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Downloads Home » Showcase Scenarios » PTC17 - The Spires of Heaven

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PTC17 - The Spires of Heaven

Author File Description
File Details
Version: The Conquerors 1.0c
This is a showcase scenario with no fighting, and my entry to the 2017 Pretty Town Contest.

Please play on the following settings:
Speed: Normal
Version: Userpatch 1.5 beta (or newer). Set animated water and weather effects enabled (optional, but preferable).
Music Volume: Off
Sound Volume: High
AuthorComments & Reviews   ( All | Comments Only | Reviews Only )
Official Reviewer
Rating: 5

The Spires of Heaven is Matt's entry to the 2017 Pretty Town Contest.

Aesthetic: Coming off a spectacular showing in 2015, Matt did not disappoint us with his entry to this contest, which was certainly a worthy successor to his previous winner. After exploring outlying farmland, the player sails through a narrow waterway into the heart of a fascinating and gorgeous city. In typical fashion, the author surrounds brilliant design tricks with gorgeous map design and a fitting soundtrack to enhance the atmosphere.

Creativity: The strongest point of the scenario, I daresay that this entry narrowly surpasses the other frontrunners in terms of pure creativity, which is fitting given the author's modus operandi of building a scenario around a core set of stunning tricks and effects. Of these, there are too many to count, and several of which have never been seen before. Turtle ship prows used as gargoyles, a forest made almost entirely from ugly tree rotations that nevertheless manages to look quite pleasing to the eye, building/unit/object combinations that many designers would never dream of, and, of course, the waterfalls and various arrangements of graves.

Layout: Heavenspire is masterfully planned, from its outlying farmlands and forests to the contents of its walls, which include beautiful gardens, wondrous structures, residential and workers' districts, fortified bastions, and even a large zoo where circuses perform. It's a rare instance of a city where the macro details mesh seamlessly with the micro details.

Attention to detail: Needless to say, the city is a masterpiece in terms of detail. The author has brought his (often scarily) keen eye to the drawing board and used it to excellent effect. Even one with a mission to nitpick would be unlikely to spot anything off aside from a couple of spelling errors in the postgame text, which were not enough to detract from the score here.

Additional Comments:

A spectacular showcase of city-building and map design tricks, this is easily one of the best showcase scenarios that has ever graced the Blacksmith with its presence. I wholeheartedly recommend the download.

[Edited on 08/29/17 @ 11:24 AM]

Official Reviewer
Spires of Heaven puts tremendous mapping skill on display with unbelievable manipulation of gaia objects to create scenes not seen anywhere else. Simply in terms of creativity and set-pieces, Spires clearly takes the crown in the PTC. The map is dotted with incredible pieces of art that can only be gaped at in awe, and there is hardly a spot that does not give something to ponder over. In this regard, the author missed a chance at seizing that crown outright, as being the contest originator he should have rigged the scoring to favor creativity. The map is a literal treasure trove of design ideas;hardly a minute passes before encountering an impressively crafted set-piece. The story addressed further below is solid, sufficient to give deeper meaning and lasting value to the map but not particularly memorable in its delivery.

On the other shoe is the maps aesthetic appeal and structural layout. Something felt off with the map from the very first time, but I struggled to put my finger on it. A lack of cohesive identity is coming to mind. Wandering about the vast city and its environs, I cannot help but feel the map is a collection of set-pieces that are arranged near each other in good order, but not in a particularly complementary way. There is also the status of completion;I have to admit, some areas look downright unfinished. I couldn't penalize this during the contest because a 5\5 attention to detail scale was in use, and in that sense its absurd to mark this map down with all its positive assets that would boost such a score. Even central areas in the city itself sometimes looks a wee bit lacking;I was struck by the massive boulevards leading from the main gates as looking rather dry in appearance. The straight streets without direct vegetation cover look positively barren. This is somewhat realistic perhaps, but on the other hand its pretty tricky to make any AoC locale look good without trees present, no matter how absurd it is to force them in.

This is exemplified in the riverway leading into the city. The usage of gravestones to create an artificial channel is absolutely stunning, and I simply took this in at first sight in shock, reluctant to move on from this moment of enjoyment, before finally shaking it off and looking around a bit more. The shoreline here has again no trees whatsoever, and looks increasingly barren in repeat viewings as the immense novelty factor of the waterway becomes normalized. The area above the mosque is one of the areas that look unfinished to me, again with no trees present in more than a screenshots width of area - I have to scratch my head in confusion if this is intentional. The area to the far left with a swamp dock suffers the same fate, with again no green trees within a sizeable area. The dam barrier below this is somewhat lacking compared to the staggering detail found elsewhere on the map, with the wall ends clearly exposed - this struck me as quite odd in the initial playthrough, too. The stark forest in the left corner strikes me as distinctly out of place, the result of a magical incantation gone wrong - perhaps the intended target was the PTC winners, hoping to shrivel their lush landscapes with a powerful curse that backfired. After gazing at this area for awhile, you can come to appreciate its rough charm, but it just seems out of place in this map. The final area that seems a bit off is the area surrounding the primary sun palace itself, situated on a massive hill with perfectly straight elevations behind another wonderful set-piece in the Spanish wonder. I wish this entire area was moved back 5-10 tiles, as It looks rather plain indeed compared to what is in front. The military camp with pavilions seems slightly uninspired for such a critical area, as does the detailing on the cliff and walls behind the sun palace. The fortress to the far left of the sun palace was rather dry as well.

None of these issues are enough to overcome the positives of the inspirational set-pieces which command the players attention everywhere. The most stunning one was the usage of gravestones creating an artificial riverbank, and I find this an extremely convincing technique even after examining it closely. Gravestones were a major focus of the map, being used for columns and walls in a variety of builds, from zoo cage bars to fountains with the monastery garden being a highlight for me. The Spanish wonder with dragon statues was excellent, as was another wonder usage with the Mongol wonder used as a small tent to great effect. A wide range of wonders were used, infact, and all to great effect except maybe the Mosque. The scene with waterfalls flowing out from culverts made of universities was as good as it gets for waterfall enthusiasts.

The scene starting off the map was quite nice with buildings cleverly interwoven into the mountain shrubbery, and this countryside area was quite pleasant to traverse. The vegetation usage was great, with custom trees spliced into jungle roots and some nice terrain mixing;I bit more focus on the countryside might have gone over nicely. One spot that attracted my attention in particular was a courtyard in the housing district smack center of the map;a wide variety of buildings were perfectly handled, with a dock fitting in spectacularly. Its opposite courtyard also has nice dock usage;these more mundane areas were highlights that felt extremely convincing to me in portraying a lifelike scene.

I hesitate to complain about the lack of life in town for selfish reasons, as I recently made a PTC-style map myself and found this process somewhat unpleasant, and would rather banish this type of work to the shadow realm. Even so, it is difficult to overlook the lack of dialogue and the villagers standing about as if time had frozen. This compounds with the functional but barebones story, which was delivered with well written prose although rather predictable and straightforward. To some extent the map lacks a soul as a result of these two factors combining, and during the contest I had to go back and play Smile No More to make sure I was not imagining it, but the older map was significantly superior in this regard.

The story elements were a good if somewhat spartan element of the entry. The writing quality was excellent providing an enjoyable read though its bulk came in the opening and ending messages. During the game itself delivery of story elements was quite limited with only a few lines of dialogue at the most crucial moments;though I recall the character of the protagonist I lack a distinct impression due to the players limited exploration of his personality. Though distantly related, the lack of much life or activity in the town besides some superb housing arrangements damaged the immersive potential of the map a fair bit. A good opportunity here would perhaps to have the main character interact with a number of notable people to provide opportunities to flesh him out. As for the story itself and its ending, it is a good one but a fairly typical fable nonetheless, being somewhat predictable and straightforward in delivery.

The final score given was something ive hemmed and hawed about in the back of my mind since the contest took place. On one hand, there are plenty of areas and reasons to consider this a 5.0 map, with an unprecedented display of off grid prowess. I was left wanting more by the conclusion, which can be traced back to the functional story elements, the life and activity of the city, and the disconcerting presence of unfinished or low quality areas. By the end I couldn't in full conscience give the full 5.0 even though the technical value is extremely high. The enjoyment and satisfaction derived from the experience was rather underwhelming for what the maximum score implies about a map.

Conclusion: This map is absolutely loaded with impressive tricks that are worthy of study, and provides a very enjoyable exploration experience as well. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys good map design.

[Edited on 03/14/18 @ 09:55 AM]

iLikeHell For me the best PTC ever
Official Reviewer
The Spires of Heaven is Matty’s third place entry to the 2017 Pretty Town Contest.

Rating: 5
The Spires of Heaven is a beautifully crafted city that incorporates many familiar design features that one would come to expect from a top class Pretty Town Entry with Matty’s signature design style. A completely different take on the competition than his previous entry Smile No More, the Spires of Heaven is A larger and busier town than the atmospheric isolation from the former entry. The city is very well made with much care and consideration and it is clear that a lot of planning and thought was made before any production actually started. The attention to detail is exquisite with masterful placement of objects placed so carefully and accurately it’s scary. The layout of the city is very nice with buildings placed together well, with the use of the overlap tool exceptionally used. As with his previous showcase scenario and his future entry Lights of Kurishima, Matty has developed himself as the master of the off-grid tool. Nobody else have ever managed to capture so many magnificent and unique new designs using overlapped objects. Some highlight from this made include walls made from grave stones and head pieces, waterfall and fountains using fish and gargoyles using the heads of the turtle ship. This is the element that makes the scenario stand out among the rest, and something that you will only see implemented this well from a scenario by Matty. The rest of the map is beautifully designed with a great use of elevation, terrain mixing and eye candy. Whilst some areas within the city can seem a little bland, the outskirts of the city, the forests and farms as well as the unique use of off grid units makes up for this and more.

Additional Comments:
Overall The Spires of Heaven is a fantastic showcase scenario and a great source of inspiration for any aspiring design.


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