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Diconstruction #10: The Mini-map

Posted 22 Jul 2009 by

In this, the ninth installment DiConstruction, Chris Marks discusses the function (or lack thereof) of the mini-maps in Diablo and Diablo II. Were the maps useful? Too useful? And why couldn’t you use the map in Tristram in D1 anyway?  Here’s the start of the column; click through to continue:

My Kingdom for a Perly!

Since time immemorial computer games have had one thing in common: the story sucks and the gameplay is sketchy. But that’s a topic for another article. Since a time more recent than that, games that involve exploring areas of varying shape and size have tended to have maps of some sort, to let you know just how far off track you are from where you’re supposed to be.

But what is the history of the gaming map? Where did the first incarnation appear in a video game, to help you get from place to place? This is one of many questions this article will also not answer, not because I’m slacking off, but because I don’t feel like doing the research. I know there was a roadmap in Sierra’s Quest For Glory 2 that you could buy in-game, and that’s good enough for me.

The Diablo games have always had minimaps. Press the TAB key and a small version of wherever you are pops up so you can plot your course through unfortunate creatures who have no idea what they’re in for tonight. But how useful is it really?

I Said Left, Left!

The minimap in the original Diablo was nice and simple, as could be expected from a first generation map. It presented the surroundings in yellow and brown lines, and …that’s pretty much it. Doors were yellow squares, pillars were brown squares, and inaccessible areas were filled in with dots. Stairs were denoted by many yellow lines packed closely together, which is actually a surprisingly accurate representation of them except when they’re spiral staircases. For what it was, it did the job just fine.

For some reason, however, you weren’t allowed to use it in town. The place you spend the most time, which gives you access to everything else, didn’t let you map it out. I’ve thought about why that could possibly be, and I think I’ve figured it out: Tristram was under a Mass Confusion spell.

It makes sense: why else would Adria be so far away from everyone else? She got lost because the town is incapable of producing cartographers! And why should she sell a perfectly good house just because it’s a little off the beaten path? Besides, since the town was soon enough under a Haste spell that made people walk at double-speed, it’s not like it took a long time to get there.

Just Ask Him For Directions

The Diablo 2 minimap is a lot more detailed than its predecessor. So detailed, in fact, that I originally didn’t want to play the game because I first saw it in Act 2, and I thought it would be too distracting having all the detail on the mountains and cliffs there. That’s not a joke, there are people I went to University with who can vouch for that story; I said I wasn’t going to play because I didn’t like the new minimap, because I thought it was too intrusive on the game’s action. Then I played it anyway. And that’s the most useful thing I learned at University.

Most importantly, you’re allowed to use the minimap in town now. Hooray! This is especially useful in Act 4, where town is so large it’s easy to get lost. And I’m still a little curious how none of the monsters ever figured out they could just walk in to town and start killing people and stealing their stuff, but I guess they were scared of all the people, which makes one wonder how they were able to take over the massive amount of land they ended up controlling before you came along and cut off their heads. On the minimap.

The minimap also shows more things than it did in the first Diablo. Shrines are highlighted. Different types of terrain show up differently. Important objects like the Moldy Tome are shown, and waypoints are shown as …well, small versions of waypoints. It makes sense though, that a land with many towns would have better cartographers than a mere Tristram does, which probably contributed to Tristram being utterly destroyed by the time Diablo 2 rolls around because nobody knew where to go in case of emergency, because nobody had a map!

Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest. The minimap in Diablo 2 also has an option to move it off to the corner so it’s out of the way and so you can see all the pretty scenery, but I find I don’t like it over there. I use the minimap to tell me where to go without insulting me more than necessary, and if I have to keep moving my eyes to the top left corner and then figure out what direction to go based on where the cross indicating my current position is I end up going crosseyed and drooling for half an hour. Maybe that’s just me though.

The point is you get more options, and options are always a good thing, though undoubtedly most will inevitably ignore them and stick with what worked the first time around because change is scary. And that’s why I’m not even going to discuss being able to fade out the parts of the map that aren’t in your immediate vicinity.

They Aren’t Bad Directions, They’re Just Wrong

The utility of the minimap is questionable based on what you’re doing at the time. If you’re exploring uncharted space then it’s good to be able to see where you’ve been, but if you’re doing Tristram runs or killing Shenk over and over you don’t really need it. Still though, I find I have to consciously remind myself to turn the map off when doing those things because I’m just so used to playing with lines crossing over my screen.

One of the interesting results of the minimap is that players develop the unique ability to change what they’re looking at, blocking out things like people and enemies in favour of lines. The first time someone pointed to my computer screen while I was playing Diablo and said “go here” I didn’t even see the minimap that was up, and just moved the mouse to where their finger was and clicked. Now I can easily shift back and forth as if it’s something I’m getting paid for (that’s a hint, Flux).

Is it helpful? Of course it is. I’d even argue it’s necessary based on the scope of the games. I think Diablo 3’s minimap will either be integrated in to the main view, so what’s not immediately present fades out like it’s in a fisheye lens, or if the developers are actually sane they could show where all the monsters and corpses are at all times. And items dropped on the ground. Ideally the minimap will have so much detail you won’t even need the graphics any more, you can just play based entirely on where the pale yellow lines go. And then we will have come full circle back to Rogue, which is probably the first game that had a map.

Diconstruction (Diablo Deconstruction) is written by Chris Marks.  It examines differences between the two (soon to be three)
Diablo games, as well as comparing them to other games, in a hopefully amusing style.  Diconstruction is published on the first and third Tuesday of every month. Leave your comments below, or contact the author directly.

Tagged As: | Categories: Diablo 1, Diablo 2, Diconstruction, Other Games, Other RPGs