November 2019

Bad game design choices: The Minimap

This is a new kind of series of blog posts and it is about bad game design choices that are used very commonly and hardly anyone pointing them out. I don't want to go nitpicking about minor design flaws, but about things that have the potential to ruin a whole game, yes not just parts of the game, but absolutely everything. Don't be fooled about small elements that most people think do not matter much, because they are so small or are features that casual gamers do not use or at least do not consciously use and the first bad design choice I want to talk about is the minimap in video games.

Every gamer probably knows it, many games have a minimap or a radar somewhere in the corner of the map or a larger version that can be switched to through a hotkey or a menu. Many people would now say that hose are there because they are helpful and yes they are helpful and that is exactly the problem, they are not only helpful, but so far superior that a good gamer knows how to use the minimap almost exclusively to navigate, leaving the whole rest of the game unused.

Imagine all the work and resources that go into creating better and better 3D realistic game worlds, that get more complex and offer more immersion over time and also imagine all the work and resources that go into creating better and better hardware to run it all and finally imagine all the work and efford people go to, to earn money, to buy the games and the hardware to run the always improving visual quality games. Done with imagining it all? Well and now imagine how a small tiny design choice added to that all, can undo all the work or at least around 90% of it, well that is the minimap in video games.

So why is the minimap such a big problem? Well very simple, because most players will look at the minimap to navigate most of the time playing the game, ignoring the rest. Looking at a extremely simplified 2D representation of an extremely complex and visually challenging 3D world is just so much easier. Lets say the minimap just covers 5% of the screen, but players look at it 90% of the time, then what is the rest 95% of the screen good for? Sure you cannot fully play the game in the 2D minimap most of the time, since in the last moment you still have to look into the real 3D game world to align for the height or z-axis or to look at details or to interact. Imagine someone would to bad design choices like that in real life, for example lets say the average person spends 5% of their time in the bathroom, but they make it 90% of the size of the whole apartment and invest 90% of the money into it and only 10% for the rest of the apartment. This is so ridiculous that basically everyone would notice the stupidity in that, but somehow nobody seems to notice this in video games.

Sure I may have exaggerated a bit here and there, it really depends on the game how bad it really is, but I have not gotten in to the worst part yet and that is: Multiplayer games.

In single player games a minimap could be justified as a little extra to help you navigate and you can chose not to use it, or not to use it that much, however the game changes in multiplayer games that are in most cases very competitive. In competitive games you absolutely need to use the most efficient tactics to be able to compete and one of those, if not the major one is to use the minimap, radar or the bigger map. So why is the minimap so superior to the real game world? Very simple, the average field of view in games is around 90 degrees, but on the map you got 360 degrees view from above, so you can see everything at the same time, which is already a huge advantage, but it gets even better, some games even give you wallhack, where it not only allows you to see 360 degrees, but also through walls. Yes some games do not give you wallhack, but "only" let you "see" the enemies on the map that you hypothetically "could" see in the 3D game world as well, by checking if they are "visible", but this still is an advantage, because you do not need to use your real eyes, but can look until the computer tells you which enemy is visible and where. The only reason to still look at the real 3D game world is to align your shots and when the enemy is dead, go back to look at the minimap only, yes and occasionally you have to look to not run against obstacles that are not visible on the minimap.

The minimap robs you about large parts of tactics in games, if not the most basic mechanic of games in general and that is the hide and seek element. Think about it, most of the time you spend seeking the enemy or seeking the objective of the game, but with your minimap superhuman ability you will have 360 degree x-ray vision so that you do not have to bother about the hide and seek part much. If you had such a feature in real life and you would play hide and seek, the whole game would not make much sense anymore, since you do not really have to use effort anymore to seek the others, because you could just run around and wait for a red dot appearing on your minimap to tell you where the other one is, well obviously ridiculous and ruining the game, but that's normal in many video games and nobody cares.

Sure some games need a map or have a map, because it is part of the game, for example strategy games where you always look from above, but that is not what I'm talking about, since in those games, you are basically playing on the map and there is no big difference between the 3D game world and the "map" its basically the same. For most people it would probably be too hardcore, if there was no map at all in the game, but if a map has to be added, make it so, that you cannot use it all the time and make it static where it does not show you everything automatically.

A game developer needs to be very careful with any kind of map integration, not just the minimap, since a "pro" gamer knows about the advantage about using the map instead of the real game world he will obviously try to abuse it as much as possible. I remember a case where I was watching a random streamer playing a realistic military simulation shooter which of course did not have a minimap, since it was meant to be immersive, but it had a regular map and of course what happened was, that the guy was constantly looking at it. It was so bad that I could not even finish watching the video, because he was constantly looking at the map and I could not see much from the game, but the worst part was, that he was constantly switching from map view to normal view and back on average probably every 3 seconds, at least enough to make me feel a little sick watching it. Of course he had to switch since the map would cover the screen, but he would need to see both at the same time, so he switched so fast, that he could see basically both. This example shows how dangerous that feature can be, even if it is not a bad implementation like a minimap with wallhack, but it still gives you a significant advantage so that "pro" gamers will (ab-)use it as much as possible.

So if a map is really needed make it separate and without much functionality build in like telling you where everyone and everything is through blinking dots or whatever. A map should just give you a rough idea about your location and you should spend 95% of the time in the real game world and 5% looking at the map and not 95% of the time looking at the map and only 5% of the time looking at the real game world. Another option is to build in a map so that it is plausible within the game, like having a navigation system in your car that you can look at through the 3D game world, or you do not break the immersion and prevents people from abusing it too much, since the time and possibility how they can use it is limited.

As I just mentioned the navigation system I realized that t his problem is even transmitting into the real world now, since many people rely on interactive minimaps in real life as well which also reveals probably the biggest downside I have not even mentioned yet and that is the dumbing down of people, as they no longer use their brain to develop navigation skills themselves, but instead let a machine doing it for them. I noticed people getting more stupid in games as well, since when you know they rely on the minimap, there are a few ways to troll them, but not many, the main way is probably to vary your vertical location and be above or below them while they think you are in front of them, because they only look at the 2D minimap, but even this little bit of trolling is limited, because game designers of course know this and therefore do not design the levels with much vertical variation or do not have rooms overlaying each other at all, because it would be "too confusing" for players. Now the circle probably has closed since this relates again to the dumbing down of gamers which I talked about in my last blog post and I just found another major dumbing down mechanic I have not mentioned there yet, since I did not go much into details there.

So in case any real existing game developer reads this, I hope this convinces you not to build a minimap into your game.

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The dumbing down of gamers

After writing the recent blog post "The dumbing down of games" I started asking myself the question: Is it the dumbed down games that create dumbed down gamers or is it dumbed down gamers that require dumbed down games?

It most likely is a combination of both, the question is more what is the bigger factor or the root cause.

The problem of dumbed down games was one of the main reasons I started doing game development myself, since it is something I like to do and where I thought I could make a difference. I thought "So many people complain about the grievance of the gaming industry and the bad quality of games, that if someone makes it right, there will be a huge market for this" Of course I did not think it will be super successful, but at least there would be a niche of people interested in it and help out with it, but in any case I was so damn wrong and nothing happened, instead people still complained it was not good enough, even though the core problem was solved almost as good as possible. In fact in the software world, most problems would probably be solved with open source software, you need just a little bit of common sense, since if the software is free, there is hardly any way to exploit it for money and exploit people with it, well sure there is, but it will be very hard. People often complain about open source software, but don't realize that open source software dominates the whole computing world. Even if it would not dominate, just the fact that it exists proves to some degree that open source software written by some hobby guy in his cellar can compete with software written by huge billion dollar companies. However this is mostly true for consumer software, not for open source games, so I tried to change that, but then some weird things happened, which leads us to what I originally wanted to write about in this blog post: The dumbing down of gamers.

I now think the main reason we have this misery in the gaming industry is not the industry itself, but the dumbed down consumers. As a game developer I of course started to do research how to improve my product and get people to use it etc and after long time of research I came up with good methods to do that, but then realized those were the same kind of shady manipulative tactics the mainstream gaming industry used, which was the thing I was totally against. I then came to realize that cheating, manipulating and being immoral is most likely an absolute necessity in becoming successful in the business world. Not only that, but also necessary is to go along with whatever is currently the trend and/or what the consumers demand, which in return is what is trending anyway. So and if the industry is cheating and manipulating their consumers and giving the consumers bad products is the trend, than you have to do that as well, since the consumers are so used to it that the absolutely demand what they get.

I don't really know who started it, the dumbing down consumers or the industry dumbing down their consumers which in return makes it necessary to produce dumbed down products, but what I think I know is that you as a producer cannot really turn around the trend, even if you tried to, you would lose customers and then go bankrupt. The consumers on the other hand have more power, but they are less coordinated so they will not change the situation either.

This blog post turned out a bit different than I planned, since I wanted to write about experiences how dumb gamers have become, but this was already covered in my last blog post "The dumbing down of gamers" you only have to think about it from the other perspective. Almost everything listed there is not intentionally dumbed down, but it actually is what you need to do as a game developer now. I experienced this first hand.

When I was a lot into gaming it was around the years 2000, so I'm coming from the 90s perspective and mentality, which was a lot different than today. In the past a game was like a typical software, you would buy and then you were mostly on your own in order to figure out how to have fun with it, which of course mostly accounted for multiplayer. You would find friends, play with them, arrange custom games, host your own servers, make own rules, make own levels, make own mods etc. However nowadays the mentality is much different, games are now more seen as a service, the consumer wants to be instantly entertained without doing much of his own, so it is your responsibility as a developer to entertain the customer or invent software that entertains the customer automatically. Ideally the customer just has to press a button which will install the game automatically and automatically put him into a game with players, settings, location where he will be entertained without having to bother to actually learn the game or bother with options menu or else. It is probably similar to webdesign where I read in an article that your website must catch the customer within 10 seconds, or he will be gone. This means the customer to your website needs to be able to figure it out within 10 seconds or it needs to catch him entertainment wise somehow. With games it is probably different, but not 10 seconds, but probably a couple minutes.

There are delusional comments/reviews by people on my game, things like "The levels are all too dark, its unplayable this way" and then they stopped playing the game in total. The irony is, I have lots of levels in lots of different time of day and I intentionally made night levels darker so that there is a challenge and I made the dark, 100% dark to prevent gamma cheating, so the actually "too dark" levels are intentional and only a fraction of the total amount of levels, maybe 5-10% of levels this could count for. However that person will never know that 95% of the game is not what he thinks it is, because all he did was play for a few minutes on a random server with random people or bots or alone and he never bothered to wait a few minutes or go somewhere else or invite friends or look into the options or even read the manual. Even if there was really such a problem, the game is open source and you can just change it yourself, I could even tell how to do that, but in the end the consumer would have to press the button or change some lines in notepad, which is an almost impossible task for the average dumbed down consumer nowadays.

Incidents like this made me realize the mentality of people today, they want to press a button and be entertained within minutes and never having to bother to think for themselves or actually do anything themselves. This forces game developers to actually remove or dumb down features, since any button to much is a possibility the customer can do something wrong or has to do anything at all. Ideally the customer only has to press one button called "Play" and the game will do anything automatically from there and the first random encounter in the game will be arranged that the customers has a good experience, since he will not bother to try again.

Actually I think having to press a button is already too hard of a task for most dumbed down consumers today, the game has to do a popup telling them what to do all the time and/or sometimes even automatically press the button, otherwise the average dumbed down consumer would never be able to figure out what button to press on his own. I know this since I put features into my game that probably nobody ever used or at least 99% or 99,9% or 99,99% never used it and I not only had them on hotkeys referenced in the manual but also made GUI buttons for it on the main menu yet nobody probably ever clicks them. Sure I don't have tracking on my game, so I don't actually know how many pressed it, but from the reactions I get I can assume that they have no clue they exist, especially when they complain those features don't exist, even though they do exist.

The stupidity I encountered after releasing my game was absolutely amazing to me, people comment things that are completely false and even if you have absolute proof that the claims are false, they still think they are right, since they are the consumers. They don't care that I worked thousands of hours to provide them a free game with free service, they demand to be entertained and to get support, since they are the customers.

I think the main reasons gamers have become more stupid are:

1. Computers and computer gaming has become mainstream, so you got more idiots in it than in the past, where only intelligent people could handle computers.
2. The industry appealing to the increased customer base of more idiots, since if stupid people can use your product also, you get a bigger customer base.
3. The consumers being too lazy and uncoordinated to actually change anything.

In the end it is probably the industry who is the main cause for this, but they domesticated their customers to give them more money and now they cannot turn back and if you dig even deeper, the industry itself does not have that much freedom of choice anyway, since the industry needs to make profit and stupid customers are good for profit, so they breed more stupid customers.

And in the very end it is probably the consumer who is the main cause, since the industry just wants to make profit and the consumer decides what makes the most profit, since he generates it, the problem is just that the consumer has the power, but does not make use of it.

It is a complicated interdependence you hardly can get out: People are garbage so people get garbage, which then makes them more garbage which then makes them get more garbage and so on. It is an unconscious spiral of doom, you can only get out through becoming conscious.

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