Terrain Lessons from my Betters
Terrain Lessons from my Betters
Lucid Iguana here, project lead on Antioch Remastered and The Antioch Chronicles: Thoughts in Chaos. I wouldn't describe myself as a great terrainer. However, through the process of working on The Antioch Chronicles, I’ve gotten to watch some really great terrainers at work, like Alevice, SCBroodSC2, and Wargirl. Watching them work has taught me a ton about what makes good terrain, as well as some basic techniques. I’m going to talk through some basic ideas first, and then show some examples from my work and the work of other people on Team Antioch.
Know Your Tools
The amount of stuff in the editor is completely daunting, and it’s a real pain to go digging through the assets when you’re looking for something. Luckily, SCBroodSC2 has done an amazing amount of work to build a library of doodads. You can download them from the assets page, or you can visit http://www.screference.op74.net/ for a web version with live search by name. I use this reference constantly when I’m building terrain.
It’s important to know the editor, as well. There are a ton of keyboard commands, way more than I could ever list here. As a small suggestion, open up the configure controls menu and find the following:
- Selection Move (Click): will jump the doodad you have selected to the position of your mouse.
- Selection Height (Up and Down): Moves the doodad up and down.
- Selection Pitch (Drag): Change the doodad’s pitch.
- Selection Roll (Drag): Change the doodad’s pitch.
- Selection Rotate (Click): Make the doodad face your pointer.
Always Tell a Story
The most important thing to do when making map terrain is know what story you’re telling. The story is what you’ll use to guide all the decisions you make, so you need to get it set in your mind. This is important on a macro scale, across the entire map, but also for individual sections of your map, which leads us to…
Maps Are Made of Many Small Stories
In most cases when you work on your map, you’ll be building a complete story out of many smaller areas. This is an important thing to keep in mind, because it can get really daunting to try to build an entire map at once. If you instead build from a scaffolding of concepts, you’ll both build a better product and have an easier time doing so.
More Doodads is (Usually) Better
This is a hard balance to strike, but if you don’t place enough doodads, they tend to look out of place because they stick out so much. When you add more doodads, you can paint a more cohesive picture. This tends to be true for quite a while, as it’s hard to overstate the effect that detail work has on a player. It really takes quite a lot of doodads before the viewer will be oversaturated. One caveat, however, is that you can overtax a video card, especially if you have a lot of animated doodads.
The editor gives you some pretty great tools for working with doodads without having to open the data editor. To get access to them, just select a doodad and hit enter. Here’s a quick breakdown:
- Height: Change the Z position of the doodad. Raising doodads up is often useful, but so is lowering them, since it lets you hide sections underground.
- Rotation: Spin the doodad around its vertical axis.
- Pitch: Tilt the doodad forward and back.
- Roll: Tilt the doodad side to side.
- Scale: Make your doodad bigger or smaller. It’s important to note that you can do this asymmetrically, which lets you deform doodads, which can be very useful.
- Custom Color: Otherwise known as tinting, this lets you apply a color to the doodad. Changing the HDR Multiplier makes the color more intense.
Sometimes Blizzard just doesn’t have a doodad you need. In that case, you can often combine multiple doodads together to achieve your desired effect. It’s generally a good idea to think about the components of the thing you want and then finding doodads to make each of those. And remember that you can manipulate the appearance of your doodads.
Roll Your Own Doodads
You’re not limited to just the doodads that Blizzard gives you. In fact, every model in the game can be made into a doodad, which has a lot of possibilities. To make a new doodad, I recommend copying a simple one and changing the art. Here’s my process in video, with written guide below:
- Open up the data editor and go to the actor tab.
- Search “force field wall” (this is my favorite, but you can start from whatever you want).
- Duplicate the actor by right clicking and selecting duplicate. Only duplicate the actor, not the model attached to it.
- Modify the actor and rename it to whatever you want (in this case “Stationary Marine”)
- Go to the art tab, hit choose under model, and select your desired model.
- Go to the events tab and remove the create sound emitter event.
- You can also change the animation if you want. Usually “Stand” is fine, but some models you’ll need to use others (like “Turbo” for scout missiles). You can find the names of animations in the cutscene editor.
I’m going to post just a couple examples here that illustrate some of the principals I’ve discussed. Like I said at the beginning, I won’t claim to be an expert, but I hope they’re helpful.
Protoss Table (Manipulating and Combining)
This is just a small example. I needed something for a bunch of heroes to stand around. This table is made from a deformed Starship Container elevated off the ground and four very small Starship Protoss Wallposts (hallfway underground). Then I dropped a Ship Displays doodad on top.
Vespene Leak (Telling a Story, Manipulating, Roll Your Own)
Here’s a bigger example. This Nexus is under attack, and badly damaged. There are tons of different little scenes that illustrate this, but I’m going to focus here. This is a small story to show about leaking vespene. I’ve hidden terrain cells and edged them with Xel'naga Plating so that we can look beneath the floor, where there’s a super-sized Starship Wing Piece, some tinted Pipes Ground Big, and some homemade Probe doodads floating below. To top it all off, I've tinted some fog clouds green to represent the gas itself.
On another note, this section comes from a map created by SCBroodSC2, I only did this bit of detail and a few others. If you want to see a master at work, watch this video he recorded of his process, it's simple incredible.