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Eliminating the boredom in overworld map exploration

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I noticed something in the past couple of games I've played (Skies of Arcadia: Legends and The Legend of Zelda: WindWaker). Both of these games had huge overworlds, and in both cases it was boring as hell when you were trying to get from one point to another. So I started thinking, what can one do to keep this situation from occuring? There's probably not a solution for all cases, as a good solution must be tailored to the nature of the game itself, but we can at least brainstorm some more generic ideas. Here's some that I've thought of: > 1. Have a sort of "mini-game" during exploration to keep the player actively thinking. They sort of did this in WindWaker, where suddenly barrels would pop up out of the water and you'd have to steer your boat in-between them to collect a (very small) sum of ruppees. But that occurence was so infrequent and the rewards so slim that it almost wasn't even worth pursuing. > 2. Require some sort of dynamic key pressing that the user needs to propel their vehicle. What comes to my mind here is a player sailing on a ship. To account for wind currents, tidepools, ocean currents, etc., the player would constantly need to enter random key combinations to propel the ship faster. Otherwise the journey would be long and slow... > 3. Let the player activate a direction and let them do other things while their sprite moves. Often on world maps, you have long stretches of land/sea/air to cover and constantly holding down the "left" button isn't a whole lot of fun. What I was thinking here (in terms of an RPG) was letting a player 'double-tap' a button which would keep the sprite moving in the given direction without having to hold down the button. While the sprite is moving along their way, the player can perhaps open up a mini-menu to check their character stats, inventory, etc. until a battle occurs, or the sprite reaches their destination. Well those are some tentative ideas. I'm not sure if any of them could be used effectively, but I'd like to think that they at least have some amount of potential. I hope we can have an active discussion on this problem and share ideas for solutions with each other. [smile]

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Just some humble suggestions:
1 and 2 could be just as boring and even more tredious, if used repetatively. Number 3 could work, but really if there is nothing to do in that part of the world, why bother to include it in the first place? You might as well have the game cross-fade to the next exciting location.
If you want players to hike a trail, put interesting things along the way, but arrange it so the player doesn't have to keep going back and forth along the same route.

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1) Doesn't sound to exciting.
2) Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
3) More on the track I think. Perhaps make use of what other genre's use, waypoints (as opposed to just moving in one direction while interfacing with other menus). And as with what Kelly G said. Have things along the way to make it interesting. Hidden areas that do not normally appear on the map. Also many games include items, spells, etc. that will take the player back to previously visited locations. But I think if you want the main world to be an enviornment to be explored and something other than just a more realistic view on distances and random encounters, that you have to make it worth their time and exhausting effort. Offer special items or foes and such in the out of the way areas not shown on the map. Even maybe special NPC interactions or side missions/quests that can only be obtaind in certain areas of the overworld.

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Think Wing Commander's auto pilot or Fallout's overworld map.

Wing Commander's auto pilot took zero wall clock time to get to the interesting part. Of course, if something happened along the way (enemies, asteroids, etc.) it pulled you out of auto pilot.

Fallout's overworld map was a separate thing from the rest of the game. It was a map with locations. You told it the location you wanted to travel to and you moved fairly quickly as far as the wall clock was concerned. It would stop you for random encounters.

Basically, my two favorite solutions are:
1) Make overworld travel less tedious by making less overworld. Make the map smaller but denser. This makes travel times both shorter and more interesting.

2) If you really must have a large overworld map, make travel across it instantaneous as far as my wall clock is concerned. Even if I don't have to manually control the character (e.g. hold left) those're still minutes that I could be spending with my guitar, with my friends, playing someone else's game, etc.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
-Final Fantasy Tactics: Might be a poor example for making the overworld exciting, because there -was- no overworld. Great gmae.

-Shadowrun for Genesis. You could walk through the city if you wanted to - took a while, but there were all kinds of places to visit inbetween. If you just needed to get somewhere, call a cab.

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Type 1: I don't like it. The Wind Waker thing was neat, but not much of a diversion. Besides, only Shigeru Miyamoto can get away with that kind of whimsical immersion-breaking stuff.

Type 2: Really, any kind of real-time game in which quick travel is an option uses a system like this. I like the idea of a sailing ship, but why abstract it? Why not make your players tack and spill wind and do all the other rope-hauling and knot-tying that a sailboat requires? Heck, in a square-rigged ship, you'd be able to combine #2 and #3, and have all the crew management and plotting and what-have-you to do while your ship moves. Heck, you'd consider time in port "down time", just as sailors do.

Or just make travelling fun. If it took me an hour and a half to get from one end of San Andreas to another, I was okay with that. If I'm in a hurry, I drive straight there and refrain from shooting hookers. GTA also offered airplanes and trains and other zippy modes of transport, for when you're just traveling.

Spider-Man 2 was great for this. I liked web-swinging way more than the actual missions, and once you level a little and get some practice, you can go incredibly fast. Latch onto a chopper, pick up speed with a few big swings, then run along the side of a building and leap through the air at seventy miles per hour. Man, that was fun.

Type 3: X2 kept me busy with managing shipping routes and adjusting fighter squadrons' patrol schedules while I jaunted from station to station to collect jobs.

Other: In single-player games, you can use the Wing Commander fudge and just have an "autopilot" button that beams you to either your destination or some point at which you might want to take the controls, like an asteroid field or a blip on your radar.

X2 offered a time compression system, which was weakly explained with some super-technology. You can basically fast-forward the game. I played Excape Velocity at 2x speed all the time, unless I was fighting.

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One game I thought of that was pretty good with this is Arcanum. THe overworld was a map with locations noted on it and coordinates of where the pointer was. You would set waypoints on this may and travel there and sometimes uncovcer hidden areas (and random encounters) but the travel was very fast and still gave the impression of covering alot of distance as the sun/moon dial dipicting game time would spin in the upper corner. However, you could also play the overworld in the normal view by just heading off in any direction from a town (though it would take forever and I don't think there was any benifit from it). Over all this system did not make the overworld map boring.

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Though you might want to be careful of "hardcore rpg fan backlash". This is evident in the Oblivion forums, where there are still people screaming and moaning about the inclusion of a "fast travel" option in the upcoming game, which is similar to Fallout/BG/etc.'s overworld map, where you can click to go to a place you've already been to. The complaints are "It makes the game too easy and stupid! We should be forced to manually walk everywhere, because exploration is fun!" So... it's hard to say. I think certain things have become tedious to long-time fans of games, but other people still find them unique and interesting. There comes a point where you end up abstracting so much to get rid of tedium that you're not left with much game. Dungeon Siege 2 comes to mind... so much of combat, movement, and questing was abstracted to get rid of tedium that there's hardly any actual "game"... most of your time is spent just sitting back holding down the right mouse button for "auto kill everything on the screen" and then listening to dialogue.

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I know this may sound a bit weird, but how about giving the player the ability to purchase short stories, that pertain to the storyline, that the player can read when going to their destination?

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Original post by makeshiftwings
Though you might want to be careful of "hardcore rpg fan backlash". This is evident in the Oblivion forums, where there are still people screaming and moaning about the inclusion of a "fast travel" option in the upcoming game, which is similar to Fallout/BG/etc.'s overworld map, where you can click to go to a place you've already been to. The complaints are "It makes the game too easy and stupid! We should be forced to manually walk everywhere, because exploration is fun!" So... it's hard to say. I think certain things have become tedious to long-time fans of games, but other people still find them unique and interesting. There comes a point where you end up abstracting so much to get rid of tedium that you're not left with much game. Dungeon Siege 2 comes to mind... so much of combat, movement, and questing was abstracted to get rid of tedium that there's hardly any actual "game"... most of your time is spent just sitting back holding down the right mouse button for "auto kill everything on the screen" and then listening to dialogue.


I interpret this to mean that there wasn't much "game" in the first place. Taking out the travel time in Fallout wasn't a problem because there was so much to do at your destination. Seriously, if there's not much left after taking out the "hold left for five minutes", then there wasn't that much to begin with.

I don't buy the "exploration" thing, either. What am I going to find from exploration? Some side quest or backstory? But I'm already doing this side quest or backstory, and the sooner I finish this the sooner I'll be able to explore that new one. Fallout had random interesting things pop up as you wandered the overworld map. If you're into the "hold left hoping to randomly find some new area" thing, Fallout replaced that with "randomly click the world map and randomly find new areas". Or am I going to find some "incredible" scenery? Man, if you think that's good, you should look out your window some time or *gasp* step outside!

As for your Dungeon Seige 2 example (which I haven't played), I disagree if you're saying "You can take the removal of tedium too far" but I agree if you're saying "Removing tedium is one aspect of making a good game, but not the only one". It sounds like removing tedium was their only goal and, thus, produced a tedious game. Final Fantasy Tactics is a good example of removing tedium but keeping the game interesting. The game was about the tactical combat, so they took out otherwise tedious bits (e.g. walking around for five minutes to finally see some combat) and focused on making the game's focus more interesting (e.g. creating an interesting job system that led to interesting choices related to the battles you would fight).

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Quote:
Original post by zealotgi
I know this may sound a bit weird, but how about giving the player the ability to purchase short stories, that pertain to the storyline, that the player can read when going to their destination?


The library serves a similar purpose for me. :)

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Guest Anonymous Poster
I love the Final Fantasy games, I have not played too many of the newer ones but they had you staring on foot where each location was in a somewhat linear path so you really did not need to go back to the beginning.

When you needed to cross bigger spaces, they gave you faster vechicles such as a dune buggy, boat, etc, and eventually an airship, spaceship.

As far as Zelda Windwalker Game Play Cons are concerned, I wont touch the cell-shading topic:
There was just too much ocean.
That awful wind changing whistle made navigating that sailboat horrible.

I gave up on the game after having my life up to 5-6 hearts. I remember getting to the underwater Hyrule Castle.

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Personally, I like the way it was done in the SNES game Final Fantasy 3 (6) - the overworld is huge, but it is an extreme abstraction so you don't literally walk hundreds of miles of pixels. Instead, you walk a screen away over 30 seconds and you're at your destination. Later on, the are you need to travel is a longer distance away, but you have the airship so travel doesn't take any longer than it previously did.

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Original post by Way Walker
I interpret this to mean that there wasn't much "game" in the first place. Taking out the travel time in Fallout wasn't a problem because there was so much to do at your destination. Seriously, if there's not much left after taking out the "hold left for five minutes", then there wasn't that much to begin with.


Well, I think that can be turned around to answer your own question. If you're saying that sometimes exploring is fun, but you want to speed up the parts where you're exploring a boring area, then the better solution is to just stop making big, boring areas. If you're going to fill a game with huge boring areas that you need to travel through, and then decide to reduce the tedium by making it really fast, then you're left with something that's fast, but still boring.

I really liked walking around and exploring new areas in Wind Waker. I agree that the sailing was pretty boring. But this doesn't mean that it would be solved by making the sailing go by faster, it would be better solved by either putting more interesting things in the ocean, or getting rid of the sailing entirely.

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Original post by makeshiftwings
Well, I think that can be turned around to answer your own question. If you're saying that sometimes exploring is fun, but you want to speed up the parts where you're exploring a boring area, then the better solution is to just stop making big, boring areas. If you're going to fill a game with huge boring areas that you need to travel through, and then decide to reduce the tedium by making it really fast, then you're left with something that's fast, but still boring.


The question was more to make a point than anything else. In any case, I disagree that even if you make it fast it's still boring. Well, to some extent. Take Fallout. It was fast, there were vast areas of nothing, but it didn't seem boring and still felt like a world full of things to discover and explore.

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Quote:
Original post by Way Walker
Quote:
Original post by makeshiftwings
Well, I think that can be turned around to answer your own question. If you're saying that sometimes exploring is fun, but you want to speed up the parts where you're exploring a boring area, then the better solution is to just stop making big, boring areas. If you're going to fill a game with huge boring areas that you need to travel through, and then decide to reduce the tedium by making it really fast, then you're left with something that's fast, but still boring.


The question was more to make a point than anything else. In any case, I disagree that even if you make it fast it's still boring. Well, to some extent. Take Fallout. It was fast, there were vast areas of nothing, but it didn't seem boring and still felt like a world full of things to discover and explore.


I guess it depends on how you play... My experience with Fallout was, upon getting to the world map, thinking "Wow!! This game is huge!!", then after figuring out that most of it was empty and randomly generated, thinking "Eh, that's a little lame..." and then not really caring about going anywhere that wasn't marked for a quest. I guess the illusion of having a big world was nice, even though in reality it wasn't exactly true; I guess if your intention is to be similar to fallout, ie, creating big, empty areas that are there just to be travelled through as fast as possible on your way to somewhere fun, then yeah, you had better not make the player trudge through all of it manually. But Fallout's an extreme example; not all games have such big empty zones that only exist to make the world seem big.

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Great ideas guys. [grin] Remember in the old Dragon Warrior games on the NES how you could use an item/spell to warp to places you've already visited? That was kind of cool, especially since your ship followed you. [smile] But yeah, I think the best solution to all of this is "dont design big boring maps in the first place", as others have already said. But I still like to feel that the game world is huge, and not be able to walk from one end to the other in less than 10 minutes. [lol] And yes, the Final Fantasy concept of giving you access to faster and faster modes of transportation as the game progresses is definitely a good idea. Hmm, there are so many options to consider here that it can be a really difficult decision.

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