Lets talk about… The problem with mini maps

Lets talk about… The problem with mini maps

Mini maps in video games are designed to help you navigate your way through a foreign game world. These maps also help to show points of interest around you and help to show where your current objectives are. Although they’re purpose is to help you, sometimes they can do the complete opposite. In this post I will be covering the different map types, problems, and how some of these problems could be mended.

Bottom mini maps

Grand Theft Auto V

Arguably the most common map type in games is also the one with the most problems. The games that feature this type of mini map usually have them filled to the brim with points of interest, this is a good thing and a bad thing. On one hand its super handy to have all of this content easily displayed in the corner of the screen; on the other hand having all of this means that you will spend the majority of the time glancing at the little map rather than looking at whats happening on screen.

Red Dead Redemption 2

This was actually a problem for me during my play through of Red Dead Redemption 2. Yes I understand that this game was a masterpiece, but with the combination of wooded forests and grand pastures, I was having to constantly look at my mini map to see if I was heading in the right direction.

An easy fix for the mini map would be to have it fade away after a set amount of time, and have it brought back up with a simple press of a button. This way you wouldn’t feel the need to constantly look at it during gameplay.

Compass bar

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

What I think is the best type of navigation tool in gaming is the compass bar. Popular in first person open world games, the compass bar was popularized in titles such as the Elder Scrolls series, and Fallout series. The compass bar has even replaced the mini map in the Assassins creed games, as well as the Far Cry series.

Assassins Creed Odyssey

As shown above, the compass bar is mainly shown at the top of the screen in their corresponding games. It works by having a north, south, east, and west point. The compass bar will show the direction in which a point of interest, or objective, is to your current camera position. For example, if you go to your full map and see that your next objective is north; then you can go back to the game and head north until you hit it. This is easier because you don’t have to constantly be looking at the bottom corner of your screen to see where you are going, rather you just have to look at your current direction.

I think that this is a perfect way to do navigation in a game and see no problems with it.

No mini map or compass bar

Minecraft

The less popular way of navigation in a video game involves the player having to memorize the landscape of the game. This is the most challenging form of navigation, but also the most rewarding. Instead of having to look at a map you can just remember landmarks nearby and head to your desired location; this is quicker than having to manually place a marker on a map.

Pokemon lets go Pikachu

A good mix of having the compass bar, and no navigation besides a full map you can access in menus, is the perfect balance. An example would be to have the compass bar at the top of the screen, and have it disappear after a set time with a button press to bring it back.

I would love to hear your opinions on this matter. A fan of the mini map? Hate the compass bar? Let me know in the comments below.

5 thoughts on “Lets talk about… The problem with mini maps

  1. Totally agree with your point about RDR2. Mini maps are useful when you’re using a waypoint to get to a specific place, but I do generally find them a bit distracting. Whenever I’m exploring, I tend to turn them off, if that option is available!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. THANK
    YOU
    I’m glad I’m not the only one who had an issue with RDR2 mini map. I tried to switch to the compass but then I had no idea where the specific spot the game wanted me to go to during a mission.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Allow me to throw in my thoughts. Minimaps at the bottom of the screen have their advantages, mainly in finding collectibles or navigating through tightly packed areas. The problem is as you say, it can take away the attention from the main game. In certain cases it also can trivialize challenges, like giving away enemy positions.
    Having it fade away would not solve the problem of navigation. But why not have the “navigation lines” show up on the paths on the main screen? That way your attention would be in the main world and you’d still be able to follow the navigation. GTA4 had a great system, where certan cars hat an on-board navigation system that would straight up tell you where to go. Of course that would be rather weird to have in games like RDR2. But maybe you could highlight the correct path or something.
    Another thing I’d like to point out is that open world games only should highlight ways on the regular paths. If players want to explore and look for shortcuts, all navigation systems should automatically disable. When I want to explore, I don’t need anyone constantly telling me to turn around or follow any other path.

    Personally, I don’t like compass bars all that much, as they tend to get super crowded after a while and it is easy to lose track of your highlighted waypoint. Skyrim had that waypoint show up on the main screen, I believe, which is a total immersion killer in my opinion.

    No map at all only really works in well structured games, either because they are not too openly designed, follow easily recognizable patterns or are littered with memorable landmarks. In Far Cry 2 you had an actual map as your minimap, which you could take a look at whenever you wanted, but it took up half your screen and you could not hold a weapon. I think it was a step in the right direction and I’d like to see more games integrate the minimap/navigation into their worlds in a meaningful way.

    Sorry for the long rant, but I already tried to keep it as short as possible 🙂

    All the best,
    Quietschisto

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Saints row series had the navigation arrows on the streets. It was good in that game because it fit the era of the game ( 2000s) having the arrow in red dead would personally break my immersion
      You don’t have to apologies for a long reply, it’s always good to write passionately! And thank you for the response

      Like

      1. Yeah, I can see that arrows on the path would be a problem in atmosphere-rich games. That’s were “in-world” maps would come in, like the one in Far Cry 2 or the menus in Dead Space.
        Maybe the devs could settle for more subtle nudges in the right direction, like the horse looking in the right direction at the crossroads or your car using its turn signal. Obviously that would not work at higher speeds, but in these situations the action would be more important than the atmosphere and more “obvious” signs, like arrows, would not disturb as much.

        The more I think about it, the more complex the topic gets. It’s funny how such a seemingly small problem can be so nuanced and difficult to approach universally! But that’s one of the reasons I am so interested about video game design 🙂

        Have a nice day,
        Quietschisto

        Liked by 1 person

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