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Use the GDC 2021 Session Viewer to browse and sort the ever-growing list of sessions by day, time, pass type, topic, and format. All registered attendees will be able to build their personal schedule directly within the event platform, once live early July 2021. All times are listed in Pacific Time.

Stop Getting Lost: Make Cognitive Maps, Not Levels

Nicolas Oueijan  (Game Designer, thatgamecompany)

Date: Friday, July 23

Time: 4:20pm - 4:50pm

Pass Type: All Access Pass, Core Pass

Topic: Design

Format: Session

Vault Recording: Video

Audience Level: N/A: I prefer to present live on-site but I am open to delivering a virtual presentation

Unless a game is explicitly about navigation, getting lost in it will almost always result in an awkward and frustrating experience. This age-old problem plagued architects and urban planners long before it plagued designers in the game industry. Luckily, level designers and environment artists have the opportunity to learn valuable lessons from these more experienced disciplines. This talk will leverage cognitive science, anthropological, and urbanism research to explore what it means to get lost and how spaces can be designed to prevent this from happening. By identifying elements in the built environment that contribute to more comprehensive cognitive maps, developers can start creating virtual environments that are more navigable, memorable, and less likely to disorient players.


Practical takeaways include learning what cognitive maps are and how to use a level design toolkit to ensure players do not get lost. The toolkit in question comes from conclusions made by urbanists and cognitive science researchers about what types of environments keep people oriented.

Intended Audience

Level designers and environment artists, particularly those responsible for creating freely navigable and open-world spaces, look to gain the most from this talk. No prerequisite knowledge of cognitive mapping or wayfinding fundamentals are required. Developers from other disciplines are also welcome, and will not the subject matter.