The majority of Warcraft III mappers do not understand how to design a map for Warcraft III gamers. Rather than trying to make the game as fun as possible, they are more interested in the implementation process (creating the triggers, balancing the units, creating the terrain, etc).
The problem with this way of doing things is that these maps never become interesting to a Warcraft III player. Although the map may be free of leaks or lag, it is still missing a lot of what makes a map fun.
Often, when a Warcraft III player play tests a map, he is looking for different things than the mapper is. A mapper looks for tool tip errors, lag spikes, balancing issues, and other similar things. However, the Warcraft III player looks at the game for how they like it:
• Is the game easy to learn?
• Is the game the same as all the others?
• Is the game interesting?
• Would I want to play this again?
This huge difference between what a mapper tests for, and what a player plays for is what often causes a map to be unsuccessful. This is something that needs to change if you want your map to become fun and popular.
The very first stage a Warcraft III player goes through, is what I call the “Noob Stage”, because no one wants to be called a noob for long. In the noob stage, new players are getting their very first impression of your map. They're finding out what they like about the map, what they don't like, but they're also trying to learn how the game works at the same time. This is the most important stage, as it determines whether this gamer will ever play or host your map again. Therefore, you want to design first and foremost for these people:
• Make your game easy to learn. No one wants to see extremely lengthy spell tool tips or complicated leveling systems.
• Keep it simple. Even if you have to leave out how much damage your fire circle spell does every second after a unit who has been in the fire for X seconds does for X seconds after that same unit leaves the fire circle spell area... yeah. No one is going to read that.
• Make game concepts basic and fun. If you want to make a complicated game, you certainly can't do it by making every player constantly micro-ing. A new player will be overwhelmed by all the things he has to keep track of. Keeping it simple will also make it easier for you to balance special abilities (as a bonus!).
• Make the player feel in control. Don't leave them off on their own to try and figure out how they're supposed to play the game. Explain the basics, so they understand what they need to do, and how to do it.
• Don't make the noob feel like a noob. No one wants to feel like you're treating them like a child. If something doesn't need to be explained, DON'T. Explaining how to “build towers in a maze-like fashion” to a veteran TD player is one of the worst things you can do. Instead, tell them the basics, such as “mazing along the path”, and teach them what is new to your map. Teach them what they need to know, so they can get right into the action.
The next stage a player goes through, is the "Frustration Stage", because this is where players minds and your map collide. Players don't want to feel a lot of frustration, and this is another common place that maps fail. Here's one example of a frustrating game:
Two friends, Darthfett and kc102 are playing Aliens vs Monster in a public B.Net game. Aliens vs Monsters is a game where Aliens and Monsters each have bases, and must destroy the enemy base. Darthfett and kc102 are friends who are playing for the second time. However, in this particular game, the other team (ReVolver and Smith_S9) are also friends, but they are veterans at the game. Darthfett, the level 2 Blademaster starts to charge one of the lanes, and uses whirlwind. He completely kills all the units at the front lines, and he charges forward along with the Aliens to start killing one of the Monsters' towers. However, ReVolver was watching, and brings his level 3 Mutant Pandaren to aid the next wave of Monsters. Darthfett sees him coming, and calls to kc102, who is nearby, for help. He starts to run, but ReVolver throws a Storm Bolt at him, stunning him for 6 seconds. He then charges past the Aliens, and hits Darthfett, and once again for a critical strike. ReVolver then casts “Throw up” (a slowing effect) on Darthfett, just before the Stun duration ends and Darthfett is just able to blink away. However, ReVolver casts Sprint, and catches up to Darthfett, just in time to get another critical hit to kill him. Darthfett, who is now frustrated that he died, lost all his items, and now has to wait 60 seconds to revive, begins to yell at kc102 for not backing him up. Kc102 apologizes, claiming he was shopping and not paying attention, but Darthfett continues to rage and rant at kc102. Once he revives, Darthfett starts to chase kc102, and kills him. Kc102, who feels as if he has done nothing wrong, is also angry, but Darthfett is continuing to team attack. Kc102 decides to rage-quit, so Darthfett can calm down.
Now, what was the main problem with the game? Was it ReVolver's clearly overpowered 6 second stun Storm Bolt? ReVolver's ridiculously unfair and lucky critical strikes? The clear disadvantage Darthfett had, even though he was only 1 level lower than ReVolver? ReVolver's clearly unfair use of the awesome Pandaren as a hero? Nope. None of them. The actual problem with the game, was the unfair consequences for dying.
• People don't play games for huge responsibilities. After all, that is why they are playing a game! Instead of giving huge consequences for a dying player, the map should be designed to give huge rewards for killing. Then, instead of a player trying to blame others for their problems, they will get frustrated with themselves for giving the enemy player a boost.
• The key to the frustration stage is to give fair consequences. A player should not be put out of the game for 60 seconds, for something that occurred in four. It is also best to design the game so that players will get mad at their own faults, rather than blaming it on something else. A player who feels insignificant will practice and play more, whereas a player who feels that they cannot improve (it is the game's fault or a friend's fault) will simply become angry with the people playing the game, or the game itself, and quit.
Replay and Rewards Stage
The next step to designing your map for the gamers is the Replay and Rewards stage. This is mainly what determines whether your map will continue to stay on top and for how long. In this stage, players have become accustom to your map. They know the rules and they know what they like. This is where they determine whether they want to play your game again, and is the biggest influence on the replay factor.
• The first step is to design the map for different experiences every time. This is the downfall of many non pvp-oriented maps, as making the map balanced is higher priority. This means that the random factor is usually lost, in order to make a map 'fair' for players. However, this makes the game very bland and boring for second and third and fourth games. Introduce random power-ups, or random items available can really change the way a player has to react to a map. This keeps the game fresh, and allows players to have a new experience every time they play.
• Another step is to give players lots of options. If you've ever read a “Choose Your Own Adventure,” you know what I'm talking about. A regular book may be good to read for 3 or 4 times over a few years. However, a Choose Your Own Adventure book can keep you interested for 3 to 4 reads in a few days. The reason is because there are so many different ways to play the game, it really gives the player a lot of freedom. “Quality over Quantity” is a good guide for mapping, but that doesn't mean you can't have options for players. Giving players a choice of just 5 heroes is a lot better than giving them a choice between 30 heroes or no choice at all.
• The last step is to give good players what they deserve. Players are going to beat your game, so you're going to want to give them a reward. This is very map-dependent, so here's a few examples:
• Secrets – Who doesn't like to find hidden things in a map? Finding a secret shop doesn't have to be unbalanced, but it could sell some items that everyone will want!
• Unlockables – Although not many people like to join a game feeling like a noob, there are quite a number of games that have had success from “Achievements”. Left 4 Dead, Fallout 3, Team Fortress 2, and tons of other games have it. Why not try it out on yours?
• Alternate game modes – Why not try giving players new rules? In Uther Party, the winning player gets to choose from a horde of minigames. This not only encourages players to play until the end, but it also rewards the winning player.
• Basically, the idea is to give players an incentive to play further, and get better.
Where to Begin?!
Now that you understand the basic idea of what makes a game fun, you're probably wondering where to start.
• The easiest way to start would be to simply get an idea. One thing I’ve learned from Flash games is that an idea does not necessarily have to be new to be popular or fun. Instead, it’s the way you design the game. It can be a game like a Capture the Flag, Tug O’ War, Space Invaders, or it can be something new. What matters is that YOU think it would be fun to play.
• Next, you just have to jot down a list of things you think your map should be about. If you’re creating a map similar to Space Invaders, do you want the enemies to be completely unique with all sorts of different attacks, or do you want the environment that the enemies move around to be changing, or do you maybe want to emphasize the defense aspect of the game, and create bases with strong defenses?
• Now that you’ve created a layout for the game, start with the basics. Create a working but very lightweight game. Test it out (with friends or by yourself), and see what parts you enjoy most. Emphasize those parts! Repeat the process of designing different aspects of the game, and see what works and what doesn’t.
• Now you can begin designing the map for new players. Try to let players explore the game’s layout on their own a little, and then teach them what they know first, and little by little increase the complexity of how the game. For example, if players absolutely have to build defense towers to stop enemies from reaching the goal, tell them to build a tower at first, so they don’t get confused and ruin the game for others. Then, teach them something important about the game, such as how the unique upgrading system for the tower works.
• Once you’ve added enough content to make a playable version of the map, play the map for yourself again. Find out in which parts of the game you are bored. Players who are waiting on something will become impatient and frustrated. If you have unnecessarily long build times for your buildings, or ridiculous revive times, try reducing them to keep players in the action longer. Also play-test the map with regular gamers, to make sure everyone is doing what they’re supposed to. For example, if a player is not following an unsaid rule, such as attacking enemy bases, find out why he is not. He may be doing this because there isn’t enough incentive for him to, or because he afraid of dying. Try to fix this by rewarding players who do what they’re supposed to.
• The next step of testing is to take a close look at how players complete objectives. If this area is repetitive, such as constantly killing the same units for a large amount of the time, it may be beneficial to spice up this area. If you keep players focused on their objectives, and you give random events here and there, you can really keep this part of the game fresh. If you keep this aspect of the game constantly changing, you will keep players excited and on their feet. Just remember to ‘announce’ special events, so players don’t get killed without knowing why.
• The last step is to focus players on the objective. If you give a monkey a banana for performing a trick, he’s going to want to do it again. The same principle applies here. Keep players having fun and focused on the right things by rewarding them for what they do well. Ultimately, players compete against each other because they want to beat other players, and win the competition. Your map is an outlet of these feelings, a way for players to compete. Your objective is to keep players focused on beating the other players through your own game. For example, if your games objective is for players to capture the flag to score points, you could try creating rewards for captures. If one team gets money for capturing the flag, the other team is going to want to get money too. This will then lead to both teams struggling to get the flag, as they want to make their hero stronger in order to beat the other team.
As you can probably see, there is no magic ingredient to making a map. It just takes some thought put into the idea. The best process to any design is to simply test it out, and to refine it until you are satisfied. It may be time consuming, but you will be very satisfied with the end product.
When you design a map, you should take in consideration that there are 3 main parts to creating the map.
• Step one is to get the map functioning properly. This is simple, as it is simply getting the triggers and systems working correctly.
• Step two is to keep the Player's interest. This is just creating a proper introduction to a new map for a player. Keep the player informed about how the map works, while leaving them a little bit of room to explore. Also keep them focused on the objectives, so they don't become restless.
• Step three is creating a fun idea. Remember, just about any idea can be fun, it's all about how creatively you implement this into the map.
All three steps are up to you. It's your choice as to how the map will function, in what ways the map will stay interesting, and why your map is fun. All that's left is for you to be creative!
I wish you all well in creating maps that are more than just a system!