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.
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