By Brad Santos
June 10, 1999
Note: This is the Developer's Corner, a part of the C:CTP section of Apolyton, where members of the C:CTP development team discuss ctp-related topics.
In the stillness of an ancient morning, the oar driven ships of a mighty war-fleet drive across heaving channel seas to scrape against the sands of a foreign shore. Wooden ramps crash down into foaming surf. The clatter of hooves and the ringing of iron fills the air as your invasion force thunders ashore.
Your army looks magnificent: Cavalry and Archers arrayed in stacks of nine. Samurai and Pikeman eager to storm the enemy's walled cities. You can already taste victory… picture the face of your mysterious internet opponent as your sandaled foot crashes down on his hopes of world conquest….
You've waited 180 Turns for this. It better be good.
The last wav. file you ever expected to hear was the long horrifying rattle of a heavy machinegun mowing down your proud legions like wheat. Or was it the roaring engines of those strange flying machines that rain destruction down on your royal fleet from above?
Before you can even believe it's happening, it's over.
If this happened to you, chances are it wasn't your fault (I'm not just saying that to be nice). You probably got scr__ed on your start location.
In a multiplayer game, map balance is perhaps the most crucial factor in determining whether the game is going to be enjoyable, close fought match, or just an unfair stomping.
The Call to Power single player game has several kinds of built in benchmarking to make sure that this kind of thing does not happen. When a random map is generated, the game will break the whole area down into super-cells (each the size of a city radius) and rank them based on the sum total of base Production, Food, and Gold available from all the tiles in the cell. The player usually always gets the best start location on the map. The AI's get the best start location and the 2nd , 3rd, etc…
Once the game is in progress, the AIs are programmed to watch the progress of the player's development civilization and make slight adjustments to the behavior of their own civilizations to prevent the player from getting too far ahead or falling too far behind.
In a multiplayer game, these restrictions don't apply. Random maps, particularly unusual random maps with an abundance of Goods or Water will tend to situate players in disparate start locations. A couple of mistakes in exploration or city placement can result in one side leaving the other in the technological dust by the end of the first Age.
The best way to handle this is to play your multiplayer games on custom maps that are specifically designed to be fair to each player. Fans of C&C and other strategy games long ago learned to address this issue by creating mirror image maps where all sides of the terrain look the same. Personally, I don't prefer the cut-and-paste look, and I don't think it fits well with the alternate-earth simulation aspect of CTP.
You can create a well-balanced multiplayer map by following a few simple rules of thumb. First, create a map that is small or medium in size. If you are looking for a quick game, move the land-masses slider (on the Customize Map panel) towards "Continents" and you will tend to get a land connection between the opposing start locations. Increasing the number of Goods on the map is also a good way to speed up the game because it will tend to drive the players technology towards faster moving units and bigger empires. Moving the Diversity slider towards "Uniform" will tend to encourage monopolies and have the same effect.
Start each player with 1-3 cities and a couple of warriors to scout with. This will allow the player to get right into exploration of the map and eliminate the city-placement mistake issue that can doom a game from the start. Personally, I think its best to start all players on Mountain-river or river-forest tiles. A city on a mountain river region will tend to develop much faster than one in any other terrain. The beginning of a multiplayer game is slow. Help the players get through it as quickly as possible.
If the start locations are not connected by land then they should be on land-masses of roughly equal size and value. The number of Goods within 15 tiles of each start location should be roughly equal. It is important that you consider not only the number but also the type of Goods around each player. Pick one or two monopoly goods for each player and make sure that there are five or six Goods of that type around the start region. Any player that can't form a monopoly within the first 150 Turns will probably lose badly.
If you add AI opponents to the map, place them close to one another to encourage them to interact with one another early on. Set them between, and equidistant from, the players. This will help discourage the situation where one guy is showered by gifts from the Indians for the first 100 Turns while the other is being slaughtered by irate Zulus. Barriers of mountains and swamps are another good way to protect the player's civilizations in their infancy. However, if a quick and dirty fight is what you want, keep it flat and fast.
Once all the basic components are in place you can go over the whole thing adding hills and reshaping coastlines to give it a nice natural look.
A good custom map will lead to a better multiplayer experience by reducing frustration and increasing the intensity of the game.