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Law of Cartographical Elegance

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Every continent neatly in its grid.
"Law of Cartographical Elegance: The world map always cleanly fits into a rectangular shape with no land masses that cross an edge."

So you've gotten on the boat and want to explore the world. Perhaps you even brought a world map with you, and want to see where you're going before you actually get there. It's usually only a world map for the following reason: every land mass fits nicely within the square, never crossing the edges on either axis.

Since everything's placed in the center, the edges of the map serve one of two purposes:

Seen in almost any video game that uses a world map where the player can freely travel.

Fantasy World Maps also frequently obey the Law Of Cartographical Elegance.

It should be noted that this trope can be blamed on actual maps of earth which also happened to be set up in such a way that the only land masses that actually cross over the edges are Antarctica and the Chukchi Peninsula. Of course, there is good reason for this since it'd be rather inconvenient to read a map that is cut in half but in any case, an acceptable break from reality.

Subtrope of Video Game Geography.

Examples of the Looping World Map


  • The special stages in Sonic 3 & Knuckles have the topology of a torus, but are displayed as spheres. Spheres much too small to contain the entire level on their surface, to boot. And in all likelihood they're programmed as simple two-dimensional arrays with Wrap Around.
  • Present in VVVVVV. Justified, since the whole dimension you are in is in shambles. As a result, it plays with the concept a bit by using the looping capabilities in unusual ways. In the middle is a tower which blocks horizontal progress; one has to loop to get from the left side of the map to the right (and vice versa). The tower, as an autoscrolling level, is actually 6 rooms larger than it seems from the outside. The laboratory section of the game is on the top and bottom parts of the left side of the map.

Role-Playing Games

Examples of the Insurmountable Waist-Height Fence world map

Action-Adventure Games

Driving Games

  • Motocross Madness had an Insurmountable Thirty Foot Fence around the arena, which was actually pretty easy to get over if you crashed into it just right and hit the recover button (in some versions, recovery occured automatically). You can then drive around the border of the arena, but if you drive too far away from it you get fired back into the center of the arena, painfully. Driving along it or even doing nothing doesn't help - sooner or later, you get kicked from the zone of nowhere whatever you do or do not do.
  • Maps in the 4x4 Evolution series all have seamlessly looping edges, most often placed far away from the checkpoints of the race to give a better illusion of large, open spaces.
  • In Vette!, San Francisco is bounded by water and insurmountable 8 foot high fences.

Platform Games

  • Super Mario 64 has the worlds not only neatly fit into a square, but also has them as Floating Continents above the void with an invisible wall bordering them on all four sides. Justified in that these worlds are contained inside rectangular paintings.
  • Super Mario Odyssey follows Super Mario 64's lead by having every world as a Floating Continent above a giant void. Ultimately subverted, though, as background scenery and flavor text on the various in-game maps imply you're only visiting a tiny part of a much larger world.

Role-Playing Games

  • Justified in most of the Avernum games: You're trapped in a massive cave system so the edge of the map is the ends of the cave. In Avernum III, you're on a peninsula that's under quarantine, so no boats in or out, and a massive mountain range/magical wall keeping you from going north.
  • The world of the Golden Sun series is flat, and you're not allowed to go over the edges. Justified, as the edges of the map are quite literally the edges of the world due to the sealing of Alchemy/the Golden Sun/the Stone of Sages causing the planet to deteriorate. Everything beyond the edges of the map is presumably just empty void. Well, empty void and one Djinni.
  • The first two and fifth Suikoden games all feature a limited game area in an (implied) much larger world. While the second and fifth game were better about using mountains and rivers, the first mostly relies on Great Wall of China-esque barriers.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Daggerfall is borderless like and beyond the map is randomly generated terrain leading to nothing. No notice is given that the player is wandering outside the game territory, but a look at the map before even getting that far makes it obvious.
    • In Morrowind, the Island of Vvardenfell is supposed to be surrounded with a mile or two of water which separates it from the mainland. However, in-game, the water stretches on indefinitely.
    • In Oblivion, when you reach the end of the map, a message appears saying that 'You cannot go that way. Turn back.' If, by modifying the game's settings, one walks over the border, there's a stretch of badly generated landscape, which ends in nothing.
    • Skyrim takes the same approach as Oblivion.
    • In one of the series' spin-offs, Redguard, one could reach the edge of the map. There, a graphical glitch would cause the water to be shaped really odd. (This was referenced in one of Morrowind's books, where a character reaches the 'spiked waters at the edge of the map'.
  • Dragon Quest differs from the later games in the series in that all of Alefgard appears to be surrounded by water. In Dragon Quest II, it's revealed to be one of several "continents" in the game world.
  • Chrono Cross takes place in a small section of the Chrono Trigger world, so there's at least some reason. That, plus you never get an airship, and apparently there's only one strait that leads to the greater world, which conveniently has a strong current inwards, and your watercraft are never strong enough to go against it.
  • Justified in the first The Bard's Tale RPG. You were trapped in a very square city.
  • The Wasteland RPG featured this. Trying to go past the map's edges caused a comment about the irradiated wasteland beyond and the notion that you wouldn't survive it.
  • In all of the main Pokémon games, the routes and cities are all bounded in by the environment, with mountainous cliffs and impassable forests being most common on land, and convenient rocks marking out the sea routes. Noteworthy, however, is that Kanto, Johto and Sinnoh have been shown to share a landmass. In fact, Gold and Silver versions show that beyond the Elite Four is Johto/Kanto (depending on your starting point) - and the remakes feature one location not shown on any map: the Sinjoh Ruins, which are shown to be somewhere far to the North of Johto, which serves to tie the Johto region to Sinnoh.
  • In the Mario & Luigi series, almost all the games bar one have the entire world map as an island in the middle of some ocean somewhere and no indication that there's anything beyond the borders. Which makes sense in Dream Team, since Pi'illo Island is well, an island. But in Partners in Time and Bowser's Inside Story? That's the entire kingdom that's supposedly stuck on an island with water on all sides, despite the fact multiple games have Mario and co crossing the border to other areas of land! Although this is just the world map that's like this, you never get near enough to the border in game to figure out where it cuts off.
  • Although Might and Magic I to V are exceptions (explained in that entry), VI to X uses this. X has a fairly normal features-on-the-edge-of-the-map block, while the world of VI to IX consisted of discrete 3D maps that could be travelled between by going to the corresponding border of a map — with some borders not having a map to travel to, and therefore being impassable (sometimes, but not always, these borders were seas which serves to make the endgame of VII more climactic as you are provided with wetsuits that allow you to travel across one specific sea border) — island maps always required using travel services to get to and from them.
  • Octopath Traveler takes place in the land of Orsterra, a large landmass bordered by seas and uncharted lands. In order to prevent you from trying to leave the mapped areas, you are forced to walk along the paths crossing the countryside.

Simulation Games

  • In Doshin the Giant, it is possible to walk off the edge of the world.
  • Drakengard.
  • The world maps (which are actually very large islands) in Operation Flashpoint work this way. Each one is bordered by endless ocean, much like the Grand Theft Auto games but without the invisible barriers out to sea. If you do insist on flying out into the ocean, you just end up off the map and hopelessly lost.

Tabletop Games

  • Creation in Exalted. Like the Ultima example given above, this is because Creation is literally flat and (roughly) rectangular; the Insurmountable Waist Height Fences are the Elemental Poles of Air, Wood, Fire, and Water, beyond which lie the formless chaos of the Wyld.
  • The Domains of Ravenloft are all "demiplanes" within the Deep Ethereal Plane, bounded on all sides by the Mists. You can enter the Mists, but there's no knowing where they will take you except for a few consistent "Mistways".

Wide Open Sandbox

  • Grand Theft Auto:
    • In the Grand Theft Auto III-era games, Liberty City consists of 2 islands and a peninsula with mountains separating it from mainland, Vice City is made of 2 long, parallel islands, and the state of San Andreas is pretty much a huge, neatly formed square of land. Out in the middle of nowhere, too - try flying just straight north/west/south/east. You'll run out of attention span (and maybe trigger a few glitches) before hitting a barrier.
    • In the Grand Theft Auto IV games, Liberty City is three large islands and several smaller ones, all of which fit roughly in a large square. The ocean around them seems to stretch out forever in all directions.
    • In Grand Theft Auto V, Los Santos and Blaine County consist of one large lozenge-shaped island surrounded by endless waters extending for miles.
  • In Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction, the main game takes place on 2 maps in North Korea, both of which form a perfect square. The player cannot normally reach the boundaries though because passing into a red zone (which surrounds the map a good distance from all edges) will cause the Allies to bomb them until they die. One can reach the edge though certain means, though. Each "Ace" has their own island separate from the main maps, where the same rules apply.
  • Perhaps an egregious example would be in [PROTOTYPE], where even the real life location of Manhattan is rendered into a more rectangular shape by shaving off the entire portion north of 129th Street.
  • Minecraft is a flat, square-shaped world but is notable in the fact that's the current map format makes usable maps out to the tune of 8 times the surface area of the earth.
  • 7 Days to Die is a square map of Navezgane. Everything outside of the map is a nuclear wasteland.


Adventure Games

  • Discworld II: Missing Presumed..., where, of course, the world really does have an edge.

Four X

  • Civilization:
    • In all of the games (and the spinoff Alpha Centauri), the worlds are cylindrical: you can circle endlessly east and west, but north and south you are blocked by "the poles". You can, however, enable an option that allows you to build flat worlds.
    • The Activision clone Civilization: Call to Power allowed a 'Donut-shaped World' option in world generation.
    • Civilization IV also allows donut worlds, as well as ones that wrap north-south, in addition to the traditional east-west wraps and flat worlds. It also has a zoom-out function for the standard cylindrical map that makes it look like a globe with very large impassable polar caps.
    • When you have explored the whole map you may notice that there is always an "international dateline" where a strip of ocean at least a few squares wide stretches from pole to pole. The map is stored and created as a rectangular grid and this is the "edge" where one side of the rectangle ends and is attaches to the other side.
  • Spore averts this with planets actually shaped like spheres and land masses and/or bodies of water that cross the edge of the mini-map. Navigating based on the mini-map while inside the atmosphere makes it appear there is looping on the X axis, no looping on the Y axis and faster movement on the X axis as you get closer to poles to represent the distortions caused by the projection of a 3-dimensional body onto the 2-dimensional map (just like in real flat maps of Earth).

Miscellaneous Games

  • Katamari Damacy and its sequels are partial aversion. At the lower sizes the world is restricted by Insurmountable Waist-High Fences. At the second highest size it is the classic toroidal shape, with the katamari, teleporting to the other side of the map in mist. At the highest size the Katamari rolls over a proper globe.


  • Azeroth of World of Warcraft masquerades as a globe. Swimming brings you death, but it is theoretically possible. Outland is a perfect example of this trope, since it's a magically shattered remnants of a planet set in the 'Twisting Nether" where physics do not necessarily apply.
    • Sometimes, Good Bad Bugs allowed one to reach the far outside border of one of the continent maps. There's a massive strip of land out in the middle of the ocean that denotes the edge of the game world for each continent.
    • In Mist of Pandaria Wrathion conjures a projection of Azeroth, proving that it is indeed supposed to be spherical. This has apparently escaped the attention of all of its inhabitants as all travel between Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms always involves crossing the larger of the two oceans separating them and dodging around the deadly Maelstrom in the process. Traveling in the opposite direction ought to be faster and safer, with access to many unguarded fronts.


  • Round worlds are commonly seen in every Ratchet & Clank game since the second one, though they're not very big worlds, about the same landmass as a regular level.

Real-Time Strategy

  • Populous: The Beginning is a RTS from 1998 with with planets instead of maps, meaning that every world you fight on is round. If you zoom out, you'll see half the world. You can never see the entire world in one screen, but you can scroll in any direction. Your units can move in any direction as well. For a RTS this is quite remarkable.
  • One of Planetary Annihilation's main selling points, and its biggest breakaway from its spiritual predecessors, is that every battle takes place in a small solar system of actually spherical planets (elevation notwithstanding), with all the (lack of) restrictions on movement and building that implies.

Role-Playing Games

  • Most of the Might and Magic games have worlds that are literally flat and rectangular. There's no fence at the edge, so if you're not careful you can walk right off into outer space.
  • Final Fantasy VIII is a double subversion: if you orbit around the globe at an angle to the map, you'll notice that it doesn't match properly. The map simply doesn't make sense unless the world is a toroid.
  • Final Fantasy XII is the only exception in the Final Fantasy series so far. While the world map isn't freely navigable there's no indication of it looping.
    • Its sequel Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, however, fits this trope.
      • In both versions this is justified since the games take place in only a portion of the greater world of Ivalice and the map only covers that portion.
  • The Wild ARMs franchise is good about this.
    • The first game has a long, diagonal strip of land going from the southwest to the northeast, with oceans in the middle and southeast/northwest corners.(inverted in the remake) It's still a toroid, however.
    • The third is an utter mess of continents, most spanning the edges of the map.
  • The world in Secret of Mana actually is spherical. It rotates normally on the X-axis, but if you fly along the Y-axis long enough, you'll eventually see some of the countries scrolling by upside-down. Interestingly, this makes it harder to navigate since most players aren't used to viewing game worlds that way.
  • Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga has a fairly logical map and averts all this, with not only the world not looping, but it actually being shown to border the Mushroom Kingdom from the rest of the series. And you start by crossing over and getting past the border patrol station after Bowser's ship gets shot down by the villains. And there's a town home to immigrants from the Mushroom Kingdom right on the border complete with stylings based on other Mario games.
  • In Faria, every accessible land mass fits snugly within a rectangular world map, though this is All There in the Manual since you can only explore the world on foot.

Turn-Based Strategy