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Dakota Badlands

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File Details
Game Version: TWC
Dakota Badlands
A random map script for AOE3: TWC
by RF_Gandalf

Dakota Badlands is my entry into "The Dakotas Random Map Contest". This map was designed to give a taste of the appearance of the badlands section of South Dakota with adjoining areas of prairie and the foothills of the nearby Black Hills. I have tried to make this a visually appealing map, as well as providing unique gameplay. The center of the map is a rugged badlands with little resources except some buffalo herds or antelope, and all of the forest is in the raised foothills at the periphery of the map. The badlands on this map is an arid area with mostly steep cliff walls at its edge, with numerous cliffs and interspersed small clearings in the midst. The cliffs used in this map do not quite accurately portray the strangely eroded steep slopes of the Dakota Badlands, but are as close as I could come with the tools available. The map is just slightly rectangular, providing a longer distance to the enemy players. This map is slightly larger than most of the standard maps - approximately 20-25% larger in area.

Player position and location will vary randomly, with players or teams starting in any of 4 quadrants. The most variability is in a 2-player game where the players are not always in a directly opposite position. In team games there can be variability in how close teammates are placed to provide differences in effective strategy. There is full support for Free-For-All play with any player number, with the players placed randomly.

Each map always has 2 trade routes, one on each side of the badlands, each with 2-4 trade post sockets, partly dependant on player number. For 2-3 players both routes have 2 or 3 sockets, for 4-8 players both have 3 or 4 sockets. The trade posts may not always be buildable by all players, as sometimes they fall within a Town Center 'no-build' radius.

There will be 1-3 Native American types per map, chosen randomly. These will vary in number and are placed in a variety of fair patterns and combinations, some in badlands and some on prairie. These native village positions are not fixed - they can be placed in the badlands, foothills or prairie. Their position can vary quite a bit and could be slightly closer to one player than another, but should always be outside of the 'no-build radius' around Town Centers. The number of native villages is partly based on player number, partly on chance, with up to 7 villages per map for 8 players. The natives can be Cheyenne, Comanche, and/or Cree (I know that the Comanches and Crees were not in the Dakota Badlands area, but they represent other plains Native Americans in the interest of better gameplay).

Resources vary a little from most other maps - there are the usual starting deer, pronghorn, elk or bison near the player start areas, but out away from the players, more in the center of the map, there are significantly larger herds of bison; some will be on the prairie, some in the badlands. These are large enough to be worth fighting for control of at any point of the game. There will be a few berry bushes near the player start areas as well, and occasionally extra berries are placed. The forests are placed around the circumference of the map, representing the Black Hills foothills. Forests are not found out in the central prairie or badlands, making a difference in wood collection - note there is still a good amount of wood compared to the standard maps (yes, I know the Black Hills are west of the Badlands, not circumferential, but gameplay > realism). Mines are placed in a pretty standard manner, except they are all located outside the badlands. There are a few extra treasures on the map, which are usually more concentrated in the badlands.

Another feature of the map is that there are two variations in the map appearance - a summer pattern where the prairie looks more yellowed and dry, and a spring pattern where the prairie is greener and flowers dot the plains. With the pattern variation, the type of badlands cliff used will also vary - spring has the redder "Texas" type cliffs with a redder badlands floor, while summer has the more sand colored "Sonora" type cliffs and badlands floor ( I created both patterns, then could not decide which looked best since neither exactly represented the badlands, so you benefit from more variety in the map). This script also has several different lighting sets possible (not triggered lighting changes). If you have spent much time out on the prairie or in the badlands in different seasons, in different weather or times of day, you would note how different the natural light can make the landscape appear. I have tried to capture a little of that variability.

Note that the RMS contest was to have a new building named by the winner appear in the center of the map. This feature is currently disabled on this map. If this map wins the contest I will release an updated version to re-enable that building.

As a bonus - I have also made a 'large' version of the map similar in scale to the 'large' versions made by ES of several of their maps. This map is 40% larger in both dimensions, giving about a 2x map area for any player number as compared to the original map. The map features and resources are scaled appropriately to the size increase, plus there are a few more herds, mines and treasures proportionally. The Badlands area in particular is a lot more fun in the larger version, and I find this larger version seems to give a better feel for the vastness of the plains. If you have a slow computer, low RAM, a poor video card or slow connections the map size could give you problems, particularly on higher player numbers.

To play this map, the files (Dakota Badlands.xs and Dakota Badlands.xml and/or Large Dakota Badlands.xs and Large Dakota Badlands.xml ) must be placed in the folder: My Documents\My Games\Age of Empires 3\RM2. Please do not place them in the game's install folder - that will not work. When you start up a skirmish game in Single-player or Multiplayer, use the small blue 'Custom Map' button, which allows you to then select one the random maps in that My Games folder from the drop-down window. Please do not place these in the usual folder for the original (or vanilla)AOE3 custom random maps, as the use of the Cheyenne natives will cause the map to not work properly.

I have enjoyed making this unique random map script. Thank you to ES for giving us the tools to do this, and for hosting the contest! Hope you enjoy the map.

Feedback appreciated!
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AuthorComments & Reviews   ( All | Comments Only | Reviews Only )
dr nefarious
Map Design5.0
Playability: 4
Playability is fine overall. However, the map is not really feasible for free-for-all games with uneven player numbers. With three players for example, one of them starts on one end of the map with a trade route to himself while the other two have to share one and are much closer to each other. With five players the one caught in the middle at one end is at a clear disadvantage while at least one of the two at the other end can enjoy an exceptionally large "backyard". Using a circular map might solve these problems, but then you'd probably need to think about another setup for the trade route.

Balance: 4
I didn't notice any major balance problems as mentioned in the review above. There are a number of minor issues however:
I've played several games where at least one player didn't have any huntables within line of sight at the start. In a game where speed is everything this can cost valuable time if the settlers have to walk to the berry bushes first, wait for the explorer to find the huntables and then walk back again.
As far as gold goes, the first mine is usually close to the town center. The second however can sometimes be quite far off, depending on the luck of the draw. (The same goes for huntables to some extent, but as those can be herded this should be no problem.) Of course the player should be able to handle that, but if it all comes together the worst possible way it can put a player at a noticeable disadvantage.
Finally, I noticed that sometimes in team games with uneven player numbers the team with more players has also much more resources on their side of the map. This doesn't always seem to be the case though (and it's also debatable if that's good or bad balance).

Creativity: 4
The central badlands are a nice touch, though somewhat reminiscent of the Sonora map. What I missed here was the "little extra something" that would make a good map a great one. Of course I understand that since this map was created to become part of the standard game mapset exceptional creativity was not exactly called for.

Map Design: 5
No complaints here. The map is carefully drawn, looks fine and has distinctive topological features, something I miss in most custom maps.

Detail/Accuracy: 5
Once again, no complaints here. Two skins, varying map orientation and player placement, and lots of details like birds, grass patches or dead trees added without overloading the map. Good job!

Additional Comments:
To sum it up: Not great - not "special" enough for that. But definitely very good!

[Edited on 09/17/07 @ 02:20 AM]

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