When I was still working for Red Pumpkin, my boss wanted to make a Final Fantasy Tactics style of game.
It came to a point where they were deciding between a square or hex grid for the map.
I immediately suggested a gridless system where units move like in an RTS. They didn’t like the idea at the time though.
That suggestion of mine came from me playing this old 1997 game called Return to Krondor. An RPG game where they don’t make use of a grid for movement.
Recent videogames that do this include the soon to release indie game Skulls of the Shogun, the 2007 portable console game Warhammer 40,000: Squad Command, and the console game, Phantom Brave, first released on the PS2 on 2004.
So across indie and AAA, East and West, Console and PC, if done properly, the idea of gridless movement has been proven to work.
If we want to talk about which game really came with the idea of gridless maps first, we would need to move outside of videogames and look at earlier games.
It would be in tabletop wargames, which you could roughly categorize as kind-of like board games, in case you don’t know what they are. Imagine Chess but a little bit more realistic.
Certain tabletop wargames require your use of a measuring tape to facilitate troop movement, instead of the usual square grid that games like Chess uses.
I don’t know which videogame started using the idea first, but I can recount a few of the popular ones.
In the west, this was followed by the Bioware series of RPG’s, which started with Baldur’s Gate. It followed through to Icewind Dale, Neverwinter Nights, and the latest, Dragon Age.
- Baldur’s Gate, 1998
- Planescape: Torment, 1999
- Icewind Dale, 2000
- Neverwinter Nights, 2002
- Neverwinter Nights 2, 2006
- Dragon Age: Origins, 2009
All these games do not use turn-based per se. They use a mechanic that could be called pausable real-time.
In Japan, here are a few games:
- Grandia, a console game first released on the Sega Saturn in 1997, has a PS1 port
- Growlanser, first released on the PS1 on 1999
- Skies of Arcadia, first released on the Sega Dreamcast in 2000
- Phantom Brave, a console game first released on 2004 as a PS2 game
- 2005 PS2 game, Makai Kingdom: Chronicles of the Sacred Tome
- 2006 PS2 game, Chaos Wars