Videogames Killed The Map-Making Star

Originally Published: 21 March 2009

What Now? —> START BLOG

Many of my early gaming experiences started like this. I’ve investigated ancient ruins, alien worlds and an outside toilet or two. I’ve been killed by everything imaginable in the course of my gaming adventures including the dark (as a rule of thumb if you went into a darkened room in many text adventures your character would trip and fall if your next command didn’t involve some sort of illumination), the cold, and in Eldorado Gold on the BBC Micro, my character got bored of walking around and just died. I kid you not.

To say that I love text adventures is something of an understatement. I have dabbled with most of the text adventures available on sites like World Of Spectrum, either in their original slow-loading form, or in the emulated form on the PC. I have been locked in a toilet (Behind Closed Doors), faced a Yeti (Blizzard Pass) and had to evaporate my own sweat to escape from a bear in part one of Savage Island. In part two, I always suffocate. I still haven’t managed to complete it and refuse to Google the solution.

Text adventures were simple games. They didn’t stretch the machines graphically – in fact the ones without graphics were often better, allowing you to build the scenes in your mind rather than a badly rendered, colour-clashed mess as often occurred. What text adventures did do was bring out the creative in me. This was partly the lateral thinking required to solve many of the puzzles. In The Very Big Cave Adventure (a brilliant adventure written by the girls of St. Brides school and spoofing Colossal Cave Adventure) you were stopped in your tracks by a bull in a canyon. As I remember, you had to lie to this bull to get past him. And when you did, the game gloriously told you that he was a “gully-bull”. Genius which was topped only by the return of the bull later in the game, when defeating him got you the pun “That was a-bomb-in-a-bull”.

The other creative pull of these games was the fact that quite a lot of them needed a map. In these days before HUDs and mini-maps, we had to make our own using pen and paper (at its most simple) or pen, graph paper and ruler if you wanted to go for the neat approach. Some maps could be ludicrously simple, while others more complex involving multiple levels and all eight points of the compass. It wasn’t just the text adventures that had me crafting maps – Marsport, Tir Na Nog and Dun Darach were graphic adventures which saw me sitting on the floor of my bedroom with paper and pen in hand painstakingly mapping out the worlds I was exploring. I have never finished any of them – Tir Na Nog and Dun Darach baffled the crap out of me, but Marsport I really have no excuse for. I don’t know why I never finished it, but were I to play it again be I’d mapping it from scratch.

There are a few console games that have called upon my map making skills over the years – a Dungeons and Dragons title on the Megadrive (rent of a machine, for I was a Nintendo boy, and game for three days coming in at £5) and the Phantasy Star series have both seen me, on occasion, reaching for a bit of graph paper to sketch out a dungeon layout. This is particularly good fun, as I have the first three Phantasy Star games on a Gameboy Advance cart and making a map on the bus is really not the done thing.

I miss map-making in these times of modern gaming. I miss getting lost in games, but hate getting lost in real life (although while in London once, I actually worked out where we were, and where we wanted to be, from having driven the streets in PGR 3). While I loved Dead Space, it was a linear experience with no scope for getting lost (the “click the left stick and get a glowy line to follow” totally took that away) and given the atmosphere of the game, having the ability to traverse the whole ship instead of themed subsections would have been excellent.

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining that everything was much harder in the olden days – it’s not about that. It’s more about that the fact that the modern gamer is pampered a little, without them really realising it. I have played games in the past where I have had to leave items, usually stuff I could afford to lose like food or old equipment, at intersections so I knew which way I had gone. I find that lacking in a lot of games these days, with developers too eager to provide us with maps and highlighted pathways (Fable 2, Dead Space and Mirrors Edge being three recent examples) which almost drag us through the game. I like to find my own way. I like to poke around and see what’s what. I like to make my own map, and feel like I’m charting some unknown world of uncertain size (there was nothing better than having to tape graph paper together to make a bigger, awkward-to-fold map).

I can hear the graph paper calling.

What Now? —> END BLOG