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Modifying the Map before Playing a Match

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I keep coming back to an idea for a competitive RTS that features randomly-generated maps for most matches, and where many other details such as opponent faction and your own and opponents' starting locations are not known. Obvious such a scheme would have  problems with balance in cases where a generated map turned out more favorable to one player than another. I've been trying to think about ways to ameliorate this (beyond simply having a really good set of generation algorithms), and want to know if there is a lot of precedent for one such idea (and to hear thoughts).

 

So imagine that a map is generated and certain amount of detail is revealed to the players; a partial preview. They then have some options for refining this preview: a strategic scouting phase. They might send out scouts to locate gold mines or other resources, or get a better idea of the exact topographical details. Finally, they might even have the option to modify the map itself: "destroying" a resource node hey have reason to think their opponent will be closer to, or otherwise values especially highly.

 

The idea would be that none of these changes could be completely game-winning. They would be at most little statistical shoves to make a map more favorable to yourself in a way that you can control, or remove an enemy advantage if you spot one.

 

In a more blunt fashion, this could be accompanied by a "veto" ability so each player can force a map regeneration if they desire. This option would have limited uses.

 

Known issues:

feasibility of a "veto" power dependent on how fast maps generate

In a hypothetical scenario with two players equally skilled at the "strategic scouting" phase, overall change to inherent map imbalance may be zero.

 

Anyone know of games where the first part - the ability to gain more info on and modify a map before proper play begins - has been tried? Of course, other thoughts are welcome. Aside from strictly balance issues, does this sound like a possible entertaining addition for RTS players?

 

 

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Multiplayer games on randomly generated maps is quite old (most often found in older RTS games).

But there are two major issues with them in competitive matches:
1. Modern maps are designed to focus on certain strategically/tactically features. This is really hard to generate.
2. Competitive gameplay is all about training and developing certain strategies. This is incredible hard and frustrating in a ever changing environment and strategies are often tailored to certain maps.

Just take a look at the number of competitive maps in SC2, they are limited.

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Random map generation to me sounds more like a feature that could increase the longevity of a single player game... in a multiplayer setting, I would have the same reservations that Ashaman mentioned.

 

Many Online game devs allegedly tried it, but gave it up early in pre-prod or production. Seems focus testing revealed that players generally hated it... "Where's my camping bush?" - "Uh noes, I went all the way here to play superman just to find the usual position is undefendable!"....

 

Everytime a new guy joins a team of longtime players on a map everyone besides him knows, he stands out... he will not do much useful even if he would be really skilled as he doesn't know where he should be at what time. He will only use a tiny amount of the cover and routes that the map has, thus not really using the map to his and his teams advantage.

Most probably he will die within seconds though, as he might run around a corner only to find himself on the wrong side of a shooting gallery, and the whole opposing team lined up to mess up the lone noob that might come around that corner every match.

 

Now, imagine if that happens to everyone, every time. Would probably balance out as everyone is now the noob not knowing what to do. But: Gameplay would certainly change, away from fighting, and towards scouting. He who scouts the full map first and understands its layout the quickest will have a huge advantage.

Most of the matches though would most probably be pure chaos.

 

And that is before touching on the subject of balancing the maps and starting position. Over many matches, things would be balanced. But most matches would end in unbalanced setups.

I can tell you, the one reason why I don't play some games is simply because matches tend to be unbalanced. For example, some tweaks done in Armoured Warfare lead to the PvP battles very often ending very one sided. Now, its not because of random map generation there, there are other factors. But there is no fun in loosing 15-0, nor is there any fun in roflstomping the enemy. Besides other things, that is my #1 for not playing that game anymore... doing PvE gets stale quickly in AW.

 

 

As fun as procedural map generation sounds in theory, in practive you need to put a clear limit on what can be changed by the procedure. Depends on the game genre really (might work better for RPG Dungeons for example), but for an RTS, I'd vote nay, at least for the multiplayer.

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To be clear, I'm well aware that random maps is not new and there are issues with it in multiplayer. I'm asking people's thoughts (and of any known examples) on specifically the idea of players modifying said maps before the match starts.

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To be clear, I'm well aware that random maps is not new and there are issues with it in multiplayer. I'm asking people's thoughts (and of any known examples) on specifically the idea of players modifying said maps before the match starts.

 

Well, a "veto" is something of a democratic instrument.... democracy does not work in a competitive setting though where each player is only looking at getting an edge over the opponent himself.

Problem is, there are actually very, very few people that are able to accuratlely gauge balance and are ready to give up an advantage to make the actual game more balanced. I can tell you from expierience, this is why in tabletop wargaming you usually stick to the STRICTEST of possible rulesets when playing complete strangers. It gives the highest chance there is no table flipping later when somebody finds out that their opponent tricked them somehow by abusing some obscure rules or using unknown units from weird expansions.

 

I would clearly NOT let people potentially shafting their opponents before the game even starts, either making the game loopsided and unfair for the opponent, or starting a war of shafting and getting vetoed until the pre-game rules end this silly nonsense.

 

Funfactor? Most probably nil. Amount of rage built up before the game even starts? Most probably a lot.

 

 

IF you want to try something like that out, make it a strategic game of its own. Make sure the whole "map preparation phase" plays out according to a fixed ruleset that is balanced so given the skill and knowledge about it is evenly distributed among both opponents, the result is balanced, without silly vetoing.

IMO I wouldn't give the players the tools to actually "change" the map.... they could built strucures, like supply bases, or bridgeheads to prepare before the battle starts. Maybe prepare their bases. Giving the players the ability to scout the map might be interesting, at least for new players.

Changing the map sounds like the hardest task with the least amount of fun factor coming out of it. Everyone will try to make sure their opponent has a huge disadvantage... either your pre-game ruleset is extremly strict about what players can or cannot do, severly limiting the amount of impact of this system, or this system might completly screw over the hard balancing work you did on the main game.

 

 

Really, what you propose sounds like an AWESOME game for good friends to have a blast, just as having a beers and pretzels tabletop game testing out the most OTT special units from the weirdest expansions for fun and giggles.

It doesn't sound like a game that has any chance to become a competitive gamers favourite, or is even very fun to play for strangers over the internet. Strangers playing competitive games against each other tend to be pretty much a**holes, using every loophole they can... yet they will complain about the loopsided battle and missing balance afterwards.

Giving these player less options that they can use to make the game less fun for themselves and their opponents if often a good idea, even if players might tell you otherwise.

Edited by Gian-Reto

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IF you want to try something like that out, make it a strategic game of its own. Make sure the whole "map preparation phase" plays out according to a fixed ruleset that is balanced so given the skill and knowledge about it is evenly distributed among both opponents, the result is balanced, without silly vetoing.

 

That was the essential idea, yes. The building structures thing is also a good idea, but I'm not sure it's inherently different. It involves changing the map in some way before starting. Perhaps I could make the "destroying resource" ability more analogous to this by allowing those effects to be reversed during the course of the game, just as one might destroy a pre-placed bulding. IE: enemy scout sappers collapse a gold mine entrance in the scouting phase, then the player takes control of the mine and invests some time and other resources into re-opening it.

 

The veto system was intended to work within another idea I had for the, which was a more varied win/loss system. In an attempt to give players a higher tolerance for losing any individual match, there would be levels and different types of winning and losing, and this would matter to a sort of metagame score layer. All very dependent on each other, which is another weakness. But the whole concept is experimental. Essentially it means that maps would be generated until both players had "accepted" one. A player who uses all their vetos auto-accepts all maps, but a player can also accept a map even when they have vetoes left. Accepting a map you perceive as having a very low bias against you might still be better than vetoing and possibly ending up with an even worse situation.

 

Really, what you propose sounds like an AWESOME game for good friends to have a blast, just as having a beers and pretzels tabletop game testing out the most OTT special units from the weirdest expansions for fun and giggles.It doesn't sound like a game that has any chance to become a competitive gamers favourite, or is even very fun to play for strangers over the internet.

 

Entirely possible. I'm operating under the advice of a game designer who said something like (massive paraphrase warning) "Don't try to design an esport. Add hooks to make it easier for your game to be adopted as one, sure, but trying to design one from the outset will get you a soulless, joyless 'game'" With how this game is taking shape in my head and in a handful of limited prototypes, any competitive scene that could possibly grow up around it would look very different to, say, Starcraft's. My use of the phrase "competitive RTS" was really just redundant - I meant the stereotypical RTS, where two or more players go up against each other.

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You said that the player doesn't know his start position. That makes it very hard to modify the map, because the players won't know where to optimize. They can only try to move the map towards more homogeneity, which doesn't sound particularly fun to me.

 

If the players pick there start locations, you've got a lot more options. There's divide-and-choose, where one player places both bases and the other selects his preferred one. You could also make the scouting phase variable length: you can keep spending more time scouting the map and learning more about it, but once an opponent selects his base that region is off limits: so you have to balance gaining more data to more accurately gauge the best location with selecting the best spot before your opponent does.

 

Regarding vetoes, you might break a map into regions (say a 3x3 grid) and allow vetoes of each region. That should speed up the process some, as each map doesn't have to be reanalyzed from start, and you're determining imbalance in a smaller area.

 

Another choice would be to create very vanilla maps and then have some resource that builds up and allows modifications. Maybe there's no iron/gold/whatever at all at the start, you have to deploy them during the game (with some rule about distance from other resources). You can also build mountains/rivers/whatever at certain points, so you can shape the map to your advantage as you go. By starting with a plain map all the unique advantages are player set. And the player might have to balance having more resources with better defensive terrain.

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You said that the player doesn't know his start position. That makes it very hard to modify the map, because the players won't know where to optimize...
 
If the players pick there start locations, you've got a lot more options. There's divide-and-choose, where one player places both bases and the other selects his preferred one. You could also make the scouting phase variable length: you can keep spending more time scouting the map and learning more about it, but once an opponent selects his base that region is off limits: so you have to balance gaining more data to more accurately gauge the best location with selecting the best spot before your opponent does.

 

Yeah, that problem did occur to me. I like the idea of the players not knowing where each other's starting location is because of how I want the rest of the game to play, but it does throw a wrench into this part. Your idea of closing off a "region" at a time helps. The player wouldn't know exactly where within that region the enemy was, it would just narrow down the search. If the map feels big enough that could still provide the effect I was going for. The "take longer to gain more information vs. grabbing an early good spot" sounds like what Offworld Trading Company does in the beginning. 

 

Generating the map in modular regions is a pretty cool idea as well! Definitely not something I've thought of. Will have to look up techniques on how to do such a thing.

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How about a Tile Laying meta-game at the start? 

 

Maps would be made out of known map tiles, and players start by placing tiles out. Different tiles have different risks/rewards tied to them, and players would have to choose to place a good tile near their starting point, or lock in a bad one near an opponent (And leave themselves open to getting a bad on in return.)

 

Starting a game off with something almost like a mini game of Carcassonne could be rather interesting with well designed tiles. 

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I love tile-laying map creation type games, but not sure it would fit in well here. The idea of a tile-layed map turning into a full-on RTS battleground is intriguing though.

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