Advanced Techniques / Considerations
Basically this section is a last-stop before you plunge in and begin to finalize maps intended for release and play. With it I hope that you will take away several basic (if complicated) lessons that will help you achieve what you want with your maps! Prepare yourself for a verbose read ... Boggz does not skimp on the details, long words, and crass humor.
These opinions and ideas are those of Boggz, and his idea of what makes a good map may differ from others. This section is intended to help explain the finer details of what makes a map attractive to online players .
Why Would I Go There, Damnit!
Have you ever been playing a map, merrily blasting your way through an opponent's expansion, fending off of hordes of AI Borg, or even just taking in the gorgeous graphics of our beloved Fleet Ops when you casually think to yourself, "huh, I wish I used that part of the map more ..."?
LOTS OF PEOPLE THINK THAT. A LOT. There are so many maps that have sections that are completely unused and never traversed. Why? There is no reason for a player (or even an AI for that matter) to utilize it. There are no moons, no reason to set up a base, no way to use it to ambush an opponent's structures, no useful nebulae that you can hide in or use to regenerate. NO REASON TO GO THERE. However, luckily, this is an ailment that can be fixed! While you are hard at work constructing your maps and just loving yourself for creating something for which other people will secretly shower you with oodles of praise, you can always ask yourself this most important of questions:
Why would I go here (damnit)?
This is a crucial question while making a map. If you cannot think of a reason, neither will anyone else, I promise (the Piggeh - my pet hamster - promises too). Now, if your answer to your own question is, "well, um … well see there is a derelict McKinley Yard guarded by 5 Perimeters and and and and … and so even though it's WAY out of the way, people would still, um GO there, you know?". Oh yes, Boggz knows … he himself would just LOVE to fight through five massive stations to get a chance to build a few warp-in ships while everyone else destroys my base. Clearly.
No! People have three reasons for moving their ships around the map:
- Moving towards an enemy structure to attack it
- Moving towards a moon to harvest resources from it
- Moving towards a Nebulae to utilize it for some reason
Assuming that people will move their ships somewhere for any other reason is ... risky. Boggz does not move his own ships around just for fun (unless he's trying to make his ships spell out "Mal is a Tit". Sometimes people may move their ships to specific areas in order to have them in position to attack the enemy, while keeping them near enough to their own to defend it if necessary, but no one actually bothers to send ships way out into the middle of nowhere. Yandonman would call this "ships WAY out of position". So let's talk about how to set up a map to avoid that!
Things we can place to create the NEED to go somewhere
Resource Moon Placement
Moons are the lifeblood of the game. They give us the resources we need to blow other shit up, so clearly they are a VERY big draw in a map. People will go to them, people will fortify them. Once used, they will be attacked, the area around them will be used by attacking and defending fleets alike to try and gain a decisive edge. Nebulae within reasonable distance can be used to hide a fleet, regenerate a ship’s shields - as Yandonman would call a "proxy repair-yard" - or as a means to shed pursuers by risking a run through a damaging nebula.
How you position the moons in your map has maybe the SINGLE BIGGEST EFFECT on how the map terrain will be utilized in-game. Another MAJOR consideration is how many moons are actually needed by a player to maintain a decent ship production. MOST RACES NEED ONLY 2 OF EACH MOON TYPE to maintain a decent flow of ships that are still able to be micro-managed. More than that number of moons and a player can and will begin to produce more than they are truly able to control effectively. This will move the game into a war of attrition where giant fleets of ships clash and roam in "Victory Fleets" until a single, decisive battle effectively ends the game. That's ok! Just keep in mind that if your map gives each player easy access to 3 or more moon pairs, you will see a turtling tech-race; something we as map-makers should try not to do (in my opinion) as they frequently are less fun for people and end up utilizing less of the map.
They cause us headaches with pathing, they give us nightmares with the Borg, and they are our best friends when they recharge our shields, but love them or hate them nebulae are another of the map-maker's tools for "drawing" players into certain areas of the map. Nebulae are a two-way street though, and gratuitous use of them will lead people to HATE your maps because their vessels don't respond correctly, the Borg abuse the no-shield nebulae, and the Federation camp (stay in) the green nebulae while lobbing their torpedoes of hate at your expansions. So use them conservatively, damnit! There is no nebula that is NEEDED. Only the Mutaras, the Fluids, and the Crystalids have any draw at all for their battle-changing properties. Really quickly let's talk about how to effectively use the damaging Tetryon and Nucleon effectively:
Damaging nebulae are actually your best friend (if you ask Boggz) as they provide you the ability to cause ships to instinctively avoid them while allowing a player to "take a gamble" and run through them if needed. They are basically asteroids with more actual use. I do not recommend using many of them as they have a larger effect on the pathing of units than asteroids do and can cause some headaches, but all-in-all they are great additions because you can do a number of fun things with them:
- Block a large green nebula in by harmful nebulae, so that entering or leaving it will cause damage and require more focus to use
- Overlap with Green or a tiny shield remover nebulae. This means that fleets cannot "Camp" in them, but make small use strategically
Overall these nebulae have no restrictions on WHERE they can be placed because they offer no advantage for being in them. They do, however, spice things up if you make "strings" of them that will instinctively be bypassed but can be soldiered through for strategic gain. "Utility Nebulae" like the Mutara, Fluid, and Crystalid are a bit more of an issue though because they have the ability to alter a battle drastically and even irrevocably. Use them sparingly, but be sure to utilize them in accordance with the damaging nebulae because it will lessen the effect of their beneficial properties and make a player have to pay attention carefully if they wish to gain those benefits. -PLEASE NOTE- Borg ships beginning with the Assimilator and higher will in general regenerate faster than a harmful nebula can damage them. Keep that in mind when placing Fluids/Mutaras along with harmful nebulae.
- Place a "proxy repair-yard" (Crystalid Nebula) near a moon. Keep a healthy distance between the two so that "camping" is not really feasible
- Place all utility nebulae in tiny "hotspots" where only 2-3 ships can fit. A small amount of Fluid Nebula just barely peeking out of an asteroid field allows a damaged vessel to hide, or even a small Borg vessel to stand off against shielded targets.
- Use nebulae to create little "Battlezones" just off the main pathways that will be used where a small amount of utility Nebula is used as a "draw" for that tiny little extra tactical advantage.
Remember!!! "WHY WOULD ANYONE EVER WANNA GO HERE IN A GAME, DAMNIT!!??!?!"
Map Size vs. Number of Players vs. Number of Moons
Map sizes dictate a great number of hard-to-notice things. Most importantly I would say they directly control these things:
- How each race can be played
- Whether the game is a "tech-race", a "game of attrition", a "first-blood", or a "back-and-forth" kind of game
- Whether or not the game will attractive in Multiplayer (covered more extensively in the "Get my maps on the replays!" section)
Basically I'm going to set up each size of map and go through the different combinations of moon saturation / number of players. I'll only list the combinations that I find to be the most frequently played and the ones you want to most strongly avoid.
- SMALL MAP - (6500 units to 13000 units)
- MEDIUM MAP - (13000+ units to 18000 units)
- LARGE MAP - (18000+ units to 24000 units)
- HUGE MAP - (24000+ units)
- LIGHT SATURATION - (1 pair - 2 pair moons total per player)
- MEDIUM SATURATION - (2 pair - 2+ / 3 pair moons total per player)
- HEAVY SATURATION - (3+ pair moons total per player)
- 2-3 Players
- 4-6 Players
- 8 Players
SMALL MAP - LIGHT SATURATION - 2-3 PLAYERS
- The Winds of War, Borderlands, Dusty Battleground, Hell on Ice, Openfields, The Path to Nowhere, Blue -
- This kind of map lends itself to very interesting 1 v 1 and Free For All matches.
- Borg have an advantage in general (fewer moons / smaller maps favor Borg)
- Free For All will be testy because losing a single expansion can cost you too much.
- First Blood style map for the most part. Even minor mistakes can cost you the game.
- Romulans will also excel as they can strike, run, and prevent movement/expansions which are crucial on this type of map.
- PROBLEM: This kind of map also has VERY little tolerance for mistakes / inexperience online.
SMALL MAP - MEDIUM SATURATION - 2-3 PLAYERS
- Malta II, Duel, Early Bird -
- Better for Free For All matches as the more moons mean fewer game-deciding losses.
- Non-Borg races have an easier time as they expand better than Borg and are not limited by CC.
- VERY good for 1 v 1 games as Back and Forth is supported by extra moons.
- Feds will excel at this as their turrets are cheap, powerful and easy to deploy to defend expansions.
- Most Popular 1 vs. 1 and Free For All type maps Online.
SMALL MAP - LIGHT SATURATION - 4-6 PLAYERS
- Central Point, Cube, Novaworld, The Wastelands, Dangerous Games -
- Decent for most factions as teammates make up for faction shortcomings.
- Mostly First Blood type maps, but sometimes some Back and Forth can happen.
- Whether natural expansions are protected (First Blood) or open (Back / Forth) determines First Blood vs. Back and Forth.
- Popular online but not usually people's first choice due to fewer moons/space.
SMALL MAP - MEDIUM SATURATION - 4-6 PLAYERS
- Asteroid Halma -
- Usually back and forth, depending on arrangement.
- Little Turtling.
- Low Travel time makes harassment very common.
- Currently only Asteroid Halma is stock, and it's layout is very First Blood oriented.
MEDIUM MAP - LIGHT SATURATION - 2-3 PLAYERS
- The Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt -
- Borg have a harder time due to size increase (more ships to meet the opening fleet).
- Each expansion is EXTREMELY important.
- Travel time has increased, in 1 v 1 you will see tech-races with 16k+ sizes.
- Free For All's will almost always be a turtling Tech-Race.
MEDIUM MAP - LIGHT SATURATION - 4-6 PLAYERS
- First Strike, The Frozen Depth -
- Borg will do about as well as any other race due to size / moon density.
- Back and Forth is likely.
- Very popular for online team games.
MEDIUM MAP - MEDIUM SATURATION - 4-6 PLAYERS
- Nebula Stream, Star Traffic, Champagne Supernova, The Reef, The Lines of War -
- Most popular 2 v 2 maps online.
- All factions are given as close to equal footing.
- Back and Forth is very likely due to richer resources.
- Size allows for harassment and light turtling.
- Many different strategic possibilities.
MEDIUM MAP - HEAVY SATURATION - 4-6 PLAYERS
- Final Frontier II, This is No Cave! -
- Most popular 3 v 3 maps online.
- Back and Forth style.
- Recovering from attacks possible.
- "Split" attacks possible due to size.
- 2 v 2 will likely end up with an oversaturation of resources.
LARGE MAP - MEDIUM SATURATION - 2-3 PLAYERS
- Beta Aquilae 1.1 -
- Borg will have an easier time than medium size as Sphere/Assim rush is possible.
- First Blood Style as large size allows for little recuperation.
- FFA will DEFINITELY end up in a turtling/tech race.
LARGE MAP - HEAVY SATURATION - 2-3 PLAYERS
- "Old Space" uniquely fits here as the distance between bases is the deciding factor -
- Tech-Race is likely.
- Attrition is also likely as there are many more moons and much more distance,but little space to manuever.
- Borg can easily begin with Spheres/Assim spam.
- Non-Borg can easily expand rapidly and horde resources
- Romulans and Klingons will excel due to cloak allowing them to appear anywhere.
- Federation will expand with turrets quickly.
LARGE MAP - LIGHT SATURATION - 4-6 PLAYERS
- The Very First Map (yeah, right?), Tau Ceti 1.0 -
- Usually popular in online team games.
- Scant resources can cause tech races as low ships numbers + large size = little harassment.
- Borg will likely have the advantage as they can create large vessels with only 1 or 2 moon pairs.
- Non-Borg will find themselves at a disadvantage as replacing / repairing ships can be difficult.
LARGE MAP - MEDIUM SATURATION - 4-6 PLAYERS
- The Circle, Clear Sky, Andromeda -
- 4 Player Games will see tech races.
- 5+ Players will be less of a tech race/more attrition.
- Map layout strongly affects style of play.
LARGE MAP - HEAVY SATURATION - 4-6 PLAYERS
- Rain, The Argus Conflict -
- Tech race for 4 players.
- More back and forth for 3 v 3.
- Cloaking Races will have IMMENSE advantages as defending against them becomes very difficult.
- Borg at a general disadvantage as more resources usually favors other races.
LARGE MAP - MEDIUM SATURATION - 6+ PLAYERS
- Battlepit, Eraudi -
- Most common for 4 v 4 online maps.
- Allows for good Back and Forth.
- Teching / Turtling is about as useful as Raiding / Low-tech.
- Resources allotted allow for higher tier vessels and faster production of lower-tier.
LARGE MAP - HEAVY SATURATION - 6+ PLAYERS
- Blue Amber, Chain Way -
- Fast-expanding races (Dominon / Federation) will have an economy advantage.
- Cloaking races (Klingon / Romulan) will have Intelligence and initiative advantage.
- Borg will have only the advantage of being able to jump to higher tier vessels immediately.
- Highly suggested that moons not constantly be paired to avoid people grabbing too much too quickly.
HUGE MAP - MEDIUM SATURATION - 4-6 PLAYERS
- Cold Space -
- Tech race VERY likely.
- Cloaking races have an IMMENSE advantage over non-cloaking.
- Federation can field MASSIVE fleets with 360 firing arcs.
- Borg will almost be forced into immediate Spheres as smaller vessels will be rapidly rendered obsolete.
- Game is usually a First Blood win for whomever fields the bigger battleship fleet.
HUGE MAP - HEAVY SATURATION - 4-6 PLAYERS
- Confront! -
- Tech race almost GUARANTEED.
- Cloaking races have IMMENSE advantage.
- Turtling almost GUARANTEED.
- Victory Fleets.
Get My Maps on the Replays (Damnit)!!!!
Ok, so you're watching Yandonman and Mal's awesome replays and wondering "OMFGWTFROFLCOPTERSAURUS! Why are none of my maps ever played for the replays?" The answer is likely pretty simple, actually. The answer is that human beings are fickle creatures of habit, and gamers are even worse. They only want what is going to make them feel good about themselves and in regards to Fleet Ops maps, that means they want to play on a map that they feel is not trying to fuck them. Any time a person feels that the layout of the map somehow handicapped them in a matchup, they will not likely want to play that map again. On the other hand, a map that is perfectly balanced and has no difference between the starting positions will often become a bit boring because the replay value has little differentiation based on where you are.
Now the rest of this is truly the opinion of one "Mr. Boggz" (that's me!), and is not an official statement or anything like that. What I've found to be the most popular maps, and of which I've tried to make the most, are the maps that are slightly asymmetrical, but resource-balanced maps for 2 vs. 2 or 3 vs. 3 matches on maps between the sizes of 12k by 12k and 18k by 18k.
2 vs. 2 are the most common games online at the moment because they are faster than 3 vs. 3 and don't take as much preparation to get started. Also, in 2v2 matches, the fleets tend to stay small enough that decisive battles don't happen RIGHT off the bat and back-and-forth can occur frequently, which people like :). 3v3 matches are fun, but have an increased risk of someone dropping or getting disconnected. 4v4 are rarely played and never recorded (as there is no observer spot) due to the fact that it is SO likely to suffer from lag or from a dropout / disconnect.
Truly though, the best way to make a map that people will get excited to play and WANT to replay is to create a map that allows for:
- Highly variable styles of play
- Fun interactions with NICE eye candy (hats off to Yandonman, appreciator of pretty things)
- All races have an equal chance
- Back and forth gameplay (also makes for better recordings)
- Room for fleet maneuvering, base raiding
- No "basic flaws" like too many nebulae causing pathing issues, exploitable nebula like the shield remover ones
Overall wide range of employable tactics (i.e. being able to raid a base from either side, exploit a narrow entrance / exit, utilize a nebula in an emergency, and generally make each game different from the next :).