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How We Get Around Our RPGs
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How We Get Around Our RPGs

by William HarmonFebruary 17, 2012

There are lots of ways that gaming has changed over the last 20 years. Both in perception and appeal, but also in their fundamental design. The types of games we see now are not the same types of games we saw back in the early/mid 90s. I want to talk about one of these design decision changes that I’ve noticed, and I know a lot of people have brought up at one point or another.

With the release of Final Fantasy 13-2, we saw some major shifts away from designs that were implemented in its predecessor. Tons, Shops, non-linear dungeons, and so forth. These are basically summed up, in my opinion, as “things that make the game world feel more like a complete world, rather than a strictly scripted series of events”.

Linearity is something that’s much more common now than it used to be. Especially in the RPG genre that FF13-2 is a part of. Older RPGs were much more open ended and players received a lot less direction about where to go and what they should be doing. This is sort of exemplified best with the presence of, and since, departure from the “World Map”.

Something like this.

World Maps were once the preferred way to have a player traverse the game world, going from town to town, or dungeon to dungeon. It was an effort to convey the connection between all the different locations your traveled to. Town A was north of Dungeon B, because you actually had to travel North to get there. It was also an easy way to give players a lot of freedom in where they went.

In the mid 2000’s, RPGs saw use of a different type of game map. One where instead of being able to freely roam, the player would select target locations, and simply appear there. It surely saved a lot of time in the development cycle, in that they no longer needed to render and design a traversable landscape, but it also saved time for the players.

All the places you care about, and none of the boring places you don't.

Another method that was later implemented was simply having the entire game be done like dungeons or towns. The land that connected one dungeon to another, or one town to another, was simply a big dungeon of its own. A field in the form of one big, sunny room, or a canyon in the form of a twisting corridor. (Like FF-X or White Knight Chronicles)

Lightning running through a seriously big room.

Both of those changes seem to be basing themselves off the same presumed facts: “Walking from one town to another on a World Map is boring.” The destination nodes simply eliminate the trek, and the more up-close version strives to make the trek itself more engaging.

This isn’t to say that the Bird’s-Eye-View World Map doesn’t have its advantages. It provides a sense of continuity, and clearly portrays the relationship between the different locations in the game much better than the other two styles. Players can explore hidden areas of the map like the up-close “over the shoulder” style, but also get a feel for how close other locations are to one another, and in what direction, much like they see on a map displaying Travel Nodes.

Hidden locations are one of the greatest strengths of the traditional World Map.

This doesn’t always fit with all RPGs though. Older RPGs were all about that immersion, and giving players feelings of freedom. With more strictly guided RPGs, designers have shown to be interested in keeping players always in the action. Think of it like the difference between a travel montage in a movie, and following characters as they fight their way through a cave full of monsters.

Pictured: In the action.

One is about the world (the Bird’s Eye View approach) and the other is about the people (the Over The Shoulder approach). You understand that the group is moving, you see them fight through one corridor, past one battalion of enemies, and end up on the other side. The over-the-shoulder view gives you a sense of motion? It makes it feel like the characters are moving, but always forward. Which is sometimes all that matters.

And I actually kind of love the thought process behind the Travel Node method. It’s so blunt about its intentions. It’s very clearly saying: “Traveling is boring. We want to get the player in to the climactic bits, the fights and the dialog, and skip everything else”. Which it does. Travel Nodes result in a very fast paced RPG. You’re going from one important plot point, to another, constantly, throughout the entire game.

Yellow Lines: Way more efficient mode of transportation than walking.

In the end, I think all these different approaches fill their separate niches all very well, and I would hesitate to say one is objectively better, or worse, than another. As for _why_ we don’t really see any “Bird’s Eye View” World Maps anymore, I think that has more to do with the current generation of gamers, and what they’re most interested in. Look no further to X-COM being remade as a First Person Shooter, where it used to be an awesome strategy game. I think immersion and exploration has fallen out of favor, replaced by more “constant action” type games.

Phases pass, but while we’ve got everyone focused on making hyper action-focused games, I’m excited to see how that approach can be refined (for instance, never reusing old areas unless the plot absolutely demands it, something that I think is pretty objectively terrible).

About The Author
William Harmon
  • Cooldude1990

    Damn ! Never trust nothing but the best.

  • Murderur

    nerdboner!

  • Skary.Larry

    This shit rocks!

  • Civerius

    Always wondered if this game was any good…

  • Civerius

    Hi there,I enjoy reading through your article post, I wanted to write a little comment to support you!

  • kairiii

    I will visit your blog regularly for some latest news.

  • kairiii

    This shit rocks!

  • 3raser

    Really?

  • Fip Chamomo

    I want a planet map that has the continents, physiques of waters and landforms that Is huge adequate for me to see the names. Its a project for Geography class, any sites that might help? Thanks!

  • Marcie Thach

    I just not too long ago purchased the new Closing Fantasy I app for my iPhone and have no notion how to accessibility the environment map from my screen. If anyone is aware how to do it, please inform me. Thanks.

  • Motordom

    We want to put a world map on the wall in our den so we can refer to it when questions come up and to further engage our kids in learning about the world. Our kids are 6 and 9 so we want one without excessive detail that would confuse them, but it should also be a true resource – not just something to use until we turn on the computer. I went to Maps.com and was overwhelmed by the choices. How do I choose? Thanks in advance.

  • Boo Cookie

    OK, its a little complicated, But he is my ex and also my best friend’s ex.
    I recently broke it off with him, mainly because i didn’t share the same feelings he had for me and it was awkward to hang out with Him and my Best friend. He acts a bit strange around each of us. Almost like he wants to try and get back with one of us (even though my best friend is in a serious happy relationship) He gets clingy and there is just an oddness (and trust me My friends are an odd group but this is different) that he brings when he comes around. SO We hang out with him every once in awhile, Because we both want to be his friend.
    Recently he has started complaining that he feels left out because we don’t invite him to “game night”…But it really isn’t our place to invite him to, because my best friend’s boyfriend is the organizer. We play various games and RPGs. We all have a blast. We are all pretty relaxed with one another and we can just be ourselves. We only get together once a week too.

    Last week My Best friend and Myself hung out with him the day before we had game night. Some how we left a couple of things in his car. So, he brings them by on game night. Doesn’t knock, just comes in and trys to get into the middle of an already existing RPG, but My best friend stir him away from the game by asking for help on a work project.
    I chatted with him a day or two ago online. He mentioned he bought a book to help himunderstand the game we were playing, so next time he gets it…
    But the problem is none of us really want to hang out with him then, and not to mention, he wasn’t even invited back. At all. No one said anything to him. He just invited himself in…Im not comfortable with it…nither is anyone else….I am really not sure how to let him know my best friend and i have other frineds we hang out with in different situations, and we hang out with him in others…any advice?
    Sorry for my spelling.

  • Wooooody

    I can only get 2 of these games I love final fantasy but Skyrim and bf I’m not sure help please

  • happyha31

    How do I unlock fragment skills? I’ve just finished the game

  • Jeffery Carlson

    I know you get a boss battle from amazon, costume and weapon from gamestop, and book from best buy but every time I look websites it saids you can also get a steel book case with your game which basically is a holigraphic cover in which you could put your original case into like bioshock 1. ive looked and looked and cant find it. Where can I get this with the game?

  • toast

    I went online on Amazon and it said that it will be released Dec 31 2011. But I’m not sure if that is an official release date or not. It said the same date for the new Tomb Raider game. Does anyone know when these games will be released?

  • Sriram R

    I’ve looked up from path from the seers place and I can’t find it. It’s supposed to be behind some wall but no luck

  • tjpimpin

    Alright, so I’ve got 7/8 stupid fragments there, but I CANNOT for the life of me find the 8th one. Can someone tell me where to find it/ how to get it and all that? I’ll list the 7 fragments I have from there if that makes it easier:

    1. Atlas Fragment
    2. Ghast Fragment
    3. Delicate Crystal
    4. Vita Lyrica
    5. Anima Miseria
    6.Unio Mystica
    7. Ars Symphinca
    8. ???

    Anyone know?

    Bonus question: The one fragment mission in Yasches Massif-010 AF where you have to get the watch for her. I know where it is, but for some reason when I go to get it after the eclipse in Yasches Massif-01X AF the invisible box that’s supposed to be there isn’t? Unless I’m in the wrong timeline somehow? Any help there?

    Thanks.
    I go to the day version of Yasches Massif to where it’s supposed to be but its not there. I threw Moogle at least 20 times. I know exactly which cliff, but its simply not there even though I have the mission for it. I’m confused.

  • DuckieM10

    Yeah I’m stuck on a hard boss, I got it mainly for the story and cut scenes don’t care about gameplay too much. Is there any known negative to play on easy, i looked at the achievements but it doesn’t look like there is any. Just checking to be sure.

  • Rassling Fundamentals

    I just finished episode 3, where Snow turns into a L’cie and I went to the void beyond, but now I’m lost. The next part of the game is Academia, but I can’t find out how to get there. I have all the relevant fragments. Helllllp :/