Monday, December 26, 2016

Fate: Nothing to Show but the Maps

When you're trying to map the entirety of a coastline, such peninsulas are very unwelcome.
I have declared several times that I realize mapping every square of a 400 x 640 map is insane, and that there's no way I can possibly complete the entire thing, and yet every time this week that I've opened Fate, I've been compelled to continue my map rather than making more substantial progress in the game. I keep telling myself that I'm killing two birds with one stone: filling in the geography and getting hints from wandering NPCs. But the truth is that wandering NPCs clearly don't have all the hints I need, and I really need to be hitting up the cities instead.
The consequence is that another 15 hours of "gameplay" have gone by, and I'm nowhere that I wasn't at the end of the last post, except a lot more experience (from wandering monsters) and more complete maps. In terms of plot, I'm probably worse than at the end of the last post, because I had to reload an earlier save (from the corruption messages) and I don't think I got all the same hints again.

The game map is so big I can't view it in a single screen, even at Excel's lowest zoom level. Here's the west side...

And here's the east side.
Because I have nothing else to talk about, let's talk about the map and mapping. The Fate world seems to be about half land, half water. Most of the land is to the west and northwest. A long, irregular coastline runs from the southwest to the northeast. There is a small landmass in the northeast, home to the "Forbidden Zone" and what I assume are the game's final encounters. It is connected to the main continent by a very thin strip of land.

Most of the east/southeast is given to a sea, but islands of all sizes dot the waters.

Mapping land is a little different than mapping sea. For sea, I can use the in-game overhead maps to fill in large areas of water. For land, you have to physically walk on each accessible square. Otherwise, you could miss a treasure, signpost, or special encounter. Fortunately, the game has a habit of putting the latter two in obvious places, but I've learned that treasures can be anywhere. More than once, I've mapped a large area, left, then noticed I'd missed one or two squares. Resisting the temptation to just assign my standard color to those two squares, I've taken pains to return--and found a valuable treasure in one of the squares that I had missed.
It turned out to be worse than the headgear I already had, but still....
There are some land areas that turn out to be completely encircled by impassable mountains, water, or trees, making it possible to fill in those areas as a large chunk. Oddly, the in-game maps (summoned by spells or jewels) often shows different terrain in the middle of these areas that no player could ever visit. I'm not so far gone that I've been worrying about accuracy in those areas.

In fact, my map is rather simplistic. I only use six colors: water, mountains, trees, towns, roads, and "otherwise steppable squares." That last category includes a variety of grassland, swamps, packed dirt, and lightly-forested areas, but I haven't been making such distinctions. Early in the game, I didn't make any distinction between mountains and trees, either, which is why the upper-left has solid black in some areas that should be green.

I've come to regret my decision to use solid black for mountains. My wife suggested brown, but I can't distinguish that from the green I've been using for trees. I tried doing a find-and-replace using a dark grey, but for some reason Excel didn't "find" a lot of the black squares, so I just left it alone for now.

As I've covered many times previously and in my FAQ, I use Excel for my mapping. It's easy to draw borders along the edges of cells and use a variety of fill colors to represent terrain. There's no good border style for a door, but that's not an issue in the outdoors. I annotate special encounters with letters, and then I usually put a comment on the associated cell with more information. You can search comments in Excel, so that doesn't create any problems.
A combination of border and shading options plus commenting makes Excel a decent game mapping package.
I'm sure the comments will be choked with suggestions for different programs for mapping, but I've been doing this in Excel for 7 years now, and I won't be changing my platform. With Excel, I don't have to worry about the files not opening if some special software gets discontinued. I can store tables of monsters, equipment, hints, and so forth in the same workbook. Windows finds text inside the workbooks if I search years later. Except for the door issue, which isn't exactly crippling, I don't have any reason to switch.

Game developers have a few choices when it comes to the edges of their world maps. One, as we see in Might & Magic and Ultima IV and V, is to wrap the player to the other side, and as we've discussed there's no geometric shape for which this makes sense--at least, not on a square map--unless we assume the cells are of non-uniform size. The second solution, used unsatisfyingly in many open-world games like Skyrim and Fallout IV, is simply to tell the player he can't go any further. You might be able to see what looks like game terrain in the distance, but you can't visit beyond a fixed coordinate.

I can only think of one game, Fallthru, that uses a third option: just keep generating new coordinates indefinitely in all directions. As a text game, it had this luxury. Are there any graphical games that do this? I've heard Daggerfall uses procedurally-generated maps; can you walk indefinitely in any direction?

The fourth method, used by almost every dungeon crawler, Ultima VI, and Fate, is to create a "hard" border around the edges of the map, disallowing further travel because of an impassable wall, mountain, or void. In the case of Fate, the entire map is ringed with mountains. When one of those mountains shows up literally at one of the edge coordinates (0E, 0N, 650E, or 400N), I know there's nothing "behind" it, so I can fill in all of the excess border squares between such points, as in the left half of the shot below. As for the right half, it's not impossible that some further passage could bring me into the area on the other side of those black squares, so I can't fill them in just yet. (Yes, I know I can use the jewels in such occasions, but I've been trying to conserve them. Plus, the scale is so small in the outdoor areas that it's hard to see individual passages in the jewel maps.)
I've been doing this so long that you'd think I'd have a good system, but I don't. Sometimes, I walk one square and then immediately map it. Other times, I try to keep the memory of my last 10 or 12 movements in my head and then map them all at once. Neither seems to result in better accuracy. I use the "Locate" spell every 40-50 moves to make sure I haven't screwed something up, and about one-third of the time I use it, I find that I'm one square off. I probably spend more time diagnosing and undoing errors than anything else.

The developers could have made it a lot easier for mappers by creating smoother edges. If you just have a straight edge (or a long hallway in a dungeon), you just have to take a coordinate at the beginning and one at the end and fill in the walls in between. But in Fate, you rarely get lucky enough to find half a dozen continuous squares in a row. Instead, there are frequently nooks, crannies, dips, juts, small side-passages, and so forth, all of which greatly lengthen the mapping of edges and coasts. This is particularly true of the bottom edge, since it occurs in multiple sections inaccessible from each other except by boat. If having to keep boarding and disembarking from my ship wasn't enough to discourage me from mapping the southern border, I don't know what it's going to take.

Part of the bottom border. Each square marked in red is an impassable barrier on land, so I have to get back in my ship and set sail to visit the next section.
Two other notes:

  • There are encounters at sea! They happen so infrequently that I had been sailing for many hours before I met any monsters, but they do appear. Krakens, giant squids, and the like. They're not very hard. I'm surprised the game didn't make sea combat more "realistic" by setting a minimum distance to the enemies, but it didn't.
I don't know precisely how my characters are fighting these creatures from the ship, but combat is unchanged.
  • From commenters, I've learned that I need to dig or search to find treasures on some of the islands. Usually, items are found in copses of trees, but it's been a struggle not to search every step just to make sure.
One of Irene's cousins gave her a set of adult coloring books for Christmas. I've been fairly vocal in how idiotic and pointless I feel that this trend is. (I realize they play an important role in various therapies, and of course I'm not talking about that.) But as I retreated to my mapping at numerous occasions during the Christmas weekend--there's only so much attention you can pay to Miracle on 34th Street when watching it for the 35th time--I realized that what I was doing wasn't much different. Fate had long stopped being an RPG in any meaningful sense--easily-beaten wilderness encounters aside--and more of some kind of paint-by-numbers kit.

Thus, now that I have the entire perimeter and coastline finished (except for some of the Forbidden Zone), I've resolved to actually return to the game next time I play. It's clear that I need to stay within one city at a time to exhaust its Moonwand clues, then go and find the damned pieces. I'll still map when I need to enter new areas in furtherance of the plot, but it's time to get back on track and try to finish this game.

Time so far: 177 hours


  1. Well done on mapping the entire border, other than that Forbidden Zone bit. :-)

  2. "Game developers have a few choices when it comes to the edges of their world maps. One, as we see in Might & Magic and Ultima IV and V, is to wrap the player to the other side, and as we've discussed there's no geometric shape for which this makes sense"

    There actually is. A Taurus would make for a map that could be laid out flat then rolled so the east/west edges met then curled so the north/south ends met. The game world becomes a donut, which leads to all kinds of difficulties with things like the rising and setting of the sun. Then again you're in a world where magic actually exists and works...
    The other map, where the edges have hard limits, are like the Earth proposed by those wierdos at the Flat Earth Society. They claim Antarctica is actually an ice wall that holds the oceans in on the flat Earth. If you want to kill a few braincells check out some videos on the flat Earth on YouTube.
    I can't think of anything that would explain the invisible wall syndrome so common to video games these days. Magic?

    I can't figure out what the point of making a map so big for a game would be.

    1. We've covered this before. A torus doesn't work for a square map because there's no way to construct a torus with a "girth" the same length as its circumference.

    2. A way to visualize why a torus still doesn't work. Imagine the north and south borders of the rectangular map are rolled together, and that's going to form the inner edge of the torus. That means the middle of the map is the outer edge of the torus. It is extremely clear that the inner circumference is smaller than the other circumference, so that means you can't form the unrolled map from uniform squares.

    3. The simple explanation is to assume that space itself has a different geometry and/or topology in what is, after all, a different universe from ours. it's not an assumption, in fact - your careful mapping has demonstrated it as surely as Vasco da Gama demonstrated that the Earth is a sphere in flat 3-space!

      Of course there are problems with this if it's assumed that astronomical bodies work like those in our universe - but again, perhaps they don't.)

    4. You can take it up with Michio Kaku. He used the toroidal game world in his book Hyperspace.
      Or you just just use the old "magic did it" excuse.

    5. I really want to make a game that lets you pick what map projection to show the world map in now.

    6. You could even tie it to the alignment system. Hobo-Dyer trends you towards "good," Buckminster Fuller towards "evil," and Mercator just makes you lose 2 points of intelligence.

    7. Now I really want to know where Winkel tripel projection falls in this system.

    8. Relevant to nothing: you can certainly embed a rectangular torus in a higher-dimensional space (not our usual 3-space) such that it has all the right circumferences. If you allow tiles of different sizes or do away with tiles, you could also just put your world on a sphere. Another alternative is to murder you at the edges, possibly slowly, as in several King's Quests where you drown in the ocean or dehydrate in the desert.

  3. Just a note: Daggerfall had its maps' content procedurally-generated, but the borders of the continent were defined: it just took a long time to walk from country to country.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I'm playing Daggerfall now. I heard that it take 2 weeks of real time to walk from one border to another (the map has a turned left 'U' shape). Its really a big map.

      Talking about dungeons, it take me almost 10 hours of gameplay at Yeten's Web until I figured that I must to abandon a rescue quest there. Simply impossible to finish it!

      BTW, all Daggerfall dungeon maps are huge and time-consuming, but is a good game at all :)

      @Chester, I'm with you. I still use Excel for my maps, since ever (about 20 years). Before it there were only a paper notebook and my pens :)

    3. Arena actually fits the criteria of a graphical game that just keeps drawing. But in its case the only way to get from point A to point B is to fast travel. If you try to walk the area between two fast travel points you will never make it; each fast travel point is essentially an independent map and the game will just keep drawing terrain for you.

    4. Not exactly an RPG, but I think Minecraft is pretty much infinite.

      Skyrim actually felt somewhat organic, since most borders are insurmountable mountains. Fits the gameworld. Just some of the roads were annoying.

      The later Might&Magics (6-8) had, as I recall, physical barriers of some kind if a border did not get to to the adjacent zone.

  4. "Yes, I know I can use the jewels in such occasions, but I've been trying to conserve them."

    Which means you still don't have a Gemstaff? It's a jewel with unlimited charges. There's one in the Grottos, in a treasure room on Level 3, or if you remember the guy who was turned to stone in the catacombs, he gifts one if you rescue him.

    Maybe you have one, it's just buried under the tons of items in your inventory?

    "I've heard Daggerfall uses procedurally-generated maps; can you walk indefinitely in any direction? "

    I don't think so. The map is humongous, but still finite.

    "There are encounters at sea! They happen so infrequently that I had been sailing for many hours before I met any monsters, but they do appear."

    They mostly appear around Katloch, to make the island seem more menacing.

    1. I do have one. I guess I just never tested what it did.

    2. Daggerfall used procedural generation, but it was used to decorate a base map that was pre-generated. (I can't remember to what extent stuff was left random on a given playthrough; I think in most cases procedural generation was used to create a given dungeon, but the developers gave it a quick once-over and if it was satisfactory, the seed for that dungeon was baked into the map so everyone would have the same dungeon. So it was a way of quickly generating maps, and a way of compressing map data, but not intrinsically a different experience from a fully pre-generated maps. It may have shuffled some quests between dungeons, though.

      Of course most games have infinite procedurally generated minor monsters and loot. It's a continuum.

    3. The non-plot towns were procedurally generated but the same for everyone(so the same seed for everyone). The quests were not since they were generated on the fly. I am not sure about the dungeons, whether my academy of tristywick in x province would be the same as someone elses or randomly made each playthrough.
      Cataclysm dda continually generates terrain and content if you keep going in one direction, but that is an ascii sandbox roguelike so might not count :)

  5. I'm curious of other softwares people use to map, didn't even think of using Excel like that, nicely done.

    1. I use Grid Cartographer. It works well on my tablet and the latest versions include a game link feature where with supported games it will keep track of your position and optionally draw floor tiles, as well as switching between map pages when you transition between areas (like between a town and the overworld in Might & Magic). You still need to do all the wall drawing and encounter noting yourself; it just makes it much easier to not lose track of where you are/where you've been and can make returning to a previously mapped area easier.

    2. I've used paint with grid enabled but making notations was impossible without using numbers and before that just a simple notebook though one game was large enough to require an A3 to fit in.

    3. Squared paper is the One True Way.

  6. I draw maps often, for games that I make. Measuring irregular coastlines with a ruler is not easy. I don't use excel. Still, I like your maps. They remind me both of early Ultima and computer war-games from the 1980s.

    I do not find most producers of CRPGS spending the time it takes to make a functional and logical geography, any more than they work on the economy. I guess most work from a micro point of view, the protagonists and the villain etc and then build the world around that. I find myself going in the opposite direction.

    At any rate, I like your maps and appreciate your efforts. Strabo would be proud. And yes I can post comments now, but only on one computer. Strange that.

  7. Does anyone else think the island in the southeast looks kind of a like a beholder?

    And if this is adult coloring for Chet, does that equate us readers as the kind of people who would watch an adult coloring for our own entertainment? Don't answer that. Though honestly in some way the whole game industry is a little odd if you think about it. "Let me spend a lot of time coming up with some carefully crafted plan that, when someone else unravels what I've raveled, it will be pleasing to them." Same for mystery writers, crossword puzzle creators, or riddlers, I suppose.

  8. I am most looking forward to when you have to loop around for "Aardvarks of Doom", "Abacus of Enchantment", and "Accepting the Inevitable". ;)

  9. Morrowind (as far as I recall) generated infinite ocean tiles and floors at the edges. GTA 5 did similarly, or at least I never managed to hit an edge when I flew out.

    1. I thought it just let you swim indefinitely but didn't actually move you anywhere. I'd have to play it again to be sure.

  10. I don't think you've spelled out exactly what resolved the problems you were having before (i.e. what's kept them from recurring once you resumed from the older save). Assuming it boils down to using the game's actual save/load function more often, and savestates less often, I hope that continues to work for you.

    (The last time I beat Romance of the Three Kingdoms on NES, I was using an emulator in which that game's save/load function was broken. So I used savestates to suspend play -- but not to savescum at all, since I'd mastered the game's mechanics and didn't need to -- meaning that, in effect, my victory was like leaving the virtual NES on for something like 90 hours continuously. And to the game's credit, it had no issues with that.)

    1. I think I figured out the save errors from before, but I'm pretty sure it was just me doing something stupid, so I don't feel like offering specifics.

    2. That's your prerogative, of course -- and if it's a mistake that seems unlikely to be repeated by others in the future, I suppose there's no reason to memorialize it here.

  11. In Excel, you could use a broken or dashed border to represent a door instead of a regular solid border.

    1. That's what I do, but it's still not a great solution. It doesn't look much like a door.

    2. I tend to use a brown line for doors, though that may not work for you given your issues with colour differentiation.

    3. How about using some kind of graphic of a door to import in excel and then copy and insert it where needed?

    4. It's tough working with graphics at such a small scale, and hard to keep them in place if you have to make changes to the workbook.

  12. That fully-mapped NW corner really is beautiful. I get a strange feeling in my stomach when I think about how long it must have taken developers to design gameworlds like these.

  13. Mappy New Year to you and yours, Chet.

  14. If you find a magic carpet that can fly over mountains in this game you are SCREWED.

  15. Sweet work -- the world is really coming together!

    Not for the first time, I really miss a tool to “spice up” other user’s posts, like (for example) Joe Pranevich’s humorous thought.

    I also enjoy Excel mapping, although I’m struggling with how to depict one-way doors.

    The jewels really cut down on mapping errors. If you capture a bitmap (with Window's PrtScr function, for example) and then cut out everything except the jewel map (using paint, for example), you can import the jewel map, pixel by pixel, to each corresponding Excel cell background color using Neils Horn's excellent BMP2XLS VBA macro.

    Beyond colors, a map still needs boundaries, comments, and so forth. Initially I choose to "X" each cell that has been visited, "D" if dug, "S" if searched, "DS" if both. It worked out pretty handily and prevented a lot of confusion, but was time consuming, so (eventually) I found I was fairly happy without this level of detail.

    WinUAE’s built in debugger (shift-F12) can display and edit Fate memory locations. My Excel now ingests those memory dumps to display Fate’s random encounters on the Excel map. For each encounter window, Fate creates 99 random encounter parties, which include quantity of each class, if the party is hostile, if the lead will even consider joining your party, and so forth. Fate continuously updates all of the random parties’ locations as they wander about the map.

    “Oddly, the in-game maps (summoned by spells or jewels) often shows different terrain in the middle of these areas that no player could ever visit.”

    I had noticed that occasionally, a random encounter will spawn in these voids. Your observations and anonymous’ comment motivated me to try “magic carpeting” by editing the party location memory variable. I visited six or eight “inaccessible” glens and discovering nothing except the rare random encounter. It’s hardly an exhaustive test, but it met the limits of my short attention span.

    On the merits of playing the game without spoilers, I’ve been working with an online bitmap of the outdoor area, which I imported into Excel as noted above (I think it came from the website). The previous experiments with inaccessible voids exposed a shortcoming of this bitmap: it uses fewer colors than the game does, which obscures a critical detail. In Fate, impassible mountains are a shade of dark brown, while passable rock is a slightly lighter shade of brown. The BMP I had downloaded and imported into Excel did not preserve these subtle distinctions, making many rocky passages appear to be impassible. This only came to my attention when experimenting with the void spaces. After this discovery, I went back and captured jewel BMPs from the game to develop an accurate representation of the Fate world. I’m piecing together all of the jewel tiles into a complete Excel map which preserves these more subtle shades. As you might imagine from the scope of this game, this is still a work in progress.

    I really enjoyed your post about mapping. It also inspired many fun and interesting comments, motivated me to visit some of the voids, and led to the discovery that the map I had been using was not truly accurate, because it did not preserve color distinctions that are important to the game.

    As always, I’ll be sad to see you complete Fate, because this little community will move onward while I continue playing Fate at a snail’s pace. Don’t rush – we love all your posts!

    I recall Elton John once mentioning that he came up with many of his tunes in the spur of the moment. A member of the audience handed him a washing machine installation manual, which he set to music and actually made installing a washing machine sound really cool. His gift is music. (One of?) Yours is blogging. So, … I imagine that your blog about installing an appliance would be an equally fun and interesting read! Keep up the great work, and don’t worry about the subject matter -- we love it!

  16. For maps, I gave up and cheated here recently. I downloaded and printed out maps for every older CRPG I have that didn't have a built-in auto-map. I threw away my hoard of old maps and notes, and now have everything nice and neat in one, easy to read binder.

  17. I only do mapping by hand. Quite honestly, I find making maps with graph paper very fun--sort of link I'm an explorer like my adventurer(s). Games that are difficult to map on paper, well, I probably wouldn't play them very long.


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