Saga of Lucimia dev argues that minimaps destroy MMORPG immersion

    
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Yeah, there's no version of this that ends well.

Saga of Lucimia has made a name for itself during its long development as a hardcore old-school indie MMO with a focus on grouping (there’s no solo content at all), corpse runs, and no LFG tool in sight. So if you thought the game would kindly tell you where you are with a minimap, you’ve got another thing coming.

As dev Tim “Renfail” Anderson explains today in his latest forum post, he thinks minimaps are bad for MMORPGs as he believes they cause players to not bother to learn (and therefore, recall) specific places in the game world.

“At no point was I ever invested in the game world with my mental faculties,” he says of his time in Star Wars: The Old Republic. “I never had to learn my way around the game world, commit anything to memory. Convenience was (and is) the name of the game, because convenience sells lots of copies to the masses and makes games accessible to the everyday person.” That’s in contrast, he says, to older games, like EverQuest, where “players eventually created and posted maps up in EQ Atlas, but prior to that point, we all had binders where we drew our own maps to help us get around.”

Ultimately, Anderson says Lucimia will eschew minimaps in the service of his brand of immersion, which apparently demands that you hone your real-life skill in cartography and/or print things from the internet rather than look at them on your screen.

“Some might label these games ‘hardcore.’ We disagree. They aren’t hardcore; they simply mirror reality. The focus on realism to the point where they ignore many of the modern-day features that players have become reliant upon, like instant travel and minimaps and glowing trails leading everyone from point A to point B. Because these old-school games focused on realism, they engaged our brains in a way that no other modern-day games do. For us, our primary focus while building the Saga of Lucimia has been immersion. This isn’t just a game. It’s a living, breathing world. And as such, we want players invested in that world. We want them engaged. So from day one we knew we weren’t going to include a minimap in our MMORPG. No glowing trails leading you from point A to point B. No flashing icons over NPC heads telling you who you need to talk to. You’ll have to immerse yourself in the world if you want to get around. You’ll have to actually pay attention to conversations and dialogue because there will be valuable clues and directions, landmarks and waypoint that you need to look for.”

Last week, Anderson spoke out against lockboxes and free-to-play in general, telling future players that he’d turned down multiple publishing agreements out of a desire to stay subscription-based.

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Atis

I don’t get it, he’s going to remove minimap, but what about other types of maps. What about normal static pocket map on hotkey? Why would I need to print anything if only MINImap is removed?

Will my character be able to use normal drawn map from inventory? Will he be able to manually add markers on it? Will he be able to ask nearby NPC to mark their current position on map and other locations NPC knows, like “could you please show on this map where are we now? and where can I find that dragon you want me to slay?”?

IMO, biggest risk for this game is not too narrow niche but misrepresentation, Tim seriously needs to start explaining his plans 100% clear and don’t scare off potential players. If he’s gonna keep big static map, then he should highlight that, because now even Bree is complaining about forcing players to alt-tab.

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Stormwaltz

Hm, wish I’d seen this thread earlier.

I’m pretty middle-ground on this one. I think minimaps are fine. They compensate somewhat for not having peripheral vision and true three-dimensionality.

What bugs me is how games use minimaps. Instead of an NPC saying “Go northwest of Villagename and look for the big tree,” they’ll say, “I’ll mark the location on your map” and stick a great big pin on the objective.

In this design, the player isn’t looking around and exploring the world, but blindly following UI markers.

Cadaver
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Cadaver

I like the cut of his jib. These guys are building the game they want to play and I wish them every success. It’ll be a niche title no doubt. After all, most modern MMO players aren’t looking for an immersive experience. Evidently, what most modern MMO players are looking for is some sort of fantasy-themed shopping experience, with playhouses and a bit of dolly dress-up.

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Tim Anderson

^ This :)

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kgptzac

Any deviance from true permadeath destroys immersion. Feel free to quote me on that.

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camelotcrusade

For me, other players are the biggest source of “ruined MMO immersion,” especially if the company is complicit in offering a cash shop stocked with noisemakers (visual, aural, or both). Not sure where this game is on that level, but I feel like it’s inevitable these days.

I don’t see how I could grouse about a minimap if a dinosaur riding a mouse (or vice versa) is throwing fireworks while busily polluting the area and/or general chat with emotes. I could see myself grousing if there weren’t a map I could use to look at something else instead.

Immersion trigger aside, I don’t see how having a map up on your phone, printed in our lap, or in another window makes things “better.” How about putting the map on a toggle?

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Jack Kerras

The automatic nature of the map – the ability in most games to just point at a map button and autorun until you arrive at your destination – is most of the issue.

Peter Molyneux (I know, I know) actually talked about this a lot when it came to making Fable 2; after watching folks play the original game a lot, he sort of realized that you never -really- had to look at the game at all, and all you ever did was look at the automap.

Some games (like Asheron’s Call) had a radar which called out creatures, but didn’t actually show any of the map. That said, the portal ‘system’ also meant that you were unlikely to run straight from A to B, often going a wrong-seeming direction to hit a portal which cut your travel time down by 90%, and familiarity with this portal system (rather than being able to see where on the map you were at a glance, all the time) was integral to being able to move from place to place.

The minimap, complete with its quest markers, paths, monster radar pings, etc., makes playing most MMORPGs a fairly automatic experience. Further, the way that almost every MMO is now built, you never have to avoid anything; there’s no situation in which you walk over a bridge and suddenly a Dracky pops out of nowhere, casts ‘Hurt’, and you burst into two hundred pounds of shrapnel-filled beef stew. There’s no point at which you need to be careful, no point at which paying attention to the world around you makes more sense than just looking at the minimap and sprinting straight in whatever direction you’re moving, regardless of roads, trails, landmarks, etc.; there’s no need to look up. You CAN, but at no point MUST you; by the time you’re through leveling in a zone, you’re probably never going to return anyway.

So, I mean… automaps work great for the current crop of easy themepark MMO experiences. It’s exactly what they need; a friction-free way to get people from hub to questzone, then back to the hub, and on to the -next- hub, over and over until max level, at which point the whole game is suddenly upside-down and backwards and you have to learn entirely new shit.

Friction-free is a big thing here, though. With how popular the Souls series has gotten – no automap, or any map at all, by the way – I feel like folks who’ve been at it for a while are getting tired of Design By Teflon.

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camelotcrusade

Thanks for clarifying. Sounds like a lot of other ornaments hang on the mini-map tree, though, to the extent I would argue mini-maps are only part of the issue, with things like predictable design and even difficulty being more important.

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Jack Kerras

For sure.

I feel like saying ‘the minimap is the problem’ is reductive, but there’s a general issue with having an absolute and simple understanding of where to go and what to do at all times which causes the whole friction-free thing to go from ‘convenient’ to ‘dull’.

It’s the opposite of having adventures, most of the time. At the very least, ESO seems willing to turn things on their heads on the regular, but even so the story and design of same are at least fairly predictable. Simply turning off the mini-map in World of Warcraft isn’t the best available solution (see: Allods Online, which shipped with no minimap whatsoever, but did not deviate much from WoW’s general design mores except in P2W sorts of ways), but this is largely because World of Warcraft is built from the ground up to flog the hell out of these systems; navigating without them would be a chore.

The original Gothic, although far from an MMORPG, used map-and-compass, as well as in-world landmarks and occasional misleading information to good effect. Now, if only their UI wasn’t such absolute nonsense…

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Chris Mc

I agree, assuming a fantasy setting. Now a more modern setting would be a different story.

I did love exploring and learning the lay of the land in EQ.

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Tim Anderson

We’re a fantasy game, so the assumption fits. If we were building a sci-fi title it would be a completely different story.

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Matt Redding

A screen and some speakers does not give you the full range of sensory input the real world does. You don’t hear monster footsteps behind you or the snap of twigs as bandits converge on you, or feel the shifting wind that carries the scent of a dragon’s breath. An actual minimap – a compass type thing in the corner of the screen that shows nearby enemies and your teammates- provides you with information that someone living the experience would have. Standard in-game maps, which is what I think they’re actually talking about, similarly act as a tool to bridge the gap between the screen vs real immersion, making up for not having 360 degree sensory input along with the kind of physical memory experience you get from hiking around in real life. Leaving them out will make the process LESS immersive not more. Basically it’s just a dick move.

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Jack Kerras

I don’t think that sheer sensory input is what immersion is about, necessarily; I consider it a much more holistic concept.

When it comes down to it, I know I’m really into a game when I’m thinking about it as I try to go to sleep, or doodling its characters, or trying to work out a way to shave a few seconds off of a time – bring an extra invis potion to sneak past a rough pull? Bring a second person with an important buff to double the uptime and make our rogues burst better? etc.

Writing down coordinates when mining in SWG (and even Project Entropia, if you can believe that) was a pretty big deal for me; resources were finite and randomly-generated, with different properties for each. I still have a whole spiral notebook full of my younger self’s notes on my best finds; having to do that myself rather than just hooking into an API and scraping for data seems much more interesting to me, even if it would be -very easy- to hook into an API and scrape data; doing that would never mean I went a hundred wrong places before I went the right place, it’d mean I never ran into half the interesting shit I found while I was out searching for The Very Best Source of Nonreactive Gas.

That whole… writing stuff down in a notebook, traveling the world (or many worlds), taking notes and turning up the best of the best for my purposes? That meant immersion to me; it kept my brain in the game, it kept me thinking and engaged, despite the fact that I was doing a lot of interacting with stupid pressed wood-pulp instead of flashy graphics and giant monsters.

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Matt Redding

I think you’re talking about investment which is not the same thing as immersion. When you’re excited to stop, pull out your notebook, make a note, you’re pulling OUT of the game.

I also wasn’t saying immersion was strictly a sensory thing. I was saying that because there’s an element to the interface that gives me this convenience, I don’t have to pull out of the moment.

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Jack Kerras

I feel that the two concepts go hand-in-hand to the point that they spring from the same things; just looking away from a screen doesn’t break my immersion whatsoever, although in fairness I can be pretty well immersed in a book and excited to return to it despite the fact that I’ve taken a coffee break, and those have no real sensory shenanigans going on whatsoever.

When I’m invested, I’m able to immerse myself. When I’m not, I can’t; they’re sides of the same coin, I feel, and encouraging one often improves the other to such a degree that I’m not sure you can foster one without the other.

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Ben Stone

Players will circumvent it through addons or other means, don’t be dumb, just include it. Your world should be memorable enough without needing gimmicks. SWTOR had a bland world with no real highlights, that’s why it was autopilot.

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Modrain

Humans are lazy but smart. If you don’t make the map making fun and rewarding by itself (as do Etrian Odyssey for example), such a game design can only drive players to create workarounds.

I get the idea behind a lack of in-game map, but it just can’t work as it did in a pre-internet era or in a solo game. You have to be innovative about it, not just removing it altogether.

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Alexandre C. Fernandes

“No solo content” is a bigger problem to me than “no minimap”.

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Chosenxeno .

So many upcoming Western Nostalgia Freak MMORPGs are going learn this lesson the hard way. 1 of them is going to learn it for a second time(Pantheon). What they don’t understand is Group Focused is only good the 1st few months. What about the guy who joins your 8 months down the line? There may not be help for them. I particularly don’t like what I see in Pantheon because there’s 6 people fighting Open World Trash Mobs. How can you expect to grow your playerbase with such walled progression?

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kelvar

Exactly. I really don’t get this. EQ2 tried the same thing in their early days and did a very quick about face which served them well in the long run.

Wild Star found out the hard way 40 man raids just don’t work anymore – why not learn from your competitors?

I worry about Ashes of Creation’s 8 man dungeon groups. 8 people is insane that’s two shy of a WoW raid. Unless you have a MASSIVE population at all levels you just won’t be able to sustain that, it will be too difficult to find a group. Hell I remember shouting for just 5 in WoW all the time for LFG. God help us if it’s a specific class composition for those 8.

This no mini map to improve immersion is just silly. Others have said it better already, there are better ways to promote immersion than removing conveneince features.

And as was recently said players will often be the most ruinious as buttpirate69 lollerskates through the zone shouting how everyone suxxorz.