Games

Get Rid of the Mini-map

If I'm looking at a mini-map instead of the world around me, it's not actually helping.

Minimaps can be helpful, but for some games (or most games, for me personally) they can be too helpful. Since a mini-map usually gives you more information about your surrounding than the surroundings themselves, I usually find myself navigating a world using the mini-map exclusively. This first became apparent as I played through Final Fantasy X, the first Final Fantasy game to have 3D environments. I’m sure they looked incredible, other people seemed to think so, but I never really noticed because I spent most of the time staring at the mini-map when I ran around each level. The word could be confusing, paths split into multiple parts and all of them looked the same. Whereas, the mini-map was a simple top-down view that stripped away all of that beautiful, confusing graphical detail.

A similar thing happened for me with GTA IV. Since the mini-map always drew a line to my destination, I rarely watched the road when I drove. As a result, I never got a good feel for the city, I never learned the roads, I never came across recognizable streets, and every time that I took my eyes off the mini-map I got lost. In both cases, the mini-maps were so effective that they prevented me from appreciating the world at large.

Two great games released in the latter months of 2011 could have been ruined (or at least brought down a peg) by overly effective mini-maps, but thankfully they avoided this fate with some smart design choices.

Saints Row: The Third has a mini-map similar to the one in GTA IV, except that it doesn’t over-explain things. It never gives more information than what you can see in the world itself. Whenever you set a marker on the GPS the game finds the best route, like all GPS devices in all open world games, but in Saints Row, path markers appear in the world as well. Giant flashing arrows float before every intersection, as if this were an arcade racing game, but players can still drive through these arrows without crashing. Since Steelport is an open world, the game just updates your route with new arrows at the next intersection. You can still explore the city, and you’re free to look for shortcuts (which the GPS remembers). The game just makes the fastest route very obvious.

The benefit of this system is that I don’t spend much time, if any, looking at the mini-map while I drive. Instead I look at the road in front of me, and over the course of a couple dozen hours, I come to learn the city well. And for this game in particular, it means I can spend more time focusing on the many driving challenges: weaving through oncoming traffic, running over pedestrians, powersliding around corners, etc. Now that I don’t have to worry about directions, I’m free to better embrace the craziness of this world.

During combat, nearby enemies appear as red dots, as you’d expect from a game like this. It’s easy to keep track of baddies even in the most hectic of firefights, but the map isn’t something that you can rely on exclusively because not all of those red dots are actually shooting at you. In Saints Row, you’ll find cops and rival gangsters casually roaming the streets, and they’ll leave you alone if you do the same. But the moment that you attack them, they call in backup and pretty soon you’re fighting an army. If you just use the mini-map to locate enemies, you’re likely to aggravate otherwise peaceful enemies like this, making life just a little bit harder. It’s important to look before you shoot. Otherwise, you might accidentally start a war with the cops just as you’re finishing up a war with the other gangs.

Skyrim is the other game to avoid the pitfalls of the mini-map, mainly due to its compass, a navigation element Bethesda first introduced in their games in Fallout 3. Its goal is the same. Allow the user to see, at a glance, important things in the environment. Where the compass succeeds however (and the mini-map fails) is that the former only shows what’s directly in front of you. Yes, the icon of a cave will appear long before you actually see that cave, and you could just walk towards that icon, watching it grow bigger until you discover the cave for real, but the moment that you turn away, the icon disappears from the compass. By limiting your view like this, Bethesda forces players to pay attention to the environment even if their eyes never leave the compass. The mere act of turning imbues the player with a sense of place: There’s a cave to the north, a town to the south, a castle to the west; I’m thinking about this world in terms that describe a physical space around me, rather than in the flat terms (up, down, left, right) that describe the top-down 2D view that you’d get with a mini-map.

The compass can be abused, as I previously described, but the game tries to limit the effectiveness of this abuse with winding roads that circle up mountains and a plethora of wild animals that can’t wait to eat you. Both things force you to look at the world instead of the compass.

The local map is also utterly dreadful. It’s good for getting the lay of a new town, but it’s useless in dungeons. The map just looks like a mess of intersecting lines that don’t form any recognizable landscape features. It’s impossible to glean any sense of space from it. This can be frustrating when I’m looking for the door that leads out of a dungeon and keep getting turning around, but in retrospect. I’m always glad that I got lost -- not because I stumble across some hidden treasure but because getting lost forces me to pay attention to the layout of this cave. I change how I move through the world, I become more methodical by creating a mental map rather than relying on one that’s been provided.

Skyrim not only encourages exploration, it demands it. This is not a game that’s going to help you find your way (through a cave) and that is part of the game’s appeal. Not having a "god map" in dungeons and no mini-map overall forces us to become more aware of our surroundings.

If I'm looking at a mini-map instead of the world around me, it's not actually helping. Personally, I’m glad that Skyrim and Saints Row back off a bit from the "over helpful" mini-maps. I don’t need to know about every interactive item in my immediate vicinity. Besides, a world is always so much prettier than the map.

 

You can follow the Moving Pixels blog on Twitter.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image