Sunday, January 9, 2022

WarWizard: Mapping from Above

 
      
My map of the game world so far.
         
The above is all I've accomplished in about eight more hours of WarWizard gameplay. I can't tell you how much I hate trying to map top-down games. There's no easy way to do it. I've tried the "stitch together screenshots" method, most notably with Shadow Keep (1991), but that takes forever, and if you're not pixel-perfect in matching overlapping or adjacent areas, you create errors that compound fast.
   
Of course, the same is true of the alternate method, which I'm using here: trying to replicate things tile by tile. I typically do it in rows. The WarWizard screen is 11 x 7 tiles with the character in the center. I start in a random part of the world and map all 77 tiles around me, then add one row or column at a time as I move. This method can result in essentially the same problem. When you finish your circumference of the world and the tiles don't match, finding and fixing the source of the problem is about four times as difficult as in a first-person game.
   
My map of 2088: The Cryllan Mission (1989). This one was more difficult because the world wraps.
       
Mapping is even harder in WarWizard than the typical tiled game because the graphics are advanced enough that the tiles are drawn not to look like tiles. There isn't a "water" tile and a "grass" tile the way there is in, say, early Ultima games. There are instead, for instance, "75% grass that blends into a 25% water" tiles, "mostly grass but with a hint of water in the southeast corner" tiles, and "half-grass, half-forest" tiles. I don't have the capability to figure out how to map those literally, so I have to pick the dominant feature, but that creates issues. For instance, the creators often use four "mostly desert but a hint of water in the corner" tiles stitched together in a cube to make it appear that there's a pond where the four corners come together. That pond functionally isn't "there"; it doesn't impede movement, as each for the four tiles is "really" a grass tile. Do I not map it all? If not, I lose an important navigational landmark. Do I make them all water? That makes the pond more like a lake, and suggests I can't step on those squares. Do I choose one of the four squares at random? That creates confusion that might screw up my map later.
        
This "pond" is actually four grass tiles with bits of water in the corners. It doesn't really "exist," as I can walk on all four tiles. Do I map it or not?
       
There are lots of other ways to make mistakes. I'm mapping new rows and columns when they show up on the edge of the screen, either (in this game) three or five tiles away. Sometimes I misjudge size and distance. You can see it in the map above on the eastern shore. I'm relatively sure that the coastline is supposed to be even all the way down, but something I did gave an extra column starting about 25% from the top. Probably there were a line of "half-water, half-land" squares that I interpreted as "water" at the top and "land" further down.
     
I probably would never have become a CRPG addict if I had to do this for every game. Fortunately, having to map a top-down game is a rare occurrence, as there are lots of ways that developers relieve you of the responsibility. These include:
   
  • Making a first-person game instead. First-person games tend to be easier to map because you're only mapping a couple of squares at a time. They tend to occur in areas of fixed size (e.g., the Gold Box's 16 x 16), so it's hard to go too far astray. Most important, they tend to be smaller. For WarWizard, I've already mapped coordinates up to 126 x 83,  which by itself is over 10,000 squares, and I haven't even found the northern and western shores. Wizardry, in contrast is only 4,000 squares total.
  • Making the maps small and easily-navigable. Ultima is a good example of this. Although its game world is a relatively large 168 x 168, it is organized into small islands that are easy to explore. There aren't a lot of natural barriers to block you otherwise, so once you have a hovercar, you can explore the entire world in strips.
  • Providing a world map. Even a rough outline of a continent is generally enough to prevent me from having to make my own maps. Once I have a sense of size, shape, and relative distances, I can divide the map into smaller areas and identify an optimal exploration pattern for each, annotating towns, castles, and dungeons as I find them.
      
 
One of my early maps of Fate: Gates of Dawn (1991). It wasn't important that I map everything--just enough to identify key locations and help me figure out an exploration pattern for other areas.
     
  • Provide a mechanism for determining coordinates. Even if the game doesn't come with a world map, some method of identifying your coordinates in the game world is usually enough to keep me from having to make a comprehensive map. I might still throw together a basic map anyway to plot cities and dungeons and judge relative distances, but I usually don't feel like I have to map everything, particularly since you don't need an unbroken line of terrain from one point to another to ensure accuracy. Fate: Gates of Dawn (1990) is a good example. Although that was a first-person game, it had a world the size of a top-down game. I mapped more of it than was necessary, but I could have gotten by with just mapping key locations and a little of the terrain around them.
  • Have an in-game automap. This is the most obvious solution, of course, but it's rare for this era.
       
I don't know how many CRPGs I've encountered that have lacked all of these features, but it's probably fewer than 12. And because I find mapping top-down games so annoying, I'm usually willing to take a peek at someone else's map when I get lost. So if we're talking about games that lack all of these features and are so obscure that no one has posted a map online, we're down to the single digits. Unfortunately, WarWizard is one of them.
       
As you can see from the map I've already created, however, WarWizard''s world is anything but simple. The land is riven with mountain ranges and waterways that prevent easy point-to-point exploration. Mountains and forests block your view of what's beyond. Important cities and dungeons are found in the middle of dense swamps and forests at the ends of hidden mountain trails. Finally, the hunger and fatigue mechanics discourage you from getting lost and having to do much backtracking. This is the sort of game for which you do need an accurate map.
         
This is what happens when you put cartography above everything else.
       
Unfortunately, my focus on mapping destroyed the other progress I had made with the game. While mapping, I was only concerned about uncovering the next row of tiles, not keeping my party fed and healthy. They started to starve and eventually died. I simply shrugged, reloaded, and went in a different direction. But since the game saves periodically as you play, the periods I could explore after reloading got shorter and shorter, until at last my only saved game was a party literally steps away from death.
  
When I do start again, I will probably see if I can make something of the places I've already discovered rather than continue with the map. I'm pretty sure I've identified the only dungeon "southeast" of Caer Tiran, which should let me finish at least the first quest. 

Do any of you have solutions for mapping or navigating top-down games that I'm overlooking?

Time so far: 11 hours


 

28 comments:

  1. With regards to the annoying autosaving 'feature,' is it not possible to use two save slots every time you save? That way only one slot will be subjected to the autosaving, while the other will be your actual saved game.

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    1. yes, that's possible. I was just fixated on mapping that I didn't do it.

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  2. Have you considered just drawing a more abstract overworld map as you explore, similar to the artistic maps that come with many games? You're not mapping complex dungeon corridors and the top-down view shows a lot of surrounding area, so it's not really necessary to have a tile-perfect copy. Just the general landscape, with notes on any
    interesting things.



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    1. Probably what I would have done with this game. Interesting to consider the options, though.

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    2. This would be my approach as well. Even with a complex geography and mountains blocking your line-of-sight, a crude hand drawn map, notes and memory should be sufficient.

      The biggest drawback of such an approach is that such a map often isn't meaningful for other people. Usually not an issue, unless you're writing a walkthrough about this game. Or a blog...

      For a walkthrough or blog, if the game offers anything like the crystals or map spell in Fate, I would use these + screen shot to create a world map. If not, I'd say don't bother with that map, it'll take too much time to create a good map and the reward is too small.

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    3. I was going to say the same thing. Who said there had to be a pixel-perfect map? I think our host's obsessiveness is getting the better of him. As long as a map has features that can be used to navigate, it is a useful map. Just map impassible mountains, rivers, roads, towns, dungeons, etc. Don't need every shrub in the land. If a pond is useful as a landmark, then into the map it goes. Simplify...

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    4. I've tried to hand-draw basic maps before, but I have a lot of problems. Without knowing the shape and size of the world, you don't know where to start the map on the page. My distance estimations are always off enough that I screw up the basic shape of the continent, which means the map ends up not really helping. Ultimately, the process ends with a lot of crumpled up pieces of paper on the floor. I'd rather take longer and have an accurate map.

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  3. In the example of the pond (or oasis) formed from 4 water corners, pretty sure that's intended as desert sands, not grassland?

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    1. Yes. There are others that appear in grassland; I just didn't happen to have a screen shot of them. The water is the more important part.

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  4. I rarely feel the need to map unless it's a first person game where many hallways look the same and I absolutely need to map to orient myself.

    In a top down game, I usually get a good enough overview of the region I'm in that I can just follow the rough map I've made in my mind. If I start out in Bumbleville and discover mountains in the north, I know the mountains are north of Bumbleville. If the sea is to the south, great, I already have a workable mental map for the most obvious features of the landscape. Then come the cities: Drudoburgh is to the east of Bumbleville. Tippytown is in between the two.

    I have a good enough geographic memory that I don't need to make a map for this kind of game. Knowing the locations of important places in relation to each other is enough. I might take some notes in a Word document to remind myself where places are in relation to each other, and which quests are connected to them (e.g. the Green Sorceress in Drudoburgh told me to hunt down the stone troll somewhere in the Bleak Mountains; they are north of Bumbleville).

    Never had any problems with that method.

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    1. I find that not having a map enhances my experience. I (almost) never make maps and disable minimaps whenever possible. I'll try to learn the landmarks and navigate by them, and if I miss small things I still have the potential to be surprised by discoveries when I have to come back through an area.

      Of course, I'm not blogging my way through ~10,000 of these games.

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    2. It depends on the game's visual presentation for me. Any Wizardry up to 7 requires mapping not to get lost, because there are no recognizable landmarks as such. Everything is corridors with only 2 or 3 tilesets in total: one for towns, one for dungeons, one for wilderness. Nothing is visually distinct enough to allow easy navigation by landmarks.

      Top down games are easier because they show bigger areas, so you can recognize the shape of the landscape. Still, early iconographic games like the first couple of Ultimas lack detail and variety in their tilesets so many regions look samey.

      But once we hit the early 90s with colorful 256 color graphics, mapless navigation becomes a lot easier.

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    3. I would love not to have to make a map to ensure I've found everything. That's certainly possible with a lot of modern games, which do give you more information about how to get to places. I just don't think this game is that far along. As I say, "Important cities and dungeons are found in the middle of dense swamps and forests at the ends of hidden mountain trails." I feel if you don't have some way to keep track of where you've explored, you're just inviting frustration.

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    4. I guess I just have a very good geographic memory. I managed to explore pretty much everything in the recently released Gothic 2 mod Chronicles of Myrtana: Archolos without even taking any notes. According to Steam it took me 110 hours to beat, and it has little handholding and many hidden places, as well as dangerous locations near the starting area so you always have a reason to come back later.

      Whenever I leveled up enough to be able to meet the next-higher challenges, I'd go through my memory and try to remember places I had to avoid the last time I went out exploring. The cave with skeletons next to the vineyard... the troll cave near the mountain bridge... the west side of the beach with the fire lizards... the swamp in the southeast near the woodcutters' camp... the cave behind the waterfall near Silbach...

      Of course, Gothic 2 is a more modern game with full 3D graphics and free movement so navigation is inherently different from a tile based top-down game of the early 90s. But I didn't need to use a detailed map (beyond the cloth map that came with the game) in any of the Ultimas I played, either. If World of Xeen hadn't had an automap, I would have played that one without a map too since it has enough environmental variety to make navigation easy.

      I don't mind the risk of missing a dungeon or two, especially if they're not mandatory, by not mapping. I find the task of creating detailed tile-perfect maps too much effort to bother, unless it's a game focused on small dungeon levels (Eye of the Beholder, early Wizardry). The enjoyment gained from guaranteed 100%ing of every tile in the game would be less than the enjoyment lost through constantly breaking the flow of gameplay to work on a map.

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  5. For me at least, the entire purpose of mapping in a game like Wizardry is to produce the sort of top down view that games like these give you from the start. I can't say I've ever attempted to map a top-down game.

    With one exception - my brother and I mapped the Underworld in Ultima 5 and some of the dungeons in Ultima 6. Our procedure there was to use gems and just sketch what we saw roughly on several sheets of paper. With weren't concerned with tile-to-graph accuracy.

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  6. I made my Ultima II & III maps by stitching together screenshots, but with help from some scripts I wrote. The logic went something like this:
    * Ask how many steps I went left/right since the last screenshot
    * Ask how many steps I went up/down since the last screenshot
    * Find the most recent file in the folder
    * Copy the part of it with map data into memory
    * Replace the pixels in the avatar tile with transparency
    * Paste it into the map file using offsets calculated from the movement vector input


    It's not fast, but it's way more efficient than stitching them by hand, and probably more so than drawing in Excel.

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    1. I don't think I ever really worried about mapping in the Ultimas...

      Wizardy and Bard's Tale were another matter!

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    2. Yeah, but most Ultima games have the advantage that there's roads going to most major locations. So instead of making a full map, you can just make a rough outline of where the roads go to find your way around.

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    3. Also the Ultima map mainly makes sense. There’s landmarks across the world which aren’t repeated, and a general sense of location. For all his flaws, Richard Garriott has a pretty good knack for making a believable world given the restrictions

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    4. I wish I had the programming acumen to do something like that.

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  7. 'Chester is now starving'...now THAT is what I call dedication to map making!

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  8. I wonder if using recording software would help somehow?

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  9. Space Hulk is a good game but I don't think it has any RPG elements.

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  10. When did automap become common? I remember it seemed liked a big deal for MMII vs I. (1988 / 1986). I also liked how MMI gave a very interesting clue on its box concerning supplied maps ...

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    1. Vg gryyf lbh gung gur Vaare Fnapghz vf abg ba gur znc. Nf gur cynlre yrneaf, gur fhccyvrq znc vf vzcresrpg - lrg gur tnzr nyfb pbagnvaf gjb cynprf gung pnaabg or *cynprq* ba gur znc (Nfgeny Cynar, Fbhy Znmr).

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  11. The trick to stitching together screenshots is basically math. If you find the size of the viewport in pixels - 352x224 for this game - and tiles - 11x7, I'm pretty sure - you can find the size of an individual tile (32x32), and then you know that each new screen is going to be positioned 352 or 224 pixels away from the previous one if it's an entire screen away, or some other multiple of 32 pixels if not.

    And that lets you be pixel-perfect by giving you a mathematical check to know you did it right each time.

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    Replies
    1. That's true. I guess I'd just find going into the image properties and manually adjusting the starting position of each screenshot more annoying than doing it the way I'm doing it.

      Delete
  12. I'm finding it a challenge managing the time phasing of spells. Hopefully you'll discuss this in some in your "magic" session.

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