Game maps evolution and level design

A map of Zelda found at

Last week in the Guardian gamesblog, I ran across this insightful piece called "The lost art of video game cartography". It's basically about " the homemade map remained an important navigational device" and the importance of map (hand) drawing on a notepad while playing back in the early days of the video game era.

A map of Loco Roco found at Quickjump

The article describes the different approaches ("naturalistic approximations of the game environments, creating miniaturised ordinance survey maps" versus "more diagrammatic approach, inspired by the topographic purity of Harry Beck's tube map"). It also reflects upon the evolution of game design.

Any game/interaction designer might find interesting the discussion about the influence of level design on drawing maps manually:

"while early Japanese RPG titles like Final Fantasy and Legend of Zelda initially required some mapping skills thanks to their burgeoning use of open world 'overmap' environments, later iterations brought in a variety of navigational aids (...) world maps that opened up new sections as the player gained fresh abilities, (...) teleportation zones, and the ability to set waypoints across a map screen – somewhere along the line, travel became an inconvenience rather than the point of the game. (...) CD-Rom technology allowed the birth of the cinematic adventure (...) The whole concept of exploration has changed; we no longer need to explore to progress, we explore to find power-ups and hidden extras, and in this overtly stage-managed form of freedom, cartography isn't really necessary. The pictorial map has been replaced by the didactic walkthrough. (...) Even so-called 'open world' titles are map-free experiences. There will usually be a mini-map or radar display in the corner as well as an HUD that paints your required destination with big arrows and a distance read-out."

Why do I blog this? This is related to my interest in video game spaces (see some earliers posts about it here or on the Terra Nova platform). I have always been fascinated by vernacular maps like these and find interesting to see how the game design features influence the production of such artifacts. From a design standpoint, I think it'd be curious to envision games that would force people to create maps (or games that would force people to use external material such as notepad, pens, figurines or whatever seems interesting).