• 0.960960960960961

    posted a message on Nemesis (RPG Campaign)

    Hi, guys!

    Having finally finished my job as a newspaper editor at my school, I might have some free time to do map creation again. I can't promise too much, but it was a lot of fun last time, so I figured I could at least start a thread and show you some of the ideas I have. It's all very rough at the moment, but I do have some story threads (including an ending, which always helps), some characters, and a general idea of what I want this thing to be.

    So, what the hell is this? Nemesis is a 10-mission RPG campaign where you control a different hero for each mission (from all three races). No hero is played twice, creating a zig-zag-like narrative that jumps from character to character. The campaign will be heavy on story, with a lot of it happening in the background, either filtered through other characters (creating the possibility of distortion) or through the news. The story will be heavy with politics, starting with the death of a sector president, and then moving the election that follows.


    Now, I feel pretty confident about terrain and story, but I'm not strong with the data editor. Considering this endeavor will make use of quite a few heroes, I might be needing some help with that. If anyone else has something they want to help with (art and models is another thing I suck at), feel free to let me know.

    Obviously, since this is just in the planning stages, I can't tell when I'll start the work. But I'll keep you updated as I create more stuff, and I'm happy to receive ideas! Cheers!

    Posted in: Project Workplace
  • 1.31177336454924

    posted a message on Why the Story of StarCraft 2 Failed


    It’s now been 7 years since StarCraft 2 was released. In that time, we’ve had one game, two expansion packs, as well as a DLC that seems to have wrapped up the story (for the time being, anyway). It took even longer—a whopping 12 years—for Blizzard to follow up Brood War with a sequel. In the meantime, they released a spiritual sequel (WarCraft 3) as well what would become their most popular game (World of WarCraft).


    World of WarCraft


    Though Wings of Liberty was met with critical acclaim in 2010, there were few who would defend its story (I should know, as I frequented the forums quite a bit in those days, and I rarely saw a positive review). Heart of the Swarm came out in 2013, doing little to remedy the damage, while Legacy of the Void came out in 2015, and is generally seen as having the best story.


    I was one of the few who didn’t much mind the story of WOL. I didn’t necessarily disagree with all the arguments that were made against it, but I enjoyed the game, and felt a need to be honest about my feelings. However, with the release of HOTS, I finally succumbed to the band wagon, realizing that the story I wanted wasn’t the one I had gotten. I had expected the dark middle chapter, but got a story that doubled down on WOL’s most ludicrious parts. In fact, I would argue that the damage HOTS did was so large, that it retroactively reduced the quality of WOL in my eyes.


    Legacy of the Void


    Like others, I share the opinion that LOTV is the best of the bunch. Its story is more engaging than the last two, and it is a sort-of-fitting coda to the trilogy. However, I suspect the reason I say this is because by the time LOTV was released, I had settled with the fact that Blizzard wasn’t going to change their tune. That is not insignificant. LOTV ends with the very “all races team up to fight the ultimate evil” plot point that everyone was fearing, but because we had been given five years to grapple with the fact that there was no way around it, enjoying it for what it was becoming easier.


    Despite that, there is no point denying that Blizzard took their shot at the story and missed. This doesn’t even seem a case of majority opinion overwhelming the minority. Hardly anyone seems that willing to defend the story. And as I’ll argue in this essay, they are justified in doing so.

    My Theory on Why the Story Failed

    There are many arguments on why SC2’s story failed to engage its audience: the story was clichéd and “Hollywoodized”, there was too much emphasis on prophecies, there were too many plot holes, and so on. While I don’t disagree with these arguments, I don’t think they can fully explain why the story failed. To do that, we must dig deeper, explaining how the clichés turned up in the first place, as well as why the plot holes emerged.


    There are two explanations that, in my eyes, help explain most of the criticism levied at the story. The first of this is that Blizzard took a deeply cynical story and forced it to become idealistic. The second is that Blizzard simply didn’t put up enough legwork into crafting a complex story, which resulted in not only plot holes, but strange contradictions and retcons as well. More on that after the jump.

    From Cynicism to Idealism

    The original StarCraft is deeply cynical. In Episode I, we play as a group of rebels lead by a man who turns out to be just as bad (if not worse) than the ones we are trying to overthrow. Victory is bittersweet, because while the heroes technically succeed in their mission (to destroy the Confederacy), nothing really seems to have been won. The system hasn’t changed, Kerrigan is (presumably dead), and Raynor has gone from being a marshal to a branded criminal (as well as a man with little reason to live).


    Original SC


    In Episode II, we play as the Zerg, who are basically pure evil, which means they actually achieve their goal (for a time being, anyway): Kerrigan comes back infested, and the Overmind’s invasion of Aiur is successful (as we complete the campaign with its body fully integrated into the surface of the Protoss homeworld). Finally, in episode III, we play as the Protoss, who do defeat the Overmind, but not after a bitter civil war that nearly destroys them all. To pour salt in the wound, the victory turns out to be bittersweet, as the Protoss must flee Aiur from the remaining feral Zerg.


    Things become even worse in Brood War, in ways I don’t I need to repeat. It’s a story populated by heroes that are hopelessly outmatched by the villains, time and time again. Even before Kerrigan wins at the end of the game, the UED—another foe—gets to have their victory too. That’s two villain factions winning for one hero faction winning (the Protoss does actually succeed in reclaiming Shakurs in Episode IV, though obviously not without some losses).




    The story of StarCraft is deeply cynical, and the story of its sequel is not. Now, it should be mentioned there is nothing inherently superior about cynicism than idealism. The point that I’m trying to make is not that SC2 crashed because of idealism, but rather because it changed the core worldview of the story, and for no good discernable reason. Chris Metzen has claimed he was an angrier man back in the 90s than he is now, which explains why the worldview of the story changed, though not why it had to.


    It is possible to create a story that starts out dark and then becomes lighter. It is, after all, the standard recipe for storytelling. First, there must be a conflict, and only after can the heroes succeed. But the change from cynicism to idealism is too abrupt in StarCraft to be believable, having only occurred because the writers wanted it, and not because the characters achieved it. It is telling that the change occurs between the first and second game too. Already from the get-go, SC2 was a different beast than its predecessor.




    It didn’t seem so, though. When the story of WOL begins, everything looks incredibly hopeless: Raynor is fighting a seemingly unwinnable fight against Arcturus Mengsk, and only after three missions, Kerrigan arrives once more, threatening to “finish the job”. True, there is a short moment of Raynor gazing longingly at a picture of Kerrigan (a hint of where the story will go), but apart from that, the beginning of WOL’s story doesn’t much contradict where BW left off.


    In fact, part of the reason I think I responded so well to WOL (despite its many shortcomings), is that, for the most part, it fits the original game’s cynical worldview. Raynor is an alchoholic who has given up hope, the colonists on Agria are being ignored by the Dominion, and Raynor’s new allies—Tychus and Tosh, specifically—are a traitor criminal and an unstable soldier who only wants defeat Mengsk and have no hope that a positive change is possible (Dr. Hanson is an exception, though her becoming infested is obviously not very idealistic).


    It is really only when the larger story starts to creep in that the problems begin to emerge. Yes, I could make some points about how the non-linear storytelling all but killed the pacing of the second act, but that is only a minor complaint. The major issue is still the direction the writers decided to go with Kerrigan. Now, there are two problems here. The first is that Blizzard decided that Raynor loves Kerrigan and wants to save her instead of killing her, which totally negates their last encounter in Brood War (True Colors, to be more specific). The second is that Kerrigan is now destined to be a savior. Now, that could have been a great source of dramatic tension. After all, the trope where the enemy is the key to victory is what Blizzard did in Episode III with the Dark Templar. But Blizzard squanders the potential of this opportunity completely, by essentially whitewashing Kerrigan. Instead of being a necessary evil, Kerrigan is just... forgiven.


    There are major problems with this. While I agree that Kerrigan and the Queen of Blades have never been the same person (the change in personality in Episode II is too strong and abrupt for that), there is something deeply troubling with Blizzard not only forgetting how many Kerrigan have killed, but also that one of them (Fenix) was a dear friend to Raynor. In fact, this is something practically everyone who played the campaign managed to notice, while Blizzard didn’t. This point is proven when Raynor finally mentions Fenix in HOTS, no doubt because Blizzard read the criticism of WOL and realized their error only too late.


    Kerrigan and Raynor


    There is nothing wrong with changing past errors. After all, this sort of flexibility is one of the reasons LOTV is the best part of the trilogy. The problem is that these errors occur because Blizzard essentially forced a change in worldview in the story. By essentially wanting the story to be idealistic, Blizzard has to ignore common logic, meaning Raynor not only goes from wanting to kill Kerrigan to kiss her, but casually forgets the death of his friend in the process. It’s not that Blizzard doesn’t understand Raynor, it’s just that they want him to be someone he’s not.


    There are other examples in the story that shows how the changed worldview has dire consequences (the Protoss being more united than ever is one of them), but this is the most significant. The whitewashing of Kerrigan ripples out throughout the rest of the story, with HOTS becoming her redemption arc, and LOTV becoming what we were essentially promised in the first place: the three races uniting together against a common enemy to defeat Amon, with Kerrigan dealing the final blow.

    A Decline in Complexity

    In this second part of the article, I will argue that SC2 is a less complex game than its predecessor, not necessarily in terms of thematic depth, but rather in the structure of the story. I argue that Blizzard put a lot of thought into small details in the first game, and less so in the sequel, and that this had an impact on the quality of the story.

    The Problem With Blizzard’s RTS Story Structure

    One of the hardest things about telling a campaign in a Blizzard RTS is their one-race-at-a-time structure. Now, it’s not hard to see why they do it this way. After all, changing perspectives mid-story has a serious impact on the gameplay, as we have to begin to learn a new race just as we started to get the hang of another (essentially creating the longest training arc ever, instead of splitting them into pieces). It’s also more natural for non-interactive stories to have changing perspectives. Games (particularly ones where you control entire races, and not just single characters) require a different kind of immersion, one where the focus is sharper. In other words: doing one race at the time is probably the optimal choice.


    However, there is an inherent flaw in this design, which is that, while events in one part of the story is happening, other events are happening in the background. And by constraining the player’s perspective, we either have to be given hints of the background events, or we have to retroactively explain them at a later point. Both of these alternatives are fickle. Giving proper hints without intruding on the focus is difficult, and explaining stuff that has already happened often just ends up being clunky, and with the pacing practically dying in the process as the player is bogged down in exposition.


    Despite this, the original SC handles the problems of this structure rather well. In fact, what many people forget, is how many of the story’s key moments happens off-stage. Case-in-point: the psi emitters. In Episode I, we are told these devices have the power to attract Zerg, something Mengsk exploits for his own gain. However, there are hints that this is not quite a precise explanation. In Episode II we learn (though never told out right) that the psi emitters don’t force the Zerg’s movement, but rather attracts them because the Overmind is interested in the psionic power of Terrans. Once they gain control of Kerrigan, the Zerg leave the Terran worlds for Char, as their mission is complete. This is a very subtle point that isn’t really explained, probably because the Overmind has no motive to tell us why we had to go to the Terran worlds after we left them.




    A lot of people misunderstand this point, still believing the psi emitters are capable of steering Zerg all right (if they did, it’s a wonder they weren’t used even more). Even Blizzard themselves misunderstand it, as evidenced in the Brood War mission “Reign of Fire”, as well as the “Nova: Covert Ops” campaign. What is important to understand here, is that things are happening in the background of one story that have important ramifications in another. Whereas we in Episode I think the psi emitters are a device to attract Zerg, we learn in Episode II that the truth is more complex.


    There is more. After Kerrigan’s infestation, she calls out to Mengsk and Raynor, with the former sending Duke, and the latter going himself. On the surface, this looks to be a superficial detail, seemingly existing only to give Kerrigan some enemies to fight on Char. And while the arrival of Duke really does just serve that point, the arrival of Raynor is more important. After all, if Raynor isn’t called to Char, he doesn’t meet Tassadar, and therefore doesn’t fight alongside them in the final mission on Aiur. In other words: if Kerrigan hadn’t called out to Raynor, the Overmind might not have been defeated, and Raynor might never have become an ally of the Protoss. Significant, indeed.


    Kerrigan's dream


    In the Protoss campaign, we get a retroactive explanation of Episode I: Tassadar was sent to burn the Terran worlds not because of the Terrans themselves, but because of the Zerg. And the reason why he deployed ground troops in the “New Gettysburg” was that he wanted to spare the Terrans. Again, things were happening in the background that become significant later. On one hand, Tassadar's intervention essentially helped Mengsk, as he could now sell himself as a protector against both the Zerg and Protoss. On the other, it ensured Kerrigan's infestation. Lastly, it forced Tassadar to go to Char, as well as splitting with the Conclave.


    This same level of subtle complexity can be found in Brood War as well. In Episode IV, we encounter the UED, and while it’s a superficial clash, it does introduce the story’s new villains. But more importantly, we have that Raynor and Fenix stay behind on Aiur, which means that Kerrigan is able to get a hold of them while Zeratul and the rest are busy on Shakurus. She might have done so even if Raynor and Fenix had come to Shakuras, but there are hints that Kerrigan contacting people separately is a key to her victory. All of this remains unexplained until Episode VI, of course, where we learn that Kerrigan reached out to Raynor and Fenix to help her kidnap Mengsk (which happens in V).



    This level of complexity doesn’t exist in SC2. Yes, we know what the Zerg are up to in WOL (collecting artifacts), but what about the Protoss? The truth is, apart from a few glimpses of the Daelaam, we don’t really encounter Artanis until LOTV! Yes, Selendis shows up at one point, and Zeratul has a small, but very significant arc, but other than that, there’s really not much hint that a lot of things are happening in the background.


    We later learn that the Protoss have been building up their forces to invade Aiur, but that is not that interesting. It's not good storytelling either. After all, this renders one of the game’s main three races passive until the last third of the story, when they should be an active participant from the get-go (firstly because of Kerrigan returning, and secondly because of Amon’s ascension). While I do understand that Zeratul can only be at one time in one place, I find it hard to believe that he chose to contact the Protoss last. He should have made them an active presence much earlier. And don’t give me that “exile” crap as an excuse for why he waited either. Zeratul’s exile was self-imposed after he killed Raszagal, and there’s never been any hints that his reveal of Aiur to the Overmind cost him any allies among the Khalai. So there's little reason for why he should have waited until LOTV to contact Artanis (the real reason is that Zeratul is contacting people according to the race structure of the story).


    Overall, the complexity of SC2 is a shadow of the original game, with Blizzard not seeming to have much of a plan for the full story, nor a solution of what to do with the Protoss until they arrived in LOTV. Compare that the original game, where they were only seen for one mission in Episode I and yet were a terrible presence, as they fuckin’ burned entire planets from space.

    How the Tal’darim Reveal Blizzard’s Lack of Care for Story

    Speaking of the Protoss: let’s discuss the Tal’darim. Originally introduced in the Dark Templar Trilogy, this faction has changed more than probably any other in the story, and not for good. In WOL, they are tribe that blatantly only exists to give Raynor some Protoss to fight against (he is usually their friend, after all). That is not bad in itself (all races should fight each other in all campaigns, in my opinion). The problem is rather that they are introduced as fanatics that worship the Xel’Naga, and essentially guard the artifacts that Raynor needs.


    Here’s the thing: Raynor is gathering these artifacts on behalf of Tychus, who is gathering them on behalf on Moebius, which is run by Narud (who is secretly Duran, as well as a partner-in-crime with Arcturus Mengsk), and owned by Valerian Mengsk (who does not work with his father). Phew! Yeah, that never made much sense to me. Now consider this: in HOTS, we learn that the Tal’darim are Narud’s elite force, which begs the consider: why didn’t they just give them to them?




    This is, obviously, a gigantic plot hole. Maybe there is some explanation of this somewhere, but I doubt it’s anything but convoluted, which is a good sign that Blizzard really didn’t have control of their own story. Now, I personally don’t mind plot holes that much, as I think stories can survive with them. However, when there are too many of them and they grow too large, there seems to be a larger problem: the storytellers aren’t really involved in the story, nor do they know it well enough (never a good sign).


    There are, as many have pointed out before me, other plot holes too. How, for instance, could Mengsk order Tychus to kill Kerrigan after she was deinfested if he didn’t know that she would be deinfested (nor that Raynor was going to Char in the first place)? How could Tychus be the pilot in the Thor while also being a mole for Mengsk? I’m sure there are more, but I wanted to specifically focus on the Tal’darim because they exemplify just how little Blizzard had planned ahead. What’s worse is that, once Blizzard realized the Tal’darim weren’t as well-received as they thought they would be (which is an forgivable sin), they simply changed them, continuity be damned (which is less forgivable).




    I will admit I very much like what Blizzard did with the Tal’darim in LOTV, not only fleshing them out, but also explaining them better, as well as giving them a show-stealing character in Alarak. What I do mind is how Blizzard has such a casual approach to the story that they’re unable to plan ahead, and simply don’t care whether anything makes sense or not when they make changes. Changing the Tal’darim isn’t that big a deal in itself, but it’s one symptom out of many, all of which exist because Blizzard didn’t invest enough care into the story. And that is problematic.


    The story of SC2 has a lot of problems, but I’ve argued that most of them stems from two core issues: forcing a shift in the story’s worldview from cynicism to idealism, and not putting in the proper legwork into creating a solid story. The first problem explains the game's clichéd dialogue and the romance-based storyline between Kerrigan and Raynor (whenever has a male audience asked for that?), while the latter explains the plot holes and the inconsistencies. Both of them explain the many retcons. The worldview change explains the whitewashing of Kerrigan, as well as the prophecy storyline, while the lack of complexity explain some of the smaller retcons, most significantly the Tal’darim.

    Posted in: General Chat
  • 0.961538461538461

    posted a message on Campaign Tutorial

    Chekhov’s gun

    Contains spoilers for Crimson Moon (up to mission 5)

    In this tutorial, I will be looking at a storytelling device that is so common that chances are you have seen it used hundreds of times already without knowing what it’s called. The device is called “Chekhov’s gun”, after what Anton Chekhov said:

    “If you show a gun in the first act, you must fire it by the third.”

    What he meant by that was that any element of a story should not be included unless it serves a specific purpose. It doesn’t have to be a gun; it could be a character, an event or... well, whatever the hell you want it to be. Today, the term has taken on a new meaning, more specifically “an object or other element that is first introduced as unimportant, but later turns out to be very important to the main narrative”.


    One of my favorite examples is from the movie The Departed, more specifically an envelope labeled “citizens”. It first appears as a largely irrelevant objective, but it then reappears near the end, and when it does, it marks the moment when Leonardo DiCaprio realizes that Matt Damon is the undercover criminal in the police department he has been looking. The important scene here is not the realization itself, but rather the one where the envelope was introduced. Because the audience (like DiCaprio) has seen the envelope before, we can share his shock at seeing it. We already knew that Damon worked undercover, but until now, we didn’t realize how the envelope was important. It is a very chilling moment, and I can still remember my surprised reaction to it when watching the film in the cinema.

    Breaking Bad also made good use of Chekhov’s gun at numerous occasions. The primary example would perhaps be the episode “Box Cutter”, where the camera focuses on a box cutter early in the episode, clearly telling us it will be important later, creating tension before it’s finally used (albeit not in the fashion we may have guessed). An even better example would be the ricin cigarette that is introduced in the first season, where the use of it is teased every so often, but then it is actually not used until the fifth season.

    Why use it?

    Using Chekhov’s gun is a good way to keep your story economical. Stories can get fat pretty quickly, and although it’s not forbidden to have an extraneous element, it is always wise to ask yourself whether something actually should be cut or not. Perhaps you have a character that provides neither plot importance nor any form of entertainment value, or maybe you’ve set up a storyline that ultimately goes nowhere. Your audience is going to be disappointed if you set them up for something you can’t deliver on.

    On the flip side, Chekhov’s gun can have a lot of advantages as well. For one, it will make your stories flow better, as the resolutions you create for the third act will have a basis in the first. Try to consider a final showdown between a hero and a villain you’ve never been introduced to. That seems rather odd, doesn’t it? There certainly wouldn’t be a lot of reason to be emotionally invested in such a fight, would there?

    How to use it

    From my experience, it is best to have a loose perspective on Chekhov’s gun. Don’t interpret it too literally (it doesn’t have to be a gun), and don’t feel pressured to use it in the same way as other people do. There are tons of ways to utilize it, and if you manage to put your own spin on it, you manage to make it your own. Also, be careful that you don’t become a zealot to the rule. Not all elements in a story need to be equally important, and some can be important in their own way. For instance, if you introduce a back story to a character that is not important to the main plot, you don’t have to remove it. After all, the back-story could serve a purpose of its own: maybe it helps us invest in the character, or maybe it rationalizes the choices he commits.

    I’ve learned that a good story is sometimes written in reverse. That doesn’t mean you should begin at the ending and end at the beginning, but rather that it would be wise to consider what the direction the story is headed in, and try to anticipate this in some way. Maybe use foreshadowing to hint at a coming event, or perhaps create a character that is wholly different to how you want him to end up, essentially setting him up for a sudden or gradual change.

    Did you know that Chekhov’s gun is actually the reason why Crimson Moon has ten missions instead of five? At first, the campaign had half as many missions as it has now, focusing primarily on Janus instead of the miners, but when I decided to give the miners a bigger role, the story got twice as long. The reason why I wanted to give more room for the miners was that I had written a scene I was particular scene I was quite proud of: the death scene of Brother Tyrone. It's one that plays heavily on Chekhov's gun.

    Brother Tyrone was, as you might or might not remember, the leader of the Roverville miners. He was constantly shown berating sergeant Henderson, and the idea behind this was that, at one point, Henderson would finally have had enough of being belittled, and he would abandon Tyrone when Tyrone actually needed him the most. What happens in the story is that Tyrone first insults Henderson one time too many, then asks him to stand guard, which Henderson neglects doing, instead going to relieve himself. This leaves Tyrone unguarded when Quarinius comes knocking, and he is killed.

    This particular scene wouldn’t have worked if I hadn’t laid out the groundwork first. It wouldn’t have made sense that Henderson chose to abandon his duties if I hadn’t established that he didn’t care much for Tyrone. However, because we had seen Henderson repeatedly being berated by Tyrone, we understand it completely when he decides to ignore Tyrone’s order. The scene also becomes much powerful because of this, not only because the story has secretly been leading up to it so far, but also because it marks the moment where Henderson finally realizes he needs to take charge.

    How to play with it

    Today, Chekhov’s gun is so common that a seasoned viewer will have no trouble spotting it a mile away. “The camera focuses on a particular object? Why, it must be important!” This is unfortunate if the point if we were to realize the importance of the “gun” in retrospect only. If the writers don’t want us to know where the story is headed, but we guess it anyway, that is unfortunate. Luckily, knowing this gives us the ability to play with the device.

    One way of doing that is to actually break the rule, or actually realize that it’s not a rule at all (because there are no rules in storytelling). This might contradict what I said before, which is why I find it important to remind you that I am offering advice, not telling you what to do. If you want to break the rule, what you might want to do is set up a gun and imply that it will be important to the audience, and then have it turn out to be insignificant. This can act as a set up for some nice plot twists, and it can simply be used to throw the audience off-balance. Perhaps you had a second, better hidden gun, or perhaps you wanted to lead the audience down one path only so they wouldn't realize they were heading in another. Just be careful, though. Even if you can get away with this, there are good and bad ways of doing it.

    Posted in: Tutorials
  • 0.961460446247464

    posted a message on Campaign Tutorial

    Map structure

    I’m gonna show you a few pictures now, and I want you to do one thing: take an honest guess of which WOL campaign maps you think I’ve drawn. Don’t spend too much time thinking about what the arrows represent. Just look at the drawings and see if you recognize these missions.






    Did you recognize the maps? Well, take a look now:

    1. The Evacuation

    2. The Dig

    3. Smash and Grab

    4. Breakout

    5. Engine of Destruction

    Are you starting to get it? Allow me to demonstrate my point. The idea of the drawings is to strip away all the details of the maps, until all you are left with is the pure basics. (The arrows describe movement, whilst the colors denote the player. It’s really that simple.)

    I chose these five maps because their basic structure is so distinct, and so in sync with the mission objectives. Let’s look at The Evacuation again.

    The mission essentially consists of two parts, which is reflected in the arrows. First, you are employed with a small team that has to make it to the colonist base. Then the main part begins. Just look how simple it is. Yes, sure, the map is very detailed when considered as a whole, and looks absolutely stunning when you play it, but when you strip all that away, you are essentially left with an arrow facing west, and one facing north-east.

    But what can we learn from this? Well, for starters, we can learn to plan ahead and save time. By asking yourself what the purpose of your map is, you can jot down a few arrows of your own and essentially outline the map right then and there on the paper. This is economical, because you won’t waste time creating a map structure that is dissonant with its primary purpose.

    But let’s not stay theoretical. Let’s say you wanted to make an escort mission of your own. You sit down with your pen and paper, and maybe you come up with something like this:

    What we see here is a simple, snake-like path that you have to traverse in order to safeguard an escort. But, as you might have noticed, I’ve added a little twist, more specifically the smaller, dotted arrows. They represent alternate routes that are blocked by the enemy. With only a few strokes, I’ve given the player the chance to employ an alternate strategy, namely to cut through a more dangerous, but shorter path. And it only took ten seconds to create! By that estimate, we can say that if you had two full minutes at your disposal, you could jot down 12 scenarios. Imagine how much better your map would be if you took the time to consider the many different ways you could structure it, and think about how little time it would take! Being aware of time is crucial, because creating a map takes a long time, and you don’t want to be making one that is subpar to the one you were only five seconds away from starting to create. Again, and I can’t stress this enough: a map time takes a loooong time to create. Make sure you are creating the one you want to create!

    While I will admit to using this strategy far too rarely myself, I almost always outline my maps in some way with just pen and paper before I begin creating them. Because time and space is limited, I find it very useful. In addition, I find that the terrain gets better when I do it too. When I don’t have a plan, I find that the terrain often gets a very random feel, which is not good. You see, there are a lot of components that is influenced by structure, and if we create bad structure, it has a trickle-down effect.

    One of the most prominent components is difficulty. Think about how much more difficult you could make a map just by reducing the enemy’s attack path in half, for instance. Or how you could place just a few cliffs by an enemy base and essentially give the player a location to unload his siege tanks without the possibility of repercussions.

    Another component is space. If your structure is bad, you might end up wasting good space on nothing, or perhaps realize to late that you haven’t made enough room for an enemy base or a second expansion (I assure that I speak from experience here).

    A third component is strategy. If you make an island map, for instance, you are forcing the player to use air units and dropships. One of my Amber Sun maps, Desert Dogs (mission 07) underwent that exact change. The objective of the map is to protect three generators that are positioned away from the main base. At first, the map had no low cliffs, so the player could just walk his reinforcements to the generators, as well as between them, and back to the base. By creating low cliffs, I changed the map completely. Now, the player had to transport his units to the generators. He had to change they way he strategized and how he played.

    Imagine that. Just by creating some cliffs, the map suddenly became a lot more intense. I would also say it fixed it. You see, before the change, the map was boring. Afterwards, it became a test of APM endurance. If that wasn’t enough, the improvement of the map actually inspired me to keep working on the map until I reached a point of satisfaction. Inspiration is precious. Don’t waste it.

    So find a pen and paper. Think about what mission you want to create. Is it a survival mission? A base destroying mission? An installation mission? This might sound trivial, but these three different scenarios require three different kinds of map structures. Once you’ve realize that, you’re not only well on your way with creating a great map, but you are also far ahead of the guy who is halfway through his “I-make-it-up-as-I-go-along”-map, because he is not far away from realizing that he perhaps made a mistake.

    Posted in: Tutorials
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