Sometimes a game's environment is blatantly not to scale. The usual culprits are fantasy RPGs
and Wide Open Sandbox
games. This freakish distortion of space is becoming more common these days, as the fashion is for photorealistic detail difficult to execute uniformly in a huge world and the banishment of abstractions such as world maps
Note, of course, that even in games with a City Map/world map separation, the scale will still be substantially reduced relative, at least, to the real world. Remember that it was the ninteenth century before 80 days
became a plausible amount of time in which to circumnavigate the globe; walking from one side of the world map to the other would take years
in a realistic scale. Heck, walking from one major city to another would take days
if not weeks
An Acceptable Break from Reality for several reasons:
- The distance between settlements is very small, allowing to walk from one village to another in a matter of minutes.
- Settlements themselves are very small (but contain all necessary features). Even the largest cities aren't larger than a village in real life.
- Forests and deserts aren't more than a few square kilometers large. Fields are so often so tiny that they wouldn't feed even a single person. The amount of space taken by settlements is also larger than in real life.
- Mountains aren't really mountains. Just hills.
- Ten yards is turned into ten feet, and ten feet is turned into five feet. For a large game, 500 yards is the equivalent of 500 miles.
- Using real-world travel times in a game tends to quickly become tedious. Especially if the player's walking.
- Pick your poison: Loads and Loads of Loading so your hardware isn't put under too much strain as you move from one area to the next, or Loads And Loads of Lagging as your hardware bakes itself trying to render it all. In the case of PC games; it's not always a good thing for a game to overload and melt most computers available on the market trying to run it.
- Cutting corners to reduce business costs. Making realistically sized worlds and realistically populated cities is Awesome, but Impractical without using randomly-generated maps or NPCs to cut corners. It's also a waste of developers' resources to program a realistically sized city when less than one percent of the population is of any relevance to the player.
- The same can go for towns in older RPGs: there may be other towns but the ones on the map are the important ones.
- It could be made to look larger with fog, trees, and hills. Or the player could just imagine it as bigger than it looks.
See also Units Not to Scale
, Clown Car Base
and Thriving Ghost Town
. Not related to either use
of the phrase "Time Compression".
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- Hyrule's size fluctuates wildly over the course of the Zelda games but it never seems big enough to be the powerful kingdom it claims to be (except possibly in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.)
- Also, Gun, in which one can travel on horseback from Kansas to Montana in ten minutes of real time and approximately a day of game time.
- Taken to ridiculous heights in Star Fox Adventures, where the setting is supposed to be an entire planet. Let's say it's not very big...
- Solar Winds lets you fly from one end of the (ridiculously large) solar system to the other in about five minutes, even before you get the faster-than-light drive. It gets worse when you fly up to a planet and see that it's only slightly bigger than your one-man fighter (which is shown in the intro to only be about 20 feet/6 meters long).
- Ditto the Escape Velocity series and Ares. To be fair, perspective means that planets, space stations, capships, and fighters could be much further from or closer to the “camera,” distorting their apparent size.
- Galactic Civilizations II takes this trope to the literal extreme — due to the way stars and planets are handled on the game map, it's possible for a planet to be closer to one in another system than to another one in its own (or even to its own system's star). The game lore handwaves this by saying that the map is a map of "hyperspace" and that a star's gravity distorts that dimension.
Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games
- Very evident in World of Warcraft, where it takes about two hours to cross Azeroth by foot, and the villages and cities are visibly too small to host any population apart from shopkeepers and other interactive Non Player Characters. Goldshire, for example, consists of about 3 houses at a crossroad, one of which is an inn and the other two shops, yet it's stated in RPG supplements to have a population of 7,000.
- Goldshire was quite large in the early in the beta, but players found it confusing and all towns were shrunk by necessity. Not much of a need for 7000 NPCs when only about 15 do anything.
- People have used the Cartographer mod to measure the continents. Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms are each just over fifteen kilometers long, north to south.
- Apparently in early Alpha builds the continents were much more realistically sized, but testers and employees rapidly realised that this was incredibly boring. (A good hint... back in "Vanilla", people would complain about the flight from Moonglade to Thunder Bluff. Imagine how it'd be if it were realistically sized.)
- Wrath of the Lich King throws in some in-game dialogue to the effect that Howling Fjord and Borean Tundra, the two "starting" zones in Northrend, are several hundred miles apart from each other. It's nice for flavor purposes, even if it's obviously a much smaller distance than that.
- One of the complaints in Vanguard was that while the world wasn't as compressed, it unfortunately had a ton of blank space that wasn't used for anything, even mobs wouldn't spawn there. Generally, it's better for there to be a small but detailed world than a large but dull world.
- The world◊ of Tibia has major towns quite close to each other, though the towns aren't the usual five building metropolises, since all the towns have lots of houses for the players to rent. Some small towns are hardly anything but player houses.
- In Final Fantasy XI, not only does it take roughly twenty minutes to ride from one end of the continent of Quon to the other, it takes a mere eight game hours. Mindartia is slightly smaller. Apparently even if they were designed to scale, the continents would be no bigger than, say, Maine, Ireland, or Portugal — if chocobos are comparable in speed to cars and Vana'diel has the same day length.
- As a text game, Achaea attempts to avert this trope using various mapping tricks, including the Wilderness (a Roguelike-ish ASCII map put in so that the developers could create distance without writing thousands of unique room descriptions, and only visible to the player a little bit at a time as he travels across) but patched-together maps made by players show that the 'continent' (which can be walked across in a game day) has significant chunks missing. The 'cities' are also very, very small by anyone's standards.
- Runescape is one of the offenders. Towns take as much space as forests, yet stories of NPCs and history of the land might leave you another impression. One of the examples is how vampyres in this game are unaware that the town called Burgh De Rott is not abandoned at all despite them being only 20 meters away from it.
- This is often explained by people who are interested enough to care with Scale Theory: what takes a few minutes for a player to cross is described as taking days, but things that are not important for the player character are cut out from view, leaving a much smaller and practical world for gameplay.
- Blatant in Star Trek Online. There are instances of orbiting asteroids wider in diameter than they are distant from the planet's surface.
- There are shipyards outside of Bajor that are almost as large as, and most certainly WIDER than Bajor's moon. One in particular orbits Bajor's moon at roughly half a mile out from it, if using your own ship's size as a scale is any indication.
- In The Lord of the Rings Online, a player can run from the Shire to Rivendell in a single in-game day (in real time, it is a dozen of minutes). It took Frodo over two weeks.
- When EverQuest first came out, players only had a few modes of transportation: They run, they run with the Spirit of Wolf runspeed buff on them, they run with a Bard's runspeed buff, or they hire a wizard to taxi-teleport them across the world, saving the player a half-hour boat ride to get across continents. Horses and other mounts wouldn't be introduced until the 4th expansion 3 years later. In those early days, it would take a player running at normal running speed roughly 20 minutes to cross the largest zone in the game, the Western Plains of Karana in a straight line from North Karana to Qeynos Hills. During that run, you'd be lucky if you saw any type of building or if a wolf, or a griffin, or a hill giant started chasing after you.
- EverQuest II would improve on the scale of the world, claiming to make it even larger than the zones were in the first game. For the most part this is true. The relatively small Qeynos Hills in the first game is now the continent of Antonica, the same size as the Western Plains of Karana was in the first game. They learned from their predecessor though by including automatic travel stations in the overland zones to allow them relatively fast travel from point A to point B. Depending on what zone you were in, you'd still need to sprint a considerable distance to reach the next zone that you want to go to after that. At the same time though, they made sure that you were never too far away from any major identifiable landmarks.
- Developers eventually realized that making overly large zones and cities wasn't very efficient. When they introduced the city of New Halas, players are expected to believe that this city compares in size and populous to other cities like Qeynos and Kelethin, but there are only the bare-bones necessity NPCs needed to serve all the game's functions, and you can cross the entire city in about 3 minutes on foot. Paineel and Thurgadin were later given the same treatment, being given very little of any environmental flavor, just the essential NPCs.
- World War II Online, more of a WW2 Simulator than a MMOFPS, takes place on a half-scale map of Europe complete with destructible cities, roads, and farm fields that take forever to walk across. Needless to say, Mobile Spawn Points were implemented fairly early in the games release to make attacking key objectives quicker, as previously reinforcements would have to be driven from the Forward Base to the objective constantly.
- DK Isles seems to shrink in size between the 2D Donkey Kong Country and the 3D Donkey Kong 64. This is because it's meant to be like a 3D version of the map screens from the 2D games. That's why the jungle, which is inside the island, has an open top sky.
- In Dwarf Fortress, any tile can hold an unlimited number of creatures of any size, with the only restriction that all but one of said creatures are lying down. This leads to the awkward existential realisation that a tile is large enough to contain a dragon, but not large enough to contain two kittens without one of them crouching.
- Multi-tile monsters are planned, as soon as the ensuing pathfinding nightmare can be worked around. Before then multi-tile trees are planned, which the Toady One notices makes the still single-tile giant monsters look sort of stupid.
- This is all still a tiny improvement over the game's model, Roguelikes, where each tile can support only a single monster and monsters can't push past each other. This can be used to your advantage by clogging the map with trash enemies while plinking something dangerous from long range.
- As of the introduction of minecarts (in version 0.34.07), tiles have been defined as being 2x2 meters in area and 3 meters tall. As stated by the author, "It wouldn't make any fewer dragons fit in the tile though".
- Averted in Incursion, where huge monsters take up more than one tile and a single tile can be shared by more than one normal sized monster. This realistically prevents huge creatures like dragons from moving down human sized corridors.
Role Playing Game
- Happened when the Ultima series stopped using an overworld/town/dungeon split from Ultima VI onwards. The kingdom of Britannia went from spanning multiple continents to approximately the size of a suburb◊.
- The Elder Scrolls franchise started out with a realistically-sized world, but has been shrinking with each installment. On a case by case basis—
- The first game, The Elder Scrolls: Arena, was the largest and most fully-featured in terms of both square mileage and population—you could explore the entire continent of Tamriel which was on a scale with an actual real-life continent. Mind, the people and scenery tended to get a bit repetitive ...
- The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall also featured the provinces of High Rock and Hammerfell at their full size. Bethesda says that their physical size amounts to 188,000 square miles (or 487,000 in square kilometers)—that's twice the size of Great Britain. There are 15,000 full-sized towns, cities, villages, and dungeons to explore, and more than 750,000 NPCs capable of interaction—impressive for a game from 1996. However, most of the terrain is randomly generated, and traveling by foot is as lengthy and tedious as playing Desert Bus. In the case of cities, most houses cannot be entered even by the most skilled thieves—the player will be told "This house contains nothing of interest."
- The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind was the point where things changed, and to date is the game with the tiniest explorable area. Bethesda's game director and executive producer Todd Howard has said that Morrowind's physical size is 0.01% that of Daggerfall—only 10 square miles (or 25.9 square kilometers). Bethesda attempted to disguise this fact by using heavy fog effects (which, when removed with a patch, reveals that major cities are no more than 100 meters apart) and by requiring travelers to take winding detours through channels, bridges over gaps and around the ghostfence. This was a conscious decision by Bethesda; although the scaled down world would be incongruous with the vast explorable lands from before, they could afford to spend more time giving the fewer NPCs and locations more depth and interactivity.
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion follows the same development philosophy as Morrowind, but is somewhat larger as the explorable area is 16 square miles (41.4 square kilometers). Lore would have you believe that Cyrodiil is the heart of a continent-spanning empire; in-game, it's smaller than most of Europe's microstates. City Isle, which is about the size of Great Britain on the world map, is scarcely large enough to contain the Imperial City, which is as big as a large parking lot. In fact, the Imperial Province is small enough that with the visibility set to maximum and fog options turned off, a player can still see the Imperial City's central tower when climbing mountains near the border.
- The level of vertical exaggeration applied to said mountains is fairly incredible too; the road from the Imperial City up to Bruma is almost all at a 30 degree (or more) slope. The chances of ever getting something such as a horse and cart up there don't seem good—or wouldn't be, if the citizens ever needed to transport anything… This is partly because while size was increased compared to Morrowind, so was the compression (as Morrowind's Vvardenfell represented a bit less than half of a mid-size province, while Oblivion's Cyrodiil represents almost all of the largest by far province).
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim also continues to play this straight; Bethseda says the explorable area is comparable in size to Oblivion, though Skyrim also uses winding pathways as was done in Morrowind to give a sense of vastness. The way the world has shrunken down stands out when comparing locations featured in Arena to Skyrim, such as the town of Riverwood. In Arena it's a bustling town that contains 200 or 300 buildings, but in Skyrim it's a hamlet with seven houses.
- Pokémon's towns and cities are remarkably close together; even taking into account all the Random Encounters, once all the Broken Bridges are fixed, it takes maybe an hour to circuit the Kanto region. Even the largest cities have a few dozen buildings, and maybe eight you can actually enter.
- Not to mention that in HeartGold and SoulSilver, the Pokemon following you usually takes up one square, regardless of how big the 'Dex says they should be.
- The latest entries in the Avernum series effectively compressed the map by replacing the overland map with a continuous series of Geneforge-style town-scale maps, reducing the distances between towns down to few kilometers.
- In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, most buildings are the same size both inside and out, but by comparison to real-life buildings are ridiculously small. Possibly lampshaded, too: battles take place on a stage in front of an audience, but many bosses are so large that they can't actually fit on the stage (an early-game boss has to bend over to fit its head on the screen, which is conveniently an ideal thing to attack).
- In Dragon Quest, like most RPGs, you Walk The Earth. Normally, this trope can be avoided by assuming that only the important stuff is shown, not to mention world maps in Eastern RPGs are deliberately on a wider scales than the towns. In VIII, however, the game keeps track of how far you've walked. By the end of the game, once you've walked over more or less every square inch of the planet, it tells you that you've walked maybe 500 kilometers.
- In the first Wild Arms game, you can walk around the entire world on the world map (yes, it's spherical) in a minute or two, though you'll need a plane and/or boat to get though the ocean areas.
- Fallout 3 is nothing out of the ordinary for this article. It still hits home hard when you're familiar with the (real-life) areas and realize you'd kill to have those kind of commute times (think minutes on foot versus half an hour in traffic)...
- Compare to the first two Fallout games - the world map was realistically large (so the player travelled between places on an overworld map), though the settlements themselves weren't very big.
- You're only seeing a small part of most of the settlements though - for example, the entrance and downtown districts of The Hub are stated to be a few miles apart by one of the inhabitants, despite the fact that it takes you seconds to transition from one to the other. This is also confirmed by a lot of the settlement maps, most notably that of the Boneyard.
- Still, the kicker is the Vaults themselves: The typical capacity of a Vault in the canon is 1,000 dwellers. No single Vault depicted in any game is close to holding a tenth of that.
- For your information, the Capital Wasteland is about 50 km in each dimension. That takes about 5 to 10 hours to cross. You might even be able to get this in-game... but the Fallout time is sped up by a factor of thirty.
- The Mojave Wasteland in Fallout: New Vegas is even worse. The area covered is about 10,000 square miles, the in-game world... not so much. This is most notable around Hoover Dam, which, when overlaid over the actual map, grew by several orders of magnitude.
- The placement of locations in the Mojave Wasteland is more congruent with where they are in Real Life though, whereas a lot of Fallout 3's locations have been moved closer to D.C. in order to fit them in, relativity be damned. For example, compare real-world Fairfax on this◊ map with its in-game counterpart, which is just north of "Unknown 3". note
- Final Fantasy X replaced the overmaps of earlier games with life-size 3D environments that the characters walked around in. A lot of the playable areas are contiguous though, which led to you being able to walk across a whole continent in under an hour.
- The main town in Avalon Code is about twelve screens, including the graveyard, plaza, and arena, and is home to one or two dozen Non Player Characters. But cutscenes include an enormous crowd and several blocks of buildings and alleys that don't appear anywhere in ordinary gameplay.
- Freelancer did something deeply weird with the fabric of space and time where planets are only a few kilometers in diameter, five minutes' flight apart, and motionless relative to one another. They're actually smaller than some of the starships you fly.
- In Animal Crossing, outdoor and indoor maps are square grids. Character interactions with, say, furniture show that each cell of an indoor map is about one meter by one meter in size. But outdoors, an "acre" is 16 cells by 16 cells. If this is intended to call up the standard acre of 4047 m^2, that means each cell is closer to four meters on a side, and the characters don't shrink to fit, nor does the player's speed.
- The Battlecruiser, Universal Combat and Galactic Command series by 3000AD totally averts this trope and pretty much everything is to scale. A planet is literally planet sized and it takes hours if not days to travel around it once. If anything these games lampshade why space compression is one of the Acceptable Breaks from Reality.
- The Naval Ops series often uses recognizable locations (say, Sicily and its immediate surroundings) on maps, but completely out of scale with everything else. A well-equipped battleship can easily cruise at 60 knots, which is ridiculously fast in naval terms, but only takes minutes instead of hours to circumnavigate Sicily.
- Totally averted in the Silent Hunter Series saga, where a patrol could take weeks mainly due to the time required to arrive to your destination and to return to your base (plus extra time if you decide to wander around). Excellent examples of this are when you have a type IX submarine and are ordered to patrol the North American coast or the seas near equatorial or south Africa, and the vastness of the Pacific Ocean ('nuff said). They show quite well why time compression is a must on that kind of games.
- Euro Truck Simulator heavily condenses Europe, with transnational journeys taking far less time than they would in Real Life and most cities reduced to a handful of trucking-related businesses and distribution centers. This is likely because, save for special cases, not many gamers have the time or patience for a real-time European roadtrip.
Turn Based Strategy
- Combined with the units not being to scale, Space Compression makes Battle for Wesnoth's scale very mutable. One of the common abbreviations seen on the forum is HAPMA - Hexes Are Possibly Miles Across - explaining why, for instance, archers can't shoot further than a single hex. The terrain graphics are also very variable, with a stand of trees being the same in-game size as a mountain, a house, or a patch of flowers.
Wide Open Sandbox
- The cities in the 3-D Grand Theft Auto series are kinda like miniature megalopolises: Liberty City is the size of a small suburb, Vice City is the size of a coast town, and the entire state of San Andreas is not even bigger than a large city.
- Ironically, the need to keep the player from traveling out of the city when the game added flying vehicles led to this trope going in the exact opposite direction and essentially turning Vice City and Grand Theft Auto IV's Liberty City into isolated city states and San Andreas into a Hawaii analogue by surrounding them with miles of ocean and absolutely nothing in the distance. It can get a bit odd when you take your helicopter out of the fake New York City and discover that you can't even see the nearest land...
- Planets in Spore. You can find Earth and lay a colony down on it. The only areas large enough to facilitate the room of a single colony (which, in Spore, contains roughly 10 major buildings or so), without deforming the shape of the land, are Antarctica and Asia. On a similar note, most planets can only have up to 3 colonies. Homeworlds start with 10. A city cannot have a population over about 175; the effective max (i.e. assuming you're putting entertainment buildings and/or factories) is about 100. So, a stellar empire on a dozen planets... won't have a population over about three or four thousand. Even the Grox, who have thousands of colonies, only have a total population in the tens of thousands or so.
- The Saboteur places Paris within 30 minutes driving distance of Le Havre and Saarbrücken, and squashes the city of Paris into a smaller scale version. In reality it's a 2-3 hour drive from Paris to Le Havre, and a 3-5 one to Saarbrücken.
- Prototype's mini-Manhattan where the also-scaled down Central Park is ludicrously small.
- In Bully, the town of Bullworth appears to be the size of a small suburb. But the entire student body of Bullworth Academy - a campus that could easily accommodate hundreds - consists of 61 students (plus four prefects). The boys' dorm seems to consist of literally a single floor for some forty boys; the girls' dorm feels disproportionately larger, despite there being only eleven girls at the Academy (one of whom doesn't even live there).
- In Minecraft, while the actual area of a game world, not counting the glitchy "far lands" is over 140 million square kilometers (~50 million square miles), biomes are at most a few hundred meters across. The seemingly lightning-fast powered minecarts are actually going at around 40 km/h (~25 mph).