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Stolen Pixels #69: A Lost Cause

By Shamus
on Tuesday Mar 3, 2009
Filed under:


Maybe it was just me. I dunno.

Comments (32)

  1. Sydney says:

    For being so devoted to immersion and the notion of “playing your character”, you sure do insist on certain HUD elements, even if your avatar is not in fact able to use them.

    Let me try to pick off a few things, which might save time later.

    I’m not opposed to targeting reticules in FPS games, because that’s a way of balancing out the fact that your avatar knows how to shoot. He or she likely does know where that gun is pointed. I’m also not opposed to “radar-style” maps, if your character actually has a HUD (so, fighter-pilot games, and characters like Samus who have high-tech helmets). But if you’re exploring a new area, and don’t have either a Scroll of Magic Mapping or some sort of short-range ESP, I don’t see why you should already know the layout of the area and the locations of everything in it.

    • Shamus says:

      Sydney: I can’t tell if you’re just razzing me or if you’re trying to call me out on some percieved hypocrisy.

      But it very much depends on the game. Games like Overlord and Dungeon Keeper are not exactly deep-immersion, role-playing games. (And wandering around lost is kind of an immersion-breaker in and of itself. )

      And in the comics, all bets are off. I’ll point out anything if I think I can make it funny, regardless of whether or not I think the design is sound.

  2. Primogenitor says:

    Ah, the “roleplaying is choosing not to do something, rather than not being able to do it due to the system” ideology compared to the “if your character cant do it, you cant do it” school of thought.

    Now, if it was toggleable in the options menu, I think that gives you the best of both worlds…

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:


    Well,to be fair,an ingame map and/or compas is needed to complete the immersion.I mean,you are playing a character that has lived in these lands for years,and he doesnt know where north is?Thats a bit unlikelly.So,either put in an ingame map,or ship you to a foreign country/give you amnesia,or make you play all those years from childhood.

  4. Sydney says:

    Oh, I see. Never having played Overlord, I never knew you’re supposed to already be familiar with the surroundings. I had it guessed as a “Veni Vidi Vici” conquest-and-subjugation game.

    And sorry for the clipped tone. I’ve never been any good at writing the way I speak; I get into this sort of trouble all the time, with people not being able to intuit my tone, for the simple reason that what I type up isn’t in my tone.

    But I’ve always thought this discussion – ease-of-access versus immersion – was something interesting. Just to try and tease it out a bit: What do you think about cases when you actually ARE playing an adventure-style game in which you have no good reason to know where you are? Do you still think it’s a justifiable trade-off, saving “wander” time in exchange for an intrinsic-but-unexplained Marauder’s Map?

    Personally, I think “no”. Mostly it’s because I’m a simulationist when I RP. Generally, I’m of the opinion that unless my character has a good reason to be able to do this, I shouldn’t be able to do it.

    One of the egregious cases, to me, has always been the mini-map in Fable. Why, exactly, can I walk into a long-sealed cavern, and instantly know the geography and population of the place? If there’d been a throwaway line about how my Hero Mojo gave me minor ESP, no problem.

    But otherwise, it’s like asking the GM “And what’s around that blind corner?” If he says anything other than “You can’t see around there from where you’re standing”, I’m going to feel robbed.

  5. Shinjin says:

    Sydney – consider a mini-map with fog of war enabled to constructing a mental map of places you’ve been. IMO the restricted view in games can make it difficult to form a real mental map.

  6. Sydney says:

    Oh, of course. I never took issue with the persistence of, say, the NetHack map. Memory and all.

    Now, if NetHack just gave you the full map to each floor the second you set foot there, even if you’d never been there before and had no line-of-sight to the majority of it? Shenanigans would be afoot.

    And a lot of games do exactly that.

  7. Daimbert says:

    Ultimately, in-game mechanisms — as others have said — are there to provide the player with information that the character already knows or should know. I’d have to calculate which way north is, but in real life I know precisely which way to go to get to the places I know. The compass and map may be a slightly too powerful method of simulating that.

    And here comes my typical Persona example: in Persona 4, this works out well in the dungeons because as you level up a certain characer, she gains the ability — always on — to scan your entire floor and reveal the treasures and, later, the monsters, so you know about them in advance. Without that, it’s all unrevealed until you enter the area, at which point it becomes revealed and you know what’s going on. So, yeah, you know basically what’s around the blind corner, but in-game it not only makes sense it’s an ability you have to gain.

  8. LintMan says:

    Sydney – I disagree as well. In reality, I’m able to see landmarks off in the distance and things in more than a 50 foot radius around me, and my view wouldn’t be from a perspective above and behind my head. I’d also be able to see footprints and a trail of dead enemies from where I’d already been, and small shrubs and low fences wouldn’t form impenetrable barriers.

    Providing a compass and minimap is hardly an immersion-breaker compared to that stuff – it’s just some compensation for other game limitations.

    • Shamus says:

      Sydney: What an interesting question! I think I need to take the coward’s route, the pathetic weasel-answer: “It depends.”

      Silent Hill is completely HUD free, and I think if they added a live map it would be harmful to the atmosphere. (The paper map is okay, though.)

      It depends on how action-y the game is, how linear the environments are, and how much immersion is a part of the game. A high-action game where it’s easy to get lost probably needs a good map to keep things moving. In a linear game, it’s just screen clutter. In a slow paced game, it might break immersion.

      But in defense of maps, they are helpful at making up for all the other handicaps you’re dealing with. I know peripheral vision is a big part of mapping out a space in real life. Just imagine how much easier it would be to become disoriented if you had blinders on. In a game, your 90 deg. field of view is pretty much blinders, and so you can lose your way more easily. (Copy & Paste level design doesn’t help either. )

  9. Sydney says:

    What if you’re in a cave? I’m not trying to argue, it’s just a tangential question. If your character has no way of seeing or knowing what’s around the corner, should the goblin lurking there appear as a red dot on your map anyway? Should your map even extend around that corner?

  10. Abnaxis says:

    There’s also another factor that has become slightly less prevalent in games of late: scenery. I can’t tell how many games I played where every hallway looked like ever other hallway, and I get lost because there are absolutely no notable unique landmarks to orient myself by. In real life, when I am someplace I’ve been before, I pick up on little things–the funny-shaped rock in someone’s front yard or the mural on the side of a building or the big curvy hill. If I tried to do that in Oblivion without a map, it would never work because every darned place looks exactly the same within the same locality.

    Also, sight isn’t your only sense. Some people don’t have big surround sound, and I appreciate red dots appearing at least slightly before I reach them so I’m not effectively completely deaf.

  11. Julian says:

    I think it really depends on the type of game. Silent Hill’s maps that you fill in as you go with your red marker (which EVERYONE seems to possess), or even better, the last map (the one at the church) is SH3, where your character would draw the walls and doors as she went. That was fantastic, and very realistic (same thing happened in caves in Oblivion, with the difference that it seems that your character is a master cartographer, able to draw out a satellite-style map of a cave as he goes)

  12. gtb says:

    …do you actually say “fiddlesticks?”

  13. Doug Sundseth says:

    I’ve been in hedge mazes, most of which are pretty simple, and I must say that getting lost is pretty easy. (Note that I chose not to use blinders; they’re not my kink. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. 8-) ) Complex corn mazes are much worse, even with a map. For realism, I have to say that HUDs give you way too much information.

    Now, that said, I strongly prefer HUDs, either with fogged unexplored areas or otherwise, because it’s more fun. I played Ultima III, and Bard’s Tale, and Might and Magic (and others). I don’t need to do any more blind fumbling in the dark (in computer games at least).

  14. Ha ha ha!

    That’s what you get for not allowing the player to choose the GENDER of their avatar in Overlord.

    No wonder your male avatar is getting lost, Shamus. We all know that women don’t get lost because they stop and ask for directions.


  15. Fosse says:


    “I mean,you are playing a character that has lived in these lands for years,and he doesnt know where north is?”

    I live in Chicago, which is a fairly easy city in which to orient yourself. The Skyscrapers are all clustered in one spot, with the two most identifiable ones being oriented from SW to NE. There is a gigantic lake that borders the east side of the city. The streets are laid out in a grid, with the numbers going up for North or West, and down for South and East. Everything about the city is SCREAMING at you to indicate your orientation, even if you assume a completely overcast sky with no sun, moon, or stars to see.

    And when you tell my friends, who have lived here for the better part of a decade, to walk “north” they are entirely confounded.

  16. Daemian Lucifer says:


    Not a really good analogy.I was talking about someone that lives in a place where everyone speaks in terms of north,west,south and east,and you are comparing it with people that live in a place where everyone speaks in terms of *insert names of buildings*.I too need some time to orient myself when someone says north,but when they say the name of a particular area of town,I know instantly where it is.

  17. Grimwauld says:

    I (and others, I’m sure) am perfectly capable of holding mapping aberration similar to popular HuDs. Thus I have never found HuDs to be “illegal” fmor an RP perspective – although when it magicaly contains creatures too far away for line of sight or hearing, I balk ;)

    Where do these ideas come from?
    From the oddballs who actually hold pictures of maps in their brain, and people who can’t who get jealous of some folk’s innate imaginary HuD.

    Sidenote (and example):
    I have a map in my mind’s eye of my buddy’s plumbing shop (covers a couple acres, boneyard, and other stuff) which is handy when I need to go traipsing through it to find him.
    Funny part: I play WoW, and it was 3am and I needed to find my buddy in the boneyard.
    Thinking the question, “Where’s Dorg?”, my eyes immediately drifted to the upper right hand corner of my vision…
    (WoW has a minimap in the upper right hand corner that shows where party members are)

  18. tdot says:

    Geez, how come I’ve never heard of this game? Seems pretty great. I’ll just get the demo off of Steam.
    And it seems to have some similarities to dungeon keeper, which happens to me one of my favorite games EVER.

  19. OEP says:

    I think of HUD elements as compensation for lack of peripheral vision. Personally I can’t stand first person games just due to lack of peripheral vision. And it is odd, there are very different types of immersion. I play WoW excessively, and I can get quite immersed, but it isn’t the “I’m grondor and I smash” type of immersion. It is more a “I am playing a cool game I am enjoying” type of immersion. And while UI elements may detract from the former, they certainly add to the latter. My wife has often commented that my WoW screen looks more like a spreadsheet than a game screen…

  20. Sam says:

    I don’t know if it was just me, but that was one of the funniest SP comics yet. I especially loved the thought of you, as the Overlord, saying “Fiddlesticks.”

    I haven’t played the game, but I think I might have to now. Brilliant work.

  21. Daemian Lucifer says:


    There is peripheral in mirrors edge.

  22. Kreek says:

    Personally, i find it easy to mentally map an fps in my brain, being as i wear glasses, my peripherals are allready obscured (by blur and glassesframe), you learn to adapt i guess, but then ive never had much problems finding my way around areas ive only been through once or twice

    on a related note, i never had all that much trouble finding things in overlord, its a fairly liniar game to start with, and the first thing i did when i got to spree was walk around the entire town killing people and easily head mapped it while doing so

    also, minions are fun

  23. Brian Ballsun-Stanton says:

    This actually caused me to physically laugh out loud. Full marks.

  24. DanK says:

    I will mention, that the PS3 bundle of Overlord : Raising Hell (which includes the expansion with the original game) has a built in minimap. I find it extremely useful. Why this was not included in the base game is beyond me.

    I would also like to mention this is one of the only instances I can think of where a PS3 game is superior to the X360 equivalent (GTAIV and Fallout3 download content, I’m pointing the blamestick squarely at you!)

  25. Mari says:

    I guess some people learn to adapt like Kreek but old blind-as-a-bat me can’t for the life of me keep a mental map. I can find places pretty much only after I’ve found them a few times on my own. It drives my poor husband batty. He drags me out in the country and loses me in a maze of dirt roads with no signs and “the dead tree” and “the oil derrick – no, the OTHER oil derrick” as my landmarks then can’t imagine why I can’t find my way back to that place six months later. If, however, he sits in the passenger seat and gives me directions while I drive I can usually find the place again with little difficulty. My body remembers motions instead of images I guess. Maybe that’s my adaptation for not being able to see a darned thing.

    So a mini-map is pretty much essential equipment for me in video games. I concede the fog of war point for realism but it’s handy to at least be able to see where I’ve been since “sitting on the sofa motionless and slack-jawed while one thumb nudges an analog stick” apparently doesn’t kick in my body memory. Unless it’s Pac-Man where my whole body moves with my disc-shaped avatar.

    By the way, you’re making it very difficult to stomach my lack of 360, Shamus. I’m a sucker for games where I can give free reign to my more sadistic side. I still fire up Dungeon Keeper 2 from time to time just to be a baddy.

  26. Coyote says:

    Think we could get at least a non-work intensive review of Overlord one of these here days?

  27. Helios_CM says:

    Quite a few people (Shamus now included) voiced their displeasure in not having one in the original Overlord but I can confirm that the sequel will definately be having a mini-map! :)

  28. LintMan says:

    @Mari: You don’t need a 360 to play Overlord. I got it cheap for the PC quite a while back, though I don’t think the expansion is available on the PC.

    Also, the game is pure “console port”, so it does play better on the PC when using a 360 controller. The wired ones aren’t too expensive and there are other games that the 360 controller is useful for, though, so it’s not a bad investment.

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