User:Espyo/Area design and landmark ramblings

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In Pikcord, on the 12th of December, 2017, I decided to try to understand how the areas in Pikmin games achieved (or failed to achieve) navigational awareness. The key subject behind this was actually the landmarks present (or absent) in the different areas. Landmarks make it so players know where they are, but there are nuances to that, and this can all be seen in the various stages the player can play in. I started spouting my thoughts, and learn the series's area design lessons as I went along. That explains why this is poorly formatted: it's just a stream of improvised thoughts. I've cut off parts of the conversation that were less relevant, and included some important remarks about other chat members.

(Espyo:)
so I figured something out in the Pikmin community project dev room
I believe areas in the canon games are good when they have a lot of visual landmarks
or, well, geometric landmarks
basically, if you look at the area from a top-down view, you can instantly tell a lot of different locations
and fan-made areas should strive to do this
however, this is just a hypothesis, and I want to explore it
so follow me, won't you, in this journey to discover how the canon games do landmarks
let's start from the top
https://www.pikminwiki.com/images/c/c5/The_Impact_Site_HD.jpg
on The Impact Site's map, you can instantly tell a lot of different locations and landmarks
you've got a massive open area in the center
there's a trunk arena north
a beach northwest
and some root structures south
if you want to include the box room at the northeast, then you've described the entire area using landmarks
https://www.pikminwiki.com/images/3/35/The_Forest_of_Hope_HD.jpg
but then comes The Forest of Hope
and it's nearly the opposite
we've got the starting area at the center
a room at the north
a lake at the south
...and that's it
visually, looking at the map alone, you can't tell any more landmarks
if you have played the game, you can probably count a few more, like the dead-end at the east, or the Snagret ledge at the southwest
but that's about it
so... does this make TIS a better area than TFOH?
I'm not sure yet, and I want to keep going
https://www.pikminwiki.com/images/2/25/The_Forest_Navel_HD.jpg
The Forest Navel is another one with very little "sameness", and a lot of landmarks
the center is the highest point in the map, and the most vibrant
we've got lakes at the north, a room at the east, a dark room at the southeast, a lake at the southwest, and a protruding island at the northwest
between all of these landmarks, there are some corridors and pathways that are pretty nondescript
so it's got more... "fluff" terrain than TIS, but a lot less than TFOH
https://www.pikminwiki.com/images/a/ab/The_Distant_Spring_HD.jpg
The Distant Spring
TDS is very confusing, and at a close scale, you've got a lot of interwining and convoluted paths
that make this area as dense as a jungle
but in the big picture, you can see some good landmarks that stop you from getting too lost
a maze of wood at the center
three massive lakes at the south... these could be further separated into three landmarks, but this isn't a trivial task
a large lake at the north
an open area south of the wood maze, and a stone maze at the east
and that's pretty much all you can say about this area
this not-very-big number of landmarks does reflect in gameplay
everybody gets lost in TDS until they're very familiar with it, after having played for hours
is this a good thing, or a bad thing?
is it neither?
I'm not sure...
https://www.pikminwiki.com/images/b/bb/The_Final_Trial_HD.jpg
The Final Trial is a bit of a special case, because it feels more like a game sequence than an open natural world
but, very clearly, we've got the landing site at the south
lake section that, despite having a lot of things to say, is very easy to process due to the simple nature of the paths and ledges
and the arena at the north
that's the whole area; even simpler to describe than TIS if you look at the big picture
but at a smaller scale, I'd say TIS is easier to describe, since each landmark has a very simple structure, whereas TFT's got a fair bit of detail in the central area
https://www.pikminwiki.com/images/e/e8/Nemuri_snap.jpg
we need good maps for Pikmin 2...
the Valley of Repose has got a lot of good landmarks, but the snowy nature of everything also makes it a bit easy to get lost in
I don't find this to be a bad thing, since it gives the area cohesion
we've got a simply-structured landing zone at the west
then to break that off, a large open room east of that
then the path kind of gets confusing, going back and forth through a plaza
and the only noteworthy thing after that is the cave at the deep east
the nondescript things in each landmark are quite open and don't branch out too much, though
so it's still a bit easy to understand
and unlike TFOH, whose pathways just serve as connectors between different rooms and landmarks, I'd say the nondescript paths in this area serve better purposes
they feel more organic, and they actually feel like the way that reaches around that other room and such, instead of just being the tunnel that goes from room A to room B
speaking of TFOH, I'll skip the Awakening Wood
and the Perplexing Pool
and you know what, I can skip the Wistful Wild too :neutral_face:
the theme and small structures of these maps has changed between P1 and P2
but since this entire study is about the overall structure of the maps, which was kept the same between games
I think it's pointless
now, for the Pikmin 3 maps, I'll skip the small rooms
since a) they're physically not in the spot you see them on the map
b) they could almost be considered entirely different places
this study is about how the overall shape and geometry of an area connects all of its paths, ledges, rooms, etc.
a portal that teleports you to a different part doesn't count
I may describe some of the larger "sub-areas" in the P3 areas though
https://www.pikminwiki.com/images/c/c2/Tropical_Wilds_map.png
the Tropical Wilds has got a main section that feels like it came straight from the GameCube games
but how is it in terms of landmarks?
well, there's the landing site
the winding tunnel to its northwest
the roundabout and the area around it, to the north
(with a small lake even farther north of that)
two circular connected rooms to the west of that, which are very different from everything else
and the path at the east, which is very isolated and simple
but there are a lot more paths and walkways that go all around the area
which kind of help... pollute the area's structure
but this isn't a bad thing
if you look from above, TW is very easy to understand
when you're playing, the different paths, blockades, and rivers make it really complex
personally, I'm a fan
but getting these paths to make sense, and not just cross in the middle of a well-defined landmark section, is very tricky
(btw, if it wasn't clear, I'm writing this as I go)
https://www.pikminwiki.com/images/e/eb/Garden_of_Hope_map.png
the Garden of Hope is vastly different
it's an open blob, with a lot of small rooms and pathways
and each room and path that exists contorts in itself and curves all over
take a look at the path at the east, for instance, where you find Brittany
it's an insane shape
compare that to some of the simpler areas in P1
and the difference is night and day
even TFOH, which had a lot of nondescript pathways, still managed to be simpler to understand than this one curvy pathway
what about the rest?
you could consider the landmass in the middle as its own landmark
but when you're playing, it's anything but
the fact that there are walls in the middle cutting it up into chunks
and the fact that it's segmented by descructible walls in-game
makes this less of a landmass, and more of a collection of connected rooms
this makes it a bit disorienting
we're only halfway done with this map, and it's already a massive number of rooms and paths, with a lot of complexity, to keep track of
and indeed, in-game, if you don't know this map by heart, you can get lost very easily
to the north... there's not something you can describe very well
though in the game itself, this area is a bit simpler to understand
the section where you throw Pikmin to the other side is pretty unique, and does stand-out
but in the big picture, it doesn't
to the southwest, you've got a large lake
probably the only real landmark in this area
but even then it's got a lot of rooms in it, which split the lake itself into several pathways that go all over the place
things like the bit of land at the very west don't help
in general, if you had to describe this area's layout in general to somebody
you'd say "just drop spaghetti on the floor and trace over it"
so... is the Garden of Hope a bad area?
in my opinion, it isn't
but is it easy to navigate in?
I'd say no
I constantly find myself getting lost whenever I need to play on this area
I know that at any one point I'm "at this point with land, and a lake near me"
but as we can see, that can mean a massive number of places
how important is this for the player?
well, in my experience, when I started playing, I had to constantly check the map to make sure where I am, and where I'm going
everything felt very samey
and if I turned the camera even a few angles, I'd lose myself entirely
when the area opens for the second half, things get better, but it's still daunting
the fact that you have so many breakable walls blocking your way at the start funnels you into where to go
but also makes it so you can't sink in the area's format as a whole
I think this area makes it clear that if a map has few landmarks, and everything looks samey, that it becomes very confusing for the player
I think this is the sort of conclusion I was hoping to run into
because, if you look at The Forest of Hope, like I said, there aren't a whole lot of landmarks, but you can still make it out
so at that point, it was a bit blurry whether sameness was good or not
but this area makes it clear: it's not good
I think I've got lunch in a few seconds, and folks are waking up
both to speak here, and to PM me (when did I become Mr. Popular?)
so I'll use this as a short break before I continue on to the Distant Tundra
any other comments so far?
I'm really enjoying doing this, and it's also important to ensure fan areas people create are as best as possible
time for the Distant Tundra
https://www.pikminwiki.com/images/c/ca/Distant_Tundra_map.png
you know, if I had time, I could almost make a video series out of this
(and if I had money to buy a capture card)
(PAL60 is torture)
so, in the Distant Tundra, you can already tell several landmarks
the starting area is a nice open plane with a pathway next to it
very simple stuff
to the south of that are a lot of corridors, but they're so concise and simple that it's hard to get confused in them
to the south of them, a simple room
at the center, the main landmark in the whole area, a river that goes in one direction, clearly splitting the main area into two
there are two bridges between the two parts, and they're both distinct, making it simpler to know where you are and where you're going
at the north, the area complicates a bit more
it's almost like there are two rooms, split by a really awkward pathway
and finally, the structure at the northwest
it's a bit daunting at first, because of its verticality and segments
but before long, it becomes very simple to understand
if you used a description similar to the one I wrote for this area, and told somebody who never saw it to draw something like it, they could make a fairly similar area
the Distant Tundra can get away without using a lot of "sameness" for cohesion, because the snow theme already takes care of that
I thought about it a bit, but an area that only has distinct rooms isn't fun either
it doesn't feel like you're walking through a natural world
it feels like you're jumping from the red room to the green room, to open a gate to enter the blue room, so you can carry something to the red room
it  feels like you're a robot following tasks
instead of having the freedom to go where you want and feel is best, and using any number of walking methods to do so
plus if every part of the area is different, it's not just boring for the gameplay, but boring for the aesthetic too
if everything's a gimmick, then nothing's a gimmick
which makes describing the shape of the corridors here tricky
but this is one contained part of the area, so it's impossible to get lost here
at least in the big picture
then comes the southeastern part of this segment of land, and it's actually fairly dull
there's a bit of a different part of terrain at the south of it all, but that's about it
this area features very few pathways and nondescript fluff
this would make a great competitive shooter map
since you've got a lot of places to give names to
but how does it fare as a PIKMIN map?
well, like I exlpained for the first half of the main area, its simplicity is deceptive
it manages to keep everything simple so processing where you are in the area in general is always a piece of cake
but keeps the details within each of the landmasses interesting and varied
forcing your thinking to not be as linear
should all maps be like this?
I actually don't think so
it'd be a very limiting thing if they all were
you could say the main thing about the Twilight River is how you have to understand the area's flow to move yourself in it
whereas in other areas, the challenge comes from understanding the area's geometry itself
so I think it's one valid (very valid!) way of making a map, but not the only one
plus if all areas made you have to twist your mind to figure out how to navigate them, it would get really boring and frustrating, really fast
so having one area for this exclusively feels genius
lastly, there's the interesting Formidable Oak
https://www.pikminwiki.com/images/4/43/Formidable_Oak_map.png
and boy, what an area
something instantly becomes apparent
apart from the segment at the southeast, this entire area is made of corridors and rooms
you barely, if ever, get to drop from one ledge to go to a different place
you don't navigate through water to get to a different island
so is it bad?
too soon too say, but I'd say most people think it's a bit boring
but it's good for what it's meant to be
this isn't a Pikmin area where you have tasks to do, and an open world for you to best instigate your task-splitting decisions in
instead, it's meant to be a gauntlet to see how you do when it comes to doing Pikmin-related tasks while also fighting away a giant blob
but it still has some studying credit, so let's take a look
I'll skip the landing area/arena, as well as the top of the ant hill and the first corridor
so, in the first main maze, we've got a collection of rooms split by corridors
there are... four distinct rooms, I'd say
the first big one, the second smaller one, the third large one with the small roundabout in the middle, and the fourth... which basically isn't a room
yeah, you know what, three rooms then
and the rest of the navigation comes in the form of these convoluted paths that connect them
some one-way, others with little lips for you to drop down and take a different route
but in general, they're simple corridors
so how does this work in-game?
well, the goal is to keep moving, so the concept of getting lost doesn't really work here...
but can you get lost anyway? eh, kinda?
the large number of corridors makes it so you have a lot of land to travel, and not always to reach something valid
oftentimes, a new player will take a corridor here, and end up at a room they were already in
and have to scurry to find a different corridor to enter to continue with the challenge
I think that's part of the developer's intent
to get you disoriented and struggling with navigating this maze
it IS an ant hill, after all
but does it work as a Pikmin area?
hmm, well
the fact that you don't get many shortcuts, or many organic connections between rooms
and the fact that it all feels like it's just defined by "rooms" and "corridors" makes it lose a lot of value
in gameplay terms...
it makes everything feel samey (especially when they all LOOK the same, too)
which doesn't really work for Pikmin
the idea in Pikmin is to strategize what you're going to do
not trying to keep your cool in a maze
some Pikmin 2 caves are maze-like, especially in the Submerged Castle, but that's a bit different
caves in Pikmin 2 don't follow the real Pikmin formula
they're not so much about "you've got several tasks and you can go almost anywhere, so figure out the best order"
and it's more "hey, explore, and get stuff whenever, I guess"
so, for a Pikmin area, and even for an area in a game in general, this part of the Formidable Oak does not work
everything looks too similar, the layout isn't fun because of its cold build (everything is either a room or a corridor)
it's confusing to navigate in
it only works in Pikmin 3 because you're doing something completely non-standard, and it works for the task of scrambling to avoid the Plasm Wraith
but let's look at the other main section of the Formidable Oak
you can tell landmarks here... but they don't help the player much
see, you can clearly tell there's a corridor at the north, and a room with two roundabout-like platforms and some puddles
the connection between the roundabouts and the lakes is a bit haphazard, so it's not easy to use them as landmarks
but what makes it worse, IMO, is how they're all too similar
sure, the player can go "ah, I see, I'm near one of the lakes"
but how is that gonna help them?
"oh, it's that one lake near a roundabout platform"
how does that help?
they all look the same!
at least the game's placement of gates and the like help keep the player going in the right direction
but overall, it doesn't work either
thankfully, once more, it works for what it's meant to do
the fact that you've got roundabouts, and so many similar places you can go back-and-forth between, means you have a lot of room in which to swerve past the Plasm Wraith
and, once again, its confsing nature ensures you're stressing, which is what the devs wanted
but, again, it doesn't work for a Pikmin area
so, with all of this in mind... what's the conclusion?
actually, I could also check the Mission Mode areas
which in my opinion are almost unanimously excellent
hmm... then I guess it's not very fair to ignore them, is it?
I think it's worth to take a quick look
some missions are rotations or mirrors of others, so I won't go into those
https://www.pikminwiki.com/images/0/01/Tropical_Forest.png
Tropical Forest
a lot of very samey pathways
the lake being in the center doesn't help, because it just means that wherever you are, you can see a lake -- that doesn't help you distinguish the different places you're at
it's got some alcoves, but the fact that the only distraction is alcoves makes it difficult to distinguish them too, without practice
I think the most redeemable factor in terms of variety is the fact that the main path goes up in altitude, and doesn't exactly circle the lake (the starting area is flush with the lake, and only the path after that starts going around and circling)
however, the area is small, so it's hard to get lost in it, and the variety in the appearance of the alcoves also helps
https://www.pikminwiki.com/images/6/64/Silver_Lake_treasures_map.png
Silver Lake
landmarks: room at the north, pathway circling a lake, room at the southwest
the entire area is these landmarks, so it's very easy to know where you are at all times
I want to bring out the Battle Enemies! version too
https://www.pikminwiki.com/File:SilverLakeBattleEnemiesMap_2.jpg
File:SilverLakeBattleEnemiesMap 2.jpg
it's rotated, but the lake that has a pathway around it is now drained
making for an extra room
which is still just as atomic
meaning it's an extra landmark, so it keeps the whole "easy to know where you are" thing
however, it may make it a bit harder to know where to go when you're inside of it
since everywhere you look is either a river, or the pathway
you have to pay some extra attention to realize if you're going to the starting room at the north, or the big room at the southwest
https://www.pikminwiki.com/images/1/15/Thirsty_Desert.png
Thirsty Desert
we can see landmarks... but they're all described as "tall platforms" or "lakes"
sure enough, when I play on this map, I sometimes get lost as to where I am
because the area is either paths or tall platforms, or lakes
and they're all scattered about
meaning that at any point, you look around and see a lake, paths, and a platform
it doesn't help you understand where you are at all
that said, the "landmarks", if you can call them that, are a bit diverse
one of the rivers is long, some of the tall ledges are flush against walls instead of being roundabouts
and there are some more concrete landmarks, like the island at the southeast, and the one at the northeast
these being so isolated and unique really help the player figure out where they are
Twilight Hollow is possibly my favorite, but why?
https://www.pikminwiki.com/images/4/47/Twilight_Hollow.png
let's see, in terms of landmarks, there's the starting point at the center, two rooms at either side, a large lake at the north, and a small river at the south
...isn't this a bit familiar?
I mean, in the sense of how they're organized
look, they align in a grid, almost
just like the Twilight River!
a bit unlike the TR though, these landmarks can't be split into sub-landmarks
the central area could almost be said to include the walls you can climb on top of
but I'd rather say those are their own thing
because from inside the starting area, you can't get to those walls
but the rest of the area kinda looks the same
it's just paths that circle the starting area, two similar enclosed circular rooms...
the only thing that's different and not symmetrical is the north/south
so how is this stage so easy to navigate in?
at least, IME
I can't quite tell, but it might be a combination of some factors
number 1 is, like I said, how the landmarks are all aligned and reserved in their own space
unlike the Thirsty Desert, where the landmarks are almost randomly placed
secondly, the area is small, so from any point, you can kinda get an idea of where you're going
I mean, if you're at the small river at the south, you know that to your left is one path, and to your right is another
and even if they are similar, with a bit of practice, you can tell why they are two different paths and what's in each one
and if you're on one of the circular rooms, you can tell that to one side is the large lake, and the other is the small river
so at least there you can't get lost
so, I guess in general, this area is easy to process, but you still need a bit of practice in order to streamline it in your head
Shaded Garden, a very crazy map
https://www.pikminwiki.com/images/1/16/Shaded_Garden_Map.png

where to begin?
everything feels so samey
but then you play the area
and you actually know where you are fairly well, at all times
so what gives?
well, let's try to figure out landmarks in this mess
first and foremost, the lake at the west
even if it's got a complex nature, you can still clearly split it into two parts: the watery portion, and the land portion
the land portion actually has some complexities in it, with paths that split the ways to go, some verticality, and a small amount of walls
but in general, it's a small part of the area, so it's hard to get lost in it
and it's so open that these obstacles in the flow of the land still make it possible to see where the rest of the area is
but there's another thing that helps you stay on your feet when you're in this part of the area
the alcoves that serve as landmarks
there are only two of them, and they're the only ones in the area
making it possible to use those as assistants for balance
then, we've got the sandy bit at the north
it's crazy convoluted, but it's also closed off in its own corner, and its texture (sand) is also unique
so it's not hard to confuse it with anything else
and because it's laid out in a corner like that, you know where you are in the map, if you're near it
then there's the whole half at the east
which is more complicated...
here, I think we can divide into sub-landmarks
there's the cinnamon bun at the far west
and though there's a crazy-long corridor that circles it, it a) is the farthest point west of the map, and b) is the only one like it in the area
so if you're anywhere close to it, you know where you are, and know where the rest of the area is
at the south, there are some enclosed rooms
they're fairly unique too, and not entirely confusing
and again, the fact they're closed off helps make them unique
and at the western part of this segment, the landing zone in this particular version (you can see the SPERO)
things... are a bit weird
it's a room, enclosed by walls
but that's about where its simplicity ends
from here, the path snakes away with all sorts of complex things
the corridors aren't simple, there are walls every which way, some of the paths you can take are ledges to drop down on, and are very similar in nature
but I think the fact that this is the landing zone helps the player become used to it fairly quickly
that's pretty much what this is, except I'm trying to focus on the large scale, and particularly highlight landmarks, or the lack thereof
also, in-game, if you're at this landing site, you can see so much of the area, since it's a high vantage point, that it really confuses you
however, the fact that you know that this high area is at the east of the map (except for the cinnamon bun!), it's actually not that hard to understand where everything is in relation to each other
even if you're a bit lost in the mazes of this eastern half of the area, you still understand the whole in general
so Silver Lake is an interesting case
it's insanely complex, with a ton of walls and paths and landmarks
yet because the player can split the area mentally into chunks, and each chunk also has a lot of features that help keep the player oriented, it's actually very hard to get lost in it!
wow, I never realized just how well made this area is
I always disliked how complex and dense it is, but always liked how still easy to navigate it is
and I never understood why, until now!
and yeah, Unftitled, and these areas very clearly demonstrate their genius
sometimes we, as players, take these designs for granted...
it's not until we sit down and understand what works and what doesn't, that we really realize that man... these areas were NOT easy to make right
any old hack can make an area
but who can make a GOOD area?
also if I reach the perfect area, it'll be in 30XX :thinking:
(skipping Tropical Forest Remix...)
Fortress of Festivity!
https://www.pikminwiki.com/images/5/57/Fortress_of_Festivity.jpg
this one... will be a mouthful, I can already tell
like I said, I'm making this up as I go, and learning at the same time you guys are
but whenever I think of this stage, I always get a headache over how much there is to say about its layout
just the layout
then there's the insanity of its length, how many treasures it has, the theme...
this area is ridiculous, and I'm shocked at how they gave it to us for free
we're not getting any younger... so let's dive right in
deep breath
there aren't many landmarks to go around, actually
from a top-down view, you can kinda see some things that could serve as landmarks, but these are invisible while playing
I'm referring to the cloth on the table
you could use the white, red, and green cloths to understand where you are
but when you're playing, you really have no idea
especially the white cloth: if you can see the white cloth beneath your feet, you're still not sure if you're in the north or south
ok, so, concrete landmarks
1. the lake at the southwest
2. the alcove at the southeast
3. the cake at the northeast
and maybe 4. the alcove at the northwest
personally, that alcoves sticks out in my mind, for some reason, but this may not be true for everybody
with the landmarks out of the way, we've got the main area...
and it's impossible to describe
there are so, SO many walls, made up of presents or blockades, some of which you can jump over
...and I think this aspect is important -- some of which you can jump over
to anybody who's played the game, you should have realized that being able to throw Pikmin and your fellow leaders over the walls is an important part of this stage
ok, so, one thing I noticed just as I was about to say it, before the break
and that I had more time to think over during said break
is the concept of "navigating"
what counts as navigating in a Pikmin game?
moving your leader around the area?
after all, what is the purpose of landmarks, or sameness? to help the player know where to go, right?
well, surprisingly, wrong!
in the Fortress of Festivity, one of the main things you need to do is throw Pikmin and leaders over the walls, if you want to get a Platinum
and this completely destroys any sense of traditional path-finding you had until then
you're no longer Alph trying to go from spot A to spot B
you're Alph, who threw Brittany over the wall, and now you have two different leaders who can and want to go in different places
and this is only the tip of the iceberg
there are three leaders in Pikmin 3, not two, and to top it off, you've got the entire squad of Pikmin
"navigating" an area in Pikmin isn't about moving one object from point to point
it's about your mind being able to understand where everything is, where everything is going, for all of the hundreds of entities you take control of
sure, right now, you're controlling Charlie in the southwest corner of this map, and you know where you are because there's this unique pot nearby, and you know more or less the paths to take to get to that lake over there
...but now you need to switch to Alph, who is on the other side of the map, and is trying to help some Pikmin go from the landing site to the tall ledge
with a completely different set of walls, paths, corridors, rooms, and landmarks
and you're probably facing a different angle, too!
and during all of this, some 80 Pikmin are scattered all around the map, doing their own thing
you'll want to switch to Brittany soon and go to the landing site to pluck some sprouts, but you'll want to take a path that picks up idle Pikmin
all of this is mindblowing
navigating one character through a map? pssh, easy
but doing all this takes a lot of mental exercise
and I think this is what "navigating" an area really is
it's not moving your character, but mapping out the area in your head
knowing where everything is, where everything will be, where everything needs to be, and what these spots mean, by comparing them to landmarks, by understanding their uniqueness and relevance, by comparing them both to the small scale and large scale
that's why landmarks are important
I wanted to use that term somewhere in my sentences, but couldn't sneak it in, hah!
if you think about Portal, it's all about spatial reasoning
and spatial awareness
knowing where you are, where the cube is, where the goal is, and worst of all, where the portals are
and to really twist the convention around, the portals cause the physicality of the world to shift entirely
that's why I want so, so hard to see spatial reasoning puzzles in Pikmin
it works brilliantly well
in Portal, it's all about understanding the space, and what you can do to it
it's a mind-boggling task, but you manage to do it
in Pikmin, it's about understanding the space, and where hundreds of entities are, go, and must be in
maybe you can understand that each group of Pikmin implies there being a line of Pikmin going to and from the pile and the landing site, but that's about it
without checking the map, you won't know exactly where they are
you simply can't keep up
---
(Scruffy:)
Now actually, our brains can only handle about three streams of information at a time
Any more streams and we either select the top three or try to group them into three
For instance, if you have three groups of gold nuggets and Pikmin working on them
Your brain will say there are three groups of Pikmin working on each, not identify each individual Pikmin working on each
So we will probably remember how large each group was, before you remember how many of each type are working in total
So 3 leaders is actually an optimum
Any more and you'll be able to remember the locations and tasks of 3 at best
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(Espyo:)
I think so too
even before I put it into thought, I always understood that any more than 3 leaders is a no-go
if there are more, the player will just keep two of them close-by anyway
or always leave one in the landing site
(plus it's a pain to switch from leader A to leader D if you have to press Y three times)
ok, with that said, I think this helps understand what it means to "navigate" an area better
and helps cement the entire study about why landmarks are, or are not, important
in the Fortress of Festivity, there are a lot of walls, which like I said, aren't mandatorily stopping your "navigation"
but what about the whole concept of keeping the layout in mind?
we already figured out the landmarks, and...
well, the truth of the matter is that most of the rest of the FF is just walls
some walls that can even be walked on top of
so how confusing does this make the area?
personally, I'd say a lot
you need a lot of runs through the area to understand where everything leads to
either that, or a lot of visits to the radar
but... I can't help but think that's exactly what the devs wanted
this mission takes 12 minutes to complete
I think that's the most of any stage
(though there's something telling me there's one mission with 19 minutes...)
they made it so the paths are long and twisted, so you'd always have a hard time orienting yourself
furthemore, stuff like having the bamboo gate at the east make it so even your definitions of a path change in real-time
so what hopes does the poor player have of understanding the layout, if it's all convoluted walls and minimal landmarks?
well, as weird as the stage's layout is, the landmarks are kind of in opposite spots
and the walls aren't usually very big
there's also the pizza box, which doesn't help as a landmark when you're close to it, but helps when you're far
because of how tall it is
the pizza box is a bit of a minor one, I'd say
like, if you're near it, you can barely tell where you are, because it's just walls
but if you're center-stage and you look at the pizza box, you know you're looking south
other massively diverse things, like the Christmas tree, also help the player get a general feeling of where everything is
so in the large scale, it's tough, but it still sort of works
but at a close scale, it's much harder to navigate the walls when they look so similar
yet we don't really complain that much about it being a boxed-in, boring maze when we play
why is that?
it's likely because all of the paths also have different girths, the walls have different sizes and shapes (and colors), and there are also some open plains anyway
not the map as a whole, I meant more when we're trying to understand the mazes at the center
nobody thinks this map is boring because it's beautiful and Christmas! :smile:
but when playing and trying to map your way around the central maze, I think those are the small factors that add up and help the puzzle not seem so confusing
I think Nintendo wanted the map to be convoluted, so the player has a really tricky time in it
but made the walls like they are so it's much more manageable
yeah, the only area that's not really a maze is The Final Trial
but as seen in this study, some are super easy to navigate, others aren't, and others don't rely on the usual physical rules of a maze at all
The Rustyard
https://www.pikminwiki.com/images/f/fc/RustyardCollectTreasureMap.jpg
possibily one of the simplest maps to describe, but still carries some complexity
landmarks: the obvious river in the middle, and the two large sections of land at the north and south
you can't get more aligned than this
if you're in the river, you know you've got terrain above you on either side
if you're on one bit of terrain, you know the other side is over a river
in terms of understanding the general area, you can't get much simpler than this without it becoming boring
and as for the areas themselves, what do they have to offer in terms of complexity?
well, not much... each one is split into a plain and a path that curves along it
and the river proper? also not much, other than some strips of land
the only real challenge in understanding the space of this area comes from distinguishing the two halves
---
(Scruffy:)
I'd say you find familiar construction-site items that help you discern the two
The glove and manhole in particular
And normally that's covered by having each side contain one type of Pikmin
"I'll meet you over on the Rock Pikmin side"
---
(Poochy:)
Challenge Mode maps are made to be played again and again
---
(Espyo:)
this can sometimes be easy with the things you said
and even the tone of the ground
however, if you're in the river, and you look to either side, you know that the main bits of terrain are on either side... but you can't distinguish them easily
so I'd say the main challenge is understanding which side is which, even if that mission is insanely easy due to all the little (and big) differences Nintendo made for the map
yeah, and that too
so it's already easy to understand the first time around
and it becomes easier the other times
this stage is truly one that's not made for wrapping your head around the layout, but one that's just made to challenge your decision-making and planning
---
(Scruffy:)
Nintendo made the map symmetrical but makes the two halves into landmarks themselves
It's hemispherical, in a sense
The only trouble is, one half is more important than the other
Because it has your ship on it
---
(Espyo:)
that just further helps separate the two in the player's mind
the "homely" one and the "distant" one
there's pretty much no challenge in understanding this area, then, heh
hm, might be interesting to go over the BE! version too https://www.pikminwiki.com/images/2/24/RustyardBattleEnemiesMap.jpg
now, going into the river segment and getting lost about which side is which is less of a hassle
you spend less time there, and only the northern half has a ramp
but the symmetry dies out a bit, at least in the starting condition -- there's only one bridge
I'd say in general, this version is even easier to process
so, that leaves us with Clockwork Chasm...
https://www.pikminwiki.com/images/f/fc/ClockworkChasmCollectTreasuremap.png
and hoo boy, if Fortress of Festivity was hard to describe, then this is nearly impossible
let's try starting with the usual: landmarks
---
(Scruffy:)
From the south side of the stage, you can see the ship
From the north side of the ship, everything is roughly the same elevation, so it starts feeling mazelike
---
(Espyo:)
oh, because it's lower?
I didn't play much on this mission, and when I did, I just tried to not vomit my brains out
right
I guess one landmark would be the plain at the southeast
it's high up IIRC, and it's simple enough that you can't confuse it with anything else
the fact that it's in a corner also helps you orientate better
same can be said with the one at the northwest
but for everything else... it's just blocks of dirt and conveyor belts
if you were playing with a friend, and they asked "where are you?", it'd be impossible to tell them
not even YOU know where you are in the grand scheme of things!
I think this map is insanely complex, but that's the point
analyzing it like a normal area is like analyzing the taste of a wine that is just smushed grapes
---
(Scruffy:)
You can certainly remember the spot where Louie is, with the Armored Cannon Larva
It's high up and very precarious
---
(CraftedPBody:)
In one game mode the cannon larva makes this level infamous for me
---
(Espyo:)
mhm
this was made as an ultimate challenge for gamers
well, for Pikmin experts, I mean
not only because its convoluted paths and sameness really challenge your spatial perception in a way that no other area has
but there's also the conveyor belts
the fact that one button changes all means you have to keep in mind all of the Pikmin in the area when you do this
which is just absurd
but... I don't think I'd have it any other way
it's insanely challenging, and that's what some folks want
to get fairer, easier levels, we've got literally the rest of the series to play
but to get a nice challenge that will destroy your primitive brain
boom, here it is
on the concept of landmarks and sameness, this level clearly uses these concepts to help make it difficult
which just reinforces how important the landmarks truly are
and how their absense doesn't make a stage bad
that's one of the main takeaways of this study, and the one I was hoping to find
after all, I dove in because I wanted to understand landmarks and how they work in Pikmin
for the human brain, everybody knows how landmarks work
they help us understand where things are in relation to each other
that's still true for Pikmin
but how do they work when it comes to balancing level design, aesthetic, and challenge?
these are the questions I think got answered here
so, the main takeaways are:
- landmarks are important for your player to not get lost, but since Pikmin is all about being spatially aware of hundreds of entities, the removal of landmarks can tweak the challenge in a very noticeable way. as such, removing or adding landmarks isn't a bad thing, but more of the result of difficulty balance. still, even the hardest stage has some landmarks, so having none at all is probably going to make your area fun for a crazy one-off, but not anything more than that
- too many landmarks is also problematic, in that it makes the area feel unnatural and not very coherent. plus if everything is a landmark, players have the trouble of distinguishing and memorizing them instead
- landmarks and nondescript pathways don't have to be solid concepts. they aren't just rooms and corridors. a lot of canon areas use tall walls, ledges, small blockades, water, corridors, rooms, roundabouts, pits, and all sorts of level design trickery to do this. sometimes to the point where you can't tell where one starts and the other ends
---
(Scruffy:)
I'd like to offer a point in bulk, if you don't mind
Having talked with a number of professors about pedagogy and watched a few videos on approaching education
For me, right now, it seems that the most effective/memorable way of learning something
is discovering it for yourself
Not many remember the formula for gravity, but everyone knows how it works in real life
To me, someone will get a very memorable experience discovering how sound changes with an object's velocity, than reading about the Doppler effect or even who Christian Andreas Doppler was
So, in Pikmin
The most effective maps are ones you chart naturally
As you said, too many landmarks and it feels like memorization
Too few, and you feel lost
---
(Espyo:)
that's why we have such a hard time with nondescript maze-like walls, too
they just have too many non-memorable curves and complexities for us to map
---
(Scruffy:)
So I'd say, in designing a map
No need to delineate corners or the center or make it symmetrical unless you want to
But every so often, give the player a reminder that they are a cartographer
Something unusual in the vicinity, even if it's something non-permanent like an unusual enemy (Fiery Bulblax sleeping across the lake in a snowfield)
Their understanding of the map depends on how long it's been since they've seen these unusual landmarks
Put two close together, and the distance will be readily understood
Put two far apart, and the distance will feel open and take more time to digest
Pikmin tends to put them close together
Which is good: too far apart and areas can start to feel boring
But striking a balance is why I think BOTW is so fun to explore
There's just enough distance between this interesting thing and the next
While you can't remember the entire map, you can remember a much larger area than you'd think, because of the memorable experiences you've connected across surprisingly long distances
Anyway, that's that