A work in progress but a start nonetheless.
The purpose of this guide is to help people generate maps with an understanding of the mechanics of map making as well as the way various layouts tend to be seen through a players perspective. This guide isn't meant to be the one's all guide as there are many methods and views to map making. Rather, this is just to bridge the divide and help answers questions for newcomers and veterans alike. Lastly, this guide will probably start out extremely disorganized as I'm not going to try and polish it off before I publish. Instead this guide will serve as an aggregation of techniques I've thought up or incorporated from others. Discourse is highly encouraged as it will streamline this process. The longer this goes on the more organized it will become.
First things first, there are two things that must be understood about map making. A map is only as good as the amount that players actually want to play it OR a map can be seen as good from an artistic point of view. These are not mutually exclusive but neither are they both needed to make a map good. As a map maker it is very easy to get sucked up in being overly concerned with trying to appease both these demands. While the truly exceptional map does meet both these criteria, its important to note that those maps are exceptional and the majority are not. Secondly, just because a map isn't exceptional doesn't make it bad. God's Great Divide or Ore Gardens are some of the most popular maps by plays -- there is obviously something good about them-- but that doesn't mean either map is a work of art. Likewise there are maps that are truly gorgeous and aesthetically pleasing to look at that never get played.
If your intention is to just make a work of art you can skip towards the end where the guide discusses tips and tricks to use on maps. The heart of this guide will not be very relevant to you. Instead, spend the time, craft the map, and post a screenshot and I'm sure plenty of people will say how great it looks. If your intention is to make a map that is generally laid back, meant for a large amount of players, or just a for fun once in a while play through this guide will also be limited in what it can do for you.
Lastly, don't be discouraged from trying things. Being creative can inspire others to try something different. If a map works other people may springboard off it and generate further maps cementing a genre. Just because a map is bad doesn't mean it is permanently bad. Pitfight for an example had a slew of revisions before it ended in the state it did. Finally, sit in a lobby and host your map. If you make maps but never host it chances are they won't get played. I'm guilty of this myself.
I think it would help a lot for people to have a common understanding of what the various jargon used in map making is and what it means. So here is a list that I'm sure will ever expand:
Small- A map generally less than 70x70 cells(for 1v1. No data for 2v2 yet), or the open areas of the map are often limited such as lanes or flanks.
Medium- A map larger than 70x70 but smaller than 90x90(for 1v1. No data for 2v2 yet) or the areas of the map are often semi limited such as lanes or flanks.
Large- A map larger than 90x90 but smaller than 110x110(for 1v1. No data for 2v2 yet) or the areas of the map are often open such as flanks or lanes.
Xlarge- A map larger than 110x110(for 1v1. No data for 2v2 yet) or the ares of the map are often unlimited or hardly limited such as flanks or lanes.
Big Boy- Big boy maps are maps that tend to be open and robust.
Open- Maps that tend to have open fields/paths and limited canalizing features
Closed- Maps that tend to have more canalizing features or fewer lanes/paths.
Naval- Maps centered around naval gameplay
Tech- Maps where teching up is preferable to other strategies.
Rush- Maps that tend to result in rushing as the most used tactic
Basepush- Maps that basepushing is a dominating strategy.
Do or die- Maps that a certain action must be taken or defeat is highly likely.
Chokey- used to indicate that elements such as cliffs, trees, water, etc, inhibit maneuverability to various extents. A map can be chokey for both naval and land units but seldom is this applied to air units.
Low Eco- Maps with a total mine count of 5-6 per player OR a total ore count less than 80,000.
Med Eco- Maps with a total mine count of 7-8 per player OR a total ore counter greater than 80,000 but less than 90,000.
High Eco- Maps with a total mine count of 8+ per player OR a total ore count greater than 90,000
Meta- Maps that are standard or generic. Maps like this often all exhibit similar layouts/characteristics. Additionally maps of this nature conform to the standard method of gameplay.
Offmeta- Maps that don't conform to a standard gameplay or are sufficiently different.
Spawn- Starting location of player's mcv.
Safe- Generally referring to expansions/civilian structures/areas that are hard for an opponent to take/kill.
Contestable- Generally referring to expansions/civilian structures/areas that are easy for opponents to battle over.
Capturables- Any civilian or neutral structure that can be captured by an engineer. Often give sort of advantage upon capture.
Lanes- paths of travel that are important for army movements.
Flanks- exposed areas can be unguarded by an opponent.
Harassment- Conditions that allow a player to attack with limited defensive recourse. Generally hit and run tactics on flanks.
Split- Maps that are split in half, often used in conjunction with the next 4 definitions.
Mirrored- Maps that are simply mirrored in some fashion (see also symmetrical).
Symmetrical- Maps that are the same on both sides (see also mirrored).
Parallel- Maps that expand parallel to each other.
Asymmetrical- Maps where both “halves” are not the same mechanically. Maps with different aesthetics but mirrored in ore, mine, or position ability are still considered symmetrical.
Aesthetics- A maps beauty factor
Play-ability- how competitively playable a map is
Replay-ability- how “Fun” a map is or how much players want to see it again
One off- A map that could be considered for at most a few games before it becomes stale.
Innovation- How inventive a map design or gameplay is. Generally very subjective and skewed towards competitive nature.
Balance- How fair a map is.
The Gold Standard- Maps considered part of the gold standard all tend to be meta maps to some extent. The spawns contain 2 ore mines with a larger amount of ore and 1 smaller mine with lesser ore. There are 2-3 expansions with 1 generally being safe and the others more contestable. Total mine count is 7 with 90-100k in total ore. There are usually 2-5 capturables. Maps tend to be open with 2-3 lanes. They offer flanks for various harassment. They tend to be large maps as well. No one strategy dominates the map but tech tends to be more uncommon.
Making Competitive 1v1 Maps:
Competitive maps must strike the balance of being playable, having a good amount of replay-ability, and near perfect balance. Because of this it is very hard to make a competitive map with much innovation or an aesthetically beautiful map. As a general rule of thumb, 59-62x59-62 is probably the smallest a map could be while still be competitive and not completely choking a map off. Also note that parabombs/artillery/nukes etc. become more powerful when there is limited ability to avoid them. That is not to say a map needs to be square. 59X71 worked just fine for Racetracks. There is probably an upper limited on how far away a length or width can be from its counter part. 59X90 would probably be too stretched. Likewise 110x110 is probably the biggest a map can get and still be competitive. Maps that big tend to drag games out as armies tend to take too long to cross the map. Chronospheres and air units become extremely powerful as they cut down on this problem. Various combinations of these sizes can produce good results.
Ore Mines cannot be lower than 6. Anything lower and eventually the game will stall to unplayable levels. Additionally more than 9 and the game tends to have too much money as the game goes on and players will find themselves unable to gain an advantage. Total ore also follows a similar philosophy. Less than 75,000 and players are going to struggle to build an army at all. Greater than 130,000 and players will be able to replace any lost army easily. Maps can have a higher number of mines to counteract a lower total ore count or vice versa.
Competitive maps cannot be extremely chokey as this produces stale gameplay and is frustrating from a players perspective. This is not to say that competitive maps must be completely open or not chokey at all. Certain places of the map can be chokey or a map can entertain different levels of chokes and still be competitively viable. If a main lane can be covered by 1 pillbox the lane is probably too small. Additionally if building is completely restricted due to cliffs, trees, houses, ore, or debris then players will quickly become frustrated. Frustration because of a map's features is not good. Lastly, its important to consider the effect of defensive structures and their ability to cap off ore fields. If its too easy to secure and ore field because cliffs block access to attack a defensive structure players will become highly frustrated.
Considerations for the different factions and the strategies/ build orders employed should be considered when making a map. Not every map needs to have every strategy treated equally, but no map should have one strategy be the only strategy viable. Common traits of such maps are maps that start with close spawns and immediately have an expansion that both players will likely contest for, do or die maps, basepush rush maps, maps in which 1 position can quickly threaten the spawn position of another player, maps overly force a certain build order or strategy, or maps where different factions have a distinct edge over the other(naval/xlarge/small maps).
Likewise not every map needs capturables, in fact its been a trend recently to throw capturables on. Maps without capturables can provide every bit of good games as maps with capturables. Maps that have an abundance of capturables often make opening besides double ref very weak as there is a need to cap or get behind. Each civilian capturable has a different aspect to consider. Oils are very strong and heavily influence early builds. Adding too many contestable oils in a single area can lead to do or die scenarios. There isn't a min or max number of oils a map can have. However, after 4 players will have to devote a significant force to either capture, destroy, or control. Trapped or Shadowfiend II are good examples of this. You cannot let an opponent control all the oil but all the oils are difficult to keep secure.
Communication centers are also very powerful as they provide a wide range of vision. A common mistake can be through one down in the middle of the map with oils near by. Doing this makes it very hard for an opponent to dislodge another until mid game rolls around. CC's should be placed in an area where their vision may provide a benefit but not necessary to the game. An example is the Communication Centers on The Great Divide. Both CC's there are not required to be capped, but they do provide an early detection for flanks.
Forward commands can also be tricky to implement. Having “must capture” forward commands can lead to do or die scenarios if the FC can be rushed. On the other side having a FC in no mans land probably will never be used. Proxy cheese like in StarCraft is unlikely to happen ORA. Placing FC's can be great in giving a player an option besides instant MCV's allowing a more robust strategy but it should be expected that eventually an MCV will have to replace the FC at some point in the game.
Hospitals tend to work better when there is more than 1 of them or in conjunction with other capturables. Their heal overall is very weak and the vision they provide is small. In soviet vs soviet match ups hospitals can provide an unexpected edge as soviets have no way to heal infantry.
Neutral structures can also be placed for capture. Pillboxes are common to help protect oil or control an area. Turrets can be placed on a ridge overlooking an ore patch, power plants can be replace a hospital or other civilian structure and add a further dynamic to gameplay, or fake structures for quick sell values. It is important to note that while other structures like barracks, radar domes, airfield etc have not be experimented with it is likely a bad mechanic and any addition of such structures would make the map noncompetitive. Having such structures would create do or die scenarios. Lastly, the same goes for bio labs.
Terrain is not hugely impactful on competitive map making. Snow tends to be bright and harsher on peoples eyes and can hide neutral structures easier. Temperate and desert both tend to be solid. Interior's biggest draw back is the lack of diversity in tiles and previews/mini maps being a bit confusing. What is more important in selecting a map palette is being aware of the restrictions of each tileset. For instance, desert being originally a TD tileset, does not restrict buildings on most debris around roads. Temperate and snow have numerous road tiles with debris that will inhibit building construction. Additionally, river tiles on desert take up a singular cell where as snow and temperate take up 2. Both temperate and snow tilesets have uneven shore tiles which can be painstaking for those developing maps with any sort of beach.
Making Competitive 2v2 Maps:
Tips and Tricks:
The following is a loose collection of tips and tricks that can be done either to help map maps unique.
1) Various road tiles can be blended together to create new tiles. (see fig. A)
2) Cliff tiles also can be manipulated with copy/paste. For example tiles 95/96 and 171/172 (the corner pieces with the ridge inbetween) can be copy/pasted so that 1 side becomes water and the other side becomes land. (see fig. A)
3) 3)Beach tiles can be cut up and pasted to create random bits of shore or to mash together different side shore pieces. (see fig. A) Additionally some shore tiles on the desert tileset can be placed together so that the water on them is passable.
4) Having smashed up and random beach tiles can be another element of aesthetics but they also act as another source for slowing units much in the same way passable debris slows units. Shore tiles greatly slow down wheeled vehicles and slow tracked vehicles but have no effect on infantry. Wheeled vehicles and infantry slow down on passable debris. All units slow down on ore.
5) Placing roads underneath ore will not make harvesters move faster while there is still ore but will grant a little speed boost after the ore is harvested off the road.
6) Trees can be used to hide obscene tile errors due to smashing together different sets. Or they can be used to cover uncompleted tiles like the rivers disappearing into the woods on the TD map Anthrax. Trees can also cover up a water tile's edges whilst still making it look nice.
7) Some actors like trees or the rocks on the Desert tileset look quite nice on water.
8 ) Ore/gem mines can be stacked onto of each other to create combo or double mines while only taking on one slot. This tends to go against competitive maps.
9) Ore/gem mines can also be hidden underneath actors so that they don't produce until the actor is destroyed like on the map Boneyard.
10) Boxes/utility poles can be destroyed completely with flame weaponry.
Could you clean the stickies/annoucements that are old, and replace with new ones, such as this? An archive sub-folder may be good for some categories to allow ease of retrieval of topics that are still relevant but out of date.
- x4 peripherals: single ore/gem mines w/ no gems/ore [2 are at the center of an intersection and ore mines]
- x2 naturals: lots of ore w/ ~2 mines
- x4 secondaries: moderate to low ore w/ 3 mines
- very few oils 0-4
- 32 mines equivalent [8/ player]
- ~$230,000 map total
- ~$70,000 at spawn [two patches]
- ~$32,000 at natural
- =<~$10,000 at secondary
- 5 mines at spawn
- x2 large " )( " 4-way intersections with a large path between them [connects main-main, natual-secondary]
- x4 thin sneak-paths [connects natual-natural/main-main, secondary-secondary]
- x2 moderately thin paths between expansions [connects natural-secondary]