So, this is a thread I've wanted to write for a while. And with what feels like a bit of a surge of new maps coming in, what better time to write this up. Hopefully it'll spark some interest and get the thinking caps on for some amazing maps to be turned out.
I want to be clear, that while I'll talk about how design can favour different teams, this doesn't mean that any map completely favours one side. Obviously an open area can favour Nod early on etc, but one can argue that it's still balanced in that situation... this thread isn't about that. This thread is about how to design a map to play in a certain way, that is, to make your map emphasise certain strategies, rather than a list of "do's" and "Don'ts".
If your focus is simply: "Make it balanced" I can't help you.
This is also not a thread about how to use the editor.
I will be using my own maps for reference, this isn't because my maps are better, but because I understand the purpose in their design and have played them frequently enough to understand them.
And I'll be talking about my own design techniques in mapping. If you don't like it, don't do it. No one's forcing you.
This is simply a thread about designing/developing your own maps. This largely works through 3 steps.
I aim to include:
-How to actually go through a design process before opening the map maker/editor.
-Looking at the tiles available; especially cliff tiles, and how they fit together. (We will assume you want to make your map tiles fit graphically).
-Why bridges/rivers are "harder" to use.
-How to create a flow for builds... base expansion vs turtle maps (macro).
-How to utilise different sized paths/areas to create different types of engagements (micro).
-How distance can affect strategies , and how larger maps don't always mean longer distances.
-How Tiberium influences the economy (harvester pathing).
-How Tiberium can influence units compositions.
-How Tiberium can make defensive or aggressive strategies more popular.
Step 1: Pre-editor design.
Now, I know you're all rubbing your hands together in excitement with your editors open... so go ahead and close the map editor.
This is where most people slip up a bit. They open the editor and just start slapping down tiles. This isn't "wrong", but it may leave you with a product that's less than what you wanted, as you've largely skipped the design phase. So, before opening the editor, go ahead and open MSpaint. Yep, you heard that right.
You'll want a really crappy version of it, too, like the '98 version. You want one where you can draw pixel by pixel, rather than one where using the 'pencil' tool will instead create a softening effect as you draw. We want pixels!
The max size for a TD map is 64x64, yet, with the border cells dropped off, so in truth, it's 62x62. Open paint, and drag the canvas to be 64x64, and place a 1 cell border around it. Zoom to either the 6x or 8x so that you can see those pixels really easy. What you're going to be doing is drawing your whole map pixel by pixel, and then transferring it over, into the editor.
This is because it's much easier to move large amounts of tiles around and see the map as a whole (see if you like it) without having to constantly start over. It's easier than it sounds, too.
IF you want to have rivers in your map, it's often important to start with them, as their shapes are not simple/logical. If cliffs move through them, you're going to have to make sure that the cliffs line up with the special waterfall piece. Remember that rivers always flow south and west, yet never east and north. If you're new to mapping my advice is to just stay away from them. This is because rivers that move along the whole map can only be crossed by fords and bridges, and BOTH of these are essentially 1 cell wide. Design wise, that's the same as placing cliffs so close that they only leave 1 cell gaps (something that most people don't want on their maps). Note that you also cannot just turn it into a pool/dead end, the river tiles, if placed correctly, must keep placing more and more river tiles, essentially splitting the entire map where the river runs. Bridges in particular also face N/S, which in stalemate situations will advantage the southern player. This can be both frustrating and make for long drawn out games with not much happening (while one person has a small advantage and grinds the other person down).
So, let's keep it simple and start with our cliffs or ridges, however you want to say. These are mostly 2x2 in size, and even more commonly, they are all 4 cells big. They are either running N/S or E/W. There is no true 45 Degree cliff, and this also sometimes catches people out. Cliffs can fall in all 4 directions N,E,S,W, yet N/S are basically the same in game, as is E/W. The only big difference is the cliff ends, some which are 2 or 3 cells in size.
Let's look at the basic shapes here:
The small arrows show where other cliff tiles can be placed next to. Fitting together like building blocks.
The Blue tiles are the strait cliff pieces each strait cliff has 3 graphical types so that your cliff is not looking like the same tile over and over (This is the only piece that has multiple forms), the green ones are similar to the blues in that they will continue to build more cliff yet they will offset the cliff by 1 cell, the purple ones bring the cliff to an end and the red ones turn your cliff, so that you can start building in a totally new direction.
There are some tiles which allow cliffs from different directions to be placed, but they are mostly not needed. We'll be skipping them here, but if you'd like to use them, they are in the editor.
Here's an example of the pieces fitting together:
Now, it's worth noting that some of the purple tiles are different shapes, some are just 2 cells on top of one another, and some are 3 cells. For simplicity's sake, we're just going to keep them 2x2 in the design phase, note that you can just add some extra terran/bits'n'bobs to fill gaps if it's part of a choke that you want to be a specific number of cells.
Note also that this shape could be showing a high ground, or a crater, both with an access point. In game, it will play out the same, but aesthetically you may want it to feel a certain way.
Using this system, we can pixel paint entire maps in MSpaint. Moving bits around, rotating/flipping parts with ease, as well as changing the whole size of the map, as we go. You can literally design half of your map, and then by copying the entire canvas, flipping or rotating 180, then pasting the original over the top (with transparent background so that your new flipped/rotated image is also showing), you can preview your full map... don't like it? hit ctrl Z two times to go back to your half design to keep fiddling.
Here's an example of this. Note that we're now working pixel by pixel:
(I've kept the colours for now)
This is what your picture might look like when zoomed in about 6x or so.
Now, let's say you wanted to have this map top left v bottom right, using circular symmetry.
Select all, Copy, Flip 180, Paste, and make sure the paste transparency tool it turned on (that's the little picture of cylinder, sphere and cube).
And then we'd have this:
Now, from here maybe you want the map to be more direct combat, and want the spawns closer. You can go ahead and simply drag the entire new area closer to your start position... Note that in this case, we're also reducing the map size, as we're wanting a more 'close quarters' feel.
Now we have that feel, yet, this change has made it into a N v S battle. We might want to avoid that, as units firing into the north get +1 range. So let's go ahead and turn the entire map 90 degrees. And then move everything to the north east most area within the black square.
From here, we'd just add some tiberium and start locations. We can use the same rotational trick to get the symmetry just right, but make sure that when you're doing this, that you resize the canvas, as MSpaint will rotate the ENTIRE picture.
From here you would finally open XCCeditor and begin building your map. Keep your little blueprint of your map open to guide you as you make a pixel perfect map.
By hovering over the pixels in MSpaint, you get a read out of the X/Y axis of each pixel. You can use this to see directly where all the tiles are fitting in your map, as there is also a read out of X/Y in XCCeditor.
I also suggest you keep your little picture of your maps. Not only do they look cool, but you can later move things around to give you ideas for later maps and look at things you could have done better in design.
Step 2: Paths/Areas.
This step is all about understanding how units move against one another, and how to create a map with engaging micro. To understand this, we're going to look at some of my own maps; what their initial design was, and how it actually ended up playing out (they can often end up playing different to how they were intended, for better or worse).
Firstly, we're going to deal with the philosophy of starting in a closed area and slowly opening up. We're going to look at (Wht)Iron Valley.
The original idea of Iron valley was to have 2 consecutive circles around each base, and each of these circles would have 2 entrances, and within each circle there would be a patch of tiberium. Outside the second circle there would be a 3rd tiberium patch that would stretch away from the safety of the circle, and off in the distance, a forth one, which would be more accessible for enemy units, than your own. (Ultimately creating 2 battles over resources... this area later become the popular 4th location for the opponent, and of course, your opponent's 4th, as your own. Finally, in the middle of the map, there would be a tiberium free zone, where larger skirmishes could take place, and a bit of terrain to dart around and try to use to your advantage.
We can see the original concept of 2 rings with 2 openings in them, marked in green, however, the match doesn't really play out like that, and marked in blue, is more how it actually feels. This is because expanding into the second area happens almost instantly (before units can even get across the map), so SOME of the second area is instantly claimed, and the 4th tiberium patch is locked right off, and can also be used as part of the wall.
In the Red and Gold we can see the idea of how units were meant to path and behave. On the right we can see how there were meant to be two layers of defence. How it actually turned out is a bit more boring, but at least offensive and defensive micro were in the game... and how well you used it did actually change the outcome of the game. On extremely open maps, I find that you can often have very good micro, and yet it simply doesn't matter.
We can see the original idea for the expansion, which, in hind sight seems like insanity to take. Taking the 4th that's closer to your own starting position is far more fluent, as you're already patrolling the path up and down between the inner and outer circles, and it's much safer with the cliff protecting from opposing attacks once you do take it, not to mention that it's NO WHERE NEAR your opponent's base, if they also take their safe 4th.
I think the way that this snuck in was that I expected to expand along that long stretch of tiberium that the 3rd is... and from there it would be obvious to take the other 4th. It's also worth noting that the map was designed as a 1/2 and then copy/pasted using the rotation tool.
Fig. C we can see the 'no tiberium area' for skirmishes, and this worked out just great. The best battles do indeed take place in the middle and darting around the bits and bobs in that area is loads of fun.
Despite things turning out differently to how I imagined them, I still like the map and recommend it, especially to newer GDI players who are trying to learn to put up an economy while holding 1 ref rushes. The safer expands mean that so long as you focus on production (unit and structure) you can reap a lot of benefits, but perhaps it's biggest downfall is that with it being so defensive, it often mines out... and with this knowledge, I started on my next map, Frosted Hostilities.
Frosted Hostilities is a map that I tried to utilise what I'd learned from Iron Valley, and expand on it. So I'd learned how to keep the main area quite safe, and while I was happy with that, I wanted to create more conflict over fields, and one simple feature of an SCII map caught my attention.
Blistering Sands, not to be confused with the C&C map of the same name, has a shorter distance of harassment between the starting position and the 2nd resource spot than it does a defending path.
This is a really simple concept that I wanted to play with to bring more aggression to the map, while still leaving dependable areas, that open up more and more as you expand, finally expanding right out into the open. It's also worth noting that in this particular map, there are rocks that block the path into the starting area, that need to be destroyed first. This helps to buy time for someone that's being assaulted early.
I also wanted to play more with the idea of alternate expansion paths, so that you could decide more for yourself where you wanted to expand, rather than having it all written out for you. And I wanted that choice to make a difference. One would be more defensive, yet slower to capture the field (slow and steady), while the other would take a more risky approach of rushing to capture the map, while being more wide open to have your economy raided.
Finally, I wanted to make sure that the final tiberium fields were well out in the open, so that in the end, there would be true contention points to squabble over the last of the resources.
Because of the way that expanding works in C&C, the original idea of the shorter aggression path is hard to get to work properly... but it is there, and trying to defend both rings is actually really hard. One of the issues is that the expansion path between the start and defensive expansion is so tight that once you build in it, it's hard to squeeze through units (there's only 3 cells, so 1 cell once you place a power plant/barracks etc into it). I wonder if I'd cut the cliff along the pink line, if it'd helped to fix that.
Regardless, it's certainly far more aggressive, to the point that I'd say, despite the available space to defend a factory easily, this is a map that's easy to take advantage of a slower opponent, IF you know what you're doing.
I've also laid out the 2 expanding circles which was a staple of design in Iron Valley.
You can see the two expansion paths here. You can see how expanding out into the open feels more dangerous to raids, yet also gives you the opportunity to steal an opponent's field off of them in the later parts of the game, giving you an economic advantage.
Once again there's a tiberium free zone, this time taking up almost the whole map (Red). Units are much freer to run around and 4 of the tiberium fields back strait onto it. No one's safe, and yet, all of the blossom trees (3 to a field) are out on these fields (Blue). The map often feels like it's split into 2 lanes that run horizontally across the top and bottom, as both players try to take control of more fields. The paths for aggression make it less likely to mine out on, though it's not unheard of.
When I started making both of these maps, I had in mind the idea of making balanced maps. The idea that a map could be almost 100% fair. While I do think that map design obviously plays a massive role in balance, the idea of making a map 'fair' is a delusion.
This is because while a map might become fair under a certain meta, it's likely for a meta to change if certain strategies don't work, and therefor become once again unfair, under a new meta game. In other words, if you change the rules, people will play differently.
Largely giving up on the ideas of balance, I decided to explore another avenue; features!
Finding interesting features on maps and implementing them into C&C95. I'd found an SCII map with a cool spiral theme and imagined all my favourite units circling around it.
Quarry was a breath of fresh air to make. I was no longer worried about balance, but instead just wanted to focus on making something new. It's a map that hadn't really been seen in C&C before, and translating it from an SCII map wasn't too difficult, either. But there were three unforeseen things with this map that I didn't intend when making it. Both of them, I consider good, or at the very lest, not bad.
Firstly, the map is MASSIVE. It feels like it goes on and on forever, even though it is, of course, no bigger than other C&C95 maps. The Second thing is that 2 of the fields had the feeling of being contended in a way that really feels like the whole game is going to come down to this struggle. And the third thing was the use of artillery units to fire into other lanes... a concept that I've been looking to recreate in future maps (so stay tuned for that one).
There was also a return of the familiar mirror micro that iron valley so well captures, yet this time, parallel to a cliff, but darting back and forth around the cliff ends.
In the SCII version you could actually move through the middle... and when I made this I took a LONG time considering if I wanted the middle locked off, or not. From the games I played on it's SCII version well over 50% of them were just battles strait through the middle. I wanted this version to really get people moving the units around the map and using all the pathways. It's arguable that the map would be "better" with it open, but I'm happy with it as it is.
This created an unforeseen event of the map becoming HUGE! Because all the other paths are so far to get to your opponent, the distance travelled, is so long, the feel of the map is that it's much larger. This is a decent (thought there could be better) example of using paths to create the feeling of a larger map. Interestingly, though, while larger maps often favour light vehicles, in this case, due to the claustrophobia of the map, they have a more limited role (thought certainly not unusable). Imagine a map with even more of the centre paths locked off, it could be made to feel even bigger.
Worth also noting that the green circles that show the initial expansion are pretty much, in truth, just one large circle. This map gave up on the idea of even bothering to have the back and forth micro within the main base. It's fine. Further more, they're quite pushed back. People have often thought that Iron Valley was not full length, that the map is very small. It's actually as wide as it can be made, yet the initial defensive locations stretch quite far out, giving it a smaller feel. You can reach your opponent in a more direct path than on a map like Quarry.
It's also worth noting that flyers are very potent on maps that utilise this sort of terrain. This is because they're still moving on the same sized map (because they move OVER the walls)... and of course are already very fast moving units.
This one shows the natural expansion path. This time we've gone further back to the Iron Valley version where you're pretty much forced to go one way. the 3rd and 4th patches can be taken differently, and you could maybe even go for the 5th before the 4th, but it's the 6th area where this gets interesting.
Remember in iron Valley where I talked about the idea of your final tiberium patch being close to your opponent's base and therefor being a big fight... and with the idea that your opponent would be doing the same, that there would be a split fight over 2 patches... yep. And I didn't even plan it here.
It happens, because it's too far to get to with your start up structures. It'd greatly hurt your economy in the mid game, so you leave it alone... later on, your opponent is, or what feels like, picking money out of your pocket. So some silo's later, you're over there trying to stop them... and you're opponent is doing the same on their side. It's great, too, because the battle happens E/W so that there's no southern advantage.
This shows two things:
Firstly, the Blue dots show how artillery units can be placed in safe locations to fire out into lanes. The one right in the middle is a particularly powerful spot, as it's so hard to reach to be able to shut it down.
The other arrows show the back and forth micro around the cliff edges, creating constant tension as players look for openings, and those mirroring, to defend important areas of the map.
After fiddling with the size things in Quarry, I decided to go the opposite direction. I wanted to make a small map, but not one that would necessarily end in an instant. I wanted people to be able to rush down their opponent who maybe playing greedy, yet I didn't want it to be the only tactic.
(Wht)Rush Down Rampage:
Rush Down Rampage has 3 main features.
1. It's small (duh). This means you can get across the field FAST and start putting on the pressure IMMEDIATELY. So much so that even 1 ref strip builds can feel greedy and can get punished by infantry pushes. This is accentuated by the fact that there's a direct path from both bases, strait to their opponent's.
2. There's paths that cross the middle, and the further down the map you move, the more the map opens up.
3. There's these long paths that lead from the main bases of both opponents right down to the bottom.
This is a map where being aggressive at the start is kinda the point. This path makes the map feel small near the start of the game, especially, because not only is the map smaller than the biggest size, but this path leads directly between two quite close start positions, yet as we move over to Fig. B, we find that this map has some surprises up it's sleeve.
There's no second expansion path in this one. It's worth noting that you expand TOWARDS your opponent at the the beginning. Making this map that much more potent. The further you move down the map, the more it opens up, and once again we see that familiar micro pattern that we saw in Quarry around the cliff ends.
The interesting part about this, is that at the point where the initial rushes are held, the pathways get blocked, and this creates stability in the game, where, on a totally open map, it's just never ending. It rewards well placed units/defences.
As both opponents expand down the map, the paths in the middle get more and more heated... eventually someone's gonna push through. As soon as this happens, they're underneath their opponent and gain southern advantage. This map utilises what's considered a bug in order to create potency for those who can push through the E/W struggle.
The little side path's are also highlighted here... The paths can be used at almost any point in the game, either by catching your opponent off guard at the beginning, or by moving through while your opponent is trying to hold the middle paths safe later on. It also utilises southern advantage to give the aggressor that extra boost.
While this might feel like an abrupt end to part two, it gives ideas on how maps create contention points in different ways. From dependable paths to important resource areas. Opening maps up gives space for aggression, yet if paths are made correctly, they too can be used for aggression (just because a map has more chokes, doesn't mean you can't think about HOW an aggressor with operate and how the two play styles will mingle during a match.
Part three is in the making, but it might be a couple of days away.
Once again, you can ask questions, but just be aware that your question might be answered later on.