Concept: Mapdesign for Multiplayer Civ
by, September 14, 2010 at 11:43 (1326 Views)
Types of "fair" maps for Multiplayer
The current pool of available maps for multiplayer is not very rich. Keeping in mind that the game and with it multiplayer gaming is four and half years old it can be assumed that a lot that is possible has been tried. The CCCAC (the clan council that organizes the biggest multiplayer tournament, the CCC) is always on the search for new and exciting settings. The condition though is and has to be that a setup provides equal or at least pretty similar chances to all players, be it a team or a solo game. Maps like Pangae, Archipelago or Continents to name just three are all fine to have a fun game, but they are not suited well for a competetive match. Currently the maps suited for multiplayer can be counted on one hand. Inland_Sea, (Green)Wheel, (Green)Ring, probably Team_Battleground, some of the "Equal"-maps (like Equal_Islands) and Grid is basically a complete list and even among those a 100% fair setup is not guaranteed, especially on Inland_Sea and Team_Battleground.
A map for such a setup needs to be balanced enough in all significant aspects to not put one side ahead from turn zero on due to land quality, land mass, civ position or placement of strategic ressources. There are four kinds of potential maps that can provide this.
1. mirrored map
An entirely mirrored map (including mirrored starting positions, also in team games) comparable to what is used in Warcraft3 or Starcraft is one way of providing a fair setup for a game with two parties in it. Itīs not automatically an interesting setup, that provides for different progress of a game with room for creative ways of attacking and interacting with an opponent every time, but it can be, in any case, itīs at least fair.
Mirroring a map "just" gives opposing sides exactly same land - not more, not less - that doesnīt say anything about the quality and possibilities of the setup. In what way are strategic, food, luxury or wonder production enhancing ressources distributed? What "ways" are there to reach the opponent - is it just two narrow fronts or an open area? Any map could be mirrored, any land/sea shape could be generated as a mirrored setup.
On a mirrored map everyone still has to handle and micromanage his land just like on any other map. The game basically looks the same as on a non-mirrored map, just isnīt pushed in favour of one side havign a start with a 6-food (grass pig for example) and the other with a 3-food (plains cow for example). Two aspects can be problematic and require consideration during map script creation. The first being how the "middle" on a flat (not cylindrical or toroidal) map is created. The middle canīt be too "good" in relation to the rest of the map, because otherwise planting the ressources mirrored there (basically "stealing" ressources from the opponent while using the same own ressources) is too strong and pushes every game towards a race who gets the middle first. From this logic it becomes clear that if a map provides in not too far distance from the starting position an overall of 5 or 6 food ressources and 2 of those are in the middle, thatīs not good for a fair game. This can be avoided by programming the map script in a way, that prevents a too big accumulation of ressources in the centre. Even more important is that the rest of the map is balanced enough that it cannot happen that a city that got culture bombed gets a significant part of the mapīs ressources into its cultural borders.
2. equal map
An equal map is pretty similar to a mirrored map in the way that it provides the same starting position to each player, also in 1v1v1vvX game like a CTON or Ironman. The difference is that only a certain part of the map is the same, surrounding land from a certain distance on different though. Equal_Islands for example is (bugs taken aside) equal for everyone in all aspects since itīs sea beyond a certain point anyway. Equal_Inland_Sea though differs once you go away from the starting position more then a radius of around 5 tiles. Since the initial part of the game (especially in earlier eras) is the one that most is affected by land differenes, an equal map can prevent an unfair setup pretty well.
3. preset map
A preset map would be one where every tile, every ressource and every starting position of a civ is known beforehand - just like in Warcraft3, Starcraft and similar games. This ca be a mirrored map, but doesnīt have to be. Such a map can be planned, constructed and balanced in tests before being released. It would allow for preparations by teams (including what to pick), involving own strategy, but also counter strategy to whatever the opponent might be doing. Quite similar to for example knowing that on a certain Warcarft3 map this or that (getting a certain creep; developing a certain technology etc.) plays a bigger role. Constructing a map that doesnīt lead to one strategy being ultimately the only way to go would be very challenging, but could provide yet another layer of strategy to the game - making very specific pregame preparations possible.
Such a map wouldnīt necessarily have to be mirrored. In a teamer each team might have to play each side once or it could be that one team choses the map, the other choses the side to play on.
A preset map just would have to - like any other map for competetive play - keep up to certain standards of balancing unlike for example current Earth maps, which are preset, but far from balanced.
4. balanced map
A "just" balanced (though not mirrored, not equal, not preset) map would look like maps look today, though being programmed in a way that it doesnīt create a land mass that favours one side heavily.
Factors for balancing a map:ressources
* food ressources
* luxury ressources
* wonder production enhancing ressources
* strategic ressources (metal, horse, ivory, oil, aluminium, (uranium))land quality and quantity
* relation of grassland vs. plains vs. hill vs. flood plains vs. desert vs. peak vs. forest tiles
* rivered tiles (commerce and fresh water) and other fresh water ressources
* overall land masspositioningWays of balancing those factors:
* starting positions
* distances between team mates, between opponents and distance of starting position in relation to the "back"/"front"
Each food ressource gets a value depending on how "good" it is, taking into account that the value has to be different depending on the era. For example Grass pig (6-food) gets the best possile value for an ancient or classical game since you cannot have any tile make more then that. Unirrigated Rice (4-food) gets a low value in an ancient start, but a higher one in Renaissance for example since you can irrigate it there (5-food) from the start. There are games like Ironman where you go from ancient to modern and beyond, but the start is ancient - the fact that you get more food later on, 6 with Biology and having irrigated the rice for example is nothing that would unbalance the concept though could be taken into consideration. Main point being, each food (food is everything that produces 4 food at least after being improved, flood plains being treated separately) gets a value. The overall value should be equal for each player - not team to avoid having all food accumulating at one player. What that value is can either be preset in the mapscript or maybe even be an option while hosting the game.
Strategic ressources are already dealth with pretty well nowadays with the "balanced ressources" option that many maps have. This option only balances those ressources, nothing else. It puts all of them into a certain radius of each players starting position, that usually being up to 5 tiles. Each map script should have this option, best the possibility to have the host set a a radius in staging.
There could be a set number of Luxury Ressources for each player/team. In team games some ressources can appear more often then once, itīs only important that those are ressources that can be used. An ancient teamer that will never see Calender researched canīt have one side with dye, silk and sugar and the other side with gold, ivory and dear. Same is true for wonder production enhancing ressources - here though itīs especially crucial that some ressources are either available to all or none, especially marble.
All categories of ressources can overlap - ivory can count twice, once as a luxury and once as a strategical ressource, same for copper, gold (lux+wonder) etc.
land quality and quantity
As for the rest of the land, you should have a pretty equal amount of plains, grassland etc. tiles. Itīs not fair for an ironman game if one has 50% rivered grass tiles, while the other has 50% plains tiles. Each map can be split into as many equally sized parts as there are teams (players in a solo game). Each tile should have an equal amount of each tile - still of course can produce very different quality of land, but never worse then potentially now. Also this way land mass isnīt distributed unequally like right now on Inland_Sea for example, where you can have significantly less land to potentially plant from turn zero on.
After the map has been theoretically (by the map script) split into equally sized parts, the starting positions of each player should be in a way that the distances to the back, to the front, to team mates etc. are equal or close enough to being so.
Other map options
Some other options that could be interesting when setting up a game in staging room:
* possibility to set positions of players; for example on flat Inland_Sea or cylindrical Green_Wheel setting which player is in the "back".
* Setting that oil is land based and cannot be on the sea.
* Setting the value for food/luxury/wonder/strategical ressources
* Setting the number of forests each player gets into "his" part of the map
Last but definitely not least a factor which has less to do with balancing, but a lot with what a game will look like, whether itīll be one with lots of fighting or rather one with a focus on buildup, the shape distribution of land and sea mass, basically the shape of the map.
How many ways are there to reach the opponent, how far do fronts stretch? For example flat medium sea Inland_Sea has two rather narrow fronts. Each team puts a city on each side and knows that every attack has to go through that city or at least past it. On the other hand flat Green_Wheel has two pretty similar fronts, but a big middle part as well. Units can come from multiple directions and even move through to the back player without having to pass the front cities. Cylindrical Green_Wheel adds the aspects of boating - you can boat from back player to back (or other) player. Creating maps that balance having various and interesting options of attacking (or not havoing those if you want a more builderish game) is a challenge, but one of the most important once if you want to create good multiplayer maps. Making a map too "open" can result in a bloodbath with research playing a small role (thatīs fun!). Making a closed map with clear fronts can result in a reseach heavy game, players building up while controlling their one front (thatīs fun!).
Whatever the map script generates, it has to be able to "split" up the map into equal parts between players as described above in order to do the balancing (as describe above as well ^^), especially also when the map is played cylindrical or toroidal.
All the types of maps described above can be used for competetive games - itīs not necessary to chose one, coexistence is very benefitional here. All of them have their setups where they can shine - just like "unbalanced" maps have nowadays for a fun game of civ. Just if you want to wage a clanwar or setup a tournament, youīd probably most of the time want to provide equal chances to the participants.
Comment on and discuss this article here.