Random Map Script Review Guidelines

Created by Cherub Thurdl01, this document originated in the Age of Kings Heaven forums, and it is a marvel it got this far. This is designed to be a recomendation of how to review Random Map Scripts.

Thanks go out to Matei and Angel Spineman, who were voices of reason in the creation of this document. If not for their additions, this might have just stopped at the forum with a post that slowly sank to the bottom. Also, it bears noting that this recommendation is meant for use by all, and was created for the simple reason to make reviews of Random Map Scripts more common.

Up until now, Random Map Script reviews lacked any formal structure and the few reviews that existed were completely free form with a single overall scoring category. This lack of structure was causing reviewers to not know what to focus on when reviewing and as a result, the reviews and ratings were not as helpful for the authors as they could have been. The remainder of this document will present the new reviewing system which has three categories. It took us awhile to arrive at these categories but we settled on them since they are easy for anyone to understand and they cover all the important aspects of a quality random map script. The three categories are Theme, Playability and Visual Appeal. Each category will be covered in detail but before we get started with the categories, it's important to note that although the file type is different and the categories are new, the basic concepts laid out in the Campaign & Scenario Reviewing Tutorial still hold true here. Please be sure to read that tutorial first as we will not repeat advice given there, but focus only on the new aspects of Random Map Script reviewing categories.

From this point on, the phrase "ES Script" will refer to the prepackaged scripts that come with Age of Kings, and the Conquerors expansion pack, and not the additions ES@ scripts that have been made available.

Theme

The purpose of the Theme category is to judge the amount of work, creativity, and care that went into the creation of a script. Many script authors will provide some statement of Theme in their Blacksmith description, but other scripts require examining the title of the script to judge the intended Theme. This category also covers the execution of the Theme, as the nobelest of ideas can be killed by sloppy scripting. Basically, what we are looking for here is whether or not the author came up with a new and fresh idea and was able to execute the idea successfully. Rehashing old ideas or using a boring concept results in bland random maps and poor ratings. However, new ideas that are fleshed out with a short story or desciption of the intended random map environment can score very highly if executed properly.

Here are some key questions to ask when considering Theme:

  • Is there any unifying theme that underlies the script? What is that theme?
  • Is there a compelling story or description that gives more depth to the theme?
  • Is the idea original or is this something we've seen before?
  • Does the scripter make the idea work? Can you look at the maps resulting from the script and feel the theme?
  • Is there enough variety and randomness to make the script unpredictable without jepordizing the theme?

Score Breakdown

These are not hard and fast rules, but do provide some guidelines as to how to arrive at a score. Scores are always a bit subjective and the situation may not fit the descriptions presented so just use your best judgement.

  1. Very Poor: No underlying theme, or no feel of any underlying theme. This can include inconsistancies in terrain without adequate explanation or reason. This can also express a feeling by the reviewer that no creativity has been put into this RMS. The idea is not only unoriginal, but poorly executed.
  2. Poor: There might be a theme, but it is poorly executed. This design shows little creativity, and might just be the result of taking a generically generated file from an RMS scripter and slapping a name on it with no other alterations. Little or no evidence of play testing.
  3. Average: More or less a rehashing of an ES script's theme and idea without presenting any original idea. At least this should be executed with some skill, even if there was little original thought in the idea. This might also express a good theme that is too over-scripted for it's own good, especially a theme that has been killed by over-use of randomization.
  4. Good: Either a marked improvement to an ES script that requires some thought, or a new theme that is well thought out. The terrain matches any preferred explanation to the nature of the script, and presents an intriguing layout for a game. There may be some randomization of terrain or units within the bounds of the theme.
  5. Excellent: A completely new idea that is not only well thought out, but perfectly executed. This represents an outstanding effort and lots of playtesting.

Visual Appeal

Obviously, visual appeal rates the overall look and feel of the map in question. Typcially, the look of the map should incorporate parts of the overall theme. A lot of this category is subjective of course... what we are trying to look for here is enhancements to the map that give it a unique look, but don't overpower the player with loads of objects. While scenarios can get away with going over the top with lots and lots of objects and specifically placed eye-candy, the beauty of a random map script should generally be a bit more subtle, but a beautiful random map can be achieved in many ways, from the placement of buildings, to the placement of starting units, to flowers and paths, to unusual and rarely seen items, to any type of terrain blending imaginable. Certainly, the creativity of the author in developing an attractive landscape while staying within the theme is vital for success here.

A few questions that should be asked to determine the Visual Appeal score:

  • Is there a visual beauty of the main map and mini-map?
  • Does the mini-map accurately represent the objects on the game map?
  • Are the aesthetics pleasing to look at?
  • Is there a realistic feel to the map?
  • Do the terrains match each other? I.e., a desert area with Palm trees should not be adjacent to ice fields.
  • Is there the right amount of eye candy?
  • Are there too many or too few objects?

Score Breakdown

  1. Very Poor: No terrain at all. Flat grasslands, a frozen wasteland, or desert as far as the eye can see. This will probably also affect the Playability score.
  2. Poor: Terrain, but no derivation. There are forests, but only one kind, and always in blocky squares. Any water is only standard water, no depth variations. No derivation in open land or elevations.
  3. Average: Shows blending of water and forests. This should be the first evidence that care has actually been taken in the creation of the terrain beyond the essential.
  4. Good: Terrain is very well blended, both in water, forest, and on land. Flatlands are broken by slight terain variations, either slightly, or with a bit of terrain variation is blended in. Elevation is well used. Also, there is either just a touch of eye candy, or perhaps the eye candy goes slightly overboard to mild distraction.
  5. Excellent: A map that the reviewer might feel bad about altering by cutting down the trees, or placing his or her own buildings on. A map of this level should almost present an extra challenge by being distracting in the perfection of layout, terrain, elevation, and eye candy, without overusing the later.

Playability

This is meant to combine the elements of playability, balance, and the most important aspect of any Random Map Script, Fun. The other two rating categories happen entirely before you place your first command to a unit, but as soon as you start playing the game, you're firmly into this category. Again, fun is the over-riding factor here. A random map script with exceptional playability is one that you want to give to all your friends so you can include it in your nightly multi-player gaming marathons. Simply put, a map that is unplayable is no fun. If your sheep are consistantly trapped by objects or if your nearest resource is two screens away, that's just not fun. Same goes for the balance of the script... each player should start on equal footing and the overall difficulty of the map should lend itself to solid multi-player gaming.

Here are a few questions that should help in determining Playability:

  • Can all players complete the game or achieve reasonable goals? If the resources required to finish the game are missing, or if the necessary buildings and people to start the game are missing, playability is very poor.
  • Are the obstacles too big? Being just an island of grass in a full forest can be a challenge, but the challenge is almost too daunting, and the map becomes unenjoyable.
  • Is this map FUN? Would you be excited to play a game using this script?

As a side note, the ability of the standard AI to play the script in question should be mentioned somewhere, and Playability seems the most logical place. However, since most random map scripts are written for multiplayer use, no script should be demerited for lack of AI functionality.

Score Breakdown

  1. Very Poor: Map is completely unplayable. This can be because of a complete lack of resources, or a map that refuses the placement of villagers without a Town Center to create them. For whatever reason, this map cannot support a game of any length.
  2. Poor: The proper resources and starting units are there, but for some reason, there still doesn't provide much playability. This might be because of a bug that doesn't give everyone the same starting conditions (I've seen scripts with bugs that don't place enough Town Centers). For whatever reason, this map might support a full game, but does so in a sloppy and awkward fashion.
  3. Average: A full game can be played on this map, but there may still be a few tiny flaws in it. Perhaps there are too many bottlenecks, or the terrain makes things just a little too difficult for the average player to take this map to the end of a game.
  4. Good: This is the standard ES Script level of playability. The map can easily be played from beginning to end with no signs of lag, and no imbalance in the start. At this level, Playability should almost be unnoticable, but fun should be quite noticable.
  5. Excellent: This also denotes a map that is a pure pleasure to play, and one that the reviewer thinks anyone will enjoy playing. Typcially, high scoring scripts will add a bit of extra playability over the standard ES scripts by tweaking the gameplay just enough to make situations more interesting, intense and fun!

Final Thoughts

The final score for any Random Map Script will be the average of the three rating categories. Therefore, for a RMS to be truely exceptional, it must excel at all three areas.

For comparison, most ES Scripts would score as follows:

  • Theme: 3
  • Visual Appeal: 3
  • Playability: 4
  • Final score: 3.3

That may seem a little low, but keep in mind that ES maps serve as the base maps for the game... they don't contain any discernable theme or underlying story. Generally the only differences between the ES maps is amount and placement of water. Some use different terrains like snow or desert but that's about it. ES maps always look good but they lack any kind of eye candy or extras. Playability, of course, is excellent. You can't fault ES for these maps though... they are required to be simple and very playable since they form the very foundation of the multiplayer experience. As custom random map scripters, we should be held to a higher standard than the original scripts. Many of the add-on ES scripts would score much higher, but the original scripts make a nice reference point for us to work with.

As with all reviews, the text of the review should not just be a series of numbers. Each category should be well explained, especially if they tend towards the high or low end of the spectrum, describing what could be better, and what mistakes could be learned from. Always remember that reviews serve two purposes: one to give the visitor a better idea of what they are downloading and two, to give the author some advice on how to make improvements. Reviews ultimately benefit the entire community so keep that in mind as you write your reviews.

Random Map Scripting is a lot of fun and it is our hope that with this reviewing process in place, the best scripters will get some more recognition for their work and perhaps some of their scripts will get regular gameplay on the Zone.

That's about it! Below, you will find links to the Random Map Script reviewing page as well as links to the Blacksmith's other reviewing pages. Good luck and thanks for reading!