I’m the Map, I’m the Map!

Georg Zoeller posed a simple question to the design team: “Which part of the user interface is opened more than any other when playing Star Wars™: The Old Republic™?” It was a simple question, but the answer wasn’t any of the UI parts you might expect: not our character sheet, inventory or the Crew Skills window. No, the winner was the World Map. And it won easily – by more than an order of magnitude.

– Damion Schubert

This week Damion Schubert, Principal Lead System Designer for Star Wars: The Old Republic™ takes us through the tremendous task of building, functionality, and utility of maps for SWTOR. Maps are extremely important in any game, even more so in a MMO. Thousands of players on planets up to six times larger than any “Zone” on other MMO’s all trying to find their way across new and familiar worlds alike is a daunting task for a map maker.

The map process starts with a designer drawing a “Trigger Box”  that allows the designer to render only the objects inside the trigger box, then this basic map image goes through revision and enhancement several times to remove any objects that are misleading or were accidentally rendered that shouldn’t be there:

The end result is that we have maps that can show astonishing details about the game world. Chairs, crates, statues – all manner of items show up on the map from a birds-eye view, giving the player a real sense of where they are in the world.

– Schubert


Everyone hates searching for a quest objective for hours only to realize you’re in the wrong  section of the zone, and I personally don’t like a giant exclamation mark telling me the exact location – it kinda takes the point out of the quest. In SWTOR it looks like they’ve found a good balance by utilizing a semi-transparent circle around an area of the map that your quest objective can be found, so it still takes some searching but not aimless wandering.

The Breadcrumb system is another mechanism the designers at Bioware have added to make the traversing of massive planets a little less arduous. The Breadcrumb system works by showing the fastest routes to your active quest, which on most MMOs would be a nice add-on but on SWTOR it looks like this will be a extremely helpful tool. SWTOR has much larger “Zones” or “Worlds” than other MMOs, many with a lot of indoor complexes and entire planets that are cities. Schubert compares these to other MMO “Dungeons”, so navigating these could turn into a tedious task. The Breadcrumb system shows you which exits, tunnels, doors, and transit systems to take to get you into the action and back to your quest.

The last thing Schubert talks about is the ability to see your party members quests on your map and any shared quests (when hovered over with your mouse) shows all party mebers who currently have that quest. Combine this with the Breadcrumb system and the fact that your map goes partially transparent when your moving, makes it very easy to streamline chains of quests and side missions for grinding/static grouping.

May the Force be with you.


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