Guidance and Orientation in Open World Maps.

As I was stating before, level design in general and open world level design in particular is often based on 3 pillars:

These pillars communicate with each other giving birth to the game-play experience.

If we were to remove one of them, we would get into an incomplete chain that would lead to some of the following side effects:

The point of this article is to frame the concept of guidance a little better and to determine how we can improve guidance in our open world games.

Mind Mapping

Let’s consider a simple orientation exercise:




We would probably try to articulate a response based on the following formula:


More complicated directions could include multiple steps:

This kind of orientation comes from the fact that, as living beings, we are able to signpost locations in the real world in order to use them as orientation factors when we are trying to reach a goal.

We hang on to the recognizable in order to figure out how to get where we want to go there.

For example (and with this occasion here’s a tour of Bucharest):

We could arbitrarily draw a line on the map and tell them to follow it.

But with some many turns and twists it’s kind hard to actually prevent people from getting lost using this method.

So we can try to be more specific about it:

Keep going straight and destination will be revealed to you.

Please note that I drew on these pictures just to pinpoint what the orientation factors could be in the environment. What sort of buildings you might use as signposting in the environment.

So with all this said and done we get this:

A rough layout of the how various signpost and landmark connect to each other when trying to articulate a path.

And we can also further simplify this since we are no longer bound to the reality at this point.

The reason we are divorcing ourselves from reality is because each concept in the list above can be interpreted in many ways, so we need to find a structure that is free of form, so we can focus on function. We are aiming at the essence of this entire process.

Now we have a stable structure that is supposed to keep you on track when trying to reach the Targeted church.

Note! Although it may look like it it, this structure is not linear and should not be threaten as such.

The purpose of doing this is so we can establish a clear set of guide lines and landmarks that will help with Orientation.

Now we can try to established a more stylized version of this map that does not contain all the bloat that we can see in the open world.

At this stage I can take the liberty to add a bunch of filler shapes inside the map to fill frame the streets properly:

Overlaying the concept locations over this would lead to something like this:

We can then choose to take this further and mark the intersections with proper landmark shapes so they contrast from the rest of the fillers:

At this point we can get rid of the axes, adjust the scale and focus on the landmark hubs:

Landmarks don’t have to be super fantastical in their execution. They just need to stand out from the rest of the stuff:

Landmark Distribution

Landmark hubs usually mark major path intersections and allow you see at least another hub in close proximity.

The landmarks are marked in white, the filler buildings are marked in gray and the hubs are marked in pink and tie to other hub via Line of site.

This process:

Here’s a 3d representation:

There should be a visual mind mapping network being established in your map.

Some rules of thumb that I use in my work that seem to work:

Also, as I was saying in the previous blog these locations should provide some sort of reward for the player. These places should contain most of the game-play in your map.



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Iuliu-Cosmin Oniscu

As a level designer I am not a creator, I am a facilitator. Senior Open World Designer. #Leveldesign #Open World #Design @notimetoulose.