Guide To StarCraft Map-Making
Article by Araxas
Recompiled By BeDazed
This guide is not a tutorial on how to use the Editor to create maps, there's plenty of those already. Rather, it focuses on the concepts map-makers need to be aware of to create maps that have balance and preface. The emphasis here is on two and four player melee maps designed for competitive play.
B. Creating Balanced Maps
You don't have to have a map balance to every single strength or weakness of every race. However, it's important to understand the really big weaknesses and make sure if you include one some compensation must be put in to make the map playable for that race. Keep in mind that you can make a map that balanced in two ways: it can play to every race's strengths or balance by making every race weaker. The former is better because people like playing a good game and being able to really use their race, rather than playing a weaker one even if their opponent is too.
1. Protoss Balance
Protoss players more than anything need room to flank, or PvT becomes problematic. I think map-makers need to look and test where the action on a map really occurs and see if there is enough room to micro an army with flanks there. A big center area is great but if the flow of the map actually has most of the fighting in narrow valleys or ledges then it's no use.
If Protoss is too close to Zerg, it is a disadvantage to Zerg. If Zerg is too far from Protoss, it is an advantage for Zerg at early games.
Referring to mineral-only naturals: "TvP : Terran cannot make as many Tanks or Drop ships, even worse, it is hard to make the Factories they need to establish a more solid macro game after expanding because of the gas shortage."
2. Zerg Balance
Zergs are the poorest race early game in defending two places at once. Zergs also need access to a second gas node during their transition from the opening to the mid-game. As Nostalgia shows, the gas node doesn't have to be a freebie at the natural per-se. A Zerg's advantage is having a natural that protects the choke point leading to the main.
It's reasonable to make maps that have mineral-only naturals if they choke, or gas-naturals that don't necessarily have to choke. But doing both (having mineral-only that doesn't choke) is putting the Zerg at quite a disadvantage. If the natural doesn't form a choke, I think at least the land distance between the true choke point and the natural should be somewhat minimal. A cliff overlooking a semi-babied natural with a long land route is fine for Terran, but very problematic for Zerg.
-If you don't gas the natural, is it reasonable for the zerg to take a 2nd expo with gas on your map? If the closest non-island gas node is really far away that needs to be considered as a disadvantage.
-Keep in mind the paths an overlord scout will make and where good places will be for the overlord to stop and scout things (such as units moving out, the opponent's gas geyser, and expos). try to keep each base's opportunity for an overlord to ferry (drop without speed) about the same.
-Try to see how a sunken can be placed by a recently finished hatchery to cover the ramp and the front of the hatchery. This will determine an advantage/disadvantage for a Zerg.
-In referring to mineral-only naturals: "ZvP : Zerg gets a huge advantage because Protoss cannot make Archons or High Templars in large numbers. As I already mentioned Zerg can still get a decent amount of Lurkers to tip things in their favor. Again though, to add more, Higher level Protoss seem to be better at expansion control. Overall, I find a mineral natural imbalance in this match-up.
3. Terran balance
Terrans are quite flexible and can play out of one base until the mid-game if needed. They do need some way to protect themselves early vs. Protoss though via a choke point at their main, be it a ramp, opening in a wall, bridge or whatever. A 2-structure walling (ie @9 on LT) is a nice advantage that can compensate for some other Terran disadvantage on a map.
-Terrans also do well with island gas-expos that have land somewhere close to them where a Command Center float is timely. Obviously that can be taken to an extreme too like Gorky where the natural grants a significant advantage to Terrans because it's babied too.
-Ledges, obstacles on the terrain, narrow areas, shorter land distances between bases and smaller bases are all variables that can be adjusted up and down to balance Terrans against the other races.
-Lastly, I think Terrans benefit a little from having plenty of random build-able terrain for Turret lines. I consider this a small factor though and a good one to tinker with if your map needs some small balance adjustments.
4. Things to Avoid and Watch For
Test your map to check that all main gas nodes can be 3-peon'd. Count the mineral patches at each expo to make sure they're the same and roughly equal distance to the start locations.
Bill307 suggests these steps to check:
a. Mimic (recent) pro-map mineral arrangements, since they're (presumably) ensured to be equal, or
b. Test your mineral formations using computers to ensure that they all mine at roughly the same rate (e.g. have the comps mine 4000 minerals, and at the end you should get resource scores like 1024, 1008, 992, 1008).
-Make sure there's actually place to build a HQ building at expos, which sometimes people neglect.
-Cliff-able main minerals are possible but are going to require special balance considerations. If it's an island cliff you're really forcing your players to build countering one very powerful strategy. A cliff like Bi-frost though is pretty reasonable though since the ramp is right there.
-Check siege range at all your expos. It's ok if they're exposed to a tank on a cliff or below somewhere, but try to make sure the equivalent expos on the other side are too. Along those same lines, also consider when you make ridges or even islands you should also consider what a Terran can fit there. If a Terran can float a factory and build an add-on at one ridge, try to keep it the same as the other ridges."
-Don't go overboard on critters if you use them at all. Keep in mind against a light blue opponent they're really going to wreak havoc on the mini-map.
-If possible, try to avoid having a mineral-line below the HQ at mains (Example: @6 Lost Temple). This is problematic on rally points as newly made units have to weave through peons; or with no rally point you have to select them out of a mass of moving peons which is hard too.
-Make it so the chances and amount of manner-pylons you can do to a main is equal to all other mains. This is generally more a concern to horizontal mineral lines than vertical ones.
-Don't get a notion in your head of some special focus the players should have. The first map I ever made had no gas at expo, no gas at any of the side expansions and a 3-gas node center expansion. I thought it would be cool to really have the focus on who can control that central gas expansion. I was wrong. It turned out to be stupid. Let the players actually play your map, not the other way around.
-Bases need to have a roughly equal ability to defend lurkers (room for bunkers) and mutalisks (room for turrets and bunkers). Also consider that main base size must have enough to line up buildings.
5. Things to Think About
The Lost Temple expo model, gas-natural at each chokes, a mineral-only along the progression towards the center (not as well protected) and some islands. It's a tried and true model and a lot of good and popular maps (Gaema Gowon for instance) succeed just by incorporating the model into a new theme. If you're a beginning map-maker it might be prudent to adapt this model as well. It's not necessary to do so though. Plains to Hill is a very good map that doesn't follow it. A good rule of thumb in this: the further you deviate from the Lost Temple expansion model the more carefully you have to test and consider balance for all match-ups. More power to you if you can pull it off.
Symmetry is really popular right now as it pretty much kills any concerns about start location imbalance. The one thorn in symmetrical map makers' side of course it the lack of NW and NE facing ramps. Symmetrical maps are a good, safe way to go. Keep in mind they aren't the only way to go though. If your map isn't symmetrical but is still balanced, it can be a lot more fun. As much as I'm tired of this map, Lost Temple does a great job with this. There is actually different strategies you can use depending on your start locations which makes play more interesting. I feel if you can pull off asymmetry and not mess things up too much you can really make a map more fun.
Two or four player, which to decide? 1v1 remains much more popular than 2's at higher levels of play. That does not mean that 2-player maps are more interesting than 4-player maps when it comes to 1v1 though. Consider the pro/cons of both when you decide. A 2-player map can have a lot of interesting things that a 4-player can't. You have more "neutral" train to fight in or do other fun things with your map. However 2-player maps can also much be more cheese-able as players know the opponent's start location. I feel to avoid this cheese factor, in 2-player maps be careful placing cliffs accessible from the center and lengthen the land distance between bases. 4-player maps on the other hand require scouting and less cheese, But... the fact that you're going to be building 4 roughly equal bases means you have a lot less real estate to do other things with.
Mid-game islands are defined as being some distance away from build-able land. While Zerg and Protoss still require transport to establish islands, these types of island's really aren't a special Terran advantage as it takes them considerable time (and some risk) to float a CC long-distance. Definitely not all maps "need" these as a feature though they're a popular one for reasons Bill307 points out: I try to include 2 islands on my maps whenever possible, since I've seen so many cool game endings that result from their presence.
6. Tile Set Considerations
Space. "It's impossible to wall against a top cliff edge, because workers can still move between your depot/rax and the edge of the cliff." -Bill307
Ash. It's very limited in terrain choices. Also I find it difficult to visually distinguish pass/impassable & buildable/non-buildable terrain on this, it's very dark.
Desert. Terrains might make strains to the eye with yellow, orange, red colors on the map.
Ice. If you include ice way too much, it maybe a bit too bright.
Jungle. "Units (in particular lurkers) can get stuck on the ramps if they start moving around in random directions." -Bill307
Badlands. "Do not use inverted ramps on Badlands, as they have little or no tile sets to support blending."
7. General Tips
-Make interesting maps, not the standard 4 bases and a middle-ground with an island or two.
-Placing temporary command centers can help you place minerals, an easy way to copy distances and keep equal distances is by placing temporary buildings or units (having the grid enabled helps). I often count how many turrets I can fit in a straight line at various places to consider adjusting balances.
-Left, right and top, bottom terrain take up different amounts of space, so units shooting down from a ridge will vary if you simply make the space on the top and/or bottom equal. You have to trade off to make building space and the range of attack equal.
-You may put a small-quantity mineral on an island so that a Terran cannot float a Command Center there.
-To make a specific shape or size, again, temporary buildings make it easier. You can draw whatever shape you want with buildings and then fill in between the buildings (or around the buildings) with terrain, using undo when you make a building disappear. Simply by doing this you can get all kinds of pseudo symmetry and shapes. Make sure to test, though, as top/bottom left/right and width/height are not equal.
-Try to keep distances from one ramp to the other similar if possible in range of acceptable balance. If the distance from one base to another is way different, make sure you balance test those specific spots. The distance from a starting location to a ramp should be similar as well. An easy way to do this is to create N-1 lings (where N is the amount of spots) at each starting loc (or ramp) for one player (no random spots) and send them at the same time, one to each spot, watching to see which arrives first and how big the difference is. After doing this for all the combinations you're interested in, you can save the replay and notice how many replay seconds each route is and compare it to another map like Lost Temple.
8. How many mineral fields and geysers do I place?
Main Base: One geyser, 8-11 Mineral fields (If Natural has no gas, consider a two gas main)
Natural: Always one geyser unless making a close separate gas only expansion (or a double gas main), 6-8 mineral fields
Mineral only: 6-7 mineral Fields
Gas Only: Always one geyser (But avoid using gas only expos if you can.)
Other expansions (Like Islands): One geyser, 7-8 minerals
Araxas, Original Compiler
Stimey, Quotes and Suggestions
Bill307, Quotes and Suggestions
x[Reaper]x, Quotes and Suggestions
Rt-S.FakeSteve, Quotes and Suggestions
Excalibur, brought this guide to the SEN/ML community, added resource information.
10. Creator's Notes
Use SCMDraft 2 for highest quality terrain. You can download it at StormCoast Fortress!
- Minor and major grammars fixed.
- Reorganized and rephrased, removed useless comments.
- Resized the letters so it will be easier to read.
- Excalibur 5
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- Aug. 9, 2011
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