For enjoying a video game, the player has to feel immersed on it, and that’s why its creators have to work in each component that forms it, as: the music, the story, the characters, the landscapes, etc. Some of these elements have been discussed in this blog, however I considered it’s time to add another visual item to the analysis list: the World Map.
The maps are a very important part in all kinds of video games that involve exploration. They can serve as a guide to know where to go to continue the development of the story or just to know more about the world where the video game takes place. Whether the full map is available from the beginning of the game or the player discovers it as s/he progresses, this is an item that helps to feel a game more believable.
It should be noted that the map not just act as a guide for the player, but also for the creators. This is because it’s a way to organize information, helping to perceive the structure and sequence of the video game’s story. With a map, the designer has a bigger picture of the world, so s/he can create new places that lead to creating more events that complement the gamer experience.
The above allows me to communicate why I think the design of the maps is a crucial task and even more if we talk about RPGs. Since this is a new theme for me, I gave myself the chance of understanding more about the creation of maps by doing a reverse mechanic of a JRPG map with the help of the comments of diverse authors. This is also a way to do an analysis. The map chosen to be the first one analyzed by the Picky Champy is the Secret of Mana World Map. So, let’s begin!
Secret of Mana is a JRPG released in 1993 in Japan. It was developed and published by Square (now Square Enix) for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The game unfolds in a high fantasy universe during an unspecified period following a war between a civilization and “gods” concerning the use of mana to fuel the “Mana Fortress”, a flying warship. The main three characters, with the power of the Mana Sword, attempt to prevent an empire from conquering the world with the power of the ancient fortress and that way restore the peace to the world.
Unlike the RPGs of the time, Secret of Mana use a real-time battle system instead of a turn-based one, leaning on a power bar mechanic. The game also has unique Ring Command menu system, which pauses the action and allows the player to make decisions in the middle of battle.
Secret of Mana was directed and designed by Koichi Ishii, programmed primarily by Nasir Gebelli, and produces by Square designer Hiromichi Tanaka. This video game was acclaimed for its brightly colored graphics, expansive plot, and its innovative Ring Command menu and battle system.
A few years later, the original version was released for the Wii’s Virtual Console. Afterwards, it was ported to mobile phones and also was re-released for Super NES Classic Edition. A Full 3D remake was published for the PS4, PSVita and Microsoft Windows in February 2018.
Another element that this game has different from the RPGs of the time was the way to handle with the World Map. In Secret of Mana, there wasn’t a switch to an overworld map each time the characters leave a dungeon or a town. From the start, the player has to go through enemy-infested roads in order to reach their next destination. The means of transportation are the giant cannon found in the Cannon Travel Centers. Later, the party is given access to Flammie, a type of dragon that can fly anywhere.
As the map of the original version is less detailed due to the technology of that time, for this analysis the one created for the 3D remake will be taken.
As Jesper Schmidt describes in his book “Fantasy Map Making: A step-by-step guide of worldbuilders”, it’s necessary to identify the events that are the essence of the story in order to illustrate where they take place. So, let’s describe the mandatory situations and locations that support the Secret of Mana story:
- As a rule, the most important event in a story is… the beginning. In this instance, it takes place in the area where there is the main character’s hometown.
- In Secret of Mana, the eight Mana Spirits are who govern the magical elements and the playable characters must rescue them to learn magic. This detail doesn’t just lead to place eight points on the map, but also think they have to be in different terrains because the Spirits survive into its own element. For example, Undine is the water Spirit, so she has to be in an area where there is water. So, keep in mind the eight spirits are: Undine (Water), Gnome (Earth), Jinn (Wind), Salamander (Fire), Luna (Moon), Dryad (Wood), Wisp (Light) and Shade (Darkness).
- Although there are three playable characters, the player just has one at the beginning. So, the sites of the other two have to be part of the map.
- It’s primordial to add points with means of transport (the Cannon Travel Centers).
- The story makes to think of the need of towns and maybe some castle.
- To end, the final battle has to be in a strategic location.
Having the essence of the map, little by little another interesting places are added to create a story with more sense, since to arrive directly where the final objectives are, it’s too convenient. To be honest, the video games need some “detours” to add emotion.
It’s true that a fantasy’s video game map doesn’t search to represent the Earth as it’s known, however the divergence between the imaginary and the real world can’t be so big. The reason behind this affirmation is that the human brain needs some elements to which it’s accustomed to being able to understand or interpret something, in this case, a map. Keeping the above in mind and the fact that the Elemental Spirits have a strong presence in the story of the Secret of Mana World, the map has to take into consideration different types of weather, altitudes and landforms.
After all the aforesaid, now is logic why the Secret of Mana World manage a lot of kinds of landforms, including deserts, mountains, glaciers, etc. Thus, it’s time to go into detail about the structure of this colorful world.
The tectonic plates are responsible for the birth of continents, mountains and some islands, making the theory behind these very extensive and interesting. However, for this analysis, let’s keep it simple using just general definitions.
The movement of the tectonic plates (among other things) causes the large blocks of land to separate, forming the continents. Then, the silhouette of the continents, it’s the first aspect to delimit the tectonic plates.
The mountains are landforms higher that the surrounding areas formed by the collision of tectonic plates, so they are another factor to take into account. In fact, in the southern continent, there is a notorious group of mountains called “Lofty Mountains” where the intersecting lines of the tectonic plates need to be marked.
For the final touches, the island chains are also a consequence of the plates collision. The separations between lands can be taken as a guide too.
The water is a fundamental part in a balanced world, and there are three ways she can be present: oceans, rivers and lakes. The oceans are the most visible since they are the biggest water bodies found on earth. Although on this map there are not named oceans, the structure is there.
Next, the lakes are areas filled with water that, according to various authors, it’s important to add them after defining a continent. The majority of the lakes is surrounded by highlands, for example: mountains. It’s possible to see how the lakes here are always surrounded by mountains or are like sunk. These are also going to delineate some of the last water’s landform: the rivers.
The rivers are natural flowing streams of fresh water that flow toward the lake, ocean or other rivers. They are indispensable in an inhabited world because let’s remember, the people settle down in convenient places, and what is more convenient that a location where it flows fresh water. Indeed, there are four places which respect this rule: Potos Village (the main character village), Sprite Village, Todo Village and, of course, the Water Palace to maintain Undine happy.
Leaving geography aside for a moment, in a video game, a river can function as an obstacle forcing the player to find a way to move to the other side, whether it’s finding a boat, an airship or, in this case, a cannon.
Creating the climate is very complex in view of all the variables involved. Hence, as the same as did with the tectonic plates, let’s find a simplified approach. Firstly, let’s observe the Earth heat map to use it as a guide.
The representation shown here highlight with dark blue the areas of the poles; with lighter blues, the temperate zones; and the red shows the tropical regions. The base to obtain the horizontal gradient is the Equator line where the rainy tropical climate predominates.
With the foregoing information, now it’s possible to establish, in a simplified way, the temperature map of the Secret of Man’s World. In the first place, let’s determine the landforms that are going to help to accomplish this task: the glaciers (located in the Polar Regions), the deserts and the forests.
The more evident zone is the polar one, where there are glaciers and the weather is cold. This means, this area is going to be the dark blue one. Its location is in north and, to reinforce the idea of “frozen”, the places located here are: the Ice Palace, the North and the South Frozen Forest, the Santa’s House, the Frozen Forest Cannon Travel Center, the Crystal Forest and the Neko’s Crystal Forest Branch. The only exception is the “Tropics” where is warm and green, but the secret of this spot is well explained in the story of the game.
To continue, although there are a lot of variables in the presence of a desert, one of them may be the hot weather and more if in here is the Fire Palace. So the red region can be colored in the strip where there are the Kakkara Desert and the Fire Palace. Another reason to support this decision is the green forest in the eastern part.
It seems these forests are greener comparing with the located in the south. This can be a way for the creator of the map to differentiate between tropical and temperate forests. The intense green may be due to the fact that in the tropical forest the climate is always warm and has high rainfall (2000 to 5000 a year), which allows for greater biodiversity. The temperate forest is more attached to the year’s seasons, so the trees are not always green and the average annual precipitation is between 500 and 2000 mm.
So, recalling the fact that at the Equator the dominant climate is hot with constant rains, this line would be drawn from where the desert is located to where the forests with a more vivid green are, which would be tropical forests. With this, the red region can be settled.
As a consequence of the above, it has been possible to locate the temperate forests with which temperate band is identified.
With these three maps and completing the gradient, the climate zones are complete.
But for a fun world you need people, so nations and villages are crucial. In the previously written paragraphs, there are some explanations of the why of the location of certain places. This helps to observe the countries.
The countries are very well-defined since there are like blocks of places. For example, the Ice Country is a single block. The eastern country has five places connected by a road. In the west, the desert is another section which has the Fung Kingdom. In the south the nation with the most villages. Finally the island at the west, after the island chain, is considered a Republic (Republic of Tasnica).
With all this, the essence is bestowed, the only thing missing is the special locations to add depth and story elements to a map. For example: ruins (Pandora Ruins, Northtown Ruins…), castles (Pandora Castle, Witch’s Castle…), temples (Mandala Temple), etc.
Secret of Mana has the particularity of having named the sites in a very descriptive way. In most of the cases, knowing the name is knowing where it is. For example, it’s possible to guess when a place is in the Ice Country because the word “Frozen” is used. Or at least, what it is because there is “Desert”, “Castle”, “Village”, etc. in the name.
Well, this is all for this post, I hope you like it, although I’m new to this topic. I think this is a broad topic, so my intention is to improve and broaden my analysis of this visual element in future posts. For that reason I hope to receive a lot of feedback to help me to get better, I will really appreciate it! But for the moment, see you in my next post!!
- C. Banks, GameMastery Guide. Paizo, 2010.
- J. Schmidt, Fantasy Map Making: A step-by-step guide for worldbuilders. Fantasy Publishing, 2018.
- J. Blando, How to Draw Fantasy Art and RPG Maps: Step by Step Cartography for Gamers and Fans. Impact, 2015.
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- “Earth Sciences: Types of Landforms | Free Homework Help.” [Online]. Available: https://schooltutoring.com/help/earth-sciences-types-of-landforms/. [Accessed: 11-Jun-2020]
- “Tropical rainforest,” Wikipedia. 01-Jun-2020 [Online]. Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Tropical_rainforest&oldid=960157119. [Accessed: 09-Jun-2020]