Golden Sun: Dark Dawn Bits

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Description: A typical JRPG with a strong emphasis on environmental puzzles.

Conveniences: An in-game encyclopedia is constantly referenced in conversations via underlined words. When tapped, these links open up entries in the top of the screen of the DS while leaving the action in the bottom largely uninterrupted.

Annoyances: Unskipable verbal diarrhea that’s only exasperated by animating emoticons.

Standouts: Fantastic variety and level design in numerous locations that rely on magic for puzzle-solving.

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Design Roundup #10

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Minimap Rotation

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Not too long ago I praised The Witcher for a plethora of things it did really well. The sequel’s not bad either, but its minimap is absolutely horrible. The main problem is that it rotates with the camera, and the lack of compass directions also exasperates the issue.

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Rotating minimaps are great for following a linear path, which is why GPS devices use this design. The user hardly ever needs to worry about whether they’re driving South or South-East, but they need to accurately follow the generated route. Consequently, it’s a lot easier if the path is always facing the same direction as the car, i.e., if the arrow on the screen is pointing right, they need to make a right hand turn.

However, if the map doesn’t rotate, then driving South with an arrow pointing right actually means making a left-hand turn. To avoid this confusion and unnecessary work with mentally rotating the map, the view of GPS devices is synched to match that of the car.

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FPS titles also tend to benefit from rotating minimaps. Their levels are often small or just linear, and it’s very helpful for the player to be synced with the minimap view. The reason for this is that split-second decisions often need to be made based on the immediate surroundings.

For example, if the player is following a team-mate turning right but there’s an enemy hiding just around the left corner, it’s beneficial to instantly know which direction to face in order to counter the ambush. Since FPS games also inherently don’t possess a floating camera, it’s that much more advantageous to be aware of what’s lurking beyond the player’s view as there’s no other way to peek around the scenery.

Static minimaps, on the other hand, are much more suitable for games with large areas that need to be traversed multiple times.

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In these titles, it’s important to familiarize oneself with the layout of the land in order to travel through it efficiently. Goals are often described with compass directions in mind, and landmarks are used to aid in the building of a mental map for the overall area.

If the minimap constantly swings around, not only does it keep changing the direction north is pointing, but it also forces the player to digest a radically different topography each time they glance at the minimap. A static view is superior to this as it facilitates the parsing and memorization of an area’s layout. This in turn allows the player plot their own paths and comfortably maneauver through the game’s environments.

Of course some players are only used to one approach or the other, in which case why not simply include both options?

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Design Roundup #9

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Blast Corps Bits

blast corps header vehicles Rare nuclear N64 destroying buildings Blast Corps


Description: A game about demolishing small city/rural areas so that a runaway nuke carrier doesn’t run into any obstacles and explode.

Conveniences: A ton of visual indicators that ensure the player is always aware of the level’s layout and goals.

Annoyances: The handling on some of the vehicles is extremely sensitive; camera controls are wonky.

Standouts: A silly yet intuitive excuse for causing lots of destruction with various types of machinery.

blast corps 1 vehicles Rare nuclear N64 destroying buildings Blast Corps

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