This little article is to give an overview on how map ratings should be given. The map ratings are to encourage mapmaking standards to increase. I will highlight the general things to look for when seriously rating a map as well as a few personal notes to illustrate my points.
The ratings in Age of Wonders maps tend to be interrelated if you think about it carefully. It’s quite unlike other games where things are easily defined. But here are the basics:
- Is this map fun to play?
- Do you feel like playing on even after 20, 40 turns?
- Are there enough encounters on the map?
- Would you like to play this map again after finishing it?
Players come with different preferences, and therefore fun is subjective to that. Some like their scenarios as difficult and as challenging as possible. Others prefer them to be difficult and not too impossible. There is a reason why mapmakers are required to state if their map is easy, difficult or impossible. A map rated easy, shouldn’t be impossible.
- Are the ideas on this map original?
- Is there something on this map that makes it different from the rest?
- Was the mapmaker able to increase the effectiveness of the AI?
- Was the map made better by well-placed independent units or teleport networks?
It is hard to comment on creativity. This should be the most difficult rating to score. Creativity in Age Of Wonders mapmaking is really how well the mapmaker is able to make the map behave the way he/she wants for his purpose of making it in the first place.
- Does every side have an equal chance of winning?
- Are the starting positions for each side equal in terms of distance to resources?
- Are the starting heroes and units equal in strength or advantages?
Balance is the key to fair game play, especially when one is talking about maps made for multiplayer or Play-By-E-Mails (PBEM).
There is enough discussion on the strengths and weaknesses of units in the Strategy section and also in the forum. So I’m not going to go into that. The easiest way to assess balance is to look at the composition of the starting units and their positions. This is not foolproof. The second way is to play about 15-20 turns, save the game and surrender, then you would be brought to the screen with the line graphs. This method of analyzing balance usually works but the misbalance must be very obvious – it is better used for spotting starting resources misbalances than unit strength misbalances.
Note that non-playable sides that might have been deliberately boosted to add challenge and thrill to the gameplay are not usually considered when assessing balance.
Map design in the Age of Wonders has two aspects – graphic use and placement of objects.
(GRAPHIC USE)- Is the map beautiful to look at?
- Is the map detailed?
- Are different combinations of graphic tiles used to create the ‘environment’ (e.g. a forest or mountainous area) rather than the use of the same particular tile over and over to create the effect?
- Does the landscape look interesting?
- Are ‘roads’ place on the map and are they used effectively?
- Are the underground levels well ‘carved out’?
Map beauty probably isn’t very relevant to the strategic elements of the map. The basic thing they do is to create ‘obstacles to movement’. But no one denies that there is more joy in playing a good balanced map that is beautiful, rather than one that is plain or empty.
(PLACEMENT OF OBJECTS)
- Are there enough explorative places to make the map interesting? (E.g. caves, dungeons)
- Are teleports used effectively?
- Are there signs placed to give the map a more ‘established lands’ feel?
- Are Independent guarding unit stacks cleverly placed? And how do they react when encountered?
Items and guarding units in explorative places have some effect on balance in multiplayer maps. Teleport locations and destinations are used to increase the speed in which forces move over the map (especially for the AI). Signs are related to map story and aid in creating a realistic geographical world. Independent stacks increase encounters and make sure there is constantly a degree of action going on in the map.
STORY / INSTRUCTIONS
- Is there a background story for the map?
- Does the story increase the depth and feel of the map?
- Were text pop-ups used to enhance the story or history background of the map?
- Did the author of the map give any hint on what type of map this is? (i.e. RPG or slugfest type map.)
Stories and instructions are more important in role-playing type maps where the story given in the introduction and pop-up texts leads the player through ‘quests’ and give hints on how to solve ‘puzzles’. Single-player and PBEMs maps may also be story enhanced to increase the enjoyment of the game. Typically maps made for live multiplayer games (i.e. TCP/IP or Hotseat) should not have too many text pop-ups during mid-game where it may be considered more disruptive than enjoyable.
RELEVANCY OF MAP RATINGS AND THE COMMENTS BOX
Personally, when I give ratings I like to tell the mapmaker why I gave it. Sometimes the ratings aren’t a true picture of whether the map is good or bad. In the Heavengames system the overall map rating comes from averaging the five different ratings and sometimes, it’s just doesn’t reflect what I really think of it. A multiplayer map could score a ‘1’ for story/instruction (thus lowering the overall final rating) but it could still be the best multiplayer map because it is well-balanced, good design with lots of creative elements and is fun.
An RPG type map may be poor in terms of balance, but it is meant for single play The story is very good, the map is nicely detailed and there are a lot of smart puzzles and clever AI behavior. This map may score poorly for balance, but scores high for story.
The purpose here in commenting on the maps we play, is that we do not want to mislead others into thinking that the map is not as good/bad as we think it is simply based on the ratings we give. We might want to highlight to the reader and the author of the map why we like/dislike certain things in the map. (Reason: different people like different things.) So, by all means generously make comments. If the map is good, why is it good? If the map is poor, why and what can be done to improve it? Give constructive comments in the comments box. Harsh, sarcastic and snide remarks are not necessary; an encouraging and friendly tone is best.
NOTE TO THE MAPMAKERS
This article was written with the player in mind. I know that many of you look forward to getting your ratings and enjoy getting comments for your maps. It’s really great to get good feedback, and hurts when you get poor ones, and what you want in the end is honest, helpful feedback. And this is the way you should feel – why? Because it would mean that you have actually put in a lot of effort into making the map and therefore, care a lot for it. Care about the map you make, and the players will care to play it too. Quality is more important than quantity. Feel free to ask for comments on the forum if you don’t see your map getting rated. Use the ratings to see what players want in general and how to improve your maps. All in all, I wish you all happy gaming and happy mapmaking!