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Downloads Home » Showcase Scenarios » PTC19 - The Bells of Shangri-La

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PTC19 - The Bells of Shangri-La

Author File Description
Lord Basse
File Details
Version: Age of Empires II (2013): Rise of the Rajas

A wanderer arrives at the gates of Shangri-La, a green haven in the midst of the winds and snow of the Himalayas. Explore the town with her and let its secrets be revealed...

This is my entry to the 2019 Pretty Town Contest. As such, this is a scenario without warfare. The goal is to present an atmospheric map with a hopefully compelling story.

Special thanks to:
* Kim Reiko, whose narration brought the story to life.
* James Hilton, whose novel inspired the setting.
* KAUAN, whose music inspired the design.
* Bassi, for playtesting.

Brought to you by StormWind Studios.
AuthorReviews   ( All | Comments Only | Reviews Only )
Shangri-La takes LBs patented capture-the-flag format for another spin, this time used to tell the tale about the spirits of the world, about the meaning of life, and the growth and aging of humanity as a whole and all that jazz. Another possible interpretation is that the spirits of creation refer to SWS and age of empires as a whole, or maybe its just meant to be taken straight up literally. Either way its a compelling narrative to mull over.

As was previously the case the end result of combining incredible storytelling with very good mapping results in something that is more like a playable scenario in its own right rather than merely a showcase scenario pretty city. That story telling quality is almost unfair, and considering its based on a novel not written by the same author maybe it really is unfair. That said the rules didnt prohibit anyone else from turning a book into a map either.

This map has many superb highlight points, such as the guard tower bracketed by waterfalls, the sandy bridges used for a pier which looked nice, the horseless hun wonders used to create a distinctly imposing and massive wall, and the several uses of wonders in the mountains for one-off isolated structures especially with the forgotten temple, and of course japanese mills used for waterfalls. I also quite liked the aqueduct usage, a somewhat clunky and contrasty building that I find hard to smoothly integrate yet it fit in nicely here. The icy valley on the far left with its stark cleanliness left a nice impression as well. There are a whole bunch of points on the map that I find pleasant to gaze upon and contemplate. I wasnt so convinced by the peach trees using the yellow forage bushes, but this relies on perception and shadows which makes it tricky to nail.

The terrain mixing is quite nice when visible, though much of the map relies upon gaia object usage with minimal terain visibility. Roads are the usual chaotic blend of newer, dirty, and worn away cobblestone or pavement you would expect out of a good mapping effort, and this establishes the aged nature of the map very nicely. The usage of shrubbery and trees is great, though LB seems to retain a fondness for the old and overused jungle bushes and the new bushes are less rarely seen.

As far as being a lively city goes the map excels. There are sufficient amounts of both moving actors and static NPCs to deliver dialogue to establish this city and create an immersive, believable environment. The combined building usage is very good and every area feels refreshing and unique, and each forms an important piece of the puzzle of making daily life around here function for the people.

There is a slight tonal whiplash going on with the epic narrated story linked to the flags, and the lively atmosphere of the city with its hustle and bustle. This isnt enough to substantially dampen the experience, but the player is best off cooperating with the scenario and standing still when finding a flag. It would be nice if the scenario could somehow suspend time when reaching these points, but that is probably too much to implement with this limited editor.

The proofreading is excellent, with just one error that I could spot throughout the entire scenario, a misused tense of a word in a dialogue.

One thing that puzzles me to no end is the flag spot up the staircases build out of markets on the far left map edge. Maybe a trigger broke, but I couldnt get up there to save my life, and went into the provided sound files to make sure I hadnt missed any of the story.

A would point out a few detailing errors in the water, for example just below the flag in the centermost spot you can stand in a area to see a wide swathe of water, and many of the straight edges of water produced by broken terrain textures are looks quite bad and baffles me why so many elite designers leave this in their maps. I know it takes some finagling and reworking to get rid of it but the end result is so much better. Also its unfortunate that those wooden bridges near a university are projecting their water into the road1 terrain, something that is very annoying and only avoided by using teleport triggers in the UP.

With many strengths and no substantial weaknesses Shangri-La pulls in an easy 5.0;really, I couldnt contemplate giving it anything but the highest marks. Highly enjoyable scenario.
Official Reviewer
This file is Lord Basse’s entry to the Pretty Town Contest 2019, a contest focused on map design. It was the joint winner, securing a perfect score of 50/50 from both judges. It is also everything one would expect from this creator, and as you uncover the map you will hear – actually hear, with nicely delivered voice-acting – a native spirit telling her story.

I hesitated slightly before reviewing this file, because I think the story-telling will not be to everyone’s taste and personally the sentiments didn’t appeal to me as strongly as in the creator’s previous works Sagropireia and Agartha (both of which I recommend very highly). But I’m sure plenty of others will feel differently.

Leaving that aside though, the map is a joy to explore. Excellent use is made of the greater graphical variety that AoK HD offers compared to the original version. I don’t know if there are any maps made in HD that are more attractive than this one, but I doubt it. The town is picturesque and thronging with people going about their daily lives; towering temples adorn the surrounding mountain ranges; and islands await to be discovered in the lakes. Especially with the lived-in parts of the map, I think the creator has surpassed his previous works.

Taken overall, there is nothing else in the Blacksmith that is quite like it. And even if it doesn’t strike a chord with you, it’s still one of the very best showcase scenarios around.
Official Reviewer
Rating: 5

The opening cliffside view of tundra sliced by an icy river primes the viewer for a dark and cold experience, but this entry is anything but. Step into the lush, vibrant world of Shangri-La, a place where man-made structure exists in complete visual harmony. Elaborate palaces, mansions, and temple complexes blend seamlessly with the surrounding scenery and urban settlements, and the setting is as interesting to explore as it is gorgeous. The author has applied his own time-proven approach to storytelling in the PTC, but improved it yet further, perhaps most notably with voice acting files that accentuate the excellent writing and atmosphere. That is far from the limit of his creativity, however, as he has showered the map with various aesthetic tricks that blend are yet perfectly in place with their surroundings and NPC dialogue that enhances the depth of the setting as well. The entry is masterfully planned, divided between a city and several outlying temples and regions to explore. The presentation is excellent, and the author does viewers the convenience of revealing it portion by portion. It is easy to navigate, organically planned, and thematically excellent--all in all, a thoroughly holistically effective effort. The fact that the author has managed to improve upon his previous PTC winners in this and the atmospheric regard (see below) speaks volumes. At the risk of reiterating prior commentary, the details are meticulously seen to and effectively presented. One additional piece to comment on would be the background music, which alongside the writing and voice-acted central story contributes considerably to a mysterious and melancholy atmosphere.

Additional Comments:

The Bells of Shangri-La is design and storytelling par excellence, and an absolute pleasure to enjoy. Congratulations on a well-deserved top score.
Mr Wednesday
(id: matty12345)
Official Reviewer
What is a Pretty Town Contest anyway?

Some seventeen years ago, the first such contest was held. The goal then was to judge map design only, or so they said. No long stories or trigger intensive designs! Just the map!

I used to carve sculptures, and entered many art contests. Often you would see an inferior sculpture win first over another, strictly better sculpture. Why? The first one was painted better, it had a more impressive base it stood on, with a brass plate and an impressive name for the work. Sure, the actual technical carving had not been as special, but the overall piece of art when viewed as a whole was better.

Lord Basse has taught many people many things about designing scenarios, but what he has taught me is this one simple lesson. You cannot judge creative works as anything but a whole. The human mind is incapable of separating a scenario into categories like layout and creativity, as much as we say that is what we will do, and no matter how much we mean it.

There are scenarios that impress designers. These are the carvings I mentioned that are theoretically superior. These scenarios have more tricks, more advanced design techniques, push the bounds of the editor more, etc. In short, the scenario designer, as a player, thinks these scenarios should win the PTC. The PTC is, after all, a map design contest.

Then there is Bells of Shangri La. Like Agartha before it, it is a scenario that impresses scenario players. Sure there is much here for the designer to appreciate too, and Basse is no slouch when it comes to technical proficiency, but Bells of Shangri La is not a designing showcase. It is a complete experience. Everything works together in unison, from the voice acting, which is better than that found in many retail games, to the writing, which has come so unbelievably far since the days yours truly called Lord Basse 'corny', to yes, even the map design, which shows that not all HD scenarios need to be Gaia object spam...and I am doing it wrong again. If I have learned one thing from Basse, it's to take the scenario as a whole and not as a sum of parts.

There will be some, fellow designers probably, who will download this scenario and leave bewildered. How did this tie with those other winners? What is the big deal I am missing? I confess I too used to feel this way, back in 2017 when a similar scenario to this edged out my own entry. But I have learned to see scenarios as a whole.

The scenario player, who cares not to design but instead to play, also cares not how long it took you to stack one thousand graves next to each other. He doesn't know what an STRBO is and never wishes to. He enjoys good scenarios, and when he plays Shangri La he knows he has found a great one.

In the PTC, we do not lawd the scenario made by the most impressive designer, but the designer who made the most impressive scenario. And Shangri La is an impressive scenario, not just to an old designer like me, but to someone playing AoK for the first time in 2019, to long term players, and everyone in between.

We have come a long way since 2002, when the judges claimed to not even acknowledge anything but map design. Now, we know the PTC is about the entire scenario design process. It is no surprise then that this perfectly complete scenario was given a perfect score. There are some gripes I have, to be sure, and some flaws I can point out, but a whole can be perfect even though there can be 'errors' in made up categories. Lord Basse taught us that.

Perfection is achieved in different ways, and I find Basse's well rounded approach perfect in its own right. 5/5.
Official Reviewer
The Bells of Shangri-La is Lord Basse’s entry to the 2019 Pretty Town Contest. The contest requires scenario designers to design a beautiful town with judges scoring points for asthenosphere design, layout and atmosphere. Lord Basse managed to claim joint first place, tying for the position with the PTCs other reigning champions Julius999 and Matty12345.

Rating: 5
As a first place winner in one of the most competitive competitions, the Bells of Shangri-La certainly shows off some of the most innovative and beautiful designing in Age of Empires history. Lord Basse is a master of his craft and show soft many of his creative design tricks in this scenario. It’s full to the brim with his signature style. Set deep within a mountainous region of the Himalayas, Shangri-La is a takes a lot of inspiration from Mountainous Asian towns, much like one might find in the mountains of Tibet.

Surrounded by snow topped mountains and lakes, Sangri-La is a beautifully designed town. It’s layout is perfect, with buildings and farms realistically placed around the landscape rather than the other way around. Basse shows off skill with building placement to make the city look full and busy without making it overcrowded. Basse utilises the off-grid placement stunningly using bushes and trees to cover certain parts of buildings to create new styles. Its not only the layout of the city that makes this one of the best Pretty Town Contest entries ever made, but the gorgeous landscape surrounding it. The landscape utilises extraordinary mixing of terrains and amazing use of GAIA objects to create additional eye-candy. Basse has utilised the extra eye-candy that comes with the Rise of Raja’s expansion to fullly immerse the player into the Asian world that he has created. It creates a much more effective world with the use of Buddhist statues and Pagodas.

What’s even greater than the beautiful design is the atmosphere that comes with the scenario. The Pretty Town Contest has evolved over the years from a contest that is purely about beautiful map design to an immersive experience. It’s not all about the beauty of the map but about the atmosphere that creates an experience for the player. This years PTC showcases this the most with the three joint winners all scoring perfect points due, not only to their map design but to the stories and ambience that go with it. You follow a young female wanderer who has come to the town for enlightenment. As you journey through the town and interact with its citizens, her secrets will be uncovered and philosophical questions will be asked.

Additional Comments:
Overall The Bella of Shangri-La present one of the most beautifully designed and immersive showcase scenarios in Age of Empires history. It’s not only about showcasing the innovative and detailed map design, but the experience of journey through the town to unlock the secrets of the character you portray. An incredible scenario and a highly recommended download.


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