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FryHole
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(05-10-2014, 01:40 PM)
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While it sometimes seems like gaf is doomed to discuss the merits and demerits of individual entries in the Final Fantasy series until Earth is finally consumed by the Sun’s inexorable expansion (humanity’s last written words will be “For a lot of people FF7 was the first JRPG they ever pl- ” mercifully and deservedly cut short by fiery death), personally I enjoy the opportunity afforded by such a long running franchise to analyse what works and what doesn’t and try to nail down why, for example, I love FF7 and yet loathe FFXIII with a ferocity that no mere video game should really engender, and to consider whether the conclusions can be applied to the genre as a whole.

In one thread I wrote a bit about 2D and/or fixed camera vs full 3D worlds:

Many field maps in FF7 are actually quite small, but successfully give the impression of being part of a larger area. I'd argue that this is because with a controlled camera and an often bird's eye view of the game - as opposed to a full 3D over the shoulder setup - your imagination fills in the gaps. You are often unable to see what's off to the north, south, east or west, but your mind makes the leap that there's something there and you happily play on, feeling part of that world. In a full 3D game where your view is one remove from a first person perspective, you can turn and see the entire environment. The developers then have no choice but to put something there other than empty space, and I think it is a rare game indeed that manages to put something that's not some type of unsatisfying wall that makes you feel boxed in. When running around the Crisis Core slum market, to me if felt smaller, despite probably being bigger than the FF7 original. I'm convinced it's because the walls are in your line of sight, and you can run up to them and properly see how small the play area is.

What struck me when reflecting on this was that a technological limitation that prevented the creation of a full 3D world to explore had resulted in a superior solution, much like the well-worn tale of how Spielberg had to keep the shark under wraps for most of Jaws because it barely fucking worked, to the ultimate benefit of the film. Then, because this is apparently how my mind likes to spend my free time, I started thinking about the world map, the other ‘compromise’ used in old RPGs to create the illusion of a huge world in lieu of actually creating a huge world. And I think the illusion is better.

I’ll stop at this point and direct you to Jason Schreier’s very nice plea for more world maps, which I found while putting together this thread and was depressed to realise conveyed some of what I was going to write here, but better. In particular:

A world map, more than anything, is a collection of symbols. Symbols for castles that expand once you enter them. Symbols for mountains that block your progress. Symbols for your character. Symbols for the passage of time. Symbols for the distance you travel.

And from the comments:

There just isn't any real way to make a world feel that HUGE, without simultaneously making the game entirely impractical to play.

Just so. In a full 3D world, places that are supposed to be separated by vast distances often feel like they’re just down the road, despite the best efforts of the developers to avoid this. The game I’ve played that comes the closest to doing so is Xenoblade Chronicles (aka the other game I always bang on about), and even then it falls short, and I think it’s because subconsciously you know how far you’ve come, because your realistically proportioned character has walked or run for a certain amount of time and you know how far that would have taken you in the real world, and it works out about the same distance as the nearest Tesco. In Xenoblade, when Dunban - who we last saw convalescing back in Colony 9 - reappears in badass style, it’s clear that he’s supposed to have had a lot more time to recoup and has gained enough strength to join the party. In truth, at least to me, it felt like he must’ve leapt out of bed about an hour after we set out.

A world map, on the other hand, by reducing your character to an obvious avatar and representing the world in a more abstract form, manages to pull off the excellent feat of compressing both distance and time in a way that doesn’t feel cheap. The camera pulls out to show us the grand view and our little, oddly proportioned character’s place in it. We have become removed from the action - but the action continues, unseen by us from our godlike overview, back down there. A big city you've just left is a tiny icon now, giving scale to the map so each pace is clearly a mile or more, and so, logically, a few minutes of walking is a great distance over a time period of days or weeks. We see all this, and instinctively grasp what is conveyed. Even better, the action snaps back from time to time for random encounters or the odd cutscene; the camera swoops back down to ground level, giving the impression that we’re only having to experience the exciting moments on an otherwise long, uneventful journey. much like the Lord of the Rings films depicting the quest by interspersing dialogue and fight scenes with the whirling, bird’s eye view, sponsored-by-the-New-Zealand-Tourist-Board shots of the group walking along mountain passes and through grassy valleys.

The whole idea is explained nicely as the concept of authorial distance, as outlined by fantasy writing bloke David Eddings in The Rivan Codex (which is a load of gubbins but this bit always stuck with me for some reason):

[L]earn how to compress time gracefully. You can’t record your hero’s every breath ... I’ve devised a personal approach which I call ‘authorial distance’. I use it to describe just how close I am to what’s happening.

‘Long distance’ is when I’m standing back quite a ways. ‘After Charlie got out of prison, he moved to Chicago and joined the Mafia’, suggests that I’m not standing in Charlie’s hip pocket.

‘Middle distance’, obviously, is closer. ‘The doors of Sing-Sing prison clanged shut behind Charlie, and a great wave of exultation ran through him. He was free!’ That’s sort of ‘middle’, wouldn’t you say?

I refer to the last distance as ‘in your face’. ‘Charlie spit on the closing gate. “All right, you dirty rats, you’d better watch out now,” he muttered under his breath.

I would argue that RPGs need time, and distance, compression, if they are to feel like epic journeys rather than just bloody long games. I liked Lost Odyssey, but it failed in this aspect, just feeling like one damn thing after another and setting up mysteries only to quickly resolve them. RPG world maps are a great tool for implementing authorial distance. The camera pulls away as you leave town, and time begins to pass more quickly as great distances are covered in moments. As you approach a new town, you see a representation of it on the map, obviously not the full thing because it’s roughly the same size as your character, and enter. The screen fades to black, the music changes, and the camera pulls in as time returns to normal speed. And in that moment when the screen is black, perhaps, your imagination can fill in the final approach to town; the wild plains or forests becoming tamer before falling away to farmland and buildings. By giving you these gaps you can paint the picture yourself, enriching what’s already there in a way a full 3D world that tries to provide every last detail itself does not allow. At the same time, it doesn't completely rob you of the journey like an easy solution in full 3D might, which would be to fade to black, give a "3 weeks later" caption, then fade back in to the next section of the quest.

In short, I think RPGs world maps play a role that could be considered equivalent to a film montage, a way of showing progress and compressing time so that an epic journey can feel weeks or months long without detailing every little tedious moment. Creating a full 3D environment without such sleight of hand can only result in a small world or a big, boring one, I think, and the old style maps - while perhaps the result of technological limitations at the time - create a bigger, better world than is possible with 3D, purely because of the way they allow the director to leap from one level of authorial distance to another. It’s a tool that enables better story-telling.

Any thoughts, RPG people? Examples of full 3D games that successfully pull off the same effect? Ideas about how FFXV is going to approach this? Also, am I being unfair in depicting the early world maps as a compromise rather than a deliberate design choice? I fear I might be. Thanks to anyone who made it through what rather rapidly became a full essay.
Last edited by FryHole; 05-10-2014 at 05:26 PM. Reason: added a bit
pants
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(05-10-2014, 02:18 PM)
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I certainly do agree with the notion that a lot of the mystery and imagination has been lost
flatearthpandas
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(05-10-2014, 02:22 PM)
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It's a nicely thought out idea, but I think the problem is mostly implementation.

Dragon Quest VIII did really well with a full 3d world. Persistent worlds in Neverwinter Nights did well or poorly with it depending on the creator. MMOs in general do well with it.

Even games with world maps end up with fast travel, and whether the world is dense or barren we eventual just want to skip it and get where we have to go. The sense of scope is, I think, greater with 3d, if you have the resources to create a full world. If you don't, world maps make an excellent alternative.
Psycho_Mantis
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(05-10-2014, 02:27 PM)
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It depends if theres much to do in those walks. If there is, then by all means I would be up for a scaled 3D world. If not, something like what FF or Dragon Quest do is fine. However, the lack of detail in between is replaced by the detail in the towns and areas visited.

Ni No Kuni did it well:

L Thammy
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(05-10-2014, 02:29 PM)
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Honestly, I don't think we need world maps if we have worlds that are well designed.

EarthBound is my favourite RPG, and a big reason for that is that you feel like you've traveled the world at the end. You start off in a suburban American town, move towards more urban areas, than to other countries with different climates and architecture, and then to ancient and secret civilizations.

Instead of having a world map to suggest greater distance, it has vehicles that do something similar. Moreover, there are people with interesting and weird things to say dispersed throughout the world, which gives you a better impression of the locations. It feels like you've traveled a larger world because there's more memorable things in the world.
sniperpon
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(05-10-2014, 02:30 PM)
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What struck me when reflecting on this was that a technological limitation that prevented the creation of a full 3D world to explore had resulted in a superior solution

This phenomenon across the board-- so, not just limited to world maps-- was a big part of what made 80s and 90s games so great.

Think of how emotive "bleep bloop" sound effects were in, let's say, Atari 2600 games; there is some serious artistry going on there. The pixel art in 8 and 16-bit games was the same way; "how can I get the player to think such and such, with a very limited pixel tile?"

It's like that quote "it doesn't matter what you say, only what they hear". Game makers of yore were the masters of illusion, getting you to "hear" what they wanted.

My brother also pointed out once that there are two types of realism: one kind is where game makers try to explicitly make a game look as realistic as possible. This Pro Evolution Soccer or something: the more polygons the better! The other kind is using a very limited expression that triggers the players' imaginations to fill in the realism for them. I think the second kind well done takes a lot more talent, and is much more satisfying to experience.

This is a partial aside, but I think the problem with modern-day pixel art is that they are trying to make "detailed" sprites-- so, the first approach-- but with the artificial limitations they put on themselves, like "I want this to be an 8-bit aesthetic." That's why it comes off as contrived; they should be aiming for the second approach; "it doesn't need to look realistic, the goal is to trigger the right imagery in the players' minds." But they either aren't talented enough to pull it off so they don't even try, or they don't even realize the error of their approach.
bonercop
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(05-10-2014, 02:30 PM)
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Interesting read. I think the same principle can be applied to make the scale of RPG towns feel more "real". It's kind of silly how you can enter a city in a jrpg and it consist, of like, 6 buildings. 20 if you're lucky and they go all out!

While we obviously can't get around having a playable area consist of 20 buildings, it helps a lot if there are non-accessible sections in the fringes of the towns you explore, which the player can see, indicating that you're only visiting certain key areas. The persona game do a good job at this and their towns actually feel like towns because of it even though most persona games don't even have 20 buildings in them, period.
Kotetsu534
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(05-10-2014, 02:36 PM)
Persona 4 has a keener sense of time passing than most RPGs, partly as a consequence of its intense focus on a small setting, where subtle changes in the environment are noticeable. I think good direction can negate the need for an adventure to require a world map.
Resilient
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(05-10-2014, 02:38 PM)
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Great post and something I agree with largely. I gotta disagree though with Xenoblade. I've always felt that's a game that nails the sheer scale of the Bionis and Mechonis. The areas are huge, and the elect distance between each other. Additionally, it's never just moving from A to B and ignoring the trip between. Things happen while you're moving through each area, which make it feel very rewarding once you leave the world map and arrive at your destination!

EarthBound is very similar to this. However, it craftily uses teleport and event tied vehicle travel, which really spread things out. Also, because you can't really traverse from one side of the world to the other, it sneakily gives a huge sense of scale.
FryHole
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(05-10-2014, 02:44 PM)
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Originally Posted by Psycho_Mantis

It depends if theres much to do in those walks. If there is, then by all means I would be up for a scaled 3D world. If not, something like what FF or Dragon Quest do is fine. However, the lack of detail in between is replaced by the detail in the towns and areas visited.

Ni No Kuni did it well:

I'm not sure it would quite work. To return to the most obvious well, if you were to create a 3D world that could recreate in full scale Gaia from FF7, even the walk from Midgar to Kalm would take a long, long time. They are quite well spaced on a sizable continent so a proper scale journey between them, even if packed to the gills with interesting things to see and do, would almost be a game in itself. What the world map allows you to do is retain a grand scale, including the all important impression of large distances covered and long time passing, while actually reducing play time to a manageable level. I think the time compression is genuinely necessary, unless we're making a different style of game altogether.

I've had Ni No Kuni sat on the PS3 for ages now, I really need to put some time into it soon. It would be a damn sight easier if it was possible to do remote play on Vita.
Aruhamel
Banned
(05-10-2014, 02:52 PM)
jRPG towns and worlds have always been pretty tiny, so I don't think that's the best example (if anything, they've gotten bigger with the advent of 3d). A better comparison would be something like Dragon Age: Origins vs. the 2d Baldur's Gate games, where towns were gigantic and bursting at the seams with NPC's and sidequests (Athkatla moreso than the titular Baldur's Gate). A comparison could also be drawn between the older Fallout games (where travel was abstracted on a 2d world map) and the newer sandboxy games.
Last edited by Aruhamel; 05-10-2014 at 03:02 PM.
flatearthpandas
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(05-10-2014, 02:54 PM)
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Originally Posted by FryHole

I'm not sure it would quite work. To return to the most obvious well, if you were to create a 3D world that could recreate in full scale Gaia from FF7, even the walk from Midgar to Kalm would take a long, long time. They are quite well spaced on a sizable continent so a proper scale journey between them, even if packed to the gills with interesting things to see and do, would almost be a game in itself. What the world map allows you to do is retain a grand scale, including the all important impression of large distances covered and long time passing, while actually reducing play time to a manageable level. I think the time compression is genuinely necessary, unless we're making a different style of game altogether.

I've had Ni No Kuni sat on the PS3 for ages now, I really need to put some time into it soon. It would be a damn sight easier if it was possible to do remote play on Vita.

I disagree that world maps give any impression of compressed time. Quite the opposite, actually, as it's not uncommon for there to be fewer than two day/night cycles between walking destinations, even if the world map is supposed to represent a major part of a continent.

SMT does a good job. The "world" map is really only a single city.
FryHole
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(05-10-2014, 03:02 PM)
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Originally Posted by shampoowarrior

It's a nicely thought out idea, but I think the problem is mostly implementation.

Dragon Quest VIII did really well with a full 3d world. Persistent worlds in Neverwinter Nights did well or poorly with it depending on the creator. MMOs in general do well with it.

Even games with world maps end up with fast travel, and whether the world is dense or barren we eventual just want to skip it and get where we have to go. The sense of scope is, I think, greater with 3d, if you have the resources to create a full world. If you don't, world maps make an excellent alternative.

I hear good things about DQ8 quite often, but never got a chance to play it. And I think fast travel is fine, and indeed necessary, once you've made the journey 'properly' yourself at least once. I think there's a reason the classic JRPGs held back the 'go anywhere' travel until relatively late in the game.

Originally Posted by shampoowarrior

I disagree that world maps give any impression of compressed time. Quite the opposite, actually, as it's not uncommon for there to be fewer than two day/night cycles between walking destinations, even if the world map is supposed to represent a major part of a continent.

SMT does a good job. The "world" map is really only a single city.

Yeah, but two day/night cycles have passed! You can easily cover 60 miles in two days if you get a stride on, so that's 48 hours and 60 miles in a couple of minutes. That's exactly what I'm talking about. How do you cover that kind of time and distance in a full scale world?

EDIT to say: of course you can have quick day/night cycles in a full scale world, but that feels daft, because it clashes with what your eyes are telling you about distance travelled in the time period being suggested. That's what the higher level of abstraction of a world map achieves, it prevents those gears from grinding.
Last edited by FryHole; 05-10-2014 at 03:19 PM. Reason: expanded on reply
batbeg
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(05-10-2014, 03:06 PM)
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That was the most beautiful post ever and I similarly feel that the use of "authorial distance" is an impact worthy device it'd be a shame for it not to be used, though I am still super fond of worlds like FFXII and Xenoblade as well.

Since you mentioned it do we actually know which approach FFXV is meant to use?

Originally Posted by bonercop

Interesting read. I think the same principle can be applied to make the scale of RPG towns feel more "real". It's kind of silly how you can enter a city in a jrpg and it consist, of like, 6 buildings. 20 if you're lucky and they go all out!

While we obviously can't get around having a playable area consist of 20 buildings, it helps a lot if there are non-accessible sections in the fringes of the towns you explore, which the player can see, indicating that you're only visiting certain key areas. The persona game do a good job at this and their towns actually feel like towns because of it even though most persona games don't even have 20 buildings in them, period.

Lindblum in FFIX is one of my favorite towns ever in games and it feels so alive because of this very reason.
Last edited by batbeg; 05-10-2014 at 03:12 PM.
HiddenForbiddenHolyGround
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(05-10-2014, 03:07 PM)
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Originally Posted by batbeg

That was the most beautiful post ever and I similarly feel that the use of "authorial distance" is an impact worthy device it'd be a shame for it not to be used, though I am still super fond of worlds like FFXII and Xenoblade as well.

Since you mentioned it do we actually know which approach FFXV is meant to use?

I think it's supposed to have a world map. I remember reading that somewhere. Of course even if that were once true it could be changed by now.
FryHole
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(05-10-2014, 03:14 PM)
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Originally Posted by Resilient

Great post and something I agree with largely. I gotta disagree though with Xenoblade. I've always felt that's a game that nails the sheer scale of the Bionis and Mechonis. The areas are huge, and the elect distance between each other. Additionally, it's never just moving from A to B and ignoring the trip between. Things happen while you're moving through each area, which make it feel very rewarding once you leave the world map and arrive at your destination!

EarthBound is very similar to this. However, it craftily uses teleport and event tied vehicle travel, which really spread things out. Also, because you can't really traverse from one side of the world to the other, it sneakily gives a huge sense of scale.

Thanks! Xenoblade has absolutely made the best fist of it so far, at least in my experience. The world is big, giving you a good sense of scale, and this size is saved from boredom by having fast characters and the ability to avoid fights. It definitely works. There's just moments, like the one in the spoiler, where I felt the necessary amount of time hadn't passed for certain scenes to have enough impact, and that this was tied to the amount of ground you felt you'd covered. I've got Earthbound waiting for me on the Wii U and aim to get round to anytime soon, so I'll be interested to see how it works - I didn't mean to suggest that world maps are the ONLY way to achieve time/distance compression, just that it's necessary.

Originally Posted by batbeg

That was the most beautiful post ever and I similarly feel that the use of "authorial distance" is an impact worthy device it'd be a shame for it not to be used, though I am still super fond of worlds like FFXII and Xenoblade as well.

Since you mentioned it do we actually know which approach FFXV is meant to use?

Ha, bless you for saying so! I think originally they were going for a world map, then had doubts thinking that a realistically depicted character would look daft when relatively oversized on a minaturised world (the fools). Last I heard they were going for some insanely ambitious full scale complete world, but no idea if that's changed again since.
HiddenForbiddenHolyGround
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(05-10-2014, 03:16 PM)
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Some games find a middle ground. I thought White Knight Chronicles did it quite well. It's similar to FF12 and Xenoblade with connected fields but at certain points you leave the area you return to a larger, static worldmap. You have the understanding that even between the areas you walked through, there was a lot more between that you don't see. It made looking around a field map which felt very expansive and far apart from another, feel appropriately like it was half a continent away from the town you started in. Visual cues help. When you step onto the grasslands outside of town, you don't see town right behind you. You see it some miles back.

A game that did it terribly was Fable. Albion feels ridiculously small. To walk end to end feels like a walk through a small township in terms of distance.
L Thammy
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(05-10-2014, 03:17 PM)
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Originally Posted by FryHole

I've got Earthbound waiting for me on the Wii U and aim to get round to anytime soon, so I'll be interested to see how it works - I didn't mean to suggest that world maps are the ONLY way to achieve time/distance compression, just that it's necessary.

You haven't played it yet? Lucky devil. Hope you enjoy it - and I suspect that you will.
Durante
Come on down to Durante's drivethru PC port fixes. 15 minutes or less. Yelp: ★★★★★

Fixed Souls, Deadly Premonition, Lightning Returns, Umihara Kawase, Symphonia, Little King's Story, PhD, likes mimosas.
(05-10-2014, 03:21 PM)
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Everyone interested in this topic should really read "A Lesson in Cartography in Potato Land", which looks at the issue of creating realistic, believable maps without introducing too much distance, or an abstraction like a separate world map.
FryHole
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(05-10-2014, 03:55 PM)
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Originally Posted by L Thammy

You haven't played it yet? Lucky devil. Hope you enjoy it - and I suspect that you will.

Nope, I'm a UK pleb and Nintendo never saw fit to do a PAL release back in the days when I might actually have had time to really sink my teeth into it. Thanks though, I'm sure I will, too.

Originally Posted by Durante

Everyone interested in this topic should really read "A Lesson in Cartography in Potato Land", which looks at the issue of creating realistic, believable maps without introducing too much distance, or an abstraction like a separate world map.

Ooh, thanks - that's a really nice read.
PKrockin
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(05-10-2014, 04:19 PM)
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OP was a good read. It seems like some people think abstraction is inherently a bad thing but it's just a tool.

Originally Posted by FryHole

I've got Earthbound waiting for me on the Wii U and aim to get round to anytime soon, so I'll be interested to see how it works - I didn't mean to suggest that world maps are the ONLY way to achieve time/distance compression, just that it's necessary.

I'd suggest you get on that right away if you love world building and exploration in JRPGs.
SatelliteOfLove
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(05-10-2014, 04:25 PM)
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Originally Posted by PKrockin

OP was a good read. It seems like some people think abstraction is inherently a bad thing but it's just a tool.


I'd suggest you get on that right away if you love world building and exploration in JRPGs.

Hence my "There are things abstract can do that non-abstract cannot."

Wonderful argument, OP. Bookmarked.
Dunan
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(05-10-2014, 04:34 PM)
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FryHole, thanks for the wonderful discussion topic -- I too am a huge city buff (both real and fictional) and love seeing well-implemented cities in RPGs.

Squaresoft in particular deserves kudos for the way their cities have evolved. Their early games had "cities" that consisted of a dozen buildings, all of which were enter-able and were part of the story. In FF6 they started offering a better sense of scale with the "extra" buildings in Narshe:



And then in Chrono Trigger they started using roof color to show you which buildings could be interacted with:



But not until the pre-rendered backgrounds era could they make it abundantly clear that towns really do consist of thousands of buildings, and that the story doesn't need you to enter the vast majority of them:



This happens again and again in FF8 as opposed to FF7 -- there are many buildings that the game tells you, not too overtly, are inaccessible but are there so that cities look like cities and not collections of 8-bit-era icons. Balamb has some buildings off in the distance, as does Winhill; Deling City has stuff behind the places you visit; Esthar takes all of this to a new level with its seeming complexity.

And in the PS2 era I thought FFXII and Xenoblade did wonderful jobs of adjusting to the 3-D environments that were unavoidable once they became technically possible, so that with judicious use of locked doors, gated-off paths, and the like, this:



really did feel like a part of this:



That was one of the things I loved most about FFXII (and, to a lesser extent, Xenoblade): you always felt like the world was much more than what you were seeing, and if you could just move that camera stick over a little more, you'd see another street, with other people milling about, living their lives. Again and again I felt this. So while I think that the pre-rendered PS1 era gave the best sense of scale, I admire the city designers of the modern era just as much because of how they made use of what they had. And there's nothing quite like the immersion that comes from being in a well-designed, evocative RPG city.
Fictive
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(05-10-2014, 05:09 PM)

Originally Posted by batbeg

That was the most beautiful post ever and I similarly feel that the use of "authorial distance" is an impact worthy device it'd be a shame for it not to be used, though I am still super fond of worlds like FFXII and Xenoblade as well.

Since you mentioned it do we actually know which approach FFXV is meant to use?



Lindblum in FFIX is one of my favorite towns ever in games and it feels so alive because of this very reason.

We don't know yet aside from claims made in interviews years back. (and this is the correct answer regardless of what anyway says before and after my post). The world map that once was had been swapped out for something more realistic and to scale presumably.

As I said, we don't know for a fact yet besides aged interviews prior to its rebranding.

Remember: http://andriasang.com/comhd7/ff_vers...i_may_miss_e3/
Last edited by Fictive; 05-10-2014 at 05:16 PM.
FryHole
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(05-10-2014, 05:59 PM)
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Originally Posted by PKrockin

OP was a good read. It seems like some people think abstraction is inherently a bad thing but it's just a tool..

Originally Posted by SatelliteOfLove

Wonderful argument, OP. Bookmarked.

Originally Posted by Dunan

FryHole, thanks for the wonderful discussion topic -- [great cities discussion snipped]

Thanks folks, much appreciated. Dunan, good stuff - I could write a whole new thread about the importance of towns and their design to RPGs. Have you played Bravely Default? The towns were one of the places I felt it were lacking, they were beautiful but so basic - only a few buildings with very little going on, little more than shop select screens, and very self-contained. I'm with Batbeg on considering Lindblum a top tier specimen in this regard, and really hope the BD sequel develops their towns in this kind of direction.

Originally Posted by Kotetsu534

Persona 4 has a keener sense of time passing than most RPGs, partly as a consequence of its intense focus on a small setting, where subtle changes in the environment are noticeable. I think good direction can negate the need for an adventure to require a world map.

Persona 4 really does do amazing work in crafting a world and a story with a limited number of locations.
Black Door
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(05-10-2014, 06:08 PM)
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I prefer it when "world maps" aren't just globes and toroids shrunken down to a microscopic scale, but big "field maps" of the like that Star Ocean 1 and Final Fantasy XII used. That way, you get the feeling of traversing a large area without bringing in the odd Fridge Logic of as to why the party is going off south to an empty peninsula when they're supposed to be going east to a village that is in the path of a firebombing campaign, or feeling that the party is unable to read a map, or that the party has some supernatural ability to cross 2000 miles of land in a day without an airplane.

Xenoblade's map both fascinated and irritated me because, although the fields are huge and have a pretty good sense of scale for the world (I even think someone combined all of the explorable zones in a model viewer and everything fits together) the towns hold to this weird 16-bit conviction of only being two city blocks long. It hurt the narrative a bit when you being told about how important Colony 6 and thousands of people were killed, but when you get there the "city" is the size of a public park.
randomkid
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(05-10-2014, 06:56 PM)
100% on board with the OP's argument. Ravenous desire for ever more realism has been largely ruinous for all the games I love, abstraction is one of the best tools in the developer kit.
decoyplatypus
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(05-10-2014, 07:22 PM)
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The analogy between narrative compression and cartographic abstraction is oddly literal when it comes to videogames because the player's experience of a map is a key part of the story. The bottom line is that in any story or map, some details are going to matter and some will not. A game's quality depends on how well it distinguishes the two. It seems appropriate that a game like DQ8, which doesn't strive for realism and doesn't do deep conversation trees would skip on realistically-proportioned (and populated) cities. It also seems appropriate that Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines, which takes place in a real-world setting and trades on intense role-playing as a city-dwelling vampire, would have tons of NPCs and more plausible "town" areas and cut interstitial traveling out entirely. By contrast, I think Suikoden 3 suffers from the fact that its story suggests a sprawling grasslands while its map only gives you a few isolated fields. A different sort of abstraction (if any) was called for there.
Shengar
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(05-10-2014, 07:29 PM)
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Originally Posted by Psycho_Mantis

It depends if theres much to do in those walks. If there is, then by all means I would be up for a scaled 3D world. If not, something like what FF or Dragon Quest do is fine. However, the lack of detail in between is replaced by the detail in the towns and areas visited.

Ni No Kuni did it well:

Too bad that although Ni No Kuni do that rather well, the world feels so lackluster in term of NPC. Seriously they really need to fill out that world with more memorable NPC.

Originally Posted by Durante

Everyone interested in this topic should really read "A Lesson in Cartography in Potato Land", which looks at the issue of creating realistic, believable maps without introducing too much distance, or an abstraction like a separate world map.

Reading the title of the thread reminds of certain article. Now I remember it, thanks Durante.
Dark_castle
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(05-10-2014, 07:33 PM)
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FFXV is probably going to be reminiscent to Dragon Quest VIII in terms of its environment approach.
Dr. Benton Quest
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(05-10-2014, 07:36 PM)
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I'll echo the comments about Dragon Quest 8. It had a seamless world that felt massive. By the time the main story is over, you've traveled an incredible in-game distance that feels comparable to a real world.
Shengar
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(05-10-2014, 07:47 PM)
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Just finished reading the OP, Really well put I might said. One game in particular that very bad at authorial distance due to their technological nature must be Elder Scrolls series, particularly Skyrim's Solitude. Taken form the link that posted by Durante's above, this passage express my problem greatly with Skyrim's Solitude:

The city consists of precisely fifteen buildings (one of which is the imperial palace); the town is inhabited by 30 NPCs, including Emperor Lojza, Archmage Lotrando and all of the members of the guilds of thieves, mages and warriors.

In ES IV, you have at least both Imperial City and New Sheoth, which both separated into different districts and consequentially made them feel bigger.

In the case some games managed to deliver authorial distance with their in-game graphical representation, sometimes this did not follow suit with time compression. A poorly written one acts that the characters just walked across the continent for a few hours. I couldn't think any example for the moment, but there are many JRPGs suffer from this.
Yarbskoo
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(05-10-2014, 07:51 PM)
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Originally Posted by Black Door

(I even think someone combined all of the explorable zones in a model viewer and everything fits together)

I'd like to see a link for that if you've got one. I tried doing this once, but the Bionis Knee barely came up above the rim of the depression that Colony 9 sits in. I tried using the Fallen Arm map as a base to build from, but the Bionis and Mechonis models were too small. I had to size them up considerably in order to fit Colony 9 in it's hole. After doing this, the Fallen Arm was comically small compared to the rest of Mechonis, and the walkway from the arm to the rest of Mechonis probably didn't even reach halfway.

I imagine this was done for practical reasons. They're just too damn big at full scale. When I imported them into Unity to walk around on the arm, the z-fighting on the distant Bionis and Mechonis models was so bad I had to use overlapping cameras for different distances just to get rid of all the flickering.

Also, there must be some special shaders in use to make Bionis and Mechonis look as good as they do in game. Mechonis particularly looks much too white. Like a big abominable snowman with Cheetos fingers or something. It could just be the method in which I ripped the models too, of course. I couldn't find a tool for specifically extracting models, so I had to use generic 3D extraction tools, which caused all kinds of fun problems.
Soriku
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(05-10-2014, 08:16 PM)
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Originally Posted by Black Door

Xenoblade's map both fascinated and irritated me because, although the fields are huge and have a pretty good sense of scale for the world (I even think someone combined all of the explorable zones in a model viewer and everything fits together) the towns hold to this weird 16-bit conviction of only being two city blocks long. It hurt the narrative a bit when you being told about how important Colony 6 and thousands of people were killed, but when you get there the "city" is the size of a public park.

Outside of Colony 6, Xenoblade's towns are very big. Alcamoth is HUGE (biggest JRPG town I've seen). What you're describing is mainly limited to one area.

Anyway OP, games like Xenoblade, FF XII, DQ VIII, and Wild Arms 5 do well in crafting great 3D worlds with an appropriate enough scale and "time compression". When given the right budget and direction these games surpass any old-school world map. Old world maps are OK, but they give you an illusion and not much else. In real time the distance between areas feel very short, and day/night cycles feel too short to appear realistic. A well designed full 3D world handles the passage of time better.
PensivePen
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(05-10-2014, 08:16 PM)
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Originally Posted by FryHole

Thanks folks, much appreciated. Dunan, good stuff - I could write a whole new thread about the importance of towns and their design to RPGs. Have you played Bravely Default? The towns were one of the places I felt it were lacking, they were beautiful but so basic - only a few buildings with very little going on, little more than shop select screens, and very self-contained. I'm with Batbeg on considering Lindblum a top tier specimen in this regard, and really hope the BD sequel develops their towns in this kind of direction.

I think their size and the inability to enter almost any buildings in that game really hurt the towns, which is a shame since that's one of my favorite things about the rpgs Bravely Default is trying to emulate. Being able to go into all the buildings (even if there weren't really that many) and read all the dumb flavor text added a ton of charm to JRPGs for me.
Last edited by PensivePen; 05-10-2014 at 08:20 PM.
eyeball_kid
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(05-10-2014, 08:23 PM)
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I'm playing Suikoden 1 right now, and the use of overhead map definitely makes the world feel huge. Another component is the locking off of areas which look like they can be accessed later, such as an ocean with other land masses visible on the overhead map.

I think the first use of overworld map that zooms in to a battle area was Ultima III (1983), but there might be an earlier example. This series heavily influenced all the JRPG games, such as Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and even Legend of Zelda.
kswiston
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(05-10-2014, 08:34 PM)
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Originally Posted by Shengar

Just finished reading the OP, Really well put I might said. One game in particular that very bad at authorial distance due to their technological nature must be Elder Scrolls series, particularly Skyrim's Solitude. Taken form the link that posted by Durante's above, this passage express my problem greatly with Skyrim's Solitude

I think it's a design choice. In Elder Scrolls, you can explore everything on the map, including all the buildings. Building exteriors are either to the same scale as their interiors, or close enough to give you that sense. You can talk to pretty much every NPC, and most of them are involved in one or more of the various quest lines. It would be pretty hard to do this, and upscale the world from its 30 person major cities and countries with the area of small towns. Even as technology gets better, I don't see this improving all that much, without going back to randomly generated content like Daggerfall.

I agree that it feels sort of silly when you step back and think about it, but the area that is traversible in Skyrim is pretty densely packed with stuff (at least compared to a 10km2 area of land in real life) that I don't really notice while playing.
Last edited by kswiston; 05-10-2014 at 08:43 PM.
PsionBolt
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(05-10-2014, 08:40 PM)
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This is a really interesting topic! I've actually thought about this quite a bit, but it remains one of the hardest things for me to really "figure out" when it comes to game narratives.
I definitely agree that spatial abstraction is a powerful tool. But as many others have said, it's very possible to do without it (as with the Mother series) or to mess it up significantly (several Tales games do, I'd say). It's a hard nut to crack.

One series in which I find this particularly interesting is Fire Emblem. In most of them, you have two levels of abstraction: the world map that you cross between chapters, and the gameplay maps, which are themselves abstractions, but to a lesser degree. But then some games in the series sometimes try to cut that second level out: Thracia 776 has several maps which depict areas in reasonable scale, like the jail maps. In the opposite direction, Genealogy of the Holy War has maps which are gigantic and interconnected, and can be correlated directly with the world map in shape and content; this approach extends the second level of abstraction, and blurs the first into it. Thinking about the differences in experience that result in cases like this is very difficult for me. Even though looking at differences within a single series in which all the games are very similar in scope should make things easier, it ends up confusing me even more!
Last edited by PsionBolt; 05-10-2014 at 08:51 PM.
staticneuron
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(05-10-2014, 09:11 PM)
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Originally Posted by randomkid

100% on board with the OP's argument. Ravenous desire for ever more realism has been largely ruinous for all the games I love, abstraction is one of the best tools in the developer kit.

And this is where I break from this opinion. A realistic passage from point A to point B shouldn't be done just for the sake of realism. If I wanted a realistic travel simulator I would turn of my console and go walk somewhere.

The primary draw I imagined for most people is exploration. Content, people and vista's to see, not the sheer fact of traveling for the sake of traveling.

I sat down and really tried to calculate the amount of time spent traveling in games versus actual gameplay encounters. Titles such as red dead, far cry 2 and a few others really show how travel can be tedious and used as a time waster that would break the pacing of a game in a negative way.

It would be one thing if the wandering aspect was optional, but anything that is forced is imo a horrible idea.
Durante
Come on down to Durante's drivethru PC port fixes. 15 minutes or less. Yelp: ★★★★★

Fixed Souls, Deadly Premonition, Lightning Returns, Umihara Kawase, Symphonia, Little King's Story, PhD, likes mimosas.
(05-10-2014, 09:13 PM)
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Originally Posted by kswiston

I think it's a design choice. In Elder Scrolls, you can explore everything on the map, including all the buildings. Building exteriors are either to the same scale as their interiors, or close enough to give you that sense. You can talk to pretty much every NPC, and most of them are involved in one or more of the various quest lines. It would be pretty hard to do this, and upscale the world from its 30 person major cities and countries with the area of small towns. Even as technology gets better, I don't see this improving all that much, without going back to randomly generated content like Daggerfall.

I see 2 possible solutions to that issue which don't break realism completely:
  • Don't make the "Imperial Capital" part of the game. Resist the temptation to go massive scale. This is what Kingdom Come: Deliverance is doing.
  • Only allow access to small subsets of huge cities, but make those fully traversible. This does introduce an abstraction for traveling between "slices" of cities/landscapes, but it can work really well.
FryHole
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(05-10-2014, 11:06 PM)
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Originally Posted by Soriku

Outside of Colony 6, Xenoblade's towns are very big. Alcamoth is HUGE (biggest JRPG town I've seen). What you're describing is mainly limited to one area.

Anyway OP, games like Xenoblade, FF XII, DQ VIII, and Wild Arms 5 do well in crafting great 3D worlds with an appropriate enough scale and "time compression". When given the right budget and direction these games surpass any old-school world map. Old world maps are OK, but they give you an illusion and not much else. In real time the distance between areas feel very short, and day/night cycles feel too short to appear realistic. A well designed full 3D world handles the passage of time better.

Xenoblade undoubtedly does a good job, though I haven't played the others. I have to disagree though, I genuinely think the illusion is a superior way to approach this, creating a scale beyond anything a 3D world can without being dull and/or having a world ending budget. The day night cycles don't need to be realistic, and the real time can be short, that's kind of the point of time compression. It's like saying that the Indiana Jones films map travel sequences are unrealistically swift. I realise of course that this may be entirely down to personal preference.
CorvoSol
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(05-10-2014, 11:12 PM)
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Final Fantasy XII doesn't really have a world map, but it really does nail that feeling of being in a giant world and walking from place to place without it ever getting terribly boring. Type-0 has a second map for the airship and I think that idea- not necessarily its execution but the idea itself- could work wonderfully. Walking around via interconnected areas and then flying over a world map or driving around in a car.
MagnaderAlpha
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(05-10-2014, 11:21 PM)
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Originally Posted by Soriku

Outside of Colony 6, Xenoblade's towns are very big. Alcamoth is HUGE (biggest JRPG town I've seen). What you're describing is mainly limited to one area.

Anyway OP, games like Xenoblade, FF XII, DQ VIII, and Wild Arms 5 do well in crafting great 3D worlds with an appropriate enough scale and "time compression". When given the right budget and direction these games surpass any old-school world map. Old world maps are OK, but they give you an illusion and not much else. In real time the distance between areas feel very short, and day/night cycles feel too short to appear realistic. A well designed full 3D world handles the passage of time better.

Modern expectations hurt RPG world building. The more video games get more realistic in graphics, the bigger budget it takes to render those graphics and the more the audience starts to believe that realistic graphics are the standard. The bigger budgets, the more a hassle it is to render a fully realized world, and they cut down the world building significantly and focus only on a very linear design. The whole "It's too hard to make towns" spiel comes into play. Though, personally, I wouldn't mind a less realistic looking game if it meant that dedication, time and effort went towards world building instead of rendering the most realistic looking cement texture imaginable. But most people wouldn't agree with me. It's all about cutting edge realism, and because of that everybody believes THIS is the way we are destined to head. I personally see all avenues open, freely there for any developer to choose.

The whole classic illusion of world maps is one I'd like to think of that is along the line of old school movie magic. The old tricks of the trade that SFX folks used to employ to make movies shine. Virtually, tricks like calculated lighting, rotoscoping, and being a master of all available assets(kinda a form of MacGyvering).

Personally, I still don't see the old world maps defunct. They remain a style that anybody can use if they want to. Hell, programming for a world map(just in HD nowadays) might be far more easier than trying to render a full scale explorable world, realistic, with each tree and blade of grass looking the most intricately detailed as possible. And with all that space freed up, perhaps invest more focus into the towns and dungeons, enemy selection, among others.
davepoobond
you can't put a price on sparks
(05-10-2014, 11:22 PM)
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That's all well and good, but world maps came about because of technical limitations, not because they "wanted" to have them.

FFX'S world map is essentially interconnected 3d planescapes that you have to run across. I think it's more interesting to see what they are actually seeing than seeing a representation of what they are seeing. It boils down to "show, don't tell" and world maps are all about telling you things are happening visually rather than showing you what is happening.

A game had to make a stylized choice to have a "world map" where you run across, because the standard now is that there is no "map"
Soriku
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(05-10-2014, 11:26 PM)
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Originally Posted by FryHole

Xenoblade undoubtedly does a good job, though I haven't played the others. I have to disagree though, I genuinely think the illusion is a superior way to approach this, creating a scale beyond anything a 3D world can without being dull and/or having a world ending budget. The day night cycles don't need to be realistic, and the real time can be short, that's kind of the point of time compression. It's like saying that the Indiana Jones films map travel sequences are unrealistically swift. I realise of course that this may be entirely down to personal preference.

I don't remember how long day/night cycles last in other games, but Bravely Default uses the old style world map with a day/night cycle but each cycle is like a minute long. It's hard to get a good impression with cycles that short. You see the switching of day to night too frequently to tell that the party is going on a big adventure, especially when key points of interest spaced too closely, unlike a 3D world where there is much more space and day to night happens infrequently enough where it's like an event to see the time of day switch.

Not every game can manage a good 3D world, but the ones that do have one are at the top of their game IMO.
Soriku
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(05-10-2014, 11:33 PM)
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Originally Posted by MagnaderAlpha

Modern expectations hurt RPG world building. The more video games get more realistic in graphics, the bigger budget it takes to render those graphics and the more the audience starts to believe that realistic graphics are the standard. The bigger budgets, the more a hassle it is to render a fully realized world, and they cut down the world building significantly and focus only on a very linear design. The whole "It's too hard to make towns" spiel comes into play. Though, personally, I wouldn't mind a less realistic looking game if it meant that dedication, time and effort went towards world building instead of rendering the most realistic looking cement texture imaginable. But most people wouldn't agree with me. It's all about cutting edge realism, and because of that everybody believes THIS is the way we are destined to head. I personally see all avenues open, freely there for any developer to choose.

The whole classic illusion of world maps is one I'd like to think of that is along the line of old school movie magic. The old tricks of the trade that SFX folks used to employ to make movies shine. Virtually, tricks like calculated lighting, rotoscoping, and being a master of all available assets(kinda a form of MacGyvering).

Personally, I still don't see the old world maps defunct. They remain a style that anybody can use if they want to. Hell, programming for a world map(just in HD nowadays) might be far more easier than trying to render a full scale explorable world, realistic, with each tree and blade of grass looking the most intricately detailed as possible. And with all that space freed up, perhaps invest more focus into the towns and dungeons, enemy selection, among others.

Uhh well I don't think realistic graphics matter. None of the games I listed have realistic graphics. But their scale makes them appear realistic (to an extent). Art style doesn't really matter.
FryHole
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(05-10-2014, 11:38 PM)
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Originally Posted by davepoobond

That's all well and good, but world maps came about because of technical limitations, not because they "wanted" to have them.

Yes, but the whole basis of this thread is that a technical limitation resulted on something better than what would have occurred without those constraints. And I do wonder if we're being unfair in assuming the world map was a compromise.
Tex117
Banned
(05-10-2014, 11:47 PM)
I think the idea of traversing great distances is paramount to a great RPG.
RedSwirl
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(05-10-2014, 11:52 PM)
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I think world maps are really only very useful when an RPG takes place over an entire planet, or at least a very large continent. They're not as necessary if a whole game takes place in a more localized area like a country or province.

I feel like more games should try to procedurally generate realistically-sized and ridiculously big places but give you convenient modes of transportation like cars and aircraft.
FryHole
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(05-11-2014, 12:49 AM)
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Originally Posted by RedSwirl

I think world maps are really only very useful when an RPG takes place over an entire planet, or at least a very large continent. They're not as necessary if a whole game takes place in a more localized area like a country or province.

I feel like more games should try to procedurally generate realistically-sized and big places but give you convenient modes of transportation like cars and aircraft.

That's a very fair point. The World Ends With You is a shining example of the genre and has no need for a world map or any kind of time based tomfoolery. Not every game needs to be an epic.

Edit: actually I take some of that back. TWEWY makes extensive use of time gaps.
Last edited by FryHole; 05-11-2014 at 12:54 AM.

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