Zelda, Breath of the Wild
One of the first things you notice about this game map is that it has a lot of green hues and resembles camouflage, giving you the immediate sense that this will be a nature-based type of game. Multitudinous contour lines further this outdoorsy feeling but also provide much needed assistance to the gamer, since in this game you need them, just as you would in real life, to determine how easy or how difficult navigation will be in certain areas. An action-adventure game that was released in 2017, this game is still really popular today. It’s an open-world type of game, which means you discover things as you go and at your own pace, making the map an important piece of the gaming experience. Critics called this a “landmark open world design,” which is literally based off the map. The character you play, Link, doesn’t know who he is. He needs to learn who he is as he explores and also, by the way, has to try and save the world as well.
Interesting features on the game map include a labyrinth and volcano, both easily understood from the symbology and coloration. Dark green is used for the land at sea level and a lighter green is used for the tops of the hills and mountainous regions. This kind of gradual color scheme that corresponds to the elevation contours is called hypsometric tinting: a technique whereby you aid the map reader’s understanding of the isolines (in this case the isolines are specifically contour lines) by tinting within the bands or groups of bands with a graduated color scheme. This visual reinforcement helps when you are zoomed out and, given the level of detail on the map, it helps a lot with context. You see this with the water coloration as well, which is called bathymetric tinting. In the major digital basemaps of today you’ll see that bridges usually have some sort of special treatment, whether it is a darker casing or a darker line color, and that is just what we’re seeing here: a very dark green on the bridges whereas the main road is in a lighter green. They are also shown with posts and other structural features that help you understand what they are. Building outlines and other built structures are also shown when you zoom quite a bit in, giving the player clues as to where towns or cities are for talking with other characters and making purchases. By contrast, forested areas are fluffy puffs of polygons denoting overlapping tree canopies. These are essentially merged polygons and were probably intentional in that the generalization probably helps to keep performance optimal by lessening the amount of data and thereby load time.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps
This is a platform adventure game, not an open-world game, and was very well received, especially for its visual quality. It emphasizes exploration. There are cartographer characters in this game! As a player, you get maps from these cartographers, which, while you can explore the game without a map, help you to have a reference point for where you’ve been. Players also don’t know certain places exist without the maps and, as in real life, they help you see what areas could be dangerous. Looking at the tunnels closely you see they are very detailed and have a certain vibrancy. The color of each tunnel in general aligns with the played-world, it corresponds with the color hues.
The whole aesthetic of the glowy, white, wispy character and the vibrancy of the colors against a dark background reminds us of Firefly Mapping, where you take a point based dataset and create glowy dots that appear on top of a dark, maybe black, background. These subtle design choices with the soft glows are really special as the glowing serves to highlight things like when a symbol is selected. We also see a line that shows you where Ori moved and jumped, basically a path that shows where you just were. This is a useful animation technique for mapping to show where things have been. Remember the Harry Potter map with the footprints that we discussed in Three Pop Culture Maps? This is a similar concept. You can see this type of animation in today’s journalism maps, such as animations of flight paths that trail and slowly dissipate.
These are some very square islands! The maps for this non-story-based game are very simple and cartoonish, both aesthetics mirroring the simplicity and cartoon nature of a game where you interact with other cute villagers, make some trades, and socialize. This game really took off during the pandemic as it gave people a way to hang out, be social, and do things “outside” with your friends in different places. Those qualities helped players avoid stress and feel better. Understanding this quality of the game helps you understand the simplicity of the maps. As aplayer, you basically make your own island and there is a website called Happy Island Designer that lets you plan it out. The way you build your map affects how you interact with people, so if you feel overwhelmed with how to build your game world this website helps with that and is also kind of fun to play around with even if you don’t play this particular game.
We note, however, with our critical cartographer eye, that some of the symbols that you can use to put on the map are very generalized while others have a lot of detail (i.e., pictorial) which is a bit of a symbol-set disaster from the standpoint of normal cartographic basemap cohesiveness but is probably a bit of an overkill denunciation to make about what is essentially a game to play and have fun with. Plus, when you’re playing you aren’t seeing this map, so it doesn’t matter that the symbology is inconsistent in this way on the map. The size of the symbols is also interesting: flowers and houses are the same size! An interactive mapping tool like this brings us to the idea that you can never really tell what users are going to do with your map. Case in point, one of us created a smiley face over the island and created a traffic jam of ships in the water with the tools on Happy Island Designer.