I Don't Look at the Scenery Anymore, or How GPS Ruins Video Games

Having acquired Red Dead Redemption just the other day, I find again that I'm plagued by the recurring problem that is rampant in many video games lately, and not just the sandbox ones - the GPS mechanic.
 
When the GPS mechanic first reared its head in video games - I can't remember who it can be attributed to, but I think it's safe to say the GTA franchise solidified it in the industry's minds - it was neat. It was a sneaky way of approaching exploration issues in open world games, meaning developers no longer had to break their adventures into separate levels and instead create a "living" world to fill with hidden packages and easter eggs. But, much like anything, it was too good to be true.
 
Why? Because, having only played Red Dead Redemption for a few hours, the GPS is literally doing everything for me, which is a real shame.
 
For those not versed in RDR or don't have the opportunity to play it, it's a good looking game. No, wait, scratch that. RDR is a fantastic looking game. It's not as horribly 'brown' as its sandbox predecessors, and for the past couple of hours I've put into it, there's always something going on in this sandbox world.  For a place that's meant to be mostly desert and inhabitable, there sure is a hell of a lot of shit going on.
 
So why am I bitching about GPS? It's because the GPS is ruining the beauty of RDR for me. When traveling between destinations with your quest markers or self placed waypoints, the not-very-obnoxious-but-certainly-visible GPS will kindly lay out a golden trail for you of the fastest route on horse back between A and B. And invariably my eyes are gravitating more to the lower-left corner of the screen, rather than admiring both the gloriousness of the New Austin landscape and my steed's backside. Sure there's pop-up that Rockstar would rather you not notice, but at least it's darn good looking pop-up, partner. It's become such an issue for me that I'm struggling to stop glancing at the all-knowing circle in the corner every five seconds.
 
Is Rockstar the sole guilty party here, and can the GPS problem only be attributed to sandbox games? No. It's seen elsewhere. Mario Kart on the DS not only has a GPS, it has a whole screen full of info overkill devoted to it. You can literally play the game without looking at the top screen, as all the information you need (in fact even more than the main screen, as you can see the goddamn shells approaching from behind, or the banana skins up front, rather than just simple blips of other players and an outline of the course) is shown through the touch screen. And it destroys the game.
 
Admittedly, the situation in RDR eventually remedies itself. Even after playing only a few hours, I have a pretty good idea how to get from the Ranch to Armadillo without worrying about the map. I imagine it will carry over as I further explore New Austin.
 
Coming to a conclusion, can there be a solution to this in RDR? Is it possible to assist navigation without ruining the visual experience? I think in the bombcast, Brad noted that RDR wasn't "Fallout 3 enough" for him. I think he may be on to something, as the navigation aid in that game was just a simple compass on the HUD which lit up with simple markers indicating nearby stuff. To a much lesser degree, Borderlands had something similar. In both instances, your view isn't ruined by a GPS. You're being fed location info, but you still have to look around for what you're after.
 
But having something like that is at odds with RDR's storyline. Marston isn't a nameless blank slate crawling out of a vault, he's fully acquainted with the Wild West and New Austin. Having him do laps up and down the world map finding locations like in Fallout 3 would be laughable.
 
What else might be able to help? Can aspects of Batman: Arkham Asylum's "Detective Vision" possibly lend a hand here? Marston, again, isn't a greenhorn to the Wild West, so what about some sort of "Tracking Vision" to accompany his Dead Eye quick draw mechanic? He can already skin animals and, given the context, you'd think along with that skill he should be able to find his way around without a map or compass. 
 
This might sound a ridiculous stretch, but what about Zelda's fairy mechanic? Could that  sparkly ball be manifested into something that would help but not be completely at odds with RDR's time period? How about playing on the tracking thing again? Give Marston an eagle as a navigation tool (as opposed to shooting them out of the sky) and have it reveal some nearby territory in the distance? But with this idea lies the rub of Marston having to maintain another animal along with his horse.
 
It's clear Rockstar doesn't want you to be pausing the game constantly to check the map, but finding an alternative to compliment, yet not interfere with the main game is something that may never be attainable. I'm extremely interested to hear what you all might have to say on this matter.

Boiling down my criticism - Dude, it's a fucking GPS; they didn't have TomToms back then. 
 
Thanks for reading.

39 Comments
40 Comments
Posted by dudeglove

Having acquired Red Dead Redemption just the other day, I find again that I'm plagued by the recurring problem that is rampant in many video games lately, and not just the sandbox ones - the GPS mechanic.
 
When the GPS mechanic first reared its head in video games - I can't remember who it can be attributed to, but I think it's safe to say the GTA franchise solidified it in the industry's minds - it was neat. It was a sneaky way of approaching exploration issues in open world games, meaning developers no longer had to break their adventures into separate levels and instead create a "living" world to fill with hidden packages and easter eggs. But, much like anything, it was too good to be true.
 
Why? Because, having only played Red Dead Redemption for a few hours, the GPS is literally doing everything for me, which is a real shame.
 
For those not versed in RDR or don't have the opportunity to play it, it's a good looking game. No, wait, scratch that. RDR is a fantastic looking game. It's not as horribly 'brown' as its sandbox predecessors, and for the past couple of hours I've put into it, there's always something going on in this sandbox world.  For a place that's meant to be mostly desert and inhabitable, there sure is a hell of a lot of shit going on.
 
So why am I bitching about GPS? It's because the GPS is ruining the beauty of RDR for me. When traveling between destinations with your quest markers or self placed waypoints, the not-very-obnoxious-but-certainly-visible GPS will kindly lay out a golden trail for you of the fastest route on horse back between A and B. And invariably my eyes are gravitating more to the lower-left corner of the screen, rather than admiring both the gloriousness of the New Austin landscape and my steed's backside. Sure there's pop-up that Rockstar would rather you not notice, but at least it's darn good looking pop-up, partner. It's become such an issue for me that I'm struggling to stop glancing at the all-knowing circle in the corner every five seconds.
 
Is Rockstar the sole guilty party here, and can the GPS problem only be attributed to sandbox games? No. It's seen elsewhere. Mario Kart on the DS not only has a GPS, it has a whole screen full of info overkill devoted to it. You can literally play the game without looking at the top screen, as all the information you need (in fact even more than the main screen, as you can see the goddamn shells approaching from behind, or the banana skins up front, rather than just simple blips of other players and an outline of the course) is shown through the touch screen. And it destroys the game.
 
Admittedly, the situation in RDR eventually remedies itself. Even after playing only a few hours, I have a pretty good idea how to get from the Ranch to Armadillo without worrying about the map. I imagine it will carry over as I further explore New Austin.
 
Coming to a conclusion, can there be a solution to this in RDR? Is it possible to assist navigation without ruining the visual experience? I think in the bombcast, Brad noted that RDR wasn't "Fallout 3 enough" for him. I think he may be on to something, as the navigation aid in that game was just a simple compass on the HUD which lit up with simple markers indicating nearby stuff. To a much lesser degree, Borderlands had something similar. In both instances, your view isn't ruined by a GPS. You're being fed location info, but you still have to look around for what you're after.
 
But having something like that is at odds with RDR's storyline. Marston isn't a nameless blank slate crawling out of a vault, he's fully acquainted with the Wild West and New Austin. Having him do laps up and down the world map finding locations like in Fallout 3 would be laughable.
 
What else might be able to help? Can aspects of Batman: Arkham Asylum's "Detective Vision" possibly lend a hand here? Marston, again, isn't a greenhorn to the Wild West, so what about some sort of "Tracking Vision" to accompany his Dead Eye quick draw mechanic? He can already skin animals and, given the context, you'd think along with that skill he should be able to find his way around without a map or compass. 
 
This might sound a ridiculous stretch, but what about Zelda's fairy mechanic? Could that  sparkly ball be manifested into something that would help but not be completely at odds with RDR's time period? How about playing on the tracking thing again? Give Marston an eagle as a navigation tool (as opposed to shooting them out of the sky) and have it reveal some nearby territory in the distance? But with this idea lies the rub of Marston having to maintain another animal along with his horse.
 
It's clear Rockstar doesn't want you to be pausing the game constantly to check the map, but finding an alternative to compliment, yet not interfere with the main game is something that may never be attainable. I'm extremely interested to hear what you all might have to say on this matter.

Boiling down my criticism - Dude, it's a fucking GPS; they didn't have TomToms back then. 
 
Thanks for reading.

Posted by Rowr

Yeh, its better with it off. Good thing theres an option to.

Posted by owl_of_minerva
A solid argument, and I agree. Why not have a stylised map you pull up with a button press? It kind of breaks the immersion of recreating a (at least mostly) realistic setting when you're constantly reminded that you're in a game that has a mechanic based on the anachronistic assumption you're driving a car.
However, given how badly people complained about being given a map in Farcry 2, not everyone wishes to prioritise exploration over ease of use I suppose. Personally, I find that there's little sense of adventure going from waypoint to waypoint and it lessens the sense of immersion I have in the game space.
Posted by dudeglove
@Rowr: I had no idea. Thanks for pointing it out.
Posted by Capum15

I can see your point, but I never found it to effect me in any game.

Posted by Zero_

Yeah, it's a problem that I hope gets remedied. I actually stopped playing Batman because I spent the entire time in Detective Mode and was spending too much time lost without it.

Posted by ThePhantomnaut

This happened since Grand Theft Auto III.

Posted by rufusgerm

I was just thinking about this issue today as I was playing RDR. Reading through your post I'm reminded of a good "guide mechanic" that doesn't take away from the beauty of the game: Oblivion/Fallout 3. There is a singular blip on the screen that simply moves side-to-side as you change directions in relation to your destination. Navigating to the waypoint is left completely up to you (Freedom!). The main point of contention here is the fact that Oblivion/Fallout 3 are First-Person and GTA/RDR (obviously) aren't. I was also reminded of the guide that is available in Fable 2 (not sure if it's in the first one). The glowing line in front of you is sort of a step in the right direction for Third-Person games, although it can still feel a little like you're just focusing on the line right in front of you. Also the line glows in too much of a fantastical (that's right I said fantastical!) fashion to fit in with very many genres of games. There has to be a clever way to implement the guide mechanic from Oblivion into Third-Person games as well...   

Just my two cents. 
 
Great post.

Posted by Jazz

I still get lost without it, but I agree totally. 
A tracking vision. or perhaps a map like they used in Far Cry 2 would have been more appropriate. Even Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 handles it better in my opinion. Hold a button to look in the correct direction.
This is a massive game though, in both size and popularity. A lot of people who play this won't be..ahem..'hardcore' gamers, and as such will benefit greatly from the map. 
At least Rockstar give you the you option to turn it off. 
 
On a side note...Fallout 3? Really Brad? 
Sigh.

Posted by davidwitten22

A compass would be cool. It would make sense with the game, fit in the corner of the screen,etc.

Posted by jim_dandy

Guilty of this in Assassin's Creed 2. It's a shame considering the amazing cityscapes.

Posted by SuperfluousMoniker

This kind of thing is a blessing and a curse. I was playing Bioshock 2 recently and that game, by default, has a great big 'quest arrow' permanently directing you to your next objective. In a way it's nice, because it's hard to get lost, but at the same time it sucks the fun of exploration out of the game. I would find myself just following the arrow instead of looking around for hidden stuff.

Posted by dudeglove
@davidwitten22:  No no, the point is to have nothing in the corners. It detracts from the visuals.
Posted by SPACETURTLE

Guh, was a little too long read for me now at the moment -- sorry. Still fairly early over here. Anywho, I get what you're saying. I made the same statement about the GPS taking away the focus of the scenery and exploration of the beautiful world. I totally would appreaciate a new concept for waypoint help. Figuring out where to go in RDR may be a little too hard without the GPS system in some cases, considering all the great big mountains that surrounds the landscape in especially Mexico makes it hard to navigate around to the destination without wasting to much time.

The simple compas in Fallout 3 works well because of the level design, but in RDR, I feel like the GPS is nessecary. Or else it would take to long to get on the right track without wasting too much time. On the other hand, then you would get to explore more. I don't know. I'd be very positive to a new take on the GPS system in games myself. A system that makes it "easy" to get around quick, but doesn't hold your hand too much would be ideal.

Posted by DaemonicGrim

I've not actually considered this a problem... in open world games I tend to play two ways. I will bash through the storyline - making the GPS a wonderful and fast way to progress. And I will explore finding stuff to do and collectables to hunt - in which case there is no GPS as there is no active mission. I admit that the GPS can be ugly or distracting but at the same time it's very functional and it's only on during missions or if you set a waypoint. If you're on a mission then really you should be hauling ass anyway to get stuff done rather than pussyfooting around all the way there (you're trying to get back your wife and kid for goodness sake) But if you're not on a mission you're in chill mode and you can skip amongst the daisies til your hearts content or a cougar kills you. I know I did... 
 
what I'm trying to say is: don't hate the GPS, it's only doing what it's told. And you can politely ask it to leave anyway. 
 
side note: loved oblivion exploration, hated fallout 3 exploration. Not sure if it's having a horse to speed me up or the nature of the scenery but playing those two games of such similar nature feels like a massively different experience to me. Farcry 2 had it pretty well done too but again, it didn't suit everyone.

Posted by Chronologist

I agree. I also stopped using waypointing to find my way around in RDR, but still use the map to look for blue dots, plants etc.. 
 
I'm thinking that maybe an audio guided system would be nice, like some GPS's in GTAIV, and also that one mission where one guy was guiding you around..   
It really made me look to the directions he asked, instead of just mindlessly turning.  
I do not know how that would work in a game like RDR though..

Online
Posted by dudeglove
@jim_dandy:  True, but Assassin's Creed II had the... umm... eagle viewpoints, or whatever they're called. The places you climb up high to unlock the map and get a massive panorama to boot. I think it was the game's way of telling you to take in the vista they've created - and it worked, at least for me.
Posted by Ujio
@dudeglove said:
Boiling down my criticism - Dude, it's a fucking GPS; they didn't have TomToms back then.   Thanks for reading. "
Dude it's a GAME. Get over it.
Posted by Tebbit
@Ujio said:
" @dudeglove said:
Boiling down my criticism - Dude, it's a fucking GPS; they didn't have TomToms back then.   Thanks for reading. "
Dude it's a GAME. Get over it. "
That's an awful critique. 
 
GPS's are BS, in GTA4 it basically forced you to look at it, thanks to that "best route" thing. I say have a little on-screen blip. Screw the map entirely, except for in pause screens. It means you learn the environment better, and it actually adds to the game. Whereas in GTA4 there was a moment when I realised that despite having driven to my safehouse numerous times, I didn't recognise the landscape at all. I knew you had to turn left, but there are lots of lefts before that one, I had no idea which one it was. Thats not very engrossing at all.
Posted by Claude

The option to use the GPS should still be in there, but a compass that you pulled up in game would be cool. Imagine pulling up a compass while seeing it in the characters hand. They could still put markers on it for your desired location, but that would be a good trade-off.

Posted by fwylo
@dudeglove: I use it. But don't depend on it.  When something like that pops up.  I'll open up the large map, and look at the general path I have to take to get there.  Then I just ride the trails in that direction until I get there.  If I get lost or confused as to which way I should be going I may quickly glance at the bottom left or pull up the big map again.  It helps me to concentrate on other things than just the mini-map.  And you learn the game world a lot better that way; I can pretty much navigate it without looking at the map already.   
 
I feel like just because it is there people are using it.  But you don't have to rely on it.  It is there to show the lazy players the exact trail, and also to show the ones who just want to speed through it, how to do it the quickest way possible.  If you're taking your time and enjoying all aspects of the game like you probably should be, then don't feel like you have to rely on it just because it is there.  Just use it as a little reminder in the back of your head.
Edited by agentboolen
@dudeglove:   Yep I kind of agree with you that your eyes tend to get glued on to that dumb device.  In fact in GTA4 I actually had a complaint that I could never hear the voice over the Radio stations, I think the radio sound levels had them joined.  Only way to fix it was to not have any radio at all, which was the way I played my missions thanks R*.  I would much rather have the GPS say where to turn then actually having to look in the lower left at it.  
 
Hey ever play Burnout Paradise???  That GPS is the funniest one I have ever seen, try looking at it while driving 200mph, you'll almost always crash!!!
Posted by Jazz
@agentboolen:  
God, don't get me started on Burnout Paradise. 
ergh.
Posted by jim_dandy
@dudeglove: My tunnel vision was mostly my own fault, but I managed to recognize what I was doing halfway through the game and I tried to travel by sight instead of by map every once in a while.
Posted by PureRok

I don't see how this "ruins" video games. Just don't use it. Problem solved. If something so small is "ruining" video games for you... well, you need to reevaluate your priorities.

Posted by sarahsdad

I don't see anything wrong with it, but in the vein of discussing subtler things they could have done, what about something similar to the follow the leader mode when you're riding a story mission? 
 
Ex: Go into the map, set a waypoint, then go back to the game. As long as you're on a road, and don't touch the left stick, your horse will now follow the path at whatever speed you set. Like in the story missions, you can always steer off the path if you want to, and then the horse is totally under your control. 
This would also be nice because then you could spend more time looking around while you're riding. Not sure if it's just me, but I've gone diving off the path more than a few times from panning around and not watching the trail.

Posted by Jack_Daniels
@dudeglove: I like reading well thought out and well written posts like yours. I'll agree that you are somewhat right. I just stare at the gps and guide my arrow around.
Edited by agentboolen
@Jazz said:

" @agentboolen:  God, don't get me started on Burnout Paradise. ergh. "

I wasn't able to complete the course till they gave that update that let you keep replaying the races.  At least that way you could kind of do it old school and try to remember land marks....  But yea I know what you mean I love and Hated that game at the same time, only EA can figure a way to turn a great series into that.
Posted by RobotHamster

I'm guessing it's to make the game more accessible for those who want to do as much as possible but don't have the time and for those who feel more comfortable with it on, and if there's an option to turn it off then thats great for those who want a greater challenge. 

Posted by kishan6

you dont have to use the gps 
well in many games 
idk about rdr

Posted by Deusoma
@Tebbit said:
" Whereas in GTA4 there was a moment when I realised that despite having driven to my safehouse numerous times, I didn't recognise the landscape at all. I knew you had to turn left, but there are lots of lefts before that one, I had no idea which one it was. Thats not very engrossing at all. "
Funny you should mention that, while I knew Vice City like the back of my hand, I've had that problem in pretty much every open-world game since Saints Row invented the 'quickest route' thing for your GPS, since it's way easier to just set a point and follow the quickest route than to learn the layout of the land. But weirdly enough, despite the game featuring that exact same system, I actually know my way around New Austin in RDR really well, to the point where I just have to glance at the map to see which general area I'm in and I immediately know how to get to Armadillo, Bonnie's Ranch, etc. It's probably just because the world in RDR is a lot more minimalist than, say, Liberty City, but I'm still pleased that I can once again navigate pretty well without the computer helping me.
Posted by WinterSnowblind
@Jazz said:
" @agentboolen:  God, don't get me started on Burnout Paradise. ergh. "
This is more of an example of a genre that's totally unsuitable for being freeroaming.
 
Again, I think I'd prefer a simple arrow pointing to your location, rather than having the straight up path to follow.  The older GTA games did this, and I believe Saints Row was actually the first game to give you a proper GPS style system (though it may have been in something previously, this is the one that sticks out in my mind).  Makes it easier to find your way, but definitely detracts something from the experience.
 
I also have to seriously critisize Oblivion for completely destroying the free roaming/exploration element in the Elder Scrolls series.  Especially after they went to the effort of creating daily routines, etc, for NPC's.  What was the point when you constantly had a green arrow showing you exactly where to go?
Posted by RevolvingLezard

This kind of problem will always be there in a big, open world. You could become as callous as the original Fallout, booting you out into the world with the bare minimum and a vague idea of where to go. But making games accessible is priority number 1 for many developers, so I don't think this feature will disappear any time soon. 
 
It would be nice if it was integrated into the world a bit more, though.  Maybe being able to predict snippets of the future and that showing you where to go? Depends on the game and how inventive you are. Judging by the way Rockstar views it closest rival as the movies, I doubt we will see that kind of change.

Posted by RandomHero666

Without it.. people would get lost too easily, its a pretty big game afterall
Posted by Virago
@Rowr said:
" Yeh, its better with it off. Good thing theres an option to. "
Burn.
Posted by AndrewGaspar
@Zero_ said:
" Yeah, it's a problem that I hope gets remedied. I actually stopped playing Batman because I spent the entire time in Detective Mode and was spending too much time lost without it. "
Really? I found myself turning it off all the time so I could see Arkham Asylum as the developers intended... dirty, gritty, etc. I only turned it on when necessary. Of course, I wasn't too concerned about finding all of Riddlers and such.
Posted by Raiden36O

I STRONGLY disagree, having the GPS is great - makes finding your way through the world alot less frustrating. If you dont like the GPS then dont set a waypoint, thats pretty much what you want right? and why would they replace the GPS map with a compass? the GPS already is a compass, it has the North arrow swiveling around the outside- just use it that way if thats what you want.
 
Without the GPS the game would be alot more frustrating, and i know i personaly would spend alot of time paused looking at the map like i did in Burnout paradise and PS2 era GTA games: which seems like less fun than the occassional glance down to check you are on the correct path. In fact the lack of a GPS waypoint system was the reason i stopped playing Burnout paradise. I think its a vital edition to any open world game.

Posted by Zero_
@AndrewGaspar: Yeah I actually wanted to play it like you - to see the world they crafted, but I just found myself always having to go back into detective mode, so it was a bit annoying. A huge oversight on the developers' part I reckon.
Posted by Rowr
@Virago said:
" @Rowr said:
" Yeh, its better with it off. Good thing theres an option to. "
Burn. "
no no
 
I had the same problem with it until someone here pointed out it could be turned off.
Posted by ClaritySam

I really like the system in farcry 2 where your character holds up the map in game and I think it would have worked a treat in RDR, with or without an Oblivion style compass.  At least they didn't go with the glowing golden trail like in Fable 2, man that thing sucked!