I always think of "routes" in Pokemon. When I first encountered this style of area design as a child I didn't like it, but it has grown on me and I think it's really indispensable. Routes can be much more interesting than any winding path in the overworld. That being said, routes give you only a very tight view of your surroundings and I find it hard to get a sense of scale when on a route. For example, I think Monster Crown suffers a bit from this. The world feels smaller because I can't "zoom out" and get a sense of how big things are. Pokemon Diamond's map was a pretty reasonable compromise, since it shows you topography to emphasize your relationship to the mountain range in the centre of the region. Having the routes intersect the mountain range often was also really good for establishing a sense of space. That was my favourite Pokemon for exploration.
That being said, I think my question actually scales down to any map size. My question wasn't about whether to use routes or overworld, but more about that shapes of those things. I think it's more like... do you prefer being able to go in literally any direction, or having a bunch of discrete paths to be shepherded down? Yeah, open space vs multiple authored paths.
The feeling I get from your answer though is that you would prefer multiple authored paths. A big open field appeals to you less than multiple paths through a heavily wooded forest. Maybe?
Here's another example from the game I've been working on. This is an image of an over world, but it could just as well have been a route. The important thing is that rock in the middle of the screen. I put that there so that the player would have to choose to walk around it to the north, or the south. If they go north, they will see a cave (they will see everything in the pink square). If they go south they will not see the cave (they will see everything in the orange square). What I was really wondering about was: does it feel more or less like exploration if I just omit the rock entirely?
Since posting this question I've come to my own answer (yes rock) but I'm still interested in your thoughts so I thought I'd drop this update here.
P.S. I suspect this art-style is not your taste being extremely repetitive and boring. I'm mainly using it to help me make progress, I'm probably going to go for 4 colour tiles in future projects. Colours are nice!
I'm looking for a discussion about exploration. I'm fiddling with ideas for an small "open world" JRPG.
I was playing Dragon Quest 3 and encountered the following scenario: you are in Romaly (the castle) and you are basically told to go north to Kanave (not shown). To the west there is a small shrine, and to the east there is a bridge and another, more roundabout path that leads to Kanave. In my playthrough I went directly north, along the red vector, and only changed directions as I approached the mountains. I could only see what is in the red box. Later, on a whim while grinding, I returned to this area and explored east and west. Probably some NPC would have told me to go there eventually.
After playing this scene I got to thinking, wouldn't it have been more interesting to drop a mountain or a lake right in the middle of that red "critical path". This would force the player to go either left or right around the obstacle, which would mean some players would encounter the shrine and some would encounter the bridge/forest path to the west. Even if there was a bridge across the lake or a pass through the mountain, if they were offset from that red line there's a chance the player would go around rather than through.
While working on the graphics for my own little project, I had this scene in mind and designed the following area to prototype this design concept:
The idea here is that there is no critical path. The player must choose to go left or right around the mountain. The box at the end of the arrows represents what the players can see as they travel. I've very carefully placed the village inside the green square so that the player who goes left will see it, and similarly with the cave in the blue square. The player has been told to go "north" to the town at the top of the map, and everything between is kind of optional... the town in the green square, the cave and tower in the blue square, these represent optional objectives. There will probably also be NPCs dropping hints about these places.
This is an example of a ludic device that I first encountered in a twitter thread summarizing a design talk given by the Breath of the Wild people at CEDEC (link below). They talked about how BotW uses objects like boulders, hills, and mountains to break up the game's critical paths so that every player will have different stories to tell about how they got from point A (Romaly) to point B (Kanave). They would place large attractive things far away, giving you a choice about how to get there, and the break up straight line paths along the way to create more varied experiences. For them this was the essence of the "exploration" that they wanted BotW to be about. You set your own goals, and then the game complicates things by adding obstacles.
But there's kind of a contradiction here that I can't quite shake... In the first example, DQ3, the player has freedom to go wherever they want. They can go straight, or follow either coast, or walk into the forest and then head west, or whatever! In some sense, this is "exploration" and the problem (if there is a problem) is that I didn't _want_ to explore. I just wanted to go north to Kanave by what I thought would be the shortest path.
On the other hand, in my example the player is forced down one of two paths... they don't really have much freedom "explore". If DQ3 had placed a lake in the centre of the critical path, I would have wandered around it to the left and seen the small shrine, and I would have thought "oh cool what's this" and maybe gone to check it out... but I would be following a very constrained, very designed path!
Which do you think? Is a big open field with things strewn about more conducive to a sense of "exploration" or do you prefer the more authored paths?