Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Frayed Knights Update: Mappage!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 4, 2011

Time for another update on Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon, the tongue-in-cheek hardcore RPG coming soon from yours truly.

Back in the ooooold days, when CRPGs were sloppy kings of computer gaming, players were expected to make their own maps. Just like playing a tabletop D&D game, players would scribble notes and draw maps on pads of graph paper sitting next to the keyboard. Many puzzles were designed specifically to frustrate mapping attempts, with things like flipping tiles, dark tiles, teleport squares and “wrap-around” maps.

Pretty evil stuff, if you think about it. I dunno why I, personally, suffered through it and even sometimes enjoyed it. A masochist streak, maybe? Although I think part of it was that that the physical and intellectual act of making painstaking graph-paper maps – extending the game world into the real world on this side of the glass – increased our emotional investment in the game. And that, in return, increased our enjoyment.

At some point, these games started offering “auto-maps.” The very term was a reference to the assumption that by default the player was supposed to do the mapping, but that the game benevolently took over the task from the player. While a few players and journalists groused somewhat at this development, I don’t think I’ve ever met a player who truly regrets (or refuses to use) the “automap” in a game.  Maybe they exist, maybe it’s you, but I’m just saying I don’t know that I’ve ever met one.

Automaps were easy back in the days of gridded & tiled maps. The computer could just go through the tiles that the player has explored, show the presence of walls / doors / other features in or surrounding the tile, by looping through X / Y coordinates of the grid. After RPG worlds began sporting full 3D worlds with arbitrary sizes and alignments, it became a little more complicated to do in real-time. You can still do it, by tagging ground and floor &/or wall solids (and other objects) and running them through a special rendering pass. And it’s still not that simple, when you are trying to represent paths that go underneath each other. More tagging or limitations on level design can solve or prevent that problem, too.

Unfortunately, when working with an existing engine that doesn’t support it natively, it would involve a lot of extra work with both the engine and the tools to do that. Which is where I am with Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon. So I traded one time consuming task for another one.

My solution is hand-drawn maps (well, hand-drawn over top of what the tools can spit out for me) that get revealed slowly. Catering to my limited artistic abilities (not to mention limited time), I decided to fall back on what I felt I could do. Making the assumption that it’s probably Dirk making the maps, and that he possesses skills about equal to my own. On top of that, in another nod to the inspiration provided by old-school tabletop gaming, the style of maps are pretty similar to that which we gamers who grew up with the 1st edition Dungeon Masters Guide and modules written by Gary Gygax are used to.

They aren’t slick and polished, but as they are hand-made they do allow me to add some more helpful indicators on the map that might be missed by an automated process. In addition, some of the dungeons in Frayed Knights are very vertical. For these, I use side-view maps. These won’t help you navigate a single floor of the Tower of Almost Certain Doom very well, but the floors are small, and you can see where the stairs are (at least on one axis).

I’ve also played with the maps a little as well. Dirk gets bored easily, so he sometimes scribbles in the margins or in other blank spots on the map.  For your amusement.


Filed Under: Frayed Knights - Comments: 21 Comments to Read



  • Menigal said,

    I really like the idea of the map being as if the character was drawing it. Yet another little detail that draws you into the world. Excellent use of resources (or lack thereof)!

  • EHamilton said,

    I really like the classic D&D look to this. It sells the old-school connection.

    And I say this as the fabled person who hates automaps, and refuses to use them! Or at any rate, enjoys playing retro games with no automap more than modern games with them. It’s pretty hard to hand-map modern games, given the loss of 2D geometry and discrete steps. I really enjoyed creating elaborate color-coded maps with letters and numbers on them, and I wish they would still make a few games that allowed me to scratch the itch. (High hopes for Grimrock…)

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    HAH! I knew if I wrote that, someone would come out of the woodwork and tell me that they were that person. Thanks, EHamilton! You may not be alone here…

    I really hope Grimrock… er, rocks. It’s way too early in dev to even give it a very high probability of being released, but I think it’s better than 50/50 considering the team. I try to tell myself not to get excited about it, but the visuals look great, and the devs are saying the kinds of things I want to hear about their design philosophy.

  • Modran said,

    I liked doing my own maps in Etrian Odyssey on the DS. I’m also one of those guys that must explore every nook and crannies of a zone so I’m reallly going to enjoy the scribbles and notes XD

  • jzoeller said,

    I put a difficulty level in DarkLight Dungeon Eternity called “Old School” where the automap feature is disabled.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I want to pretend I’m that old-school and hardcore, but I’m really not. I really like having my auto-maps… :)

  • JTippetts said,

    Oh, jeez. I just had a flash-back to Wizardry IV. I’d never played a Wizardry game; in fact, I’d only ever played early versions of Nethack. So I was trying to hand-draw maps and I just could not wrap my head around getting the maps right. I’d never had any experience with that kind of “dishonesty” (ie, the teleport tiles etc…) so for hours and hours I stubbornly insisted that I was simply drawing the maps wrong. When I finally realized what the game developers had done to me, my reaction was a kind of sick horror that made me give up the game. It felt like an honest betrayal of my trust. I was facing an unfamiliar system, the only things I had to hold on to was that somehow I could draw up a map and make the world make sense. To realize that they were effing with me even in that way completely threw me off. It was a long time after that before I could play another RPG without feeling some kind of residual mistrust and even hatred. Consequently, I missed a lot of what is now seen as the “classic” era of CRPGs. All thanks to those assholes that made Wiz. IV. Thanks, assholes. :D

  • McTeddy said,

    I’m with you, Coyote. I love my old school, but I am truly grateful for the automap. I have absolutely terrible spacial logic and even in straight passages I end up breaking things.

    That said, I am fond of death traps, evil monster placement and other Nintendo hard designs. Even better, I recently discovered the reasoning behind my fondness.

    In a game like that, it become’s a a battle of wits between the designer and I. My challenge isn’t from the gameplay but predicting where the next attack will come from.

    I suspect there is a trap on that tile… but he KNOWS I suspect a trap on that tile so… I trap is over… OUCH! Well played designer… well played.

  • GhanBuriGhan said,

    Can WE scribble on the map as well? My favorite feature from Ultima Underworld that is hardly ever available even in AAA games… So Dirk is using graph paper too, I see!

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    @JTippetts: Oh, man. You started with Wizardry IV? The hardest CRPG ever made? The most disgustingly twisted and nasty game ever? I’m sorry, dude.

    I recommend reading the CRPG Addict’s blogs on playing Wiz IV. He really enjoyed the first one, a lot:

    CRPG Addict: Wizardry IV

    The follow-up posts about this game are entitled, “Wizardry IV: &*$# Everything About This Game”, “Wizardy IV: An Exercise in Masochism”, and “Wizardry IV: Paroled!” when he finally gave up on it.

    @McTeddy: I’m not quite as fond as the deathtraps, but I do miss the environmental puzzles that were part & parcel of those games… whether finding the traps / tricks, or realizing that there MUST be a secret door somewhere along this wall…

    @GhanBuriGhan: I loved that feature in Ultima Underworld as well. Unfortunately, I don’t have it in FK. I wish I did. But that was one of the “dream list” things that had to get scoped out so I could release the game this decade.

  • JTippetts said,

    @Rampant Coyote: That’s the one. Man, just seeing those screenshots brought it all back. It’s been a few years, now, but I remember I had to get help from the guy who gave it to me just to get out of the first room. To his credit, he did also give me his copy of Eye of the Beholder for DOS (which does stand as one bright spot in a long period of darkness) somewhat later, and is the guy who introduced me to Nethack in the first place, so I eventually forgave him for the Wiz IV debacle. I’m reformed, the psychological damage is almost fully repressed, and I’ve been digging through GoG to see what I missed.

    I remember that besides the mapping difficulty, it was also difficult for me to accept that heroes of my fiction-reading childhood like Belgarion, Sturm Brightblade, and Dallben, wanted me dead with such horrible determination. I guess I didn’t quite grasp that I was actually “the bad guy” for some reason. Maybe because I was, like, fourteen and all my screws were still a little loose.

  • steveheise said,

    This is an excellent idea…..takes me back to tabletop d&d on my friend’s front porch when i was a kid. great idea.

  • Maklak said,

    I like having an auto map. Your approach is a viable one, and often used for overworld maps. One thing that bothers me with auto-maps in modern games is that they rotate, so that ‘forward’ and ‘up’ are aligned. I want my map to be aligned to a single direction, preferably north. Give me a directional arrow on that map or a compass, and I’m good. Rotating auto-map is quite confusing to me.

    Perhabs this has something to do with how I perceive directions. When I’m giving directions to somebody I generally use commands like “turn south after …”. People often don’t understand that, and random people on the street seem to have trouble pointing ‘south’. It is really easy with just sun and a watch really. Rather than ‘south’ I could say ‘azimuth 180′ for clarity, byt that seems to confuze people even more. When others explain directions to me, they use ‘left’ and ‘right’, which are confusing to me. After a few seconds of thinking I know which hand is ‘right’, but which direction should I be facing, when I turn ‘right’, ‘east’?

    What I find even more confusing is people reffering to directions of turining screws as ‘left’ and ‘right’. There are of course ‘clockwise’ and ‘counterclockwise’ when looking from ‘up’ to ‘down’ at the turning screw, but I need to think a lot to gain temporary insight into understanding that ‘left’ means ‘counterclockwise’. Uhm, probably.

    Anyway I find rotating automaps impractical. BTW, is FK going to have just ‘M’ button maps, what screenshot and pilot would suggest, or corner-of-the-screen dynamic auto-map as well?

  • Hajo said,

    I keep my old hand-drawn maps like little treasures. I have no idea really why, actually I don’t even have the games anymore, but it must be what above was called “emotional investment” and they still feel like an achievement, too valuable to just dump them, even if now useless beyond bringing memories of old times.

    I also want to chime in and say the idea of hand-drawn maps as base of the automap feature is cool. Very stylish, life-like and, beyond all doubt, cool.

    Also the idea to have notes scribbled there, and maybe some doodles added.

    I didn’t play Ultima Underworld much, but Arcanum had the option to write a diary with your own player notes. I know it’s difficult with your engine, but I also want to say it really added to the game, since I often play irregularly and the old notes are much needed to pick up a saved game again, weeks later.

    But anyways, the presented map feature looks totally cool to me!

  • GhanBuriGhan said,

    @RC: too bad, but I understand thats it not a must-have feature.
    One suggestion: I think the map would look nicer if the background wasn’t white, but had the same graph-paper background as in the filled-out parts. (Or you could replace that texture with a parchment-like texture as seen in the GUI).

  • Ruber Eaglenest said,

    [Sorry my bad english, I can't found a way of install the english dictionary in Chrome :( ]

    That’s really a good idea. Personally, I found hand draw maps in games, simply the best. I love the maps of the Thief series. The maps of the first game, were not “auto-maps” per se, but the ability to scribe over them suply enough that absence of “auto”.

    The good thing of this, is that you could integrate the maps in the gameplay, in the story, in the universe of the game, for example, maybe the maps are purchased in a black market, or in the thieves guild. And maybe some of these maps are incomplete or with errors, making the gameplay more interesting.

    Definitively, to integrate the maps in the gameplay is a great idea, not just for comodity, but for another element of play in the game world.

  • Maklak said,

    @GBG:
    Yes, that would look much better than white bacground. Just include some kind of borders to make the map distinguishible from the rest of the interface.

  • Groboclown said,

    Oh, wow. Looking at those hand-drawn cave walls, and the blue waves for the water, brings me back 25 years ago to my introduction to it all – red box basic D&D. I feel myself expecting that image of the carrion crawler to show up next.

  • fluffyamoeba said,

    I can’t navigate in games without a map. I think I spend more time looking at the mini map in games that have them than the world itself.

    I do like game maps that look like maps, which the auto generated ones don’t tend to manage. But while I loved the *idea* of the hand drawn scribbly mission maps in thief 3, I just got so lost trying to use them that I couldn’t ever do the game without getting detected after passing the same guard for the 5th time so gave up.

    The map screenie above looks pretty useable though. Is the party position the red dot?

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Yep, the party is the dot.

  • Noumenon said,

    I vote to keep the white paper around the map

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