Wizardry III: Mapmaking

By now, I’m no longer just patrolling the corridor immediately around the stairs out. I’ve explored dungeon level 1 rather thoroughly, making a map as I go. Mapmaking is an essential part of Wizardry. And I don’t just mean that in the sense that you need to make a map or you’ll get lost and not be able to find the exit and run out of healing spells and die in the maze. All that is true, of course, but what I really mean is that mapmaking is a vital part of the feel of the game.

For one thing, adding an automapping system would take away a large part of the game’s challenge. The designers used all sorts of tricks to make the dungeons confusing: map tiles that spin you to face a different direction, teleporters that send you identical-looking areas without you noticing, one-sided walls, and so forth. Yes, even the architecture hates you in this game. There’s a mage spell that tells you your absolute position in the dungeon, but your spellcasting capacity is limited, and the particularly devious areas have anti-magic fields. The first dungeon level of Wizardry III is relatively gentle: all it has is some disorienting corridor layouts. But I recall from my previous explorations, years ago, that there’s one level that’s basically a big grid with a spinner square at every intersection. 1[Addendum 14 January] My mistake: it turns out that this was in Wizardry IV. Care and meticulousness is required.

But also, there’s simply a kind of joy, largely lost in modern titles, of creating something tangible as a result of playing a game. Mapmaking is lke a little arts-and-crafts project, with an end product that you can tack to the wall, and look at, and remember the effort that went into it. (It’s even better when the game gives you an excuse to use colored pencils, but that would seem a little strange for Wizardry‘s monochrome wireframe dungeons.) While it’s true that text adventures also support mapping by hand, that feels very different to me. My adventure maps, when I bother making them, tend to be rough scribbles, not the neat and attractive grid of a Wizardry. Partly this is because adventure game maps are essentially the same sort of thing as taking notes: they provide situationally useful information, and that’s it. Wizardry maps provide situationally useful information and reveal large-scale regularity, patterns that enhance the experience even when recognizing them isn’t useful to beating the game. I don’t want to overstate the artistry involved here, mind you. One of the levels in Wizardry 1 was based around a set of corridors in the shape of the author’s initials; that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about here. But it is what it is.

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1. [Addendum 14 January] My mistake: it turns out that this was in Wizardry IV.

1 Comment so far

  1. Merus on 8 Jan 2010

    The Nintendo DS game Etrian Odyssey does something interesting: it’s a JRPG inspired by Wizardry, and you’re required to draw your own map on the touch screen. I don’t know how confusing it gets in later levels, because it shares Wizardry’s early difficulty.

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