Understanding team maps

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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.

<insert picture here...>

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>

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Astro simplifies the game in many ways:

  1. Single, flat corridor between bases
  2. All team members together
  3. Base strongly protected on three sides
  4. Almost all mex are within starting position

This eliminates a great deal of complexity in the game and strongly incentives a turtle/sim city play style as it is easy for even a noob to repel attacks.

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This entire OP reads like a false dichotomy fallacy. There is more than “5 min mantis spam” and “astro” for maps. Both badlands (for larger than 2v2) and astro are bad teamgame maps for opposite reasons.

If your map has low general gameplay quality, low variety in tactics, low quality artistic work, then it’s a shit map. Astro is all 3. Same as badlands. Couldn’t care less about map plays.

By the way, the real reason no good teamgame maps are made is precisely because of the global environment. None of the top mappers I’ve talked to have an interest in making well made teamgame maps as they will get 1 or 2 games. Ladder incentivizes the creation of well made maps through both plays and a curation process. This is why I can see two good ladder maps a month. It is also why I can’t name a dozen good teamgame maps made in the last year. There is no inherent difficulty in the map design, the same concept of expansions/raidable mexes/map control apply.

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@FunkOff said in Understanding team maps:

Astro simplifies the game in many ways:

  1. Single, flat corridor between bases
  2. All team members together
  3. Base strongly protected on three sides
  4. Almost all mex are within starting position

This eliminates a great deal of complexity in the game and strongly incentives a turtle/sim city play style as it is easy for even a noob to repel attacks.

Which is of course a large part of the reason why its a fantastic map. Low level players want to feel some degree of control as they explore the game on their own terms, and the safety affording by astro facilitates this exploration.

They can try out T2 bombers, because they aren't going to immediately be overrun by a stronger player. They can see how T3 arty works, because they're likely to survive long enough to do so.

They can plan out and initiate strategies, like a tank push or small group of gunships for them an astro game is not a never-ending torrent of getting their asses handed to them... which is what other maps provide them. It makes them feel like they're fighting, like they have a chance, like they're on an even playing field.

And its why Astro is such an excellent map.

It may not be the best map for an 1800+ (or even an 800+) but it is a fantastic map for a large number of players. Tens of thousands of enjoyable hours have been spent playing Astro. More than any other map.

Astro is the most successful FAF map of all time by the only criteria that actually matters. Player experience.

To pretend its not a great map is silly. Its just not a great map - for the people criticizing it.

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@Mod_Councillor said in Understanding team maps:

Couldn’t care less about map plays.

You clearly don't realize that this statement is directly translatable to "Couldn't care less about how the map plays".

People like those maps because of how the map plays. They like those maps, because within the bounds of lobbies and varied skill levels, those maps provide them with enjoyable experiences.

They play well.

They find the maps you'd prefer them to play to be shitty maps... because to them they very much are shitty maps. Doesn't matter how pretty it is or whether it has the Ladder elite approved number of expansions.

Just matters that they enjoy themselves while playing those maps.

None of the top mappers I’ve talked to have an interest in making well made teamgame maps as they will get 1 or 2 games.

Your perspective is backwards. You believe that the map is good even if no one will play it.

The map is good if provides players with enjoyable games. Focus on building maps that provide the playerbase with enjoyable games and perhaps you'll find the playerbase more willing to accept your maps.

From that point on, you'll be able to inject your personal opinions about what constitutes good map design - in moderation - as long as the playerbase is willing to accept it.

What you're doing is silly. Don't declare the maps that everyone enjoys playing trash and demand that they adhere to what you think a good map should be. They won't. Of course they won't.

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Astro is literally a terrible map just because the singular terrain feature on it, the atrocious mountains, lie to you. By any objective analysis, a map that lies to you is garbage.

There are plenty of maps that are good that accomplish what astro does but still teaches the value of map control, scouting, reclaim, and still provides a safe eco game ie fields of isis.

Astro is garbage even if you restrict your map selection to safe eco maps for new players. Its popularity is literally built on the cultural influence of yuri and the feedback loop of global rating. Nothing else.

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@Mod_Councillor said in Understanding team maps:

Astro is literally a terrible map just because the singular terrain feature on it, the atrocious mountains, lie to you. By any objective analysis, a map that lies to you is garbage.
There are plenty of maps that are good that accomplish what astro does but still teaches the value of map control, scouting, reclaim, and still provides a safe eco game ie fields of isis.
Astro is garbage even if you restriction your map selection to safe eco maps for new players. Its popularity is literally built on the cultural influence of yuri and the feedback loop of global rating. Nothing else.

No, that's not how you decide what a good map is. I agree that's a flaw, but the single factor that separates a good map from a bad map is player experience.

If people like it, they'll play it. If they don't like it, it will sit in the vault forgotten.

Accept this, embrace this, and try to create and push maps that people actually want to play.

If you want to have any kind of control in what maps people choose, it will only come through a willingness to accept the conditions upon which the player-base is willing to play a map.

That will get you a hell of a lot farther than your whitelist.

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Except people still to familiarity, it partly why Seton's is the Iconic Supreme Commander Map. But also the problem is, I go to the vault and try to find a map to play with my friends (normally vs AI on Sunday's sense that is what we do). And what do I find? Several variations of the same map, specifically Gap/DualGap/Astro. So how will I find a 'good' map? (Answer: partly why my friends and I for Sunday, using MapGen 20 by 20 Maps).

But if I didn't have to sift to find a game I will more likely look into the vault to find a quality map. I suppose there should be a note that quality and 'fun' is different here. I am a Toku fan (Godzilla, Power Rangers etc, people punching each other in rubber suit or movies/show shot with extensive use of practical over special effects), but will I ever say that Godzilla King of the Monsters: 2019 is better than something like "Who Framed Roger Rabbit". No, one is a popcorn flick and another is a seen a quality movie. Both can be called "Good" but the concept of "Good" here is not the same of quality.

If you want to make a map for you and your friends to spend 30 minutes to have fun on, you can still do that. FAF just won't promote it and unless its not just 'fun' but is also a quality map.

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@Dragun101

Separating "quality" from "fun to play" is a terrible idea.

You can't do it objectively, you're going to have a group of our Mod_Councillor's buddies here deciding which maps maps you might find if you go looking - and this guy doesn't even understand what makes a good map and thinks the best and most popular maps are terrible.

Imagine thinking the most beloved maps ever to grace the game are actually terrible?

They can make such a thing objective, but an objective system would require them to face the clear reality that good maps are maps people enjoy playing and which are fun for them. They'd have to give up control over what constitutes a "good map", and they're clearly not willing to do it.

The problem isn't that no one can find a map that isn't astro, the "problem" is that astro is what most people are looking for.

And that should be considered "just fine" or "working as intended" except these guys have lost their minds.

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Your previous post reminds me of:
If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses. ~Henry Ford

Either how, I understand both perspectives. I understand that if a lot of people play a certain type of map and you want to produce a map that is popular then taking elements of the popular map into your own map is a logical choice - after all, people will need less time to understand the concept of the new map.

I also understand that the simplicity of the Astro and Gap maps do not match the expectations of some of the players. I can't talk for everyone else, but I can talk for myself. To me, maps in any form of Astro or Gap out there is a shallow image of what the game can truly be. If you watch any 1 vs 1 replay from Gyle (especially the one he put out about yesterday) then you can see what I think this game was supposed to be: an endless struggle on what you choose to spent your attention on next.

To be able to produce such an experience it requires a map that offers a wide range of approaches and opportunities. To me, maps like Astro or Gap do not offer many approaches and / or opportunities. In fact, generally, after a set of minutes it becomes rather predictable to me and in turn it becomes dull. Therefore I think a map like Astro or Gap is of poor design or, in other words, not worth playing a lot due to its repetitiveness.

This doesn't include objective criticism, such as that the Astro that I know is aesthetically not that interesting either.

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I mean the whitelist will exist in one form or another. Either it is vault-wide or just existing ad hoc in TMM. And yes, I think pretty much everything you’ve written is anathema to analyzing maps. I don’t plan on having any weight given to how often a map is played. In fact I plan to critique teamgame maps pretty much just as I do for ladder.

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But that is the point Moses, a good map isn't the same thing as fun to play. There can overlap and often times the best maps are fun to play. This a 40k reference, but I think its relevant here, one of my friends once told me about 40k list building.

A fun list is a bad list. Because often times what 'fun' means is the opponent isn't detrimentally affected by what you are doing or your cannot interrupt the opponent's game plan in any reasonable form. Any list that can do so, is instantly seen as unfun (alot like counter spells in card games), because its stopping you from having 'fun'. But a good list will, because for a list to be good, you have to be able to disrupt what the opponent is doing.

A map like Astro and Gap, is that same concept of 'fun. Sense basically no one can disrupts you from eco'ing. No one can really 'touch' your stuff or game plan for a variety of reasons. Instead it devolves to forcing the environment of magical Christmas land, where anything can happen because nothing can stop you or will disrupt you from doing your hearts desire. A map like say Seton's, which is also an eco map. Is different be because you cannot sit around and do nothing. Mid is raidable by fleets, T2 Navy specifically. You have early Com Duels, so you have leave safety of home to fight for reclaim. And then there is island fighting in the early game. In the midgame it moves to well eco'ing but then you have Air Fights. The wide expanse that is Seton's, means you can air drop and its harder to detect.

So and so forth. Fun means "Leave me alone for 30 minutes" which is not engaging in well a game.

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@Jip

Everyone understands that Astro is not meant for you and that you will find it boring. I find it boring, and I'm not a high rated player. That said, it IS perhaps the single most successful FAF map of all time. It IS the map that has had more enjoyable hours put on it than any other. To declare it a bad map is absurd.

Why can't people accept that what constitutes a great map for a 2200 is not the same as a great map for a 400? No one's trying to force you to play Astro here.

The whitelist does seem intended to hide certain types of absurdly popular maps however. No one is trying to bend your arm to play astro, but it looks like in a sense arms will be bent to play whatever the hell our Mod_Councillor and friends deem worthy...

Moreover, there is something of a dearth of good team maps out there. I'm not a particularly skilled map maker, my maps tend to look like shit, but they do fill. If there were an influx of reasonable team maps - maps which take into account hard realities like keeping games even into the middle game and where players don't have to guess at which expansions are theirs and which expansions will cause a teammate to complain... maps where initial contact with an enemy com can be survived via some kind of intentional escape mechanism. Maps where transporting an engineer early is not part of the opening.

If more maps like that existed out there you might be able to inject some much needed diversity into the team map space.

At the end of the day, there's a sane way to provide people with the content they want, and there's an asinine way to subtlety encourage others to accept the content you want them to accept.

People are going to play the maps they enjoy. If those that have some degree of power would just accept that first option rather than the second the player-base would be a bit better off for it.

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@Mod_Councillor said in Understanding team maps:

I don’t plan on having any weight given to how often a map is played. In fact I plan to critique teamgame maps pretty much just as I do for ladder.

Badly?

I'm sure having dozens of maps that are never played with excellent reviews and tons of maps with terrible reviews getting played will do wonders for your reputation as a reviewer.

And yes, I think pretty much everything you’ve written is anathema to analyzing maps.

Do your maps fill? Do they pass this most basic of tests?

How can you not see that as a sign that you're doing it wrong?

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I'd rather eat good properly balanced meal once a month in a great restaurant than eat every day in Shitdonald.
It's basically this but mapping lol.

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Astro is a bad map. People like it, because it doesn't require a brain to play. That's all there is to it. That doesn't make Astro a great map, it just makes it the map for people who don't like to use their brain.

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@moses_the_red said in Understanding team maps:

@Jip

Everyone understands that Astro is not meant for you and that you will find it boring. I find it boring, and I'm not a high rated player. That said, it IS perhaps the single most successful FAF map of all time. It IS the map that has had more enjoyable hours put on it than any other. To declare it a bad map is absurd.

I didn't declare it a bad map. I said it was a map of poor design.

Why can't people accept that what constitutes a great map for a 2200 is not the same as a great map for a 400? No one's trying to force you to play Astro here.

This is exactly what I was saying. To me, such maps do not match the expectations that I want from a round / map. Doesn't mean it can't match the expectations for other people.

The whitelist does seem intended to hide certain types of absurdly popular maps however. No one is trying to bend your arm to play astro, but it looks like in a sense arms will be bent to play whatever the hell our Mod_Councillor and friends deem worthy...

I believe this is how a community / society works. A clear example: the topics you were taught on school is what your government / school deemed worthy. This community is no different in trying to apply some standard. You can agree or disagree to the standard and even challenge it - that is the exact reason that a council election is coming up.

Moreover, there is something of a dearth of good team maps out there. I'm not a particularly skilled map maker, my maps tend to look like shit, but they do fill. If there were an influx of reasonable team maps - maps which take into account hard realities like keeping games even into the middle game and where players don't have to guess at which expansions are theirs and which expansions will cause a teammate to complain... maps where initial contact with an enemy com can be survived via some kind of intentional escape mechanism. Maps where transporting an engineer early is not part of the opening.

You mean maps like Gap, where transporting a bunch of engineers early is part of the opening for some players? Or maps like both Astro and Gap where there is no escape mechanism for a commander if it moves to the middle? Or perhaps the idea that the middle game in Gap is far from even, considering it is one persons job to not just rush ASF / Strats, but to pretty much rush an SML?

There is a lot of discussion starting on this exact topic. Contribute your opinion to it, discuss maps at detail. See also this proposal for the forum:

If more maps like that existed out there you might be able to inject some much needed diversity into the team map space.

They do exist. They are just hidden / unsearchable at the moment of writing, which is exactly (part of) the reasoning taken for the proposal for a 'whitelist' version of the vault. Some examples:

  • Adaptive Hutts Clutch
  • Regor Higlands
  • Selkie Isle

And more 🙂 .

Open up the vault and you'll see that it is being flooded by clones of Astro or Gap, or a more modern version: the combination of the two. This too prevents you from finding alternative maps that offer the nice game play elements that you mentioned earlier.

At the end of the day, there's a sane way to provide people with the content they want, and there's an asinine way to subtlety encourage others to accept the content you want them to accept.

Using a word as asinine is pretty harsh, considering it is an alternative to 'extremely stupid'. Referring to the Henry Ford quote - giving people what they want may be the silliest thing there is. We'd been stuck with Seton's and Field of Isis clones for years on end 🙂 .

People are going to play the maps they enjoy. If those that have some degree of power would just accept that first option rather than the second the player-base would be a bit better off for it.

The same people 'in power' choose to put one version of Dual Gap in the M&M Top Picks - one that is aesthetically pleasing and offers more diversity in game play but is essentially the same map. I don't entirely see your point in this statement.

There is an upcoming council election and you can cast your vote there. I believe there are two parties, read up on it and make your choice.

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Fantastic thread.

@moses_the_red said in Understanding team maps:

There's an absurd notion in the community that maps that get played are terrible maps.

No, the notion is that (dual) gap and astro maps are bad. This opinion would be the same regardless of playcount. There are plenty of good maps on the the top plays list, and they're not bad because they're played. Don't minimalise the opinion of people that you do not agree with.

@moses_the_red said in Understanding team maps:

Everyone hates Astro, and everyone also seems to play Astro. Why is Astro a great map?

Why is Dust2 my favorite counterstrike map even though every other map has more depth and variety in it's gameplay?
It's my favorite map because I run to a certain doorway every round and abuse my knowledge of meetpoints to get quick kills, inflating my MMR with one easy trick and no actual understanding of the game. Astro works the same way, you refine your one build order trick to farm rating. You're no longer comfortable playing a balanced game against someone with your new MMR on a map that doesn't involve your trick, so you stay on the same map to keep that rating.
This is how it goes for every map (on every game) that a player will farm out for rating, be it setons, gap, etc. Don't lie to yourself and fit arbitrary design prinicples to your case to justify it. We all know that they are played due to this reason. This is the fallacy of global rating and why it will be "removed" soon.

@moses_the_red said in Understanding team maps:

"Moses' third law of team map design"

Where are the first two rules, Isaac Asimov?

@moses_the_red said in Understanding team maps:

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.

You make maps that allow players to make no mistakes or contest eachother, delaying any actual ability to win the game until you're able to completly basekill or snipe an ACU regardless of balance. Your maps do not abide by this principle, and you likely made this rule up as you wrote the post.

@moses_the_red said in Understanding team maps:

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

No, it's because half of the players on the map start with 9 mexes instead of 11. And you have no ability to compensate for that for the entirety of the game because the map has nothing inbetween the two bases. You all in before the 11 mex player can use that mass to snowball or you lose the game. There is no other outcome. I know you're trying to imitate setons-esque rotational balance with this honestly: stupid design choice. But you need to consider "why" beach can handle being a few mexes down, instead of putting a mex count on a poorly textured flat pane.

@moses_the_red said in Understanding team maps:

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.

The outcome of that map is decided in the lobby. You got in enough players that didn't notice the gamebreaking imbalance and then they don't play it again. done.

@moses_the_red said in Understanding team maps:

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.

alt text

Huh?

@moses_the_red said in Understanding team maps:

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.

This statement doesnt align with reality. The most played maps in the vault violate this rule of intentionally forcing a stalemate. This fake design prinicple is one of the most innane things that I have heard from the mapping "community" thus far. Why bother trying to overjustify your creations when they look terrible, are gap clones with even less depth, and don't get played unless you host them? I would like to hope that anyone aspiring to be a "good mapper" on FAF would stop trying to focus on making false gospel, and focus on making their maps better instead. After all, you don't need to stretch this hard to justify good maps.

I wonder what lion or omni would think of this? A round for all you lost souls.

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Hey Moses, I have played mostly gap games up until this point. Why is it important ,to you, for 'astro/dualgap' type maps to be recognised as 'good' or even 'excellent'?

@moses_the_red said in Understanding team 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.

Popular is not the same as 'excellent'.

@moses_the_red said in Understanding team maps:

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.

How do you explain something so clearly and then make the opposite conclusion?

@FemtoZetta said in Understanding team maps:

Astro is a bad map. People like it, because it doesn't require a brain to play. That's all there is to it. That doesn't make Astro a great map, it just makes it the map for people who don't like to use their brain.

It can be said less rude but basically this. For me the problem is time.
I personally think this is a healthy perspective on the topic, but what do I know?!

@Jip said in Understanding team maps:

Either how, I understand both perspectives. I understand that if a lot of people play a certain type of map and you want to produce a map that is popular then taking elements of the popular map into your own map is a logical choice - after all, people will need less time to understand the concept of the new map.
...
To be able to produce such an experience it requires a map that offers a wide range of approaches and opportunities. To me, maps like Astro or Gap do not offer many approaches and / or opportunities.
...
This doesn't include objective criticism, such as that the Astro that I know is aesthetically not that interesting either.

I had fun learning about moses third law of map design.

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