Bigger Is Not Better: On Videogame Maps.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 7.236% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I get lost going to the bathroom.  So in general, I dislike huge games with terrible waypoints, as I just wind up unsure which way to go (I’m looking at you, Arkham City).
But gamers seem to love huge maps.  If it’s huge, it must be awesome!  Look at this Grand Theft Auto 5 map, it’s bigger than anything they’ve ever done!  GTA is gonna be soooooo good!
Hold your horsepower there, chief.
Big maps are not automatically awesome.  What’s important is what you can do with them.  I found Grand Theft Auto IV to be a snooze because so much of the big, big map was actually just vaguely different scenery for a new swathe of no gameplay.  Yes, I could drive past slightly browner buildings, but there still wasn’t anything to do.  (Aside from the available-anywhere “murder civilians, get into a fight with the cops.”)
Whereas one of the reasons I liked Saints Row so much is that it had a big map, but I kept tripping over mini-missions.   Wander for a while?  Here’s a power-up hidden beneath a house!  Here’s a race!  Here’s an audio clip!  The exploring meant something, providing plentiful rewards.
I think of Half-Life, which had teeny, constricted maps where exploring was nonexistent, but it was still a hell of a game because each cramped corner funnelled you into another semi-interactive experience.  People remembered Half-Life because there was always something happening, and “something happening” is the core of a game experience.  Give me a big map filled with emptiness, like a lot of sandbox games have these days, and all you’ve managed to do is shamelessly pad the game.  Oh, now it’s three minutes to drive to the next mission instead of one!  How.  Awesome.
“A big map” is like “a big dick” – potentially exciting, sure, a technological breakthrough, but you still have to know how to use it.

1 Comment

  1. Susan Montgomery
    Sep 17, 2013

    The best games have always balanced freedom and linearity. “Doom” was the best example in that you could poke around exploring the maps or just breeze right through for par times. WoW had that same flexibility on a grand scale.
    If you haven’t done so, check out STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl for a great map experience.

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