This post has been a long time coming. There's an absurd notion in the community that maps that get played are terrible maps. They aren't. It shouldn't take much in the way of reasoning to understand that maps that have provided countless hours of enjoyable FAF gameplay are not bad maps.
But it can be hard to understand why those maps are played - why they're popular. It can be difficult to appreciate what makes them excellent maps.
This post aims to help map makers understand why popular maps are popular, and also provide some lessons in map design that you can apply to your own team maps.
First, lets look at the most hated and popular map of them all. Astro Crater.
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Everyone hates Astro, and everyone also seems to play Astro. Why is Astro a great map? How can it be reasonable to call it a great map?
Astro is a map that both satisfies "Moses' third law of team map design" and also provides a very simplified game with significant player safety built into the map.
What is "Moses' third law of team map design"? Its simple:
Your map should be designed to ensure a tightly balanced game up to the middle game for all players of all skill levels that your map targets.
If your map doesn't follow that principal, it won't fill... period. I've spent a lot of time working on maps that I thought were going to be fantastic, but I violated that law of team map design and because of that they won't fill.
If you want an example of a failed map, a map that failed because it didn't take this law into account, look up "Pathogen". It looks sane on the surface and has some interesting features, but it permits players to quickly rush each other which causes early game com deaths. For that reason, you cannot fill games on that map. No one wants to wait for 30 minutes for a room to fill so they can play a map where the victor is decided at the 5 minute mark. I failed to ensure that most games make it to the middle game on pathogen, and so pathogen is a vault queen. I doubt it will ever get 20 plays. Part of me wants to fix it, and part of me knows that the flaws in that map are endemic to its design. Fixing it wouldn't fix it, fixing it would be essentially creating a different map.
You can violate that law in other ways too. You could have a map where the optimal opening is overly complicated for players in the skill range that the map targets. This allows skilled players to attain an early advantage over others. Don't do that, your games won't fill. You could have a map where there are central mexes that must be fought over early, don't do that, your map won't fill. It seems reasonable on the surface, but your players will realize they're behind and likely lost the moment those mexes are taken. This will cause your rooms to stop filling.
People don't find it fun to play from behind. You want players that are behind to not know it, they can have an enjoyable experience while behind if they don't know they're behind, but if you put large expansions out all over the map and they lose them, you're essentially rubbing their noses in the fact that they've allowed the enemy to gain significant advantage.
The most disgruntled person on their team might then quit, even if he was terrible he might blame others for the loss (I mean, he'll probably blame others for the loss). This is not a fun experience for your players. Your job is to keep things fun.
And yes, this is different from how 1v1 maps work. 1v1 is very different, there are fewer serious constraints to what constitutes a good map in 1v1. I'm not trying to claim that 1v1 maps require less skill or have less value, but you've probably noticed that you're not seeing a lot of new team maps getting played. Team maps need to satisfy a lot of requirements in order to be successful. If a 1v1 map separates good players from bad, that's fine. If your team map does that... its a shitty team map.
You may not like the idea that this law of map design is real, but it is. If you think its not real, find a map that violates this principal and try to fill games on it. You'll find that its real enough.
Astro provides a combination of player safety and distance between bases to ensure that on average, Astro games make it to the middle game.
That just means that Astro is a playable team map though. It doesn't explain its massive popularity.
<Not going to finish this in one setting, will update this until its completed>