StarCraft® II

Dear Blizzard...about the Terrain Editor

I am SaltyDog and I have been creating melee maps recently for a high level in-house on the EU servers. I have made about eight maps so far, four of which have made it through the balance/production process. You can see them played on DeliCious' "Diamond/Master 1v1 + obs" games on the EU server (high level games with observers welcome). My maps have been fairly successful and I have enjoyed using the Editor to make them.

First off I would like to say that I love the Galaxy Editor. The versatility of the Data Editor and the Terrain Editor, user-friendliness of the Trigger Editor, the wonderful publishing system are all just great. This post is my humble contribution to possible fixes in future patches.

There are a few areas where the Editor may hold room for improvement. If anyone can correct me on any of the following that would be wonderful. Bear in mind this is in reference to melee map creation and balance.

Ramps: keeping the Protoss happy

Any Protoss player will tell you that being able to block a ramp with one forcefield is essential to some of their staple tactics. The ramp must also be large enough to move a small army through with relative speed, this 'perfect ramp' is the smallest that can be applied to a diagonal cliff section. The closest options for a perpendicular cliff are one smaller than this (that only just squeezes an Ultralisk through) and one larger that cannot be blocked with one forcefield. Of course the grid that we work on is square and squares are wider on the diagonal than the perpendicular.

I am suggesting that the diagonal size ramps should be buildable on perpendicular cliffs and vice-versa, this would mean no changes would be necessary to the current map pool. Pathing and the build grid link directly to the editors grid and that would cause problems if trying to accomplish this but if it is possible, it should be done.

Also, the ramp tool is clunky: with manmade cliffs one can usually learn where to click to successfully place a ramp but with natural cliffs this is not so easy and often I will be clicking away trying unsuccessfully to place a ramp until suddenly I place one double the size I expected.

The level of ground at the base of the ramp must extend back behind the base on either side (by 2.5 squares to the rear and one square out to the side). As far as I can see, this is completely unnecessary and limits the intricacy with which ramps connecting multiple cliff levels can be placed.

When using the copy and paste tool on terrain containing ramps, these ramps will more often than not become bugged, enabling units to path the cliff just to the side of the ramp. This means that every time a ramp is pasted, it must be deleted and replaced. This problem can be solved with a function tool that removes all ramps on the map and replaces them with one click, a 'ramp debug' tool.

[Character limit reached , to be continued...]
Edited by SaltyDog on 04/02/2011 21:43 GMT
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Textures: beauty is as important as playability.

With the 'Same cliff level only' brush option enabled, once once you have begun to paint a texture on one cliff level, that texture will only paint onto that level until you click again on a different level. This is incredibly useful when the cliff level defines the texture which is so often the case but what about natural cliffs? Textures run to the very edge of natural cliffs as opposed to man made ones that have a rim. At the edge of all natural cliffs there is a thin line where the texture is linked to the level below and will not be painted if you have the ever-useful 'Same cliff level only' option checked. Of course one can turn the option off to paint these areas, being careful not to go over the edge. But this seems to be an easily fixable bug (please correct me if I'm wrong) and if that is the case, it must be fixed!

One of my favourite texture tricks is to use a 'cracked' texture such as the Korhal 'Cracked dirt' to place cracks at the mineral lines. This can be achieved by painting with a low increment (opacity) and blurring the textures together effectively making a normal texture look cracked. This makes minerals and gas look far less out of place on say.. a skysc!*!@r roof and has been used by blizzard (see Metalopolis gold minerals and Xel Naga towers). This effect is achievable due to the way textures work: A texture consists of several images, one being the texture we see in game and others based on this image that dictate which areas catch/shadow light and how well the texture blends with others by using contrasting black and white or RGB areas in relation to the actual texture image. This being said, it would be easy enough to create some new textures consisting only of cracks, 'grunge' or even just darkness to smudge over concrete textures making them look dirty.
"Make these textures yourself" 'they' say. Well there is a limit of eight textures in any set set and one set per map, therefore it should not be necessary to waste one of them just to make make others look good. I am suggesting that the afore-mentioned textures are built into the editor and usable on any map considering that they are not full textures, rather detail to add to textures. I am aware that there are doodads for cracks but many have fire beneath them and they are not as customisable as painted textures.

Diagonal vs Perpendicular: the eternal struggle.

In the Blizzard map pool you will notice that most maps have the structure laid out diagonally. You may also notice that all 'tile' or 'panel' textures are diagonal. But wait, the map bounds, the grid and the marquee tool are all fixed as perpendicular rectangles.
First the map bounds, for a 1v1 this almost makes sense as you are likely to have bases at the far corners and the map stretching out between them, requiring more space in the center of the map ofr expos and such. But 2v2 and 4v4 are far more likely to need a square shape in order to waste as little space as possible. "So make the map perpendicular noob!" Well, of course I can do this, I can even set my 'temple cliff set' main bases at an angle to fit in with the diagonal Bel'Shir brick textures while keeping the general structure perpendicular. Oh and of course make my ramps diagonal cliffs to acheive the correct size. This is all easily done but wouldn't it be nice if I could rotate my textures (even at fixed 45 degree angles) or maybe alter their position and size so that the bricks are laid out neatly from cliff to cliff. Maybe I have an obsession with symmetry and perfection but any good mapper should and they should be able to indulge it!

So nuts to all of this messing around, let's just make a nice diagonal map. Hang on, my selection marquee is perpendicular, how will I make a diagonal map that is symmetrical down to the last grid-square? Well a good mapper should have an eye for symmetry and be able to make a symmetrical map without the use of copying and pasting, I did just that on my first diagonal map and while it took a little longer and more detailed planning, it worked just fine. You can also use the copy paste tool effectively with a diagonal map, it's just more fiddly. That being said, I would still like a diagonal marquee tool, just for convenience. This brings us smoothly to the next point.

[Character limit reached , to be continued...]
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Copying and Pasting: a noob mappers bread and butter.

Use of the copy and paste tool was what first enabled me to make my maps perfectly symmetrical, something which is now an obsession of mine and I am ever grateful of it's applicability to the Terrain tool . However, the function leaves a lot to be desired. After pasting, the marquee you are given to place your terrain is larger than your original selection and not always evenly, sometimes two extra squares one side and one the other. Also the small grid option, when checked in 'view - grid' has a habit of hiding the placement marquee when you are zoomed far out placing a large area of terrain. Using the large grid view solves this but wait, I want the small grid view on for grater accuracy.

So with the inherent inaccuracy of the paste tool, I have to paste, Crtl-Z and paste again a few times, flipping the clipboard information appropriately to mirror my map each time while only making small adjustments to my cursor position in order to find the required spot. This process is made even slower than it sounds by the fact that each paste involves creating a new area of 3D image. Despite my awesome Zotac graphics card, this lags alot when pasting larger areas. But hold on there, the genius of the Galaxy Editor's terrain tool is that you are infact working with in 2D input and the editor is creating the 3d shape automatically from you simply painting onto a 2D plane. Wow that's a clever way of creating a 3D level with ease. This being the case, why is there not a mirror function, enabling you to copy and pastes with a custom, circular, ovular, diagonal rectangular marquee on a more detailed, larger minimap-style 2D map with the final 3D image being created once you accept the changes you have made within this fantasy window. You could even draw a line through the center of your map and click 'mirror' to have it automatically copied, flipped and pasted in relation to that line.

EDIT: The editor also gets confuse when man-made and natural cliffs are close together in the pasted area, mixing them together, requiring often awkward adjustment.

I can understand why blizzard wants to keep the Data Editor away from accessible, plain English so every Tom, Richard and Harry doesn't make his own badly polished Custom UMS with loads of OP heroes in it, some things need to remain esoterical in order to assure quality. But all one should need to create a good melee map is a good knowledge of the game dynamics (or a friend who has a good knowledge of the game dynamics - thanks' DeliCious) and a passion for perfection.

The Height tool: one small adjustment

This wonderful tool bends the terrain, altering shape and height without changing pathing or adding cliffs. It is what brings maps to life and I love it! However, you may notice that on the highest 'amplitude' setting, even if you have the lowest 'speed' setting, just one click raises the land by a height exactly equivalent of 2 cliff levels, also finding the correct low amplitude setting for doing regular terrain work is difficult, I would suggest the the top amplitude setting should be around the level of what is now the middle setting, just to help with the accuracy when adjusting it (a bit like the difference between the scroll sensitivity in a really long internet page and a fairly short one).

Accessibility: maps from the masses

I have veiwed all of the custom melee maps I can find posted online and there are some great maps out there, many with good balance, many with good scale and some with both. These are the two main variables for making a good map and I will soon be putting together a small guide listing things such as the minimum size for a main pathway (one red grid square) and a main base (nine red grid squares). Also balance points such as high ground at expansions being good for Terran, (Lost Temple, Delta Quadrant) easily defend-able naturals for Protoss (Shakuras Plateu, Jungle basin) lots of easily accessible expansions and open space for Zerg (example pending). This is because, while it takes a proficient knowledge of the Data and Trigger editors and ideally an intermediate knowledge of programming to create a good custom UMS, a good melee map can be created by anyone with a competent knowledge of balance, scale and game dynamics plus a little artistic flair. It is the creation of good custom melee maps that keeps a game like StarCraft 2 alive (as stated in ICcup Diamonds post: 'iCCup: "Dear Blizzard: We need to talk about maps..."' http://eu.battle.net/sc2/en/forum/topic/679179410 paragraph 4) and more people need to have a go at making them. (especially the mid to high level players)

[Character limit reached, to be continued...]
Edited by SaltyDog on 09/02/2011 21:20 GMT
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My point? There is a useful 3rd party tool used by most melee mappers called 'SC2 Map Analyzer' (available at SC2mapster.com be sure to check through the thread and get the latest version). I believe this uses the game AI to analyse maps but I am unsure. This simple program can tell where the maps main, natural, and 3rd are, it gives readings on the 'openness' of the map and analyses rush distance with many variables taken into account. There is a limit on all these factors when trying to create a reasonable melee map. Why not build it in? The editor could analyse before you publish and warn you if your rush distance is too short/long, if you start location is out of place, with symmetrical maps it could even warn you if you were missing a ramp or some rocks (a regular and embarrasing occurance for me). Un-buildable expos due to badly placed mineral patches, rougue Zerglings (I use them to debug maps), un-altered player properties...the list goes on.

In Conclusion...

I would like to re-iterate the fact that this is a passive post about possible improvements to the Terrain editor (which I am very happy with as it is), and similar ideas about Data and Triggers would be at home in a fresh post. If anyone has any contradictions to what I have written, I would be happy to hear them and relevant additions will be edited into the post. Despite the fact that this is the EU SC2 forum, I am going to ask the impossible and request that the trolls find a different bridge to lurk under. I will be posting a request for race-related balance variables in reference to terrain structure on the General forum and this post will most likely be on ICcup and TL forums within the next few days.

Thank you for reading if you have made it this far and I hope some of you have some constructive input for me.

EDIT: 03/02/11

GATEWAY_DOWN: *facepalm*

Yes, the infamous 'Gateway Down' error is the bane of many map editors. From the little research I have done it seems this is due to there being a two minute limit for map publishing, after which the map fails to publish and the error is displayed. I have a very large melee map with a lot of intricate texture work that is 2.1mb in size. Unfortunately my internet connection is not so good and so to publish any changes I make to this map, I have to file transfer it to a friend and get him to publish it in his name. Perhaps I am wrong about the reasons for the error, maybe someone can correct me.

Xel Naga Watch Towers:

So you're making a map, lets say, the Korhal texture set; concrete, roads, street lights, shop fronts and of course watch towers forged by the almighty Xel Naga and placed in the Korhal central businuss district because...um... Ok so every map needs watch towers really, they are part of the game dynamic now but why just the one model? The model itself goes perfectly with the 'Ulan (Xel Naga Worldship)' texture set for which it was originally intended. But this model even looks out of place in Aiur, the Protoss home world. Blizzard, harness your infinite resources, for the sake of map aesthetics and make two more Xel naga tower models, one steam-punky Terran model and one stone model for the jungle maps. This really is a screamer and needs to be fixed. (Of course I could make my own model but that would make the map size way too big and possibly jeopardise it's 'Melee' status)

EDIT: 06/02/11

Chameleon doodads:

I am referring to the doodad sets that take on the texture of the terrain beneath them such as the 'Crater' and 'Xel'Naga torn plates' sets. These bridge the gap between terrain and props, making otherwise impossible terrain work very easy. These models only blend seamlessly with the terrain when the area that meets the ground is at exactly the same height level as the terrain beneath. unfortunately the selection points of many of these doodads do not lie at the join between doodad and terrain, causing problems when placing on ground that isn't level. The resulting seam can be corrected by adjusting the height of the doodad in Object Properties but moving the selection point would make more sense.
Also, they are incredibly useful and versatile. Just as I believe that there should be similarly versatile textures, having loads more of these clever doodads would be really great.
Edited by SaltyDog on 06/02/2011 14:14 GMT
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Hmmm, really great tutorial, but if I were you, I would Underline the most immportant sentences and parts of them for people who dislike reading a whole wall of text...
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Very good post, I agree with all the points.

Especially the diagonal Vs perpenidcular conundrum, it's very irritating that the control is simplified to the extent that it severely reduces the options available to the user.
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Great post. Blizzard should read this.
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Community
Thank you for the extensive feedback. It is always great to come across such thought-out threads and to see you put so much effort into putting it into writing. Any additional input on the matter also from other players is also as always appreciated.

By the way, I always like to encourage you to make use of the "Like" feature when they find a thread that is well-written and reflects your opinion. It helps us find these kind of threads. ;)
Edited by Xordiah on 04/02/2011 14:32 GMT
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Community
04/02/2011 2:19 PMPosted by Koshi
Great post. Blizzard should read this.


We did. ;)
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Great read, there goes my "Like"s :P.

Constructive > all.
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Very well written post. I am completely with this one.
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Thank's for reading Xordiah, it's nice to know that 'Big Brother' is watching. :)
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From an observer's perspective, I can tell that his maps are very well made and you can see he's been through a lot of work to create them. gj :)
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