Results from Game Design Challenge: Making Maps

By Danny Cowan [10.15.13]

In the early days of PC gaming, fans of first-person dungeon crawlers had to draw maps in order to reach the end of complex mazes. Player cartography was a requirement borne of limited resources and technological restraints; a lack of storage space meant that players saw countless identical walls, corners, and dead-ends as they navigated from a first-person perspective, making it necessary to draw a map by hand.

Recently, the Etrian Odyssey games on the Nintendo DS and 3DS featured a mapmaking mechanic in which players drew maps on the console's touch screen. Though automapping had become a standard feature in many modern RPGs, many found Etrian Odyssey's mapmaking component to be quite fun in practice, thanks to its simple grid-based approach. Extending the mechanic beyond simple wall-drawing, Etrian Odyssey allows players to use an array of icons to denote in-game items, characters, and events within the game's sprawling labyrinth.

For Game Career Guide's latest Game Design Challenge, we challenged our readers to design a game with a mapmaking component. Here are our top picks.

Best Entries

Craig Browne, Ohio University student, Nut Hunt (see page 2)

David Serrano, Freelance Game Designer, I Remember (see page 3)

Finn Haverkamp, Waypoint (see page 4)

Bernard John (B.J.) Badger, Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy alumnus, Beyond Here There Be Dragons (see page 5)

David Capps, University of Montevallo, The Blind Prophet (see page 6)

Matthew Ross, Game Design and Production Management at University of Abertay Dundee, Stellar Cartographer (see page 7)

João Gabriel Guedes Pinheiro, Student of Game Design in Univali, Brazil (see page 8)

Logan Pecukonis, University of Montevallo, House of Regret (see page 9)

Craig Browne, Ohio University student, Nut Hunt

The main character of the game is Bucky and you are a squirrel in a very big forest. The forest is randomly generated with every new game you create. The objective has two parts; first you must run around and try to collect nuts. You can find a few nuts on the ground around the bases of trees; you also have the ability to freely climb up and down trees to collect more nuts from the top of them. While you are searching, bulldozers, lumberjacks, and other machinery roll around the area. Going to close to a bulldozer will cause the character to get startled and drop the nuts you are currently carrying. If you get startled when you have no nuts, the screen will go black and Bucky will run away and you will spawn in a new spot on the map.

After collecting any amount of nuts, you hide them. Bucky is able to hide them in holes in trees, under rocks, and by burying them in the ground. You cannot hide nuts in too close of a proximity to another hidden group of ones you have hidden. Your movement is also based on how many nuts you are carrying. Bucky has the ability to scratch small X's or arrows onto trees, and rocks, when you bury nuts, the amount buried will determine the size of the mound on the ground.

During your nut hunt other squirrels will also roam around, another objective is to chase them away. If you bury too many nuts in the ground there is a chance that other squirrels may happen upon your stash, depending on the amount of nuts in the pile (and hence the size of the mound) there is a higher chance that they will be found and go missing. Smaller amounts of nuts in your hiding spot equal's lower risk of them going missing. If you see a squirrel take your nuts after you hide them, you're able to chase them down to get them back. While you are going around hiding nuts, you are able to draw on a map that Bucky has in his inventory. With this you can draw where you hid your stash or noticeable landmarks that you see close to your hiding spot. Bucky also has a small Polaroid camera that you can take a few pictures with and draw on to help remember your hiding spot. The Polaroid has to recharge during pictures and has a limited amount of use.

You also have an attention span meter that goes down as you scavenge and bury. When the meter depletes; the screen fades and you are spawned in a random spot somewhere else on the map after construction is completed. Now a few trees may be missing and some urban things such as benches, parks, restrooms, and concession stands will be randomly spawned around. Now the objective is to use your map and photos to try and find where you hid your nuts; all while a new attention meter countsdown. After the meter goes down, your score is based off of the amount of nuts you were able to find again. Some of the places you hid them now may be gone due to construction or gone from other squirrels finding your stash.

David Serrano, Freelance Game Designer, I Remember

What is I Remember about?

In I remember you need to fill the gaps in the history of characters that have lost their memory during highly risky and important revelations they're making at the moment. Characters as a suspect during an interrogatory or somebody proven guilty at a trial (but still the lawyer doubts about it) are some of the possibilities.

The player needs to rebuild the map in order to successfully end the story of the role he plays with, but this character can have a wide variety of outcomes that can differ from what the player expects, so he is in charge of shaping the history with his interaction (willingly or not) adding an important value of player's sense of freedom of choice and valuable and variable rewards.


Once the game starts a few hints will be delivered to the player in order to start, such as location, climate, and a start point drawn. Afterwards, the story will begin and messages from the character and the interrogators will aid the player to draw the map alongside the stage. The main method for drawing the map comes from the player's voice input and a short few amount of tools displayed on the right side of the screen. By saying element names, the player can create whatever he thinks it's suitable for the correct moment and then, with the given object, he will place it with the aid of a cursor where he thinks is correct, causing a different interaction depending on which thing he used.

The map will have fog zones where the player will need to rebuild and give coherence to the whole story. By building the map the player will discover more hints and what's most important; he'll be rewarded by seeing the progress of the character through the history and what he did to commit the acts he is charged or to prove why he's not guilty.

The game will be able to switch by zooming from a top camera (for a better map building perspective) and to a third person one (for a better and more accurate disposal of elements).

All the hints will come in dialogue messages and will make the player think about his next step. As long as the history grows, more non player characters will get across the interrogatory asking questions to the character, that will make him doubt about his acts, and turning the history more controversial as well as leveling the difficulty progressively, one example could be:

Character: "I tried to ask for help in the lumber deposit close to my store "

Interrogator: "That would have been difficult, provided the flood collapsed all the pathways to the warehouse"

To sum up I Remember is a step forward on map building games, perfectly suitable for the adventure games players, which rewards players with the completion of diverse unconcluded histories where the gaps provided hold the information to keep advancing on intriguing plots.

Finn Haverkamp, Waypoint

Waypoint is a game and narrative toolset for smart phones and tablets. Interfacing with a phone's respective map application (Google or Apple Maps), Waypoint allows users to create and experience adventures in the real-world. Waypoint features two components: the narrative toolset and story mode.

The narrative toolset facilitates the creation of location-based stories, primarily by linking a series of GPS waypoints. Designers can create most any experience they can imagine; for example: an espionage thriller, a scavenger hunt for competing players, or a historic walking tour of a city. In story mode, Waypoint players will be able to role-play or experience these stories. Designers pin a sequence of waypoints on the map and set a radius for activation, an entire park or a specific painting in a gallery. Then, they create an event for each waypoint that is triggered when players enter them: audio recordings, instructions to take a photo, or a narrative scene with dialogue, action, and choices for players that will determine their route down a branching path of waypoints.

This last example, the scene tool, allows for robust story creation. Scenes allow interactive fiction to play out in a physical setting. Designers may write interactions and conversations with both non-player-characters and other players in the adventure, offering players different responses and choices. Further, designers may create different results for each choice, having players write their own stories.

Time is another useful tool available to designers. Designers may set time limits to reach the next waypoint, consequences resulting from success or failure. For safety reasons, the countdown pauses when players stop moving, necessary for stopping at a traffic light or crosswalk. Time of day parameters may also be used to affect the story or as a requirement for playing at all.

The narrative toolset offers an assortment of themes around which designers may create their stories. Among others, designers can select themes for spy, sci-fi, modern, and fantasy settings. Themes determine available character portraits and aesthetic trimmings. However, designers may also upload their own artwork and photographs.

When designers have finished creating their adventures, they publish them privately or publicly to Story Mode. Players access stories from a map of nearby opportunities or from a browser where they can select featured stories, sort by user-rating, and read user-reviews. Players may also invite nearby friends on a cooperative adventure or to a competition.

Waypoint combines the narrative creativity of interactive fiction and MUDs with the immersion of ARGs and the physical world. By integrating with Maps, Waypoint adventures may take place anywhere, and the diverse toolset allows designers to create whatever they might imagine.

Source: Tiger drawing by Gwenn Seemel

Bernard John (B.J.) Badger, Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy alumnus, Beyond Here There Be Dragons

Hearken to my instruction, noble player! In this game, thou art the most knavish of scoundrels, bent upon the lining of thy pockets with the coin of fools. Legend speaks of glittering treasure hoards hidden within the darkest corners of this untamed realm. The man who could lay hold of these troves would be wealthier than ten kings! But why risk thy conniving keister seeking out safe passage through the wilderness, pray tell, when there be countless simpletons eager to brave the perils of the no-man's land in search of those riches? Especially when spurred by one of thy ONE-OF-A-KIND, GENUINE, GARUANTEED-SAFE TREASURE MAPS!

In Beyond Here There Be Dragons, the ultimate goal is to find safe routes across a variety of hostile landscapes, shown from a top-down perspective, to reach fabled treasure hoards. Each landscape is riddled with hazards, many of them hidden. To discover a safe way to navigate the terrain, the player must draw experimental routes, which will then be traversed by gullible adventurers who believe they've been sold a treasure map. The player then observes the cartoonishly gruesome demises of these adventurers as they encounter savage goblins, giant spiders, killer rabbits, and every other monster known to mythology, including yes, dragons. Carefully noting the locations and types of these dangers will allow the player to form a knowledge of the landscape, and eventually draw a route for their own avatar to follow in order to actually reach and claim the treasure.

There are a few restrictions to make the game challenging. Each village near a treasure hoard has only so many idiots who can be convinced to go seeking the treasure, so there is a limit to how many tests can be run. The townsfolk will also grow suspicious of the trickster over time, so there is a time limit before he is run out of town. Everyone knows where the local legend treasure is located, so every experimental path must end on the goalpoint, and of course if a lucky adventurer does actually reach the treasure, the player loses out.

Different monsters have different behaviors in reaction to wandering adventurers. A giant spider will react only when an adventurer wanders directly into their web. A griffon will detect adventurers from a distance and chase them, potentially running them into another hazard before they're caught. A minotaur will remain where it is after chasing an adventurer, but a goblin tribe will always return to its home. A dragon will patrol a set path and torch anything which comes anywhere near it. It is possible to send out multiple adventurers at the same time, which can change the dynamics of how the map responds. In more challenging maps, it is even necessary to have dupes keeping certain monsters busy while the player's avatar sneaks past.

David Capps, University of Montevallo, The Blind Prophet

My idea for a game that focuses on map making is something that I call "The Blind Prophet". This game is a standard platformer, with moving platforms, obstacles, and death traps. The difference between this game and normal platformers is the fact that you are only allowed to see the level for ten seconds. Afterwords, the screen turns black. You can help navigate the level by drawing symbols or paths that you remember from earlier to direct you towards the goal.

There will be different 'inks' to draw on the level. One ink is a basic white line that can be used for anything. From drawing a direct path to the goal or drawing symbols warning you where not to go, the white ink can be used in any situation. Another ink is a yellow color that glows red once your character passes it. Finally, a green ink that turns blue when a moving platform passes it is available at the player's disposal. By using these different inks, the player must be able to draw an interactive map that will lead them to the goal.

To make things more interesting, you are given a rank depending on how well you cleared the level. The less you draw on the level, the more bonus points you will receive at the end (with the yellow ink deducting the most points, and the white ink deducting the least). If you clear the level quickly or clear it without dying your score goes up as well. In short, the better the map, the less you'll die and the quicker you'll make it to the end. But don't make the map TOO detailed.

Matthew Ross, Game Design and Production Management at University of Abertay Dundee, Stellar Cartographer

In Stellar Cartographer, the player takes the role of a mercenary cartographer in a sci-fi universe who makes a living charting the unknown reaches of space. He or she accepts contracts from various factions to scout and accurately map a procedurally-generated region of space. The player explores the region in their spaceship from a first-person perspective, taking note of various features such as planets, stars, asteroid fields, gas clouds and comets. Players record this information by placing icons on a 3D grid map, denoting what features or hazards are present in that grid space. Additionally, the player can launch survey probes to gather more information about a specific target (For example, to determine the mineral composition of an asteroid or the types of resources on a planet). At any time, the player can choose to leave the region and submit their report to the client. They will then be paid based on the accuracy and completeness of their survey.

Different clients will pay more for different information. Researchers and universities will be more interested in scientifically interesting phenomena, while mining corporations will be looking for large mineral deposits. However, all factions will want to know about the presence of any dangerous elements, such as electricity storms, radiation fields, and especially hostile pirates or military forces.

Since the player's ship is equipped for reconnaissance, they cannot engage enemies in combat. Instead they must outsmart their enemies by using stealth to avoid them, and speed to outrun them. Players can use cloaking devices, jam enemy sensors, draw enemies away by hacking their sensors or deploying decoy probes, or even spoof a friendly IFF signal. If spotted, players can disable their enemies' warp drives to escape, and hide in asteroid fields or gas clouds where sensors are weaker. But once the player's presence is known, hostile forces will send patrols to hunt down the cartographer, and increase security around their most valuable assets. The most skilled cartographers will be able to complete their survey without anyone knowing they were ever there.

By completing contracts for various employers, players earn money which can be used to purchase new equipment, and upgrade components such as engines, shields and sensors. Players will need advanced equipment to undertake more dangerous and rewarding missions, like recording a fleet's military capability for a rival government, or surveying massive stars around the deadly galactic core.

Players can also compete with each other by participating in a daily challenge, which provides all players with the same procedurally-generated sector to explore and survey. The players who are capable of uncovering all the secrets of a challenge sector while avoiding detection will have their accomplishments recorded by an online leaderboard and global ranking.

João Gabriel Guedes Pinheiro, Student of Game Design in Univali, Brazil

The ideia of my game is being the support of a police squad. Instead of shooting and driving around the city searching for trouble, you are the one who analyzes maps and information and give your team the orders, like "You two go there and discover what they know, and you go to the house of the victim and discover why he suffer".

Saying that, I can begin to explain the core mechanics of the game. The player will be, basically, on the "Board Screen". This screen Is all around the idea of keeping track of your task. In your first case, for example, the Board have a map, and when you find that there was a witness, the Board is updated with a brief description of their report. But the most important feature is the Map.

The Map is, of course, the map of the city, and in the beginning of the case it just have an indication of where the crime happened. The more you advance, more points are marked: If you discover the house of the supposed murderer, the house is marked on the map. If you found the weapon of the crime, it's location will also be marked. Also, is by The Map that you interact with your team.

The mapmaking aspect of the game is based on the proper investigation. When you are making your case, you must proof that your solution is possible. So when you are making the final preparations, you must use all your data to indicate where the crime happened, if the criminal had the time to throw away his weapon, or discarded his vehicle. After all, if the timeline don't fit, there is something terribly wrong in it and you may had arrested the wrong guy, and you will fail your mission.

But where is the difficulty in that? Simple: You can't do these actions forever. You have a limit of days, and each action have certain cost. So the analysis of something may take a few days, but the interrogation of a witness just a few hours. In the most basic cases, you have basic crimes, or you may not need to spend time in the murder weapon, because it may be easily recognized by someone. And not just the time factor affects your gameplay, but also the media factor. If you are following a serial killer, the media will be pressuring you, and by doing that you will need to show progress.

If you found the weapon, you may give that to the press, but at same time your assassin will be more focused, and you will have at same time less time to find the killer and less evidence in future assassinations. This moment you have few options, like investigate just the key evidences, or try to finish the case using the evidences you already collected.

Logan Pecukonis, University of Montevallo, House of Regret

House of Regret starts with the main character, Blake, running from the cops for an unknown reason. While running he stumbles upon a seemingly abandoned house and decides to take refuge. Upon entering the house, he notices that the house is fancy and large and decides to look around to see if there is anything worth nabbing. He quickly discoverers that the house is haunted by very aggressive spirits. Trying to escape, he makes a run for the front door but opens it only to find a completely new room of the house. The point of the game would be to map out each room you entered to try and find the exit to escape the house, while avoiding the ghosts that try to kill you. If by some chance you forget to map out a room before you exit it, the room will be completely different upon re-entry. Doors are also not the only way to get from room to room. There would be secret passages, air vents, and long hallways that players would have to traverse and document. As you explore the haunted, intricate house you would find a number of different treasures and artifacts that would unravel not only the mystery of what happened to the mighty mansion, but Blake's personal dark past. House of Regret would be a mystery/horror game that would require gamers to pay attention to their surroundings and to little details in order to escape the house and lead Blake onto a path of redemption.

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