Welcome to BrotherGreen's comprehensive guide to map making! In this edition, we will learn the basics of terrain layout, and what it means to have a good map.
Before you do anything, you have to decide the terrain style and layout that you’re planning to use. Some people use mind-maps, in which (on paper) you start with a main idea and branch out from it with related topics. Other people will just freestyle on maps, choosing terrain randomly and just building away until it looks good. Choosing a terrain style can be difficult, and for starters, I recommend the “Badlands” layout. Badlands provides a bright and easily workable starting terrain (dirt), in which you have easy sight over what you are doing. Other terrains, like Ash World and Twilight, have terrains that are rather dark and hard to see what your doing until you have a lot done.
Now that you have your terrain style chosen, you should be thinking of the layout. The most common layout is a four-corners 2v2 type map, which are the most commonly used. After all, the most popular non-fastest map is Lost Temple, which is a 2v2 map. For starters, I recommend using a 96x96 sized map for 2v2 four corners. On a 96x96 there is just enough room to do all the things you want, but its not too big to lose your attention half way through building.
When you make your first base, which is usually top left corner (not that it matters), try to give the base a natural outline and choke point. Some mapmakers choose to leave it relatively open, but a choke point is usually favored by players for an easier defense. Using high dirt and creating a quarter-circle around the base is NOT what you want to do! That will not get you anywhere! Ideas are using perhaps a small base of temple on one side, and high dirt on the other. To make it look more realistic, put some grass on the high dirt so it is not all one color or shade. That makes it look dull.
You can basically use anything to outline a base as long as it blocks unit movement. Try not to make the choke too small or too big, or else it will be too hard to get through, or too hard to defend. When making maps you want to try for realistic, and practical maps.
If you’re doing four corners, try not to make them all RIGHT in the corner, and don't make all the outlines the same! This is critical! Nobody admires a symmetrical map because then your only creating ¼ of a map. Ideas for differences are using different terrains, or, even better, to use higher or lower grounds to create the entire base, not just the outline.
Now that you've gotten started, you need to continue! First of all, you have to think about the rest of the map, in particular, the middle. For the middle, some people will choose a large open space, some will choose raised ground, perhaps a raised outpost with the most minerals of all, some like a forest in there. Whatever you choose, do not spend all of your time on it. Many mapmakers make the mistake of stacking the middle with everything they can think of. Keep it simple. There is no one highlight to your map, you want your whole map to be the highlight.
To continue making the rest of your map, you need some outposts, depending on the size of your map. If your using a 96x96 size map, 4-6 should be the maximum for your good-sized outposts. If you have more than 6, then some need to be smaller, and gas-less. More on outposts in future editions.
Another thing you'll need is other types of terrain. Having random ruins here and there is good! Having a random high dirt or grass here and there is good too! Make it random, and realistic. In real life, everything would not be in perfect symmetry. Make it asymmetrical, but keep it balanced. If you give one base easier defense by giving them high points by their choke, put a high ground behind their mineral area so that can be assaulted. There is a disadvantage to counter the advantage. It may look unbalanced, but it’s really not when it all adds up.
Consider terrain types like ruins, rocky ground, and Mud fillers. Put them in random areas to take up space, and make the map look pretty and multi-colored. A one-color map will not attract anyone to play it. As stated earlier, wherever there is dirt, put grass patches in. Make it look pretty, while keeping it simple.
To finish a map, go over it one last time. Be sure you have not left any major dull spaces, and use doodads! There will be more on doodads in future editions. One main thing about doodads is, if possible, don't use the same one twice (trees are exempt to this rule). Critters are another big need in a well-done map. Whether the critter matches the map-type or not is up to you. Use your favorite one! Spread them out like random doodads, and don't over- do it with them.
I hope anyone who read this got something out of it, and I hope it will help mapmakers in the future! Any skill-leveled mapmaker can benefit from words from another mapmaker, and you can always learn new things!
Written by Brandon G, September 17, 2005.