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#1 Posted by Sweep (8927 posts) -

There are some aspects of videogame design that are considered so fundamental to the medium that it's often hard to think of alternatives. When a game is released that somehow manages a fresh take on these fundamentals, that fresh perspective can often make you realise how broken that entire system was in the first place. For example, something like the life system: when you die you lose a life. Except Bastion introduced the idea of a story with a human narrator, and any deaths were explained as him getting confused with the tale: "no, wait, that's not how it happened..."

Other examples include stuff like the health system, which used to be: you have a health bar, which can be topped up with health kits (or whatever equivalent the game chooses to employ), but is a finite resource. Until health started regenerating, and suddenly our games became a lot less disjointed as we could progress without having to micromanage resources and attempt difficult sections of the game at a clear disadvantage.

My personal beef at the moment is with minimaps. You have a huge openworld game full of beautiful art assets, and you spend most of your time squinting at a tiny little box in the corner of the screen. Is that really the best we can come up with in order to visually represent objectives?

I know hacking minigames get a lot of flack but there's plenty of game design tropes that could do with a rethink. It's weird to me that in 2014 we haven't, collectively, managed to find solutions for what is transparently poor game design.

#2 Posted by mwng (945 posts) -

Where's the Peter Molyneux quotes!

#3 Posted by Corvak (1128 posts) -

Watch Dogs and Saints Row have gone a long way with in-world augmented reality hud indicators (arrows and such) showing your path to the waypoint set on your minimap.

#4 Posted by Video_Game_King (36272 posts) -

@sweep said:

My personal beef at the moment is with minimaps. You have a huge openworld game full of beautiful art assets, and you spend most of your time squinting at a tiny little box in the corner of the screen. Is that really the best we can come up with in order to visually represent objectives?

In this instance, I think Saints Row The Third handled that fairly well. The mini-map is still there, but all the important shit shows up in the environment itself (driving instructions).

#5 Posted by YI_Orange (1163 posts) -

@sweep: I agree with your feelings on minimaps so I don't have a ton to add to the discussion. I just want to point out that Sands of Time(I believe) had the prince saying "No no that's not how it goes" or something like that when you die.

#6 Posted by Sweep (8927 posts) -

@corvak said:

Watch Dogs and Saints Row have gone a long way with in-world augmented reality hud indicators (arrows and such) showing your path to the waypoint set on your minimap.

I'd say a better example would be something like Assassins Creed, which uses indicators like flocks of pidgeons to show jump points, and eagles to show high vantage points - which not only blend into the environment but enhance it.

#7 Posted by Seppli (10251 posts) -

I thought the in-car minimap in GTAV was fantastic. Isometric like a car-nav. I deduce by that, that an isometric 3D minimap would be the way to go. I agree that flat 2D minimaps are much too limited in use, especially when verticality comes into play. It's also tough to convey scale.

#8 Posted by mosespippy (4286 posts) -

An interesting thing that GTA IV did that nobody noticed was that it made the game mostly playable without the minimap on. Every street has a name, and in the story cutscenes* there is always a mention of where you are going; the laundromat on Masterson St, the car wash off Tutelo Ave, etc. And the street names are all organized. So you've got streets named after minerals in alphabetical order in Algonquin, prisons in Bohan, Native American tribes in Dukes, etc. Even if you don't know exactly where you're going you should know around what area to head towards.

*I've only tested this up until you move to the second safehouse. Maybe they stop doing it at some point.

#9 Posted by OurSin_360 (937 posts) -

I dig bethesda's compass mechanic alot, i think it doesn't take up alot of space and still functions the same. And for open world games with cars, i think the gps thing is a good idea, although probably not when your just walking around . I

#10 Edited by Veektarius (4922 posts) -

Considering that I need a minimap (on my phone) to navigate unfamiliar environments in my daily life, I can't say that I think very poorly of its inclusion in games. I agree that the Bethesda compass works well for the great outdoors, but in more labyrinthine environments, it suffers.

#11 Edited by Corevi (3973 posts) -
@sweep said:

Except Bastion introduced the idea of a story with a human narrator, and any deaths were explained as him getting confused with the tale: "no, wait, that's not how it happened..."

Prince of Persia Sands of Time did the exact same thing first 8 years before.

On topic though, Spiderman 2 had the best minimap, where it would shift depending on how high up you were, though there are a lot of things Spiderman 2 did that haven't been replicated since, no matter how hard Beenox or whoever is making the Spaderman games these days try.

The thing with the blend into the environment stuff is how do you do driving instructions with that seamlessly, or objective waypoints?

Minimaps may not look great but they are extremely functional when done correctly.

#12 Posted by Daiphyer (1341 posts) -

@sweep said:

@corvak said:

Watch Dogs and Saints Row have gone a long way with in-world augmented reality hud indicators (arrows and such) showing your path to the waypoint set on your minimap.

I'd say a better example would be something like Assassins Creed, which uses indicators like flocks of pidgeons to show jump points, and eagles to show high vantage points - which not only blend into the environment but enhance it.

I agree. I almost never look at the map in AC. Maybe it's because of the slower movement of on-foot compared to vehicles, but still, everything I need is represented on the screen.

That was perhaps one of my biggest beefs with GTA V. They had created this tremendous open-world filled with little details, yet, I stared at that mini-map the entire time I was driving. I feel like, I had no idea how the city looked by the time I was done with it. I hadn't memorized the whole city by the time I was done with the game, like I had with other GTA games (4 excluded)

#13 Edited by dudeglove (8020 posts) -

I loathe minimaps, but how else do you get around an "open world"?

#14 Posted by Insectecutor (1197 posts) -

I dig bethesda's compass mechanic alot, i think it doesn't take up alot of space and still functions the same. And for open world games with cars, i think the gps thing is a good idea, although probably not when your just walking around .

I agree. I don't use minimaps much, they're next to useless. Bethesda's solution is much better for a large world.

#15 Posted by jking47 (1215 posts) -

I don't really understand, you want something that maps the environment around you better than a map? Seems like changing something for the sake of changing it.

Sure, maybe it does not belong in some games and they could use something else, but its a good feature in the majority of stuff. Calling it "transparently poor game design" is going way too far I think.

#16 Edited by Clonedzero (4200 posts) -

I hear this alot, people spending "half the game staring at the minimap" yet, i've never done that in minimap games. Even GTA5, i'd glance now and then and keep moving. I did appreciate GTA5's driving angle when you were driving a car. The minimap would be angled so you could see more ahead of you on it. Granted i still prefer the "saints row" style of putting turn markers floating in the world, but for a more serious toned game i understand not wanting that.

So i dont think shoving shit into the environment to show you were to go is the answer, because i think in alot of cases, they'd completely ruin the atmosphere of a game. Like others have said, Bethesdas RPGs generally use a compass, since the games are mostly about exploration that's perfect.

Environmental cues are good, but you gotta be careful with that, the tasteful pigeons in assassin creed games you mentioned is a good example. But the obvious "grab points" in lots of action/adventure games sorta pull me right out of it, when they're colored brightly or have shiny crap on them, its like a sign saying "you're playing a video game!", i get that they have to make them obvious so you know what you can and can't grab, but come on....

I'd mention the breadcrumb trail from the fable games, but that was always janky and awful.

#17 Posted by Splodge (1769 posts) -

Minimap in Watch___________________Dogs is irritating me a bit. When I head towards the icon, it's invariably every hard to tell which side of the building it is on. Several times I have had to do a few loops to figure out what the hell I was looking for.

#18 Posted by Oldirtybearon (4851 posts) -

Assassin's Creed 1 tried to do things in a better way with the compass, but everyone bitched about how it was too hard to find stuff when in reality all they had to do was pay attention to what quest givers were saying.

It's a shame, too, because that game was a promising look into what could have been in terms of open world adventures.

#19 Posted by flasaltine (1682 posts) -

When I drive my car in real life and I use my GPS I don't stare at that the whole time. If I did I would crash.

#20 Posted by notnert427 (270 posts) -

My biggest game design complaint of late is scripted sequences that require some kind of trigger where you can ONLY approach an objective the way the game wants you to. For example, the last level in AC IV. You're supposed to kill Torres after climb/jump navigating through the observatory's defenses. In my first playthrough, I didn't do that. I managed to hop onto his platform on my own, but I wasn't allowed to kill him because I didn't reach him THEIR way. He was essentially a ghost that I couldn't interact with at all. That kind of linear b.s. defeats the whole point of an "open world". I really hope I don't run into anything similar in Watch_Dogs.

#21 Posted by joshwent (2299 posts) -

But the obvious "grab points" in lots of action/adventure games sorta pull me right out of it, when they're colored brightly or have shiny crap on them, its like a sign saying "you're playing a video game!", i get that they have to make them obvious so you know what you can and can't grab, but come on....

Hey man, don't discount the work of all of those people in Mirror's Edge that had to climb all the fuck around painting tons of stuff red so Faith knew exactly where she could climb, grab, and jump from. That must have taken fuckin' months!

On topic, I really don't have a problem with minimaps. Maybe I just don't understand what the complaints are, but it seems to usually fit into the gameplay in lots of situations. You play as a character who needs to get certain places, so you'd probably have a map of some kind to help you get there. It being abstracted into a random floaty thing in a corner is a bit weird, but not jarringly enough to say it's anywhere close to bad game design.

Maybe I'm also coming from the POV of someone who played games through the years and years of having to pause and go into a menu just to look at a map with no other alternative. I'll take one that's present during gameplay every time.

#22 Edited by jkz (4043 posts) -

As I remember Far Cry 2 did it pretty great. Couldn't you take out the map while you were driving and keep it just below eye level, so you could look down to see where you were going? I thought that was awesome, and really the only "gamey" thing about it was the painted on arrow representing your position. Otherwise it struck me as pretty much how one would use a map if one was driving across tundras alone, and I didn't find it any harder to use than a normal minimap, unlike when developers hide the map behind a layer or two of menus, which I always find irritating.

#23 Posted by Daiphyer (1341 posts) -

When I drive my car in real life and I use my GPS I don't stare at that the whole time. If I did I would crash.

When I drive my car, I don't use GPS, because where I want to go is clearly illustrated in the city. It is not in video games.

#24 Posted by Irvandus (2881 posts) -

I really enjoy the compass style bar used in Skyrim. I felt like it a was a good alternative. I knew I was heading in the general direction or not but still focused my attention on what was around me.

#25 Edited by CornBREDX (5627 posts) -

@sweep said:

There are some aspects of videogame design that are considered so fundamental to the medium that it's often hard to think of alternatives. When a game is released that somehow manages a fresh take on these fundamentals, that fresh perspective can often make you realise how broken that entire system was in the first place. For example, something like the life system: when you die you lose a life. Except Bastion introduced the idea of a story with a human narrator, and any deaths were explained as him getting confused with the tale: "no, wait, that's not how it happened..."

This actually happened in The newer Prince of Persia game first. I think Bastion was the last game to do it, but ya I agree it's an interesting idea. Unfortunately it only works for games that have a clear narration.

Other examples include stuff like the health system, which used to be: you have a health bar, which can be topped up with health kits (or whatever equivalent the game chooses to employ), but is a finite resource. Until health started regenerating, and suddenly our games became a lot less disjointed as we could progress without having to micromanage resources and attempt difficult sections of the game at a clear disadvantage.

I feel the only thing regenerating health has done is make modern games to easy. I prefer having health pick ups myself.

My personal beef at the moment is with minimaps. You have a huge openworld game full of beautiful art assets, and you spend most of your time squinting at a tiny little box in the corner of the screen. Is that really the best we can come up with in order to visually represent objectives?

I feel this is something that Saints Row III already successfully fixed what with it's on screen way point system you have no reason to look at the minimap. I agree, though, games that don't do it or don't find a way to do it are sorely behind.

I know hacking minigames get a lot of flack but there's plenty of game design tropes that could do with a rethink. It's weird to me that in 2014 we haven't, collectively, managed to find solutions for what is transparently poor game design.

It's a little harsh to call standard UI designs and game systems "poor" in my opinion. At the same time I do agree that some things could do with innovation. The minimap thing I feel has already been fixed, or even on it's way there for the most part, but too few games find ways to use it. I feel this is similar to how Batman: AA fixed video game fighting by finding a way to make it a sort of puzzle, but almost no other third person melee game uses that kind of system. It's baffling.

#26 Posted by mosespippy (4286 posts) -

@joshwent said:

On topic, I really don't have a problem with minimaps. Maybe I just don't understand what the complaints are, but it seems to usually fit into the gameplay in lots of situations. You play as a character who needs to get certain places, so you'd probably have a map of some kind to help you get there. It being abstracted into a random floaty thing in a corner is a bit weird, but not jarringly enough to say it's anywhere close to bad game design.

The places your character needs to get to aren't always places. They're sometimes enemies, moving vehicles, an object to be collected like a pack of drugs or briefcase, etc. None of those things would show up on said character's map. The issue is that it's telling the player what the objective is by pointing to it on a map rather than by having some in environment information convey that message. Its lazy design.

#27 Posted by Mysterysheep (365 posts) -

What about functioning like a real GPS and audibly telling you when and where to turn? I feel like some game did that already... just can't remember which... The only issue with that is the constant interruptions could grate, but at least you could enjoy your surroundings a bit more. Didn't Burnout Paradise have turns pop up as you neared them?

I agree though, while some games have tried their own spin on it, most stick to the default mini-map as a standard for some reason. Sure, it's functional, but I agree that in open-world games with driving in particular, if there are a lot of turns on your route, you sometimes end up spending a whole lot of time staring at that map.

#28 Edited by phantomzxro (1578 posts) -

I see your point but i feel like all your examples don't do your topic justice. The life and health systems your listed don't really prove the others broken. They just proves that its not the only system to have or use. Rpgs often don't use the health system or life system you mention. Closer to your point as long as the minimap is readable and ideally have a waypoint system i don't have a problem with it. It's the ones are hard to read or don't have a waypoint system that suck.

#29 Edited by MasterRain (316 posts) -

Dead space was pretty good at making everything in world 'real', so you could activate a line on the floor indicating where you needed to go.

#30 Posted by Pie (7109 posts) -

@jkz said:

As I remember Far Cry 2 did it pretty great. Couldn't you take out the map while you were driving and keep it just below eye level, so you could look down to see where you were going? I thought that was awesome, and really the only "gamey" thing about it was the painted on arrow representing your position. Otherwise it struck me as pretty much how one would use a map if one was driving across tundras alone, and I didn't find it any harder to use than a normal minimap, unlike when developers hide the map behind a layer or two of menus, which I always find irritating.

I would love to have some straight up paper map in a GTA that handled like Far Cry 2. Set it in a time before GPS.

It is a pretty cool system because although you are tempted to just stare at the map like you would in a GTA or whatever you actually have to remove all vision of the road in front of you so you end up forcing yourself to memorise routes rather than just relying on the magical minimap to guide you. It helped that Far Cry 2 was mainly just straight long roads but I would still love to see that system in a game like GTA

#31 Edited by Fredchuckdave (5736 posts) -

Red Faction Guerrilla did this best out of 3rd person games; but the best "open world" games don't require a map of any kind a la Dark Souls and Dark Souls II.

@jkz: That shit just made me dizzy.

#32 Posted by Zevvion (2098 posts) -

I'm not going to say that designers shouldn't come up with anything better, but at some point it's your own fault for staring at the minimap all the time. The only game in recent memory that chose not to implement anything in the environment and was completely dependant on the minimap was GTAV. And even then after a bunch of hours I had that city pretty well memorized. Maybe paying attention will solve some of this issue for you.

#33 Edited by believer258 (11999 posts) -

@sweep:

Except Bastion introduced the idea of a story with a human narrator, and any deaths were explained as him getting confused with the tale: "no, wait, that's not how it happened..."

I haven't finished reading your post (I will), but Prince of Persia The Sands of Time did this a long time ago. Not something like, it did the exact same thing. I think the line you've quoted is the same, or at least very similar.

EDIT: I agree with the minimap thing. GTA V is a good game that could have been even better if it had adopted a Saints Row 3-esque arrow on the turns you need to take, or a line on the road telling you where to go. Some people say "memorize the map", but I have a horrible sense of direction and just couldn't do that. Still, at least you've got a minimap that tells you where to go, instead of Burnout Paradise, a game which I couldn't play because it didn't bother to suggest where you should turn. Well, it did, but with a flashing turn signal that was almost impossible to react to given the sheer insane speed with which that game moves.

I don't agree with the health system bit, though. More and more, I've found myself enjoying games where you have to refill your health. A regenerating shield over limited health or health blocks that refill up to a certain point are probably the best health systems as far as I'm concerned. I like to explore and poke my head into every corner. When you don't have to worry about health or ammo for fifteen different guns, then you either don't have anything in hidden corners and passageways or you just find stupid, pointless collectibles. Not quite the same thing as finding health and breathing a sigh of relief after slowly making your way around with only a bit of health and ammo left.

#34 Edited by SethPhotopoulos (5308 posts) -

I don't understand how anyone can drive around in a game and spend half their time looking at a mini-map and not crash into a bunch of stuff. Just glance at the mini-map every once in a while. When you drive with a GPS do you stare at it and never look at the road in front of you?

#35 Posted by HerbieBug (4212 posts) -

I disagree about regenerating health being the clear superior design choice. Health regen, for me, removes a lot of the tension from the game. Taking damage no longer matters so long as you don't take too much. There's no stakes involved anymore, particularly so when there are checkpoint saves every 10 fucking seconds. It also has a tendency to give all players a similar experience in all parts of the game, whereas with non-regen health, you may find different parts easier or more difficult than others depending on your resources going in to them.

That said, I tend to enjoy high damage games where one or two hits is death for both you and the enemy. That solves the whole health issue entirely for me. It's why games like Hotline Miami are so satisfying when you do well as you know that a slip up on any one of the five fast decisions you had to make in the previous sequence would have been instant death.

#36 Posted by ZolRoyce (736 posts) -

@masterrain: Dead Space really does deserve a lot of credit for that design, it also killed two birds with one stone in the way of that old game technique of "The game wants me to go this way? Okay, well in that case I'm gonna go this other way first! Thanks game!" Might not work so great in an open world setting but very good idea for it's own usage.

#37 Posted by MarkWahlberg (4606 posts) -

@pie said:

@jkz said:

As I remember Far Cry 2 did it pretty great. Couldn't you take out the map while you were driving and keep it just below eye level, so you could look down to see where you were going? I thought that was awesome, and really the only "gamey" thing about it was the painted on arrow representing your position. Otherwise it struck me as pretty much how one would use a map if one was driving across tundras alone, and I didn't find it any harder to use than a normal minimap, unlike when developers hide the map behind a layer or two of menus, which I always find irritating.

I would love to have some straight up paper map in a GTA that handled like Far Cry 2. Set it in a time before GPS.

It is a pretty cool system because although you are tempted to just stare at the map like you would in a GTA or whatever you actually have to remove all vision of the road in front of you so you end up forcing yourself to memorise routes rather than just relying on the magical minimap to guide you. It helped that Far Cry 2 was mainly just straight long roads but I would still love to see that system in a game like GTA

Possibly one of my favorite parts of that entire game was they were just like, here's a straight up map, have fun. Which I think is what really made the hostile checkpoints so aggravating - watching the road, checking your map, and having dudes pop up and start shit every 2 minutes was one thing too many.

#38 Edited by mason20 (159 posts) -

@mosespippy: Yes, that may be true that those things would have no way of really telling you where they are on a map in real life but if it is some random collectible like a shard or orb and it wasn't on the mini map than I usually wont be bothered.

When it comes to enemies/vehicles than I absolutely want to see them on my map. Nothing in my mind is more irritating than getting to said destiny and not being able to find said person/vehicle isn't there and waste time looking something that's not there..

Besides It's a video game and doesn't need to be constrained by things like realism. Also, I thought they did good with that thing in not only Saints Row but also Sleeping Dogs by letting you unlock the ability to see such things on the map.

#39 Posted by Slag (4615 posts) -

I am with you. What is the point of all these awesome visuals if I'm just looking at dots the whole time. I want to see the world not a map.

Always thought open world city games should have better street signs, like the stuff you'd use in real life to figure out where you are.

It was amazing to me how little I needed the mini map in Red Dead Redemption compared to say GTA IV because of the long sight lines of open spaces and how much better that made traversal feel.

#40 Posted by Rowr (5824 posts) -

Fable 2 breadcrumb system. Universally praised, never seen again.

Go figure.

#41 Posted by MooseyMcMan (11303 posts) -

I've been meaning to write something up about how much I hate minimaps, but you beat me to it! I'd say the best alternative would be to mark things in world, like Ground Zeroes does, but it's not perfect.

Moderator
#42 Posted by Hunter5024 (5820 posts) -

I got bummed out about mini maps a couple weeks ago when I was playing Lightning Returns and I realized I was in a really beautiful area that I hadn't noticed at all because I was just staring at a stupid mini map. Breadcrumb trails are the way of the future.

#43 Posted by VierasTalo (856 posts) -

Remember when characters in Morrowind would give you directions based on landmarks, villages and the cardinal directions? Those were the days.

#44 Posted by benspyda (2038 posts) -

Yea, I really like it when directions come up in world rather than on a mini map. I'd prefer no minimap and just a full map you can pop up quickly that isn't laggy like it is in most AC games.

#45 Posted by SethPhotopoulos (5308 posts) -

@daiphyer said:

@flacracker said:

When I drive my car in real life and I use my GPS I don't stare at that the whole time. If I did I would crash.

When I drive my car, I don't use GPS, because where I want to go is clearly illustrated in the city. It is not in video games.

Not in every city. And if you're new to a city you're probably using a GPS in the modern world.

#46 Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw (6313 posts) -

As a low vidion gamer, I say minimaps can eat shit and die. Saints Row has the right idea, and with some tinkering to the customizeablity of Bethesda's compass, so do they.

Moderator
#47 Posted by GorillaMoPena (2218 posts) -

A game that is a giant minimap with a little circle in the corner of the screen that has a dude running around in a fully mapped out world.

#48 Posted by yinstarrunner (1219 posts) -

I like minimaps?

They're essential in some genres: Team-based FPS games, RTS games, Racing games... And as far as Open-world games go? I don't necessarily see it as lazy design. They might be a little unwieldy at times, but as a player, I'd rather have that extra information at my fingertips if I need it. I disagree with the assertion that having a minimap detracts from the in-game visuals to some large degree.

Obviously, if the developer wants to emphasize a certain type of immersion, then a minimap can work against that. But that's clearly not a priority for most games coming out these days.

#49 Posted by IamTerics (419 posts) -

I think you're going after this the wrong way. You mention the bad designs, but most of your examples are mechanics. And an individual mechanic completely depends on everything else in the game. In your health example the mechanic did nothing wrong, it was the game designed around the health system that failed. Unless you meant that you just dislike it the mechanic then that's different.

The Bastion example sticks out since its completely aesthetic. Really its just justifying its mechanics to fit its unique narrative. Which I love! But that doesn't fit inline with your other examples. If you take that away from Bastion the game barely changes. Heck, you'd have that experience if you just never died.

Basically, I think you're confusing design with individual mechanics. I see nothing wrong with a minimap as a mechanic. Its up to the designers to design it properly ,within their game. I can not imagine what it would be like if strategy games didn't have minimaps. If you find yourself looking at the minimap for all of its information, then its not the maps' fault, it's the game's.

#50 Posted by Hamst3r (4523 posts) -

They should get rid of the mini map and0 make it so you have to ask NPCs for directions, with the directions they give you varying in accuracy.

"Uh, yeah, you have to, no, alright, so, you head this way 4 blocks and when you see the burger joint, actually, when you see the bank on the corner, it's not there, it's halfway down the next block, turn right into the alley and you'll be on 4th and Clambake, and then it's just two blocks up and you're there. The restaurant will be on your left, err, your right, I was imagining it from the other direction. I usually pass it on my way home from work over on Chestnut."

I guess they could keep the GPS on your phone, but the signal strength should be shitty so it doesn't always work, and it should occasionally give you directions to the wrong place or a really convoluted route to your destination. And you have to read the tiny phone screen over your characters shoulder. And the phone has a battery that only lasts for 6 in-game hours.