Amazing because it has funky GPS synchronicity
Some games require lots of map checking and cross-referencing. Constantly in-and-out like a cartographer's best customer. Grand Theft Auto is definitely one of those games. And it used to be a serious ball-ache. Drive for a bit. Check the map. Drive a bit more. Check the map. More driving. Better check the map just to be sure. And so on. Sure there was the radar with its clusterfluck of icons. But that was often about as useful as looking through a kaleidoscope to find the dangly bits in a porno. But then GTA IV took GTA maps to the next level.
Before we get on to that though, let us get our obligatory GTA IV 'TEETEES' reference out the way...
Above: Obligatory GTA IV 'TEETEES' reference
Anyway, yeah. GTA IV took GTA maps to the next level. How? By using the power of GPS synchronicity. Set a marker on the map and the game immediately calculates the fastest law-abiding route to the destination. If you do veer off the GPS-approved route, it recalculates a new path faster than you can say "recalculate a new path". Pretty sweet. But that's not all. Factor in the option to turn on voice GPS in all cars and it's practically impossible for anyone with basic cognitive abilities to ever get lost in Liberty City. Simply set a waypoint on the map and the car will actually tell you how to get there. With words that it speaks. Amazing.
Above: Cundy beautifully models the GTA IV map that came with Episodes from Liberty City. He likes maps
How many gamers used the actual physical map that came with the game (see above) to find their way around? Probably not many. Because the in-game map was better than the actual real map. And there are other things about the GTA IV in-game map that we like. It has a zoom function. It has a legend that can be toggled on/off. It features very atmospheric map music. It was redesigned for each of the GTA IV 'Episodes' - Lost and Damned was given a gritty look with a red map crosshair, while Ballad of Gay Tony's map had a disco makeover and a magenta map crosshair. But GTA IV's map is mostly amazing for its ground-breaking technological advancements in player orientation.
Amazing because it is all 3D and filled with morbid existential dislocation
It’s ironic perhaps, that a Metroid game should have such a sexy map. The series is of course built primarily around a powerful sense of the unknown, that alien, disconnected, stranger-in-a-strange-land feeling of being utterly isolated in hostile surroundings and having to acquire the rules and means to survive while also slowly coming to find one’s way around. A big flashy map should surely be the antithesis of that. But it isn’t.
No, you see the great thing about Metroid Prime’s map is that it isn’t merely a static plan of the area. It’s a dynamic, 3D model of the game world. It updates in exactly the same way as the traditional Metroid maps of old (ie. through exploration or finding map files which unlock whole sections of it), but it’s the sheer scrolly, twisty, 3D zoomability (official Nintendo terminology taken from e-mails between Miyamoto and Retro Studios. Only the actual words used may have been changed.*) that makes it such a big deal. Or small, depending on how far zoomed out you are. Though it’s not really small. It’s still big, it just looks small because you’re further away.
Above: Actual metaphor a little bit lower. Damn page layout not fitting out visual gag plans
You see the ease and speed with which you can pan and zoom the map right down into a faceless, mysterious, bare polygon version of the very area you’re in, and then right back out to the whole currently-revealed level layout, gives both an highly tangible, claustrophobic attachment to your immediate environment as well as a dizzying sense of the overall scale of your situation. It makes Samus’ isolation and sense of insignificance within the world she explores all the more affecting, through the tactile interface with which she can experience the bigger picture.
Also, being all orange and hard-looking on the outside but with a soft, vulnerable human experience in the centre, it’s a metaphor for the very state of being Samus herself. Or something.
Amazing because it is actually real (in the non-real world of the game)
There’s something quite surreal about seeing a genuine, flapping-in-the-breeze parchment being used as a game map. For years, we humans have used ink and paper to plot a journey, but using one in Far Cry 2 just seems oddly brilliant.
With the a cardboard map in one hand and a digital compass in the other, Far Cry 2 does its best orienteering-simulator impression. These are your only tools for navigating the African wastelands and add a realistic twist that emphasises your survival in the wilds.
But the best thing about the map here is that you can wander around with it on display in your hand. And when you need to make a quick escape on foot, the guide is lowered slightly so you can peek over the top and make sure you don’t run straight off a cliff.
You won’t find GPS in the vehicles either. Instead, you’ll have to hold the map up as you drive too. Yes, it’s rather dangerous but anyone you’re likely to run over while distracted by the map will most likely be enemies anyway.
Having the map actually in your hands is a really simple, but novel way to make it essential to your survival and bring out our inner scouting skills.
*Or made up.