Give me a map!

by Jennifer Vesperman

Here's me, wandering around on a Quake map. Or is it Half-Life? Cube? Counterstrike? Tomb Raider? Doom?

It's dark. There are spots of reds or oranges, flashes of metallic blues and grays, and either green goop or red lava to fall into. Which room am I in? I don't know. Which level? No idea. Which game?

Dancer (my husband) knows. He can glance at my screen and tell me how to get to the recharge point. 'You go right from there, third left, keep going till you get to the lab, then go down the stairs. You should know the way from there.'

Lab? Which room was the lab? My brain is busy. I'm checking for movement, watching patterns of light and shade. I'm faster at spotting monsters than he is, and I have the patience and the reactions to be a good sniper. If I don't get lost going between snipe spots. But I get lost.

Give me a map and I'm fine. Sometimes all it takes is a glance at a map, so I have an idea of the overall structure of the area. Once I have the top-down view to hook it onto, I know where I'm going and what I'm doing. Most of the first-person shooters don't provide maps. Why not? Is there a technical reason? Or is it part of the 'immersion'?

Some people think in spatial relationships, navigating by creating a grid in their head and mapping the game world onto that. They just know that this level is shaped like a hexagon with links at the north-east and south-east edges. Others don't. Some navigate by landmarks - and games can't provide the quality of landmark that the real world has. Have you ever smelt a particular scent and known just where you must be?

People who can't make mental maps of game worlds are at a distinct disadvantage in first person shooters - especially in capture-the-flag or fox-and-hounds sorts of games.

Cycling maps, usually touted as a way to resolve this disadvantage, actually makes it worse for me. Just as I'm starting to get a feel for the layout of the level, it's gone and I'm back at square one. Meanwhile, those with the right mindset have it figured out in the first round on the new map. Or that's what they say.

Having a map available would resolve much of this disadvantage. Unless you are intentionally selecting for spatially-oriented minds (and it's fine if you are, you have to make design decisions somewhere!), consider making a map available.

And watch your back. I'm hiding up here, waiting for you.

Do you need a map? Do you want maps to be available? How does your mind think?


2002-11-30 21:59:29
2003-03-06 03:18:40
Topographical cretinism
(Russian folklore - no offence meant)
Aha! I thought that my spacial awareness of 0 or so was a joke of nature, but noooo! There are people like that around! :)
Although those "normal" folks look weirdly at me when I operate in left/right/up/down terms of a map rather than west/east etc of a "real" world.
And I used Dancer once too - for drawing a rough map to get out of a disgustingly implemented 3D labyrinth (where movements are really weird and some strange angle move-turns etc).
Maps Rule!!