simply unnecessary since the nodes are there and serve as enough of a guide. The unknown areas between the nodes would serve as an immersive part of the game for me.

I will suggest that the amount of automapping you include is directly proportionate to the mass appeal of your game.

It seems like a paradox: today's gaming audience expects a full automap, and the less automapping there is, the more they will complain about "loss of immersion." However, if you looked at the gaming audience 30-ish years ago, the exact opposite would seem to be true: the more work they had to do with cartography, the more the map-making was a feature of the game.

questccg
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I agree with let-off 100%

let-off studios wrote:
I will suggest that the amount of automapping you include is directly proportionate to the mass appeal of your game.

It seems like a paradox: today's gaming audience expects a full automap, and the less automapping there is, the more they will complain about "loss of immersion." However, if you looked at the gaming audience 30-ish years ago, the exact opposite would seem to be true: the more work they had to do with cartography, the more the map-making was a feature of the game.

There also is a direct effect to the SPEED of games too. Nowadays the more popular games are about "rapid gameplay" (Grand Theft Auto, Halo, Fallout 76, Skyrim)... These are all generally Triple AAA productions. The MAP needs to be an aid ... Not the goal of the game. More over the faster PACE of these games is something different from Sierra's King's Quest Adventures (for example). Or the Might & Magic RPG exploration games were also MUCH SLOWER.

What does all this mean???

Well generally the slower the game, the less automapping will be a necessity. Think Ultima 5... The dungeons required gems to map areas of a Dungeon level. But that game's pace is WAY SLOWER than say Fallout 76... Which requires player to perform RAPID MOVEMENT and FAST SHOOTING.

Perhaps you can have a limited automapping and use Spells or Gems to reveal more precise details of a level (automap++) which could reveal Traps and Teleporters and other points of interest.

Figure it's a RE-BOOT so mostly FANS of the Wizardry series of games will probably be interested. And then I would figure out, based on YOUR version of "Wizardry" what is it that you want the game to be about?!

Is MAPPING important? If yes, how much effort do you want the players to put in into this task?! Because for me PERSONALLY, I would want an automap that guides me around the level, but doesn't reveal everything about the level. And then there will be times that I can't SOLVE the level, and I would want GEMS or SPELLS who can help me SOLVE that troubling level...

Again these are my own thoughts on the matter.

Can't wait to see what you figure out that will work for your game! Cheers.

larienna
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I think one of the aspect I

I think one of the aspect I want to retain is the use of memory and figure out where you are in space. I want the player to be able to remember some portion of the maze without having to look at his map. This can be achieved by mapping, but also by using the same path over and over again. In Wizardry LOTLS, I have this issue where I am constantly looking at the map because I remember few map features.

Now considering I want the game to play relatively fast, manual mapping would just slow down the game too much. On the other hand, manually mapping interesting locations could be interesting. It could easily be implemented with menu and text input. Storage of those notes in a SQL database would be fairly easy to do.

I could give a game option to enable or disable access to an automap on game setup for those who wants to play the hard way.

One thing I might remove is party position and facing marking, to improve that notion of building memory. It makes automapping easy on early exploration to know where you are, but once thee map is complete, you must remember and figure out where you are are.

Another idea is to give mapping tools like compass, scanners, etc. they are unlocked with game progress. Auto mapping could be a tool, but if it's not unlocked early in the game, it could require manual mapping in the end.

questccg
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Lose 50% of your potential audience/gamers!

larienna wrote:
One thing I might remove is party position and facing marking, to improve that notion of building memory. It makes automapping easy on early exploration to know where you are, but once the map is complete, you must remember and figure out where you are.

That from my OWN perceptions would cut out a LOT of the gamer audience. See even if this was the way 30 years ago, like "@let-off studios" suggested ... The more user-friendly the game is, probably the more players the game will have. And just because 30 years ago it was a "certain" way doesn't mean that you cannot improve upon it TODAY.

It's a GAME and not a GMAT exam...

It has to be FUN and not "cumbersome" IMHO. If using your memory to memorize levels is an "aspect" to the game, I probably wouldn't play it. If one the other hand it meant taking notes for certain coordinates ... That I might do for points of interest. I'm too used to modern day FPS games now which automap at least the "territory" or general geography. I've designed levels for Doom and Heretic and even with the limitation that there can ONLY be one area which may have a Z-axis, the areas cannot be over one another.

I would probably re-play games like "World of Xeen" which combines "Clouds of Xeen" and "Darkside of Xeen" (Might & Magic 4 and 5). This kind of RPG I loved and remember playing on many occasions.

I don't know in what direction you are going with Wizardry. Because there is also "Might & Magic" (as I've explained) which was a real FUN game. And is similar to Wizardry... The Wizardry Franchise was 10 years before the M&M franchise. And now there is the whole "Heroes of Might & Magic" franchise too...

If you want minimalist mapping ... Go with something like DOOM or HERETIC. You can see the level (walls and such), NO MONSTERS, NO ITEMS, NO DOORS, etc. Just the overall LAYOUT of the MAP. All the levers, doors and such were all from repetitive play you would become familiar with the levels because of where are the "switches", the "weapons", the "secrets", etc. They were NOT revealed on the map. Same goes with Teleporters.

That IMHO would be the minimum that I would offer in terms of automapping.

Here is a example of the map and points of interest added later:

I know your levels are SQUARE/RECTANGULAR in shape ... But you get the idea no doubt. You can click on the level if you want to see it BIGGER...

Even if your map is square-ish ... Doesn't matter. To me mapping the basic layout is enough ... And providing me with general coordinates allows me to take my own notes, that is sufficient for me. But if I need to memorize a level, forget it. Like I said it's a GAME. It's supposed to be a distraction. Not something I have WORK-AT. In any event, that is MY opinion.

Sincerely.

Note #1: Here is an Article on the Doom Wiki about the Automap:

Doom Automap

questccg
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Is this your DS game that you were looking for???

larienna wrote:
??? (DS game I forgot the name): There was auto mapping, but it never showed your current location. So you could only deduce where you where while exploring new areas, but once the level is explored, there is no position marker so you must remember where you are. It's a bit weird mechanism, and teleporting would reveal itself. But from a game play perspective, it makes it easier for new areas, but once you have the map, you better know your way.

I did some searching and The Dark Spire is a Nintendo DS game that has an automap but "it doesn't show your current location unless you use a spell, but most of the time that's not a big deal." That's what I found in terms of having an automap without your current location.

Note #1: Apparently this is a Wizardry-like kind of game. Read more over at IGN:

https://www.ign.com/articles/2009/04/16/the-dark-spire-review

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