6.18.2007

Do You Know the Way to San Andreas?

As levels in games get bigger and bigger these days -- one part improved technology, two parts "my sandbox is bigger than yours" mentality -- navigation becomes a key issue. Gone are the days of "should I go right, or should I go left?" Nowadays, the question is more often "Is that island more North-East, or North-North-East?"

Designers really have to keep ease of travel and navigation in mind these days, because, let's face it, hardcore gamers are still (though not forever) predominantly male, and men don't ask for directions. I learned of the difficulties of modern-game navigation just recently while playing Crackdown online coop. Thanks to the internet, I can now cause havoc in a huge city along with a friend, but "along with" isn't as easy as it sounds. Take this conversation, for example:

"Which way are we going?"
"That way"
"Which way? Where are you?"
"Behind you. It's that tall building over there."
"Oh...okay..."
"...the one I just shot a rocket towards"
"Oh, that one? [shoots rocket at same building]"
"Yep!"

Or this lovely situation:

"Hey! Where'd you go?"
"I teleported. I'm over at the base."
"Which base?"
"I don't know...there's a tank in front of it."
"I'm at that base!"
"I don't see you...there must be a tank in front of both bases."
"Okay, I'm on my way. Stay there."
"..."
"Are you still there?"
"I exploded and respawned. Not sure where I am now..."

Clearly, the navigation aids here leave much to be desired. Somehow, the traditional map fails to be helpful when your buddy can appear right next to you on a map but be 68 stories above, and radar is useless when you're navigating narrow, winding corridors. I'm not proposing some all-in-one solution; the right tools will vary by game. Just a friendly observation. Now, where did I put my 360 controller? Crap.

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