Elden Ring Giant Map Game Design From Software

Elden Ring
has been the fizz of the gaming world since its release in late February. As the latest title past From Software, it’s the studio’south first foray into an open-earth role-playing concept for their extremely popular and infamously difficult games (typically referred to as Souls or Soulsborne games from two notable games in their catalog,
Nighttime Souls
Bloodborne). It’s too the kickoff of these games to include a map, which actually excites united states of america at a cartographer studio with some avid gamers.

Ross Thorn: My name is Ross Thorn! I’thou a cartographer at Stamen. Chances are, you’ve never heard of me, only if you have information technology’s for ane of 2 things: taking second place in the Rhinelander Public Library’due south Worm Race or for my various work making fictional maps or researching playful maps.

Katie Kowalsky: And I’1000 Katie Kowalsky. I’m an ABBA superfan moonlighting as a cartographer/PM at Stamen. I’ve e’er loved video games and building my PC during the pandemic reignited a spark in me.

Thousand: Patently Ross, you’re the scholar on paper hither.

R: And you lot, Katie, are the Souls good.

Thousand: Well, you know the pandemic happened and during lockdown my friends started replaying Souls games and I became the live audience member for them on Discord/Twitch. I fell in love with Miyazaki’s game design and that’south probably considering it’s such a blast to picket.

Obviously my friends and I (and all the gamers at Stamen) take been excited for
Elden Band—considering AN Open up WORLD SOULS GAME?! GEORGE R.R. MARTIN? More CREEPY MONSTERS? The get-go twenty-four hour period was phenomenal, if only to encounter anybody start to realize a Souls game has a FREAKIN’ MAP. I’yard fine, I tin can calm down.

R: Definitely. In my apprehensive opinion, the other souls games are literally unplayable /due south

K: Well that’s just considering you’re a cartographer. We should caveat that at that place can be amazing games that don’t need to accept maps. Maybe.

R: Not every game needs a map and maps should be used thoughtfully every bit a tool. That’s what I want to explore in this series, seeing which maps are successful in some of the hottest games and what makes them tick. Nosotros’re going to judge these maps on four criteria (that I threw out there in some research): interactivity, immersive, incomplete and interpersonal. We’ll explain what these mean as we go through them, equally these are the means that maps designed for play and entertainment differ from more traditional maps.

K: Something I think is important to highlight is that nosotros don’t want to focus on cartographic aesthetics per se, maps are tools and video games apply them as such. We care a lot about treating maps as non just the de facto choice for our work. They demand to make sense for the context and some of our best work doesn’t have a map.

When we are working on maps at Stamen there are and so many choices that go difficult to articulate around how maps work and how to brand them seamless for the cease user. And I think, where we finish up getting a lot of our inspiration is from video games because they naturally struggle with some of the same things we do, as we’ll talk about.

R: All right, now I’m very excited to talk near this, allow’south get into it.


R: So interactivity is how a histrion can make changes into the brandish of the map. That tin exist washed in several means through the map interface itself: adding pins and markers, panning and zooming beyond the map, etc. What’southward absurd in gaming is that y’all can commit changes to the map past just playing the game. One of the classic examples of this is finding map fragments and that’s a huge office of
Elden Band
(we’ll talk more on this later on).

One thousand:  Ahh, got it. Yeah, discovering locations like sites of grace to be added to the map is crucial for 1 of the map’s master functions of supporting fast travel. This mechanic guided by grace is absurd, it really helps give a sense of “where next?” even without tons of icons like other open up world games.
I wish wayfinding apps existed.

R: Totally! It allows for wayfinding without hand property which I think is dandy. So many games give you lot a straight beeline of where to go next. While
Elden Ring
provides more than guidance than other Soulsborne games with grace and the map, information technology hardly could exist considered mitt holding in the context of modern gaming.

R: Its quests sort of remind me of my favorite game
The Elderberry Scrolls Three: Morrowind
and I think information technology could draw inspiration from something similar that. An NPC would tell yous something and, if you lot’re lucky, they’d requite you lot directions just like you’d get them in real life in 2003. And some NPCs practise requite these wayfinding directions in
Elden Ring, but it’due south something I wish there was more of because it feels like a minor puzzle to solve in itself.

Directions for a quest given by an NPC in The Elderberry Scrolls III: Morrowind

Thousand: There are besides some maps that you tin can find in the game that have locations marked on them for various quests. What I beloved about these “simple maps” (as they’re called in the game) is that they give you the endpoint of a quest, just you still have to play geographic “Where’s Waldo?” to find where those locations are on the larger map. It’southward another cool mechanic of guiding you like grace, but still allowing you to get that serotonin heave from finding it on your own.

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R: Speaking of grace, one matter I don’t similar about the grace icons is that they sometimes point in completely opposite directions and don’t get removed when you’ve accomplished quests, which is really confusing peculiarly since you’re non given a quest log to keep rail of things and they sort of leave the map a scrap cluttered.

The guiding grace icons take up a fair amount of space and aren’t removed from the map when the respective task is completed. Some even point in completely contrary directions, calculation to the visual confusion.

One thousand: So what about just interacting with the map interface itself?

R: Those types of interactions are pretty boilerplate here, in my stance. You can practise all the standard map interactions we mentioned higher up: place markers and beacons, pan, and zoom. I gauge one of the less common interactions y’all have here is to cycle through a list of sites of grace to travel to.

1000: And like real-world mapping, it varies with what device yous apply to physically play the game. When nosotros make maps at Stamen, we accept to consider if the user volition be on a telephone or computer and give them the proper tools to employ the map for whatsoever the instance is (sometimes, it’s both). If you play
Elden Ring
with a keyboard and mouse, you’re going to accept a unlike experience than someone with a controller.

R: Yeah, exactly! And both are supported in
Elden Band, but it seems like they tend to push you towards using a controller (in most aspects of the game).

Overall, the interactivity in the map is solid, but nada really new or groundbreaking.


R: Games typically want players to be immersed in them. I feel like that’s goose egg new to say? Merely there are different ways to be immersed in a game. You tin can be immersed in the act of playing a game and be further immersed in the story and setting of the game. And so things like a sensible button layout, a sleek and seamless UI, and even a comfortable controller and chair aid you focus less on the world around y’all and better immerse yourself in the act of playing a game.

This, in turn, helps you go a stride further and exist better immersed in the setting of the game and the identity of your character. There’south a bunch of really cool academic inquiry with some of this stuff by Laurie Taylor and James Gee, simply merely similar most quest-giving NPCs in
Elden Ring, I’ll let you detect those on your own. Only the map in the game should immerse you in both the human activity of using the map itself
the setting and story of the virtual globe.

R: Soulsborne games stake their reputation on inducing frustration. Or sometimes, full-blown rage. They set a precedent for hard gameplay that many people actually find enjoyable. And that’due south something I love nigh these games. It’s a phenomenon that is preached against in any other type of UX outside of gaming.

K: And then interesting that the entire culture of
Dark Souls
could be summed up as “just bargain with it” and to take all the various frustrating elements from hard bosses to … confusing UI. It’due south interesting that bad UI can reinforce this aspect of the game’s civilization and information technology’s plausible that a frustrating UI and UX could be by blueprint.

R: Yeah, and it totally could be! Designing an experience for your players to fail and try once again is a crucial part of play in games. That said, video games still lean on more traditional principles of UI and UX as they still use menus, maps, and displays that sort of exist outside of the virtual globe.

And that’due south where game maps tend to alive, typically equally a start bill of fare or mini-map (but there are some cool exceptions we’ll touch on). In
Elden Band, it’s a unique offset menu map that takes upwardly the entire screen but doesn’t intermission the game, which is a crucial detail. Particularly since y’all tin’t invoke the map (and thus fast travel) while in combat, making those situations that much more than unsafe.

The map takes upwards the entirety of the screen, but doesn’t pause the game.

R: One of the chief critiques I run across from folks nigh the map is that y’all can’t shut it by pressing the same push button you lot use to open up information technology. Which I thought was super interesting, cuz it’south something I never do. I always just utilize whatsoever the “dorsum” button is. But information technology reaffirms the fact that users often have their ain conventions and expectations when it comes to using interfaces.

And since we’re talking about interfaces, I want to say that I don’t think this game needs a mini-map or maps of dungeons. Sometimes it’southward dainty to reference when exploration is a big part of gameplay, but I call back it does just fine with stopping to await at the commencement menu map and then navigating in that location on your own.

K: And to the bespeak of immersing the player in the setting of the game, a medieval grapheme isn’t really going to take a mini-map guiding them similar Chief Primary has a radar to prove enemies in the

The radar-similar mini-map in
sits in the lower left corner and is centered around the actor, always onscreen throughout gameplay.

R: Admittedly, you lot know, one other critique I accept is that beacons placed on the overworld or “underworld” (henceforth used without quotations) will appear in both worlds when placed. Withal, they don’t show on the other map when toggling betwixt them in the map. At that place might be a employ where you need to go to the location of something in the overworld only in the underworld, but if in that location’s not, it provides more confusion and should probably be fixed.

K: Yeah, I mean information technology’south funny considering I feel this frustration in the existent earth besides- how nosotros switch betwixt layers in indoor maps can often just be a toggle and I’m excited to see how other games handle this challenge- I call back video game maps are where we’re seeing the pushing of UI to a new level and hopefully it can shape what we do next.

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A user-placed beacon in the overworld map (top-left) doesn’t prove up on the underworld map (top-right), but is visible in the virtual world surreptitious (the vertical beam of blue lite in the bottom paradigm).

R: For that deeper immersion in the setting, I think the map and gameplay in
Elden Ring
do quite a expert job. Finding parts of the bodily map and the beautiful mitt-drawn aesthetic really feel like it’s an in-game artifact that your character and you are using as one. And seeing the subtle seams of the map fragments is simply *chef’s kiss*. The details of all the features like swamps, ruins, caves, and other landcover are as well done incredibly well. My favorite part of the whole map-using experience is unlocking a new part of the globe and seeing an interesting landmark drawn on the map that inspires me to go and cheque it out in the virtual globe. It invokes this feeling of exploration that I don’t call back I’ve felt since I held the paper map of
that came tucked in the game case.

Look at the gorgeous manus-illustrated expect of this map! You lot can too see a always-and then-slight seam from discovering a new portion of the map just north of the golden grace icon at the bottom.

R: Something I’d honey to run across more in games, specially those where invoking the map doesn’t suspension the game, is maps like those in
where your grapheme holds a paper map and looks down at information technology so you tin can really use it. To me that’s so constructive for player immersion.


R: As we touched on with interactivity, one of the all-time drivers for gameplay is having an incomplete map that is filled out through actions of the character. Finding pieces of the map in fragments throughout the globe that make full out the map fosters a really not bad interplay between the map and the game.

K: Yes, I think i of the definitive examples of that is how
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
does this. Simply I call up what’south overnice virtually the
Elden Ring’south Map is being able to see into the fog of war areas slightly- it’s not a consummate bare slate. It’s so enticing and I felt similar the Leo Dicaprio meme shouting at my friends to go into that new area.

R: Yeah, that’due south sort of crucial in how
Elden Ring
makes this work: being able to run into into areas where y’all need to notice the map and also showing
yous demand to go in that uncharted area to find the map fragment. I think they did a really lovely job with this.

R: I dear that in that location are two fog of war furnishings working together (in the second picture to a higher place): one beingness more of an actual cloudy overlay that obscures areas you haven’t been to and the other being the missing map fragments underneath that fog later you’ve traveled into that area that provide some context to where yous tin can find them and the principal roads to assist guide you a flake.

K: It’due south likewise great how this map balances wanting to increment the sense of exploration and provide hints to guide yous towards the next area. Of course though, in typical Souls fashion, there aren’t the plethora of hints that other maps like the Witcher provide.

R: For sure, it’s such a motivating affair to accept an empty map with no hints other than the implicit suggestion to get explore. Coming back to maps in the real-globe this is one of the aspects of playful maps that seems well-nigh challenging to utilize in real-world cartography.

G: I can definitely see this extending to more mapping employ cases and get a really interesting interaction that can be used to tell a story. Simply like there’s an explosion of maps for navigation and social media, I think narrative driven maps like The New York Times story “Snow Fall” are as well some of the best means we can do this.

R: The game also faces a cartographic challenge we’re starting to see more in the real world as well and that’southward how to correctly layer maps or features that are directly on elevation of one another.

K: Yeah, as indoor and AR mapping are becoming the new hotness in cartography, the manufacture is facing some challenges that video game maps have been doing for a while.

R: And that’south what makes me reserved about how
Elden Ring
goes virtually showing the overworld and underworld map. Yous tin see them adjacent when you lot’re underground and at some points in the game, it’southward a scrap confusing and jarring when yous fifty-fifty detect a new map fragment.

The boundary betwixt the levels of the world when viewing the map is a fleck jarring and confusing when exploring the underworld.


R: For multiplayer games, the map can become a crucial part of communication for players. This is something battle royale games have really washed well. The map is a medium for players to talk, really. Using markers, beacons, pings—whatever you lot want to call ‘em—allows for players to strategize and communicate most in-game actions to be done without even needing spoken language.

K: This is where I have to trust y’all on that, battle royale games are not my cup of tea, merely I think at that place’s something interesting to exist said well-nigh that mechanic. More and more than we’re seeing social media employ maps as a method of communication, from the Snap Map to Instagram showing people’s stories. Location can exist a style to observe a cool consequence or a new eatery, or in the example of video games, where an enemy spawn location may be.

R: Yeah, those are great examples! And in that location are then many other use cases where this could be used in real-earth situations. This is definitely an area where traditional cartography has some catching up to practice. Only it’s happening! Collaborative mapping tools like Felt in early on access and Alyssa 10’southward Mapus are actually exciting to see.

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R: Now before anyone tears me apart for even bringing up boxing royales, it needs to exist said that gameplay and the multiplayer experience in
Elden Band
is nothing like (nor intended to exist like) that of battle royale games. With any map, in-game or IRL, the purpose of the feel should be used as a north star for any cartographic design decisions. Multiplayer in
Elden Band
is less about exploration and more nearly fighting bosses and challenges together, and typically in one location. Simply I still think the map could ameliorate serve multiplayer. Allowing shared use of the map is a start.

Not even the hallowed grounds of the Lands Betwixt are safety from battle royale references.

Grand: I retrieve what’south interesting is how the entire From Software conceit is to build highly interpersonal games through the messaging organization or being able to bring in players to help in a boss fight or run a risk beingness invaded by another actor.

R: That’due south a really good signal! I definitely would have overlooked that.

1000: It’due south and so interesting and I’d love to talk about how
Elden Band
does this really well, but it’s a bit out of the scope cartographically. It’ll be great to meet how other genres do this, I’thou looking forwards to it.

R: While the game does evidence some information on multiplayer condition and where active PvP or cooperative play is occurring, it really doesn’t practise a whole lot for multiplayer otherwise? It’south kind of disappointing, simply again, maybe I’m but hoping for something else in the gameplay that just isn’t there that I want the map to support.

Final Thoughts

R: Something I volition forever hang my hat on is that video games take a lot to teach when it comes to maps. They have been dealing with challenges we’re now actually seeing in existent-globe mapping like AR and VR.

K: Or with navigation and wayfinding experiences or social media maps, etc. Some of the projects we piece of work on in Stamen are getting to this bespeak where I wonder if we’re only video game designers who moonlight in cartography. The intersection of traditional mapping and information viz and what the “future” looks similar is often seen in video games. It makes it of class, very fun to practise research in our spare time through games like
Elden Band
Breath of the Wild
, but there’s a level of seriousness that I think we’re starting to have equally an industry towards looking to video games for inspiration.

R: Exactly. I think we are headed towards a monumental crossover between these two fields. And merely like video games can lend cognition to fields like cartography, I love that it’southward a dialogue where the mapmaking industry can contribute to gaming as well. And arguably has been impacting gaming implicitly for decades.

And that’south where this web log sort of comes in! I know things tin get heated when critiquing games and things people intendance virtually. These are just some of our thoughts on games, maps, and how they practice or don’t work together.
Elden Ring
and all the souls games are very clear evidence of how design leans a lot on subjectivity. Some people consider aspects of these games to exist flaws while others love them and will hold to them until they’re resurrected at the next site of grace. And that’southward okay.

K: I call back this crossover has fabricated me find a new way to love mapping and increased the amount I enjoy video games! Seeing how maps can act every bit a way to push button the story’s narrative or provide interesting mechanics is exactly what nosotros’re seeing in all sorts of mapping. But through video game maps nosotros get to exercise our research at our own leisure, relaxing and beingness immersed in a great story.

R: Fantastic points! Gosh, this has been fun. Okay score time—overall, I think the map in
Elden Ring
scores a 6 out of x (I ain’t doing decimals). Information technology’s got some really absurd qualities and is particularly expert at supporting gameplay through its incompleteness. The immersiveness and interactivity just felt pretty average and it just didn’t score well in interpersonal. Without that interpersonal aspect (which may not deserve equal weight every bit the other parts merely because of the nature of the game), I call back it would bump upwardly to a solid 7, so take your choice for what y’all similar better.

M: I wish nosotros had a manner of quantifying just how “!!!!” it feels to include a map in a Souls game, merely that’s alright. I think a 6/ten is great, we’re seeing the first attempt by From Software to include this and it’s decent. Aesthetics are peachy, the novelty is exciting, only we’ll be eager to see improvements. There already have been some nice improvements like tracking where NPCs are and where they move throughout questlines.

From Software has finally stopped kicking players in the crotch and provided a globe map.

R: Information technology’south definitely promising that the devs included map improvements in one of the start major patches and I hope that bodes well for the futurity of the game!


Interactive: 6/10

Immersive: vi/10

Incomplete: eight/ten

Interpersonal: 2/10

Overall: half-dozen/x

(or 7 if y’all don’t count interpersonal)

We hope you lot enjoyed this detailed look at the map in
Elden Ring
from a cartographic perspective and we hope to exercise something like this again in the future. Got thoughts on anything we said? Prepared to phone call united states maidenless chumps and PvP us outside of Limgrave because of a terrible take? Or would y’all similar us to evaluate some other map? Tweet at usa either manner (respectfully of course)!

Elden Ring Giant Map Game Design From Software

Source: https://stamen.com/cartographers-play-video-games-a-review-of-the-map-in-elden-ring/