Thursday 26 March 2015

Design: Empty / Scaled Maps

[Part of my MMO Design folder.]

Do you like empty maps?

I have a quick test for you all! Picture yourself running through a large zone in one of your games. Of the two versions below, which do you prefer?

A) The map is almost fully devoid of enemies, NPCs, and items to interact with and only serves as "travel time" from point A to B.

B) The map has a lot of NPCs you can interact with. Some to talk to. Some quest givers. Some to fight against.

Personally, I pick option B, because option A is stupid. Even if you are trying to show the scale of something having a player move through an otherwise empty map is not fun. Some good examples of this - Assassin's Creed 3 underground and getting out into the styx in Project Zomboid. There's lots of ground to cover. By walking. And walking. And walking. That's so exci..zzzzzzzzz....

One of the tips when designing Neverwinter Online Foundries is to not scale your maps unless there's something of interest there. You have a huge castle? Awesome. It better be filled with lore, explorable stuff, important details and/or NPCs. If the only room with interaction is a room in the highest tower then screw everything in between. Design it so the player goes immediately there (or at least has a clear option to) or prepare for a low score.

Unlike a tabletop D&D session where time and movement are really dependent on the dungeon master, computer games where you are literally controlling every step of a character takes can get boring and tiring quickly (if that is all you are doing), especially when moving through "purely decorative" environments. What do you think? Do you agree?


  1. Definitely option B for me too. I appreciate exploring a game's world and environmental storytelling as much as the next person but that is something that has to be carefully done otherwise you will end up with some very bored players in your hands.

    For instance having a few rooms showing that things went terribly wrong can build anticipation when the players get to the last room and find the culprit. It does not work however if the players have to go through a lot of rooms with nothing but grey brick too or they have to pass through 10 linear rooms of nothing but broken furniture and dead bodies. Pacing like in any good story is vital.

    1. Thanks for the comment Rakuno! I should have thought up that pacing point, but the pirate penguin (your avatar) has outdone me again! ;p