Mapmakers make maps to create games never seen before. Wouldn't it be boring to have the same meal every day? Similarly, if all maps are the same, not only gamers but also spectators would be bored. So, even if a map could be a failure, we try new designs. Designs could be aesthetics but it also improve the gameplay.
This map column's theme is Design. Unlike the aesthetic design that can be seen easily, functional design can be difficult to understand if you don't design maps yourself. This is one of the charms of designs - An orange may not look tasty from the outside, but it's really delicious once you peel it. It is difficult for the map designer to communicate on an individual level on each feature. So, we make the players experience for themselves to communicate. I too try to communicate effectively by concentrating on the small details on an official map.
In this Map Column, I want to show you how MMAT(Mapdori Map Architect Team) creates maps. I hope that for other mapmakers, this can be a guide for mapmaking.
* What is MMAT? + Show Spoiler +
MMAT(Mapdori Map Architect Team) is the official KeSPA map design team since Brood-War. We make the maps on Proleague and Starleague. We created Python, Fignting Spirit in Brood-War and Neo Planet S, The King Sejong Station in Starcraft2.
#1 The Main
The main's role is the start and end the game. Unlike expansions which do not serve as much of a use after the resources run out, the main needs defending due to the production structures. We normally start from the main base, into the natural and the third and the battlefield. The following are the features that we consider.
- Size of Main
The size of main actually influences gameplay quite a bit. On one hand, if the main is too small, not many production buildings can be built during the mid game. On the other hand, if the main is too large, drops, Nydus Worms, and Warp Prisms become very strong. Therefore main size should be appropriate so proper games can be played.
- Reaper Path
In the early game, Terran can use the agile Reaper to scout the opponent's base. Using the Jet Pack, the Reaper can jump across cliffs and can heal using Combat Drugs. Therefore, it is very strong early game - and we design the entrances for the Reapers accordingly.
Protoss's Stalker can use Blink to teleport short distances. Fast Blink rushes are very powerful; therefore we create appropriate openings at the edge of the main base to balance it.
The first expansion, otherwise known as the Natural, is a stepping stone towards the mid game. After the Natural is taken, production ramps up, and players can decide whether to focus on production or economy. Since the Natural is such an important feature, many features must be examined to see if there are problematic elements.
- Natural Entrance
The Natural entrance is adjusted to allow expansions in ZvP. An opening of 9 grids is the standard, but depending on concepts of maps, the opening can be widened or tightened.
- Main-Natural Distance
If the distance between the main and the natural is too long, it takes a long time to come to defend the natural from the main. This distance is very important because whether the Bunker or the Photon Cannon finishes can change the outcome of the game. SCVs can live or die depending on the completion of the Bunker, and one more second can complete the Bunker. So, we adjust the distance to make sure it is not too hard to defend.
- Natural-Natural Distance.
It is also called the rush distance. If it is short, the time taken for the enemy to arrive is too short and defending will be tough. If it is long, there would be no movement during the early-mid game, and will create boring games. Rush distance should be adjusted so that both offense and defense are possible. It is usually, in real time, 24~32 seconds.
* Game time is 1.4x real time.
- Unbuildable Rocks
Unbuildable Rocks are neutral buildings that are placed so that players cannot block the entrance of the main in the early game. Without these rocks the entrance of the main can be blocked by 3 pylons or 2 bunkers and the aggressor can easily win the game. It is placed to prevent this.
- Cannon Rush
Cannon Rush is a strategy to cancel or disturb the natural expansion of the Zerg. If the space behind the mineral line at the natural is too small, the Protoss can use only 2 pylons to successfully finish his Photon Cannon, forcing a Pool-first from the Zerg. To prevent this, we make sure that Cannon Rushes are possible but make sure that the Zerg can defend it.
- Natural Gas Location
Information on the geysers in the Natural can give away the opponent's strategy. This is usually considered in ZvX Matchups. The location of the gas will be in the edge or towards the inside to adjust the ability of the Overlord to scout the geysers.
The Third strengthens the mid game and allows the transition to the lategame, and therefore is very important for the stability of mid game. It is important for gathering for a strong push as well. Large-scale battles unique to Starcraft 2 are based off of 3 bases.
- Natural-Third Distance and Defense
The disance between the Natural and the Third is related to the probability of a midgame. It is obvious that it is easier to defend if the third is closer; however, irregardless of distance, there can be other elements to change the difficulty of securing the third. Below are the examples.
1. Third is close to the natural and easy to defend
-> This will promote economic play.
2. Third is close to the natural but hard to defend
-> Economic play is possible, and aggressive play is also good. It is used in standard maps.
3. Third is far from the natural but easy to defend
-> Securing the Third is harder than eg. 2 but aggresive play and economic play are still both possible.
4. Third is far from the natural and hard to defend.
-> A formidable army is required to secure the Third. It can promote skirmishes.
- Possibility of Efficiency
In some maps, the Third may appear difficult to defend; however, with proper SimCity and army positioning, efficient defense is possible. For example, blocking one of the two entrances to the Third and leaving the other entrance for the army is one way. If you allow these kind of strategies in the map, the player with the higher understanding of the map will be able to have an advantage on the map.
- Choice of Expansions
In past maps, there were only one choice of thirds. However in modern maps, there are often a choice of Thirds. For 4 player maps, the third location can change with the opponent's starting location. This allows different developments in the game.
Eg.) King Sejong Station's expansions / Out Boxer's Island Exansion / Whirlwind's Choice of Thirds / Frost's Choice of Thirds
These are expansions taken in the late game. Because these expansions are located between each players, they are of high risk. However, failing to secure these bases will lead to defeat. There are no special guidelines to these bases, but they should be placed in accordance with the map's flow. In 4 player maps, the mains can replace 4~6ths.
#5 Main Battlefield
In the small scale, the battlefield can change skirmishes, and in the large scale it can change the outcome of the game. As such the main battlefield is an important feature. It must be designed with all three races in mind. Generally, tight areas favor Terran, and wide open areas favor Zerg.
- Width of Paths
Paths can be wide or narrow. In general, Protosses look to split the opponent's army so a distance of 4~6 forcefields should be maintained. Too narrow, and Protoss can abuse Forcefields, and too open and Protoss will lose fights. Depending on the map, a large path or many small ones are used.
- Control Points
Control Points restrict army's movement and promotes a check before an army can pass through. Common examples are hills or ditches, as well as Bushes. Players can use these points for more efficient engagements. Rock Towers and Xel'Naga Towers can achieve the same effect.
#6 Detailed Work
Detailed Work include fixing bugs that can occur to improve the quality and balance of the map. These include checking the footprint for doodads, the range for Siege Tanks and other aspects that can interfere with game balance.
- Footprint for Doodads
Footprints are ares where units cannot go to set in the Editor. Normally in decorating the map, Doodads' angles and scales are changed. However, the footprint of those Doodads are not changed. So, the footprint must be manually painted in. Other areas where units should be be able to traverse will be filled in to prevent bugs.
- Siege Mode
Siege Mode is an ability that has the highest range in the game. Therefore players can use terrain to maximize this ability's usage. However, if too big of an advantage can be gained by using Siege Mode, the terrain must be altered to alleviate this. An example from Starcraft:BW was a terrain in Luna where Siege Tanks could be dropped with no way to reach it without air units.
- Checking the resource placements
Checking the resource counts to be 8 minerals and 2 gases must be checked. Occasionally, 2 mineral patches can be stacked on top of each other, and extractors may not be able to be built on geysers. Moreover, if the rate of gathering is too low, the positioning of mineral patches should be changed.
- Internal Testing
When a map is in a playable state, Pro Teams are asked to test the maps. This is where bugs and imbalances are caught.
#7 Polish Work
When the balancing of the map is finished, the map is polished. Aesthetics are completed and the lighting is altered to make the map brighter. This is beneficial for players and distinguishing units in broadcasts. When this is done, the first version (1.0) is finished.
- Design Work
In playtesting, only the bare bones of the map are completed as many parts can be altered. After the testing, the design of the map is focused on.
- Lighting Work
When designing the interior of a house, the lighting can change the mood. Similarly the mood can be change in maps. The mood and the visibility is improved when doing lighting work.
#etc Easter Eggs
When playing the campaign, there are sometimes interesting doodads. These are called Easter Eggs, and maps by MMAT also contain them. They exist in different forms, such as a time-based event or a simple doodad.
Recently, I helped out with a map contest by Team Crux. The candidate maps were under scrutiny as it was to be used in an amateur leagues, but over half of the maps had serious bug issues. Without playtesting, even if it is an amateur league, the players may be been in an unfair situation.
Because of this incident I wanted to create an article to help mappers and viewers interested in maps. I hope the column wasn't too heavy and fun to read, as I had fun writing it.
To end, I want to say that I don't think a solid layout and good design necesarily makes a good map. Wouldn't a map where each detailed can be explained why it was designed like so a "Good Map"?
I will see you with maps
Written by Jacky (Geun ho Park)
Translated by Semmo (Sun woo Kim)
Presented by Mapdori Map Architect Team (MMAT)
Twitter : @JackSolute
Homepage : JACKSOLUTE.COM