Moo Tang Clan: Design Challenge: mapping as a game?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Design Challenge: mapping as a game?

Ryan Shwayder has posted a poll on his Nerfbat forums

How much quest direction do you want on the map? None? A perfect "X" every location? Something in-between?

The discussion is very interesting too, turning towards how mapping could be made into more of a game.

So, a design challenge: how would you make making maps in a game into an interesting activity in itself?


Rebecca said...

Didn't Etrian Odyssey already attempt this, to an uncertain degree of success?
They kept the system in for the second game, with extra icons and colours available to the player to accurately represent each floor; the first game's maps had a few elements, such as hidden or one-way doors that had no associated icons, meaning players had to get creative to display those. I guess it was successful enough that it wasn't annoying most of the players.
I always enjoyed it for the sense of drawing the map myself; I wouldn't have liked it if I couldn't use a stylus for it. But a feature of the game that annoyed me was the game's own idea of an 'accurate' map, which always had at least stylistic differences. Thankfully quests that want you to map out a floor seemed to have enough give to accept the style I drew in, but that would have been very annoying if they didn't accept my maps.

So either no actual tests of the map's reliability beyond the player not getting lost when using it, or a reasonably-relaxed judging of 'is this map accurate?' from the game, to account for different players' map-drawing styles, as being told 'your map is wrong' is no fun at all.

Garumoo said...

I'm not familiar with Etrian Odyssey but from what you describe it sounds like the player was directly responsible for drawing the lines, placing icons, etc.

I wouldn't put that level of control into an MMO for the usual "time to penis" reasons. Instead I imagine the map would be programmatically and progressively rendered by the game until the player stops the refinement process. The game would then know how just how accurate that map rendering is, and in which particular way (it just won't tell you the numbers behind the scenes).

It would still suck for the quest giver to remark that your map has all the appearance of being scratched out by an epileptic goat on ectasy and please go back and try again.

The conservative player that hates frustration will invest more time, the impatient risk-player will gamble with a more crudely drawn map. Both rely on eyeballing the map-in-progress for quality (as there shouldn't be a numerical quality percent rating exposed).

Ooh ... bonus thought ... different "styles" of map drawing could be bought/trained/earned by players, the same way different fluff items can be gained (eg. non-combat pets). You might prefer to draw you maps in a Picasso style, I might go for a more realistic survey map style, or sketchy style, or heavily ornamental ("here be dragons!).

Rebecca said...

Ah. When you said drawing the map, I automatically assumed the player would be drawing it.
Well, if it's an automated, activated process, what drawback does it have to be activated? Slower rate of movement? If there's no drawback, people will just turn it on and forget to turn it off.
Some MMOs nowadays have 'drawn as explored' maps that add new regions when you reach significant locations; I can't remember if WoW is one of them, having played in a long time. Some MMOs then give experience for exploration and discovery of those areas. I can't really call it fun, but it's an incentive to explore.

Regarding styles, would the player be able to switch the styles of maps drawn before purchasing a given style? Or would they be stuck in the style(s) selected when they were being drawn?

Garumoo said...

I would have it as an interactive game activity. You stop, make sure nothing will leap out of the bushes while you're busy, and pop open your drawing slate. Click on an iconic "make map" button and watch as first a rough sketch is drawn of your surrounds, and then slowly more details added. The player could click to specify an area where more detail should be added, as well as adjust some gauges or dials which affect whether it will be just a line drawing or richly coloured and ornamental, what type of detail (flora, fauna, geographical, geological, etc) gets added, whether attention is placed on scale or depiction (think tourist map or themepark map).

It's an interactive process in which the player's inner artist can be expressed (not unlike how some people love player housing because they can re-arrange the furniture etc).

The style of map would be fixed at the time of drawing. Most players would be content buying whatever hodgepodge of maps they can find, some players will gain renown as sellers of beautiful maps, and other players will go make their own in their preferred style. I expect many players will have map collections that are haphazard and messed up: think pages torn from primary school geography books alongside civil engineering surveys alongside tourist maps.

Its entirely possible someone will buy a map of a region so they won't get lost, and then go map it out themselves in their preferred style and level of detail.

There could also be a transcription skill available, where you take one map of any style and "re-do" it in your preferred style. This transcription process will introduce errors though, depending on skill level. And of course can only be as accurate as the source document (which itself might be a nth generation transcription).

Gameplay would thus (at the least) consist of exploration, creative expression, and collecting (gotta catch them all!). Then layer on some utility to the maps (miners would want good geographical survey maps, wizards want to know where the ley lines flow), and lastly add in NPC demand for maps of various kinds.