Video Game Mini-Maps Might Finally Be Going Away

For the last 15 years or so, we have witnessed the rise of a great evil: the video game mini-map. Recent events have given me hope that the dark era of the mini-map may finally be coming to an end.

For years, it has been assumed that open-world games require a mini-map in the corner of the screen. From Grand Theft Auto III to Assassin's Creed to Red Dead Redemption, the minimap has sat there, full of icons, coaxing your eyes away from the center of the screen. Come look at me, it says. I'm full of crucial information you can't get anywhere else. You need me.

And then, this year, some possible signs of a turning tide. Assassin's Creed Origins, the 10th (or so) game in that long-running series, has no mini-map. Every single Assassin's Creed game has had a mini-map until now. It's always been there, sitting in the corner of the screen. In Origins, it's gone.

Instead of a mini-map, Origins gives players a compass in the center-top of the screen.

That's just one example, though. Could mean anything. What about Ubisoft's other major open-world series, Far Cry? The best game in that series, Far Cry 2, had no mini-map and instead made players look down at a handheld map. It was a bold choice, and made the game much more interesting.

Starting with Far Cry 3, though, that stupid little info-circle has lurked in the corner of the screen, daring us to turn it off and play the game in the best way. Far Cry 4 and Far Cry Primal both had a mini-map as well.

So, what of next year's Far Cry 5? Check out this screenshot from IGN's extended hands-on during E3 2017:

Bethesda Game Studios' open-world RPGs like 2011's Skyrim and 2008's Fallout 3 also used compasses instead of mini-maps.

NO MINI-MAP, BABY. Just like with Origins, it would appear they have replaced the mini-map with a compass at the top of the screen. One Ubisoft game dropping its mini-map could be an experiment or an outlier. Two suggests a pattern.

I could be wrong about all of this, of course. Other recent open-world games have been less consistent. Ubisoft's other big 2017 open-world game Ghost Recon Wildlands did have a mini-map, though it's easy to turn it off and play without it.

October's Shadow of War had a god-awful mini-map that commits the worst mini-map offence: you can't toggle it off without also toggling off your health gauge, focus gauge, and other crucial information.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild made the un-Nintendo-like move of following the trend and including a mini-map, though the game absolutely didn't need one and it was easy to turn it off.

However, the tremendous PS4 open-worlder Horizon Zero Dawn also had a compass in place of a mini-map. That game had some impressively well-done HUD options in general, particularly considering that it was developer Guerrilla Games' first open-world game.

Long have I waged my own personal war against mini-maps. One of the first big articles I wrote after being hired at Kotaku in 2011 was about how much better Grand Theft Auto IV is with no mini-map.

Since then I've written similar articles about so many major open-world games that I've lost count. It's to the point that people make fun of me for it. That's OK. That's just the status quo, trying to assert itself.

Mini-maps are bad. They distract from the game you're playing and frequently offer information that you don't even need. They draw your eyes away from the world you're exploring and, in the words of fellow anti-mini-map-crusader Mark Brown, encourage players to "follow the little dotted line." They are a relic of a bygone era, when video game worlds may not have been easy enough to navigate without them.

Let this be a sign, and let other game developers follow Ubisoft and Guerrilla's lead. May video game mini-maps slowly fade from the mainstream, eventually remembered as a crutch we used to use back when open game-worlds were still relatively new and no one was sure how best to explore them.

Let us enter a new age of mini-map-free video games with our eyes fixed on the horizon and not on the corner of the screen.


Comments

    Depends on the game I guess? I've turned off mini maps for certainly games recently. As long as their is a HUD option to turn them on/off I'm happy

    BOOOO HISSSS YOU'RE WRONG, LET US HAVE OPTIONS.

      I'm sure you're joking, but I think there's some interesting discussion to be had here about "just include it as an option for people that like it".

      I think if you're playing a game without a minimap and you notice it missing, it just means the game has failed to embed the information you need elsewhere, not that the only solution is to add a minimap in. This is best left to developers to navigate imo.

        Yeah. I was gonna spray something along the lines of, "Kirk Hamilton is a monster who demands everyone play the way he does because he's too weak to manually turn a minimap off when it provides useful information that the game fails to provide in other ways," but it got me down that whole rabbit hole and dammit, I had shit to do.
        Have shit to do. Have. Back to that...

        Funny that you say that.

        After about 20 hours with AC:Origins I did not even notice that a minimap was not present until I read this article.

        I've never had much of an opinion one way or the other but it's always nice to have something different.

    I like them. I loved the Red Dead one because stuff to get involved in would flash on screen. It was the closest friend James had all game.

    just because zelda, assasins creed, and far cry dont have mini-maps... mini-maps are out of style in games? please get away from big name games and pop trends

      Video Game Mini-Maps Might Finally Be Going Away

        That doesn't make it any less of a clickbait title though. It's basically the corollary to Betteridge's law of headlines.

          But it’s not. I think Kirk is onto something in that minimaps are trending downwards.

      I'm confused as to why you think big name games doing something makes a trend less valid.

      You... you think a trend is more significant if minor nobodies are the only ones doing it?

        No I think it totally depends on if the dev's feel its necessary to add one in for reasons to make their game function. on any game

    But is a “compass strip with waypoints” really that different to a minimap? Thinking back to Skyrim, that approach does “pull the eye” less than an actual minimap. I guess it’s a question of immersion - does opening a full screen map break the game’s flow more than glancing at a minimap? The answer in each case probably depends on the game in question.

      Was going to say the exact same thing.

      In fact, I'd say that the compass thing leans more towards the "follow the little dotted line" thing than a minimap does. A minimap at least shows you the terrain between you and your destination, so you know whether you may need to take a detour and plan your route, but the compass just says "yep you're going in the right direction, just keep moving in that direction to keep the little arrow in the centre of the screen".

    Ehh, either they should design the game in a way where you dont need the minimap (or compass along top), or they should just stick to minimap. Because the compass is just a less helpful version of the minimap, you still look at it too much but you dont even get useful info from it so its doubly wasted time.

    But really all games with a minimap should just have the option to hide it in the HUD (individually from hiding the whole HUD), then everyone wins.

    Did I accidentally stumble onto News.com? Cause this feels like an opinion piece trying to pass itself off as fact...

      This is a blog site, they often use opinion in their articles. It's meant to be more informal than other forms of media.

    I eagerly await the "Why Mini Maps are important to Games" article in a year's time.

    Why doesn't kotaku talk about the even greater evil than trival mini maps, the fact that gaming has been transformed away from a social event with friends to sitting at home in the dark with headphones on, no pants and playing with 12 year olds on the other side of the world.

    I miss LAN parties, I miss arcades, I miss not having weekly DLC or patches. How many patches did PS1/PS2/OG XBOX have and were still awesome in original form? Yea there were glitches and some things were broken, but it's what made games awesome, it's how speed running was invented and its potential realised.

    This article should have the category of "First world gaming problems"

      Sorry probably came off a bit blunt now that I re-read it :) Not trying to be agressive

        I don't think you came off as blunt, but you've gotta admit that would be a hell of an article encompassing a whole lot of issues. I largely agree though. I feel the wii and the guitar hero age really brought some of that back as people would get together for bowling and to slam some classic strokes on the axe ( or was that just me? Reptilia for ever ).
        I miss split screen with friends, lan parties with zero lag, timezone super sessions. As an adult even without kids it would definitely be harder to align times with friends for such things, but it makes me sad to think kids these days won't really be exposed to that stuff much.
        I still think the way the industry is leaning towards micro transactions and such is the more tragic thing. Don't get me wrong I love playing my xbone, but thank god for indie games and thank freaking god for Nintendo. Their same old ips STILL delight me and that is simply because of their tight as all hell game play and the way their visual design is centred around colour.
        Oh and also the fact for instance that I just installed the new Mario in about 3 minutes.
        So off the toilet I get , to what I know is going to be probably my game of the year. And I only say probably because Zelda was fantastic.

          Yea I've started to invest in more co-op 360 games, bought a bunch of Kinect games and get mates to comes over for casual game of golf with few beers. Nintendo Wii nearly broke the market into adult gaming (No, not that type...), I know of several of my parents age, now in their 60s or so that when the Wii was released they bought it, they played games, yea maybe wasn't successful from a sales point of view but it actually bought fun back into gaming for the non hardcore gamers.

    I heard you like exploration games, here is a complete nnap with waypoints and if you cant see part if the map go to that waypoibt and climb... no maps no waypoints. Navigate by visible markers and see how people do.

    Assassins Creed always bugged me... his greatest ability was having GPS thousands of years before hand, cause hell Ezio had uncanny ability to find any place or any person he never seen.

    You know what I like? choices. When I start a game I generally turn off all the HUD elements for the sake of immersion (Deus Ex: MD for example, has some ridiculous HUD bloat going on, some parts of which make actual upgrades in the game pretty much useless). The thing is though, I'm not the only one playing it, and I'm 100% certain there are people out there that like playing with those HUD elements on. We need options, not one size fits all.

      I don't think the article is really about being able to turn things off, but about games that have stopped leaning on minimaps as a game design requirement that give all the spatial information to players.

      If there was a game that only showed the direction of objectives on the minimap then the game would essentially break if you turned the minimap off. Ideally games should embed the information you need in the world (breadcrumbs) or as minor elements on the UI (proximity indicator), such that your eyes don't need to be locked on a tiny circle in the corner to understand the game as you move around.

      You shouldn't notice if a well designed game is lacking a minimap.

    Can't wait til Kirk finally plays Nier Automata

    and yet every future soldier program, every type of car, every phone, pretty much every new bit of technology thats comes out gives a mini map for navigation assistance.

    Mini Maps do not hinder exploration, they help with exploration and assist with navigation. Also removing mini maps means that developers now have to make damn sure that their main map is fucking readable and that means a proper scale with contour lines.

    Also if you really think that mini maps are bad (hint: they arent) then you should also direct your anger at compasses that reveal everything instead of just giving bearings

    The less obtrusive the HUD the better. There's some great Witcher 3 mods that allow you to hide elements of the HUD when you don't need them and replaces the minimap with a quest marker/compass system. Makes the game much more visually attractive and lets you notice much more of the world.

    Choices are good. Let's make the default "off", though.

    Minimaps are like subtitles for me, if they are there, 80% of my focus is on them; if they aren't, I don't notice

      After all these years I still put them on in case I don't understand the vocals clearly enough...though after 30 odd years I should know none if it is even worth it lol

    Any game I've played that had a mini map, I've ignored it, because they are always impossible to use effectively.
    They are annoying.
    I have no problem pressing options or whatever to bring up a proper map, and plot points on it.

    I think it's important to remember that not everyone is great with directions. Especially in games where everything is made up of the same base components. I don't need a minimap in the slightest but I've been mapping games out since Zelda and Metroid. Even Mario had me mapping routes.

    You lost me on FarCry2 being the best one, buggy piece of mess that basically didn’t work for most of em. Mini maps are fine when they’re not stupidly cluttered with a million things, my thoughts are minimal when in a vehicle and a compass up top on foot.

    Wait, far cry 2 was the best? I could have sworn far cry 3 was released..

    The "great evil"? Jesus hyperbole much. Mini maps are great. Better than the "my eyes always end up drifting up to it" compass.

    IMO minimaps are still essential for anything involving driving. You move too quickly to take in your surroundings, and most driving games are set in monotonous, urban environments. HZD works fine without a minimap because you easily navigate with the main map and natural landmarks. I just finished Watch Dogs 2 and that would be an unplayable exercise in frustration without a minimap.

    Can we at least have a compass point in Assassins Origins. Flying your bird you have no idea where it is facing.

Join the discussion!