There has been some controversy, in the official forums for Richard Garriott's still-being-Kickstarted Shroud of the Avatar, about the implementation of the game world's map. You see, Portalarium have opted to build what's called a dual-scale map for Shroud of the Avatar. A dual-scale map splits the game world up into a large, reduced-scale overland map on which the player navigates between points of interest, and numerous normal-scale maps depicting the contents of those points of interest.
If you played Dragon Age: Origins, you'll have an idea of what I'm talking about. If you played the Storm of Zehir expansion pack for Obsidian Entertainment's Neverwinter Nights 2, you'll have an even better idea of what I'm talking about.
Shroud of the Avatar's overland map is more akin to Storm of Zehir's, in that it will allow for open exploration of the game world. This isn't how Dragon Age did it; BioWare's overland map implementation simply presented you with an ever-expanding selection of points of interest, and you could click on one to be taken there...with the slight chance that you might be pulled into an encounter along the way. But you didn't really have the opportunity to just freely explore Ferelden, even so.
Portalarium have just outlined their reasons for this design choice:
In addition to staying true to Richard’s earlier works, the dual scale system allows the following benefits:
More dynamic world: By breaking the 1-to-1 connection between the overland tiles and the content they are attached to and generating the overland map through data instead of baked art, we are free to change up areas of the world far more easily. Things like changing out a section of the map to be infested by a plague or have a mountain turn into a volcano is as easy as pushing new map tile data and connection information. This also allows us to easily roll out new scenes as we complete them to ensure the game stays fresh and interesting on a weekly basis.
Less painful travel: As much fun as it is to be able to occasionally just wander in the wilderness, in the long run, people generally prefer to be able to get around quickly and not have to spend an hour trying to figure out what the best way to get to the other side of the mountain is going to be. That is fun the first three times and a game exiting moment on the 23rd time. Because we’re not doing our quests as “run to this X on your radar”, there will be far more detective and foot work involved and not making that travel element a huge chore was important to not destroying the game flow.
Quicker content creation: I know the average user doesn’t think about this kind of stuff but it is huge in the reality of game development. Budgets are not infinite so speeding up content creation means we get more stuff done in the same amount of time with fewer bugs and more polish. End result is we can give you guys a bigger, smoother game experience with fewer bugs and quicker fixes when we do find things!
Easier content delivery: Breaking up the world into little chunk simplifies content delivery to the end users and also patching.
Lower machine requirements: Giant seamless worlds are a challenge for even the most powerful computers out there. By splitting up the world into focused scenes we greatly lower the machine requirements.
More scaleable multiplayer experience: Most people are shocked to hear that one of the most expensive systems on large scene MMO servers, is mob/character visibility. Not the actual ray testing to see if they can be seen but the logic of figuring out which entities should be updated of others actions. Chopping the world up into smaller, bite size chunks greatly simplifies those calculations.
Allows us to more easily insert single player experiences into the multiplayer version. Because the multiplayer version of the game shares the majority of the single player quest line, there are times when we need to isolate the player from a party situation for storyline reasons. These situations won’t be too common but there are just some things that an avatar must do alone!
Look, I'm an RPG fan from way back, and my favourite game in the world continues to be Ultima 6...the game that more or less pioneered the idea of a single-scale overland world in RPGs. Before Ultima 6, dual-scale maps were the norm; even the first five Ultimas featured dual-scale worlds, and used them to great effect.
Modern RPGs, of course, have tended to continue the single-scale trend; Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls games are fantastic examples of this. Of course, even something like Skyrim isn't perfect; if you walk up to a house in Skyrim, you'll experience a loading screen to actually enter the house, because the interior is implemented on a separate map.
Not that Ultima was innocent in this regard; Ultima 6 stored its dungeons on separate maps, and although you didn't need to go through a loading screen, you were certainly aware of the transition. Ultima 8...well, okay, that one doesn't even count. Ultima 7 features one of only two truly open Ultima game worlds (Serpent Isle, even though it uses the same engine, doesn't present the player with a fully open world)...and it has the most dismally boring dungeons in the entire series. Perhaps ironically, only Ultima 9 offers the experience of a world that is open (eventually), with actually decent dungeons (except Hythloth)...and building interiors on the same map as everything else. And Ultima 9 has had very few imitators.
My point here is that unless you're playing Ultima Online, Ultima 9, Ultima 7, or one of a vanishingly small number of other RPGs, you're playing an RPG (or MMORPG) that assaults you, at some point, with a loading screen, area transition, or similar. Whether you're wandering into a home in Skryim, leaving Dalentarth in Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, or questing your way through an MMO, you're going to be hit with a loading event at some point.
So that aspect of the dual-scale approach, at least, shouldn't be any more offensive.
The main objection I've seen, though, is that the dual-scale map approach is immersion-breaking. Which is...almost not even worth responding to, because it's so obviously false. Ultima 5 (or 4, or 3...) offered plenty of possibilities for immersion. And those games did it with dual-scale maps and a limited colour palette...and relatively tiny tiles, for that matter.
I suspect this is just more fan entitlement rearing its ugly head, ultimately. Which is unfortunate, because I actually think Portalarium can pull off Shroud of the Avatar and make it immersive.