The Methodology of Heroes of Might and Magic IV Mapmaking
1. INTRODUCTION AND ABOUT THE AUTHOR
At the very beginning let me please introduce myself. You are going to read my article, and I think it will be easier to understand my point of view when the reader knows something about the writer. My nickname is Ururam Tururam and I am an experimenting warlock. Alas in real world one cannot work as a warlock. Thus to earn money I am a physicist (with a Ph.D. degree obtained at a 600 years old university); I am also a project manager in IT software engineering. Of course I am a Heroes of Might and Magic fan. I started playing it when Heroes I was a brand new game. I've played King's Bounty too! But playing is not the most funny aspect of Heroes: I enjoy mapmaking. Up to now I've made 51 maps for the Heroes games, namely 12 maps for Heroes I (5 of them are published), 32 maps for Heroes III and its expansions (12 published) and 5 maps for Heroes IV (3 published). Four scenarios are currently under construction. You have probably noticed that there are no Heroes II maps here. Well, I don't like this part of HoMM. All my published works can be found at my website: http://strony.wp/pl/wp/urtur - I will use a few of my maps as examples here, so you may want to download and check them.
The purpose of this article is to share a bit of my knowledge to novice mapmakers. If you are a veteran map creator, it probably means you have developed your own way of designing scenarios, so my advices may be not applicable to you. Nevertheless you may want to compare your methods to mine. And if you are a beginner you will find here a few guidelines what to do and warnings what you should not do. I assume Heroes IV as the base for all examples in this article unless otherwise noted.
2. BEFORE YOU START
The first thing you should ask yourself about before you start making scenarios is: what for, what is your purpose? Do you want to do it just to get a feel how it works, do you want to create a map for yourself or maybe you want to publish your creations? If your maps are not intended for publishing, then just make maps the way you find fun. That's all. But if you want your maps to be shared through the net, it's quite a different matter. Why one wants to publish maps? For money? Forget it, it's a dream, wishful thinking, pure nonsense. For fame? Yes, perhaps. So if you want to distribute your scenarios you want to be recognized, you want to be famous. Or, well maybe you just wantto do it for yourself? The answer is up to you!
It's easy to say - to be famous. It is not easy to do. The things you are going to make should be good enough to be recognized. So you should ask yourself the second question: Are you able to make such a map? To make things easier I will split this question to pieces, and each of them will cover one aspect of mapmaking job:
* Do you have visualization skills and a 3D imagination? Heroes IV maps are 2D, but since they may have 2 layers and the elevation tool is present in the editor you should plan in 3 dimensions. You should be able to convert your vision into (virtual) reality.
* Do you have something like an aesthetic sense with respect to drawing and painting? No, being a painter is not necessary, building an image from preconstructed tiles is much easier than drawing. But you should be able to judge if the design you've made looks cool or awful.
* Do you have storytelling skills? Every Heroes scenario should contain a story. Maybe a very short one, but it should be present.
* Do you know basics of programming and program designing? Unlikely previous versions of HoMM, H4 has a complex scripting system. It is also helpful to treat the flow of the gameplay as a flow of the program, checking and analyzing all possible ways players can act.
* Do you have enough time and enough energy to work all this time? Making a poor map takes a few hours. Making a good one takes from a week (if you are really skilled and the map is one-level and small) up to about a year (if you make a campaign). It's a long time! And remember: if you feel your map is 90% ready you are just in the middle of the process! (Perhaps this is the most important point!)
* Do you want to learn through trial and errors? This is the only way... Articles like this may guide you a bit, but nothing can replace experimenting. A good idea is to view in the editor any map you have just finished playing. You can learn a lot from mistakes and successes of the others! But, again, pure copying of ideas and solutions won't make you a good mapmaker. You should beable to learn from your own mistakes too!
* Are you ready to work alone? I have seen a number of "Let's make a map together" attempts. I have seen NO good map made by more than 1 author. I am even not sure if I've seen any... Of course other mapmakers can help you a bit, but don't believe in making a map in a group. Maybe if you want to make a map together with your brother you have a chance to succeed. But don't try it remotely! You will be unable to keep a consistent version of your work and you are doomed to fail. Strong words, yes. But I'm sure you've noticed them...
* Can you be objective about your work, assessing your map as if it weren't yours? Other people may help you but the final decisions are - and must be- your own.
If your answer for each of the above question is 'yes', congratulations! You have a chance to be a recognized mapmaker. If you answer 'no' to one or more of them, I advise you thinking twice before making any maps for publishing... It may only be wasting of your time. People are not identical, some of them should be carpenters, some of them sportsmen, some of them scientists and some of them mapmakers and such. Trying to do things not fitted well to one's skills leads to unfulfilment and frustration. You have been warned...
Browsing through the net and analyzing Heroes IV maps I've noticed that about 70% of user made scenarios (and about 20% of the ones distributed with the original game) should never be released and are shame for their creators.
Sad but true. Some of them could be improved (they are just published too early) and some of them are total failures. But I've found a number of really good maps and even a few masterpieces too! What is the difference between good and bad ones? Quite intuitive. How to make a good one? Let us follow...
3. GENERAL METHODOLOGY OF MAPMAKING
In this chapter I want to explain a few general guidelines how to proceed from the very idea of the map to the moment when the scenario is ready for betatests. First of all a few basic rules.
* Never force yourself to do anything with your map. Even if you feel like 'I don't want to do it now, but a few hours and it will be ready! I must!'. If you are in such a mood, the things you create won't be very good. Wait until you feel like 'I must work on this map, if I don't I will explode!'; wait for the moment you cannot force yourself not to create!
* Prepare a test map where you can always experiment with new ideas and solutions. Don't do it with the map you want to publish.
* Don't try to make a campaign if you haven't created a few standalone maps before.
* If you know you like it, and you are more experienced try working on a few maps at once. Each of them should be in a different phase of creation. Now if you want to make some scripting, decorate the terrain, shape landmasses, place treasures or monsters, etc., choose the right map. You will progress much faster as long as you keep the maps not influencing each other. And it is really very difficult. The perfect frame for such a methodology is creating a campaign.
3.1. Inventing the map idea
What is the idea in terms of a Heroes of Might and magic scenario? It is something like a general impression: how the map will look like, what the player(s) should do to win and what will be the difference between this map and all the others.
Any of these three aspects could serve as your starting point. You can imagine the overall view of the terrain, cool areas, landscapes that make exploration a pleasure. You can start with the world the map will represent (see below "Setting the story"). You may find a unique way of winning the game and build the whole scenario around it. Or maybe you can start from something totally unusual that is not present on any typical map and use it as the base of yours?
As the example let us take two of my H4 maps. 'Dusk of Technics' is a world-based map. The first idea I had was putting the heroes into a postnuclear world. Another one 'Pirates L.T.D.' has another genesis. I wanted players to feel really like pirates, having no castle but a small base, destroying everything they encounter. Expanding the idea: since normal mines cannot be destroyed and weekly ones can, only weekly mines were allowed.
At all costs avoid making another 'go and kill everything' map. Be sure that such a map will usually be a drop in a sea of others similar to it. Find a way to make it interesting, even a battle map designed for multiplayer can contain a variety of things that make it a good one. Town placement? Meandering rivers? Garrisons? Resource placement? Remember: the better the idea the better the result.
You should also decide what will be the size of your map. If you are not sure, choose M or L. Sizes S and XL should be reserved for special purposes, and handled with care. XL-sized maps tend to be boring while S-sized ones are usually too small to be interesting.
And what about the number of map layers: 1 or 2? And if you plan a 2-layer map, what should they be? Surface and underground? Two distant lands? A two level underground labyrinth or another kind of maze? If you planonly one level, will it be underground or not? If underground: stone or rock? Do you plan to put any water in? If so: lakes, rivers, seas (and archipelagos on them)? How many countries (or regions) do you want to see, and how is this number connected to the number of players (1 player - 1 region, or several players per region, or several regions per player, other)?
3.2. Setting the story
I hate the maps with no story. Most of the players hate them too. Even if the map is just meant for a brutal multiplayer war, you need some kind of introduction what it is all about. And when the war ends the winning player should see a message concluding his victory. Beware of themes like "The old king is dead. His four sons are fighting for the throne" or "Your former friends are not ones any more. With no apparent reasons they started a war against each other and ageist you". I've seen a number of introductions like this and now when I see one I think: 'what an ordinary description, probably the inside is nothing special too'. Don't tell me you have no time/idea for the story - if so, don't make maps, it is pointless (you may disagree...).
You should be careful - the story should match the idea. For example if you want a role-playing like map, the story is crucial and the text messages revealing it should be long and interesting. On the other hand for a battle map noone has enough time to read elaborate messages! A few short messages is enough. They may even introduce a 'story without story' creating a kind of suspense for example: 'You are in black darkness and confusion. You have been captured and carried shouting into a war, and you know nothing about it. You know nothing about the forces that caused it and you are next to nothing. You ought not to be in this war. And you must win this war.' Of course you may want to make a grotesque map where the story does not match the idea, and everything is crazy. But if you do - you must do it really very well! Otherwise you will be known as a poor mapmaker, or rather you will be forgotten.
Another - and complicated - matter is setting the story and basing the map idea on something ready, especially on something well known. For example you can base your story on a book (don't use 'Lord of the Rings', it is much too common!), a movie, or a computer game other than Heroes. It may look simple because the story is ready you are only to make an adaptation. But a few dangers appear. People who know the original work will compare your scenario to it. And if your map is substandard you will receive negative comments and reviews. Hmmm, is infamy better than nothing? I don't think so. Even if your map is really good you should expect comments like: 'It is much too close to the book, I have no chance to modify the plot!', and the same day about the same map: 'It is very far from the book, just a few common points, you should rework it to make it closer to the original'. If the number of 'too close' and 'too far' reviews are equal - the map is perfect. Expect also very strange remarks. My map 'Dusk of Technics' is based on 'Fallout' game series. I was very surprised when I read in a review - 'Terrain is good, but there is too much lava. Fallout terrain was sandy.' Heh.
You may also want to add some thoughts you want to share with players to your story. Remember that players' minds are open for various suggestions that are provided by the game. Your propaganda should be neither too subtle nor too direct. In the first case it will not be noticed. In the second one player can easy detect your intentions and refuse to accept them. Take a look at my 'Emperor's Game'. What is the propaganda? It's quite easy to find: if you want peace prepare for war. (Or - speaking very directly - pacifists are useful guys in the country of your enemy.) Try to embody your own ideas into your scenarios...
3.3. Overall design
Are you ready to turn the editor on? Wait a second. It is a good idea to draw a minimap of your scenario on a piece of paper before you start. Shaping the land is not an easy task within the editor. Drawing this preview you have to decide what gameplay concept you want to use on your map. Here are the possibilities (from the easiest to the hardest to do):
* Uncontrolled chaotic: You put random object at random places. No connections between monsters, shrines, castles etc. Easy but dirty. Don't do it, your map will be substandard if you do.
* Linear: The player will have basically one path to explore such a map. On multiplayer maps there is only one connection point between the opponents. This concept is commonly used, but unless the storyline is very interesting (or forcing this solution) it is not recommended.
* Region-based: The map is divided into several countries with sharp borders (mountains, forests, rivers). Quest gates, garrisons or strong neutral stacks guard the passages between the regions. Each of these countries has often its own terrain type. Inside the region the neutral stacks has more or less the same strength (maybe a few stronger ones guard bigger treasures and crucial locations). There is a danger of falling into linear design if the border troops and quests are not well balanced.
* Open: Players can go and explore freely, but usually the shortest way is the most dangerous one. For example: a difficult quest gate is blocking the first way, a garrison the second, a neutral stack the third, but you may go around all of them using the fourth (and the longest) road. Some strong neutral armies guard treasures, others force player to go around them. If you are not careful designing your map this way you may end with either a linear map (if it is always easy to decide what road to follow) or a uncontrolled chaotic one (if no pattern of exploration can be seen).
* Controlled chaotic: Very difficult. Nothing, yes nothing can suit any other object nearby. Mushrooms must grow on lava, fire must burn on water. Players can never be sure what they encounter if they move a few steps. Of course this design must be based on the story! And believe me - it is really difficult to accomplish. A small mistake and you land in uncontrolled chaotic design. You can see an example of such map by playing or viewing the eight scenario of my Heroes III campaign 'Riders of Apocalypse'.
* Domain-based: Domains are similar to regions, but each of them has its own sub-design. Only L and XL maps are big enough to apply this look on them. Designing a map this way you must balance not only each of the domains (treating them as separate submaps), but you must also arrange the dependencies between them. For experts only.
Allright. Now we are finally ready to start the real mapmaking. Don't be surprised by this amount of planning, an hour of designing saves at least 3 hours of fixing! Turn the editor on, select the size and # of layers of your map, shape the lands, Place the cities. Most of these things will not be changed any more throughout the whole process. But if you feel suddenly they should, don't hesitate to do it. Spend a while setting the map and town properties (more about properties - see chapter 4). Save the map and run it the first time - playing all the available colors. You will see if the map and starting town properties are OK, how the terrain looks like etc. It's a very good moment to catch and fix any terrain-related issues such as too straight lines, proper angles, different terrain connections, elevation, etc.
Done? Well. Now save the map - I mean: put a copy into a safe place. To another directory. To another disk. To a floppy. To a remote system. And do it often. Pardon, but I must say it - shit happens. Files tend to disappear, disks tend to crash. Be prepared. Once upon a time a lightning that stroke a crucial wire deleted 4 copies of my Ph.D. thesis in preparation. I got the fifth one, but I had to repeat 2.5 months of work... Don't forget about assigning version numbers to the copies.
3.4. Implementing the idea
This is by far the most pleasant part of the mapmaking process - putting all the necessary and important things in. Make all major terrain obstacles (mountains, forests...), put in all quests, important mines, dwellings, other crucial locations. If you want to allow players to choose their town type, then when you place the nearby shrines, dwellings, etc, you should probably place shrines of random type and then set the properties so that they come up the same type as the player's starting town.
Remember not to be too predictable: on 90% of maps I've played when I noticed an ore mine or a sawmill I was aware - there is a castle nearby! On the other hand players should have easy access to wood and ore at the beginning of the game (unless the idea is they shouldn't). Try to deal with this problem your own way!
Now the most important thing: work in edit-test cycles. Each time you add something important (especially a quest) test it if it works correctly. Test every path of scripts and every path of terrain as soon as you add them.
Don't add any monsters, artifacts, treasures that are not needed to finish the game. When you are done you should be ready to play all the map (well, a skeleton of one) from the beginning to the end.
3.5 Sugar and spice
The end of fun, the beginning of hard work. If you did everything right up to this point, your map is functional. Now you must make it good looking and interesting. Add new buildings, terrain obstacles, ground tiles such as flowers, mushrooms, structures, animals, dunes, geysers and more. Put the artifacts. Put treasures. And test, test, test! Every and each of these items can block a critical way, unbalance the game or do any other kind of nasty surprises. Try if the look of any of modified regions is better or worse than it was before. It will take a long time. Really, really long. This is the moment the mapmakers often say: "Enough. The map is OK, I will release it.". And that's why so many maps look ugly.
Think of adding some roads. They will speed up the gameplay, they also look nice when made properly. Remember however that when a player finds a road the situation is similar to the one when a sawmill (or an ore pit) is spotted. A castle may be nearby! This is not necessarily bad, but you should just remember it.
At the end add all the monsters that should be present, guarding more or less important locations or wandering aimlessly. Test again. And again. If everything seems OK, think about the balance of your map. Does every player has equal chance to win it? If not: is it intended? If not: how to correct it? Think about player positions that could be taken by human or AI players. The computer usually plays poorly, so perhaps you should aid all the AI players by adding some resources, giving more creatures, flagging dwellings and mines, even converting some neutrals to armies of this very player? You could even make some fine tuning based on the fact if the nearest neighbors of any certain player are human or AI ones.
Equip the towns and heroes you've put in with names. Write short (2-3 sentences) biographies of the heroes. (It is silly when playing a wizard called Merlin one discovers he has the unchanged biography of Fafner.) Some towns and heroes have names from the beginning - the ones that are crucial for the story. But customizing the rest is a sign of quality.
Place your signature inside. It may be a roadsign or an endgame message connecting your (nick)name and e-mail, perhaps the address of your webpage. You want to be recognized don't you? But avoid doing it more then once, well twice! It would look a little silly.
So finally your map is ready for betatests! But before I will reveal a few hints for the beta phase (in chapter 5) let us take a closer look at some of the editor features - what they are and how to use them.
4. EFFECTIVE USAGE OF THE MAP EDITOR
The Heroes IV editor has got really a lot of features. Most of them are not used by an average mapmaker. I strongly advise you to explore the editor, trying (on your test map) every new functionality you encounter. What happens if...? What this option in scripts is for? What properties this location has got etc. This chapter is not a complete manual of the editor. It is only intended to spot the most interesting features.
4.1. General map properties
Values set in the general map properties window affect the whole map (nothing strange). Thus setting them properly is crucial. Some of them are obvious, some of them are not. Let us look:
* Map name, description and difficulty level: Choose a good name for your map. Make it attract potential players. Don't forget about a good description. Outline the story plot and the basics of the idea there. Don't rely on additional text files, your maps will often be distributed without them! Of course good map sites will not do that. But you cannotpredict the way your map will be distributed...
* Choose the difficulty level carefully. Don't choose 'easy' (who wants to play easy maps). Don't choose 'champion' (the risks are: 'yes, another champion map, that has nothing inside', and 'champion - probably unbeatable',both causing your map not being downloaded). Make sure your difficulty is correct, though. Ask your beta-testers if they agree.
* Victory / Loss conditions: Even if you provide a nonstandard way of winning for human and/or computer players be sure to leave 'enable standard victory condition' checked here! You can change it later in scripts, but don't disallow this standard condition for computer players. It would confuse the AI, and it is stupid enough without it.
* Player settings: just note that different players can have different experience limits. Note also the AI importance switch. Setting it to high for a human player will cause the computer attack this player more frequently. Setting it to critical means that the AI players will attack this player barely touching the others. Setting a computer player to a critical level will force AI to play the most defensive way it can.
* Oracles: Many mapmakers use no oracles at all. I don't know why... They add new tasks to the scenario. In Heroes IV you can customize the content of the buried loot and you have 12 kinds of oracles! You can also make things go more rapidly by placing, let us say, ten silver oracles on the map, but set the number of oracles required to reveal the puzzle map to four or six.
* Available heroes / skills / spells / artifacts: Consider customizing all of these! For heroes don't underestimate the power of the schwartz: a player saying 'Wow, I can recruit Gavin Magnus!' is yours. For artifacts block all the artifacts that have any special purpose in the game. You are to decide how to give them to the player, not the random number generator. Also block all the junk artifacts (there is no need for a sextant in a scenario with no water). You may also unblock some or all of the ones that are unavailable by default. For spells and skills: some of them may spoil the fun, break the gameplay or sometimesjust don't fit well the main theme. Do not hesitate to disallow them. Pay attention to necromancy, navigation and stealth.
4.2 Town properties
About 80% of the towns on user made maps are not customized. About 80% of them should be (regardless of setting names). Take a look into each town you have on your map and check if it needs customizing.
* Available and pre-built buildings: A good way to give a human player a handicap is putting him/her to a starting town with no structures, while AI players have lots of then built. Don't forget to test all towns after buildings customization. Commonly disallowing certain structures switches off other ones. If you desperately want for example a castle with no level 3 creature dwellings inside but with level 4 ones, do it through a quest hut put near the castle. Completing the quest (e.g. bringing money and other resources) would trigger an event in town which forces the desired structured to be constructed.
* AI importance: setting some towns to the high status makes the AI players to rush on them. Setting them to critical makes the AI players attack them at all costs and defend them at all costs if they own them.
* Garrison: remember that even if you set a garrison in a neutral town to be empty, it soon will not be empty, especially if there are any dwellings in this town.
* Spells: this option allows you to do two things. First: setting or disabling the spells you find too strong or too weak in starting castles (if you want to do it in all towns use general map properties). Second: you may want a set of castles to cover as many spells as possible (or maybe having the same spells in their guilds). Using this option wisely changes the map a lot in a way that is hardly ever noticed by an average player ('Gosh, Armageddon the third time...').
4.3 Hero properties
First of all: be sure to set the hero properties in the hero window, not in the window of its army! It is a very common mistake (fortunately some of the properties cannot be set this - wrong - way).
* Name, look and biography: if you change the name don't forget to change the biography too!
* Skills and level: Setting them is a good way to make starting heroes and the Big Evil Boss. Note that you can set levels up to 40. If you want to create more powerful hero, you must use events. The maximum value a hero level can reach is 70.
* Spells: if you set starting spells for a hero make sure he/she has appropriate magic skill, otherwise the spell will not be added to the hero's book. Note also that each hero obtains one random first level spell at each schools of magic he/she knows.
* Bonuses: the best use of them is to boost AI heroes.
* Events: use them to enrich the hero. Remember that 'Encountered' event fires at the beginning of the battle, and 'Defeated' when the battle is lost - in any case: including retreating and surrendering.
4.4 Properties of other objects
Lots of other objects (armies, mines, dwellings and many more) may have their properties set. You can use triggered events to manipulate them. If you want one trigger to fire a number of events, use the same name for them. Experiment, what are you able to do! Do you know you can name teleporters?
You can change the owner of certain objects. For mines, castles etc. you can change the owner from any or none to any or none. For armies the only way is from none to flagged.
Resource piles that can be converted to mines (by paying some gold and sometimes other resources too) are very special. The AI players never use them. And human players may use (build and flag!) them with an army without any heroes. Consider taking advantage of this fact in your maps.
Some objects can be removed from the board using bombs. Just make a script with 'remove adventure object', in set the bomb name, and place a bomb with this name over the object you want to blow. Note that objects that can hold troops (castles, mines, garrisons) cannot be bombed.
Don't forget quest huts/gates/posts! Properly used they make every scenario better. Always assign them their names and descriptions. If you forget - the game may crash when the object is right-clicked. This is a very common bug. I've spotted it several times playing the original NWC made scenarios from Heroes CD!
4.5 Script engine
The Heroes IV game has got a built-in script engine. The language of these scripts is linear with the 'if' command to add a touch of control statements. You program scripts by selecting predefined commands and parameters from appropriate subwindows. It is not my intention to teach you how to make good scripts. You can find a few tutorials on the net. And the best way of learning is taking a map and analyzing all the scripts used there. You can try my 'Pirates L.T.D.', it has about 200 scripts, but you should use v1.0 of the editor to open this map. Later versions will not work.
When you write scripts remember two basic rules: Use 'sequence' even if you want to place a single command. If you are to add something later it will be much easier. And at the end of every script you want to be executed only once place 'remove script'. This is very important especially for placed events.
Don't overuse continuous events. They slow down the game and make the map file much bigger. In fact don't overuse the scripts at all. Too many dependant scripts (like in my 'Pirates') may cause the game to be unstable. In fact the Heroes4 environment is unstable, so don't overload the engine. For an average map 30 scripts is more or less enough dependingon map story, its size etc.
Giving artifacts and giving/taking resources to a player (or hero) can be placed in subactions under displaying a message. If they are set this way appropriate pictures will be shown below the message.
Double check all the triggers especially all the placed event triggers. I got stuck in one genuine NWC map because my army marched through a grid with an empty trigger. All nearby triggers were set ok, it was my lack of luck to step on the wrong one.
4.6 Terrain tiles and obstacles
While terrain obstacles often play a very important role in every scenario, it is possible to make one without any single passable terrain tile. But such maps look bald and ugly. Proper use of these tiles and selecting obstacles fitting the main theme of the map (and the themes of particular areas they're placed in) can turn the map into a work of art. Nice look encourages players to explore, while ugly one discourages.
Placing various beautifying objects you must balance between placing similar objects close to each other (looks boring) and placing different objects close to each other (looks inconsistent). This is not an easy tasks and usually takes a lot of time. Don't stop until it is done. Maps with some areas finished and some other bald look peculiar. You probably don't want it. If you want - sorry, ok.
Some terrain obstacles (mostly trees) hide a few terrain grids that are passable. There are a few ways of dealing with it. First: do nothing. Second: you may want to block these grids by rocks. The rocks would not be visible so the look would not change at all. Third: You can make 'solid' forests with a few nearly invisible paths. If you do, check each of them if they are really passable. Fourth: you can hide artifacts and resources behind trees. It is quite a useful way of aiding AI players... and clever players.
5. BETATESTS AND RELEASE
If you have really tested all the possible events and paths on your map during the creation process, betatesting will be easy and pleasant. If not - it's all your fault, I wash my hands! You're going to get a lot of bugreports back! Your beta testers won't be very happy with you either.
The first step of betatests should be playing the map yourself (playing as all the players, even AI ones). Then play the map again but this time switch the AI only players to AI and play only human ones. Then give the map to your betatesters.
Betatesters, huh? Do you have any? You should have a few. No less then 2, no more then 5. At least one of them must be an expert player. At least one of them must not be an expert player. Give them your map, listen to their opinions. Modify your map according to them. Let them play again. In fact the ideal situation is when they are members of your family or your close friends. Remote tests are possible, but the interaction is slower and not as rich unless the testers are very skilled.
Keep testing and improving until you feel ready for the release. Should your map be perfect? No! If you want it perfect you will probably never achieve your goal. Beyond a certain point improving costs you a lot of time and the results are hardly visible. This point is often called 'the good enough point'. If you (and your testers) think it is reached, prepare for the final decision: release the scenario or not. Remember releasing a poor map may spoil your reputation. This is why I've published less than 40% of maps I've made.
Assuming you decide to publish your map there are one more task to do: write a text file describing your map. Name it xxxx.txt where xxxx is the filename of the mapfile (xxxx.h4c). Never use names like readme.txt! They will probably be overwritten on players' machines soon. To increase portability and minimize the chance of overwriting at the same time, the filenames should have up to 8 characters with no blanks and they should be unique. For example: my map 'Dusk of Technics' has the filename 'DuskTech.h4c', and the map 'Emperor's Game' has 'EmpGame.h4c'. Got it? Right. Now pack both the map and the text file into a file named xxxx.zip - and publish it! Put it on your webpage. Send it to Celestial Heavens. Send it to another sites. Write about it at appropriate newsgroups, maillists and forums. Let people know about it. That's all.
Do you understand me? That's all! Don't try to improve your map after it is published! Forget it. Neverever think of v1.1, v2.0 or v3.241c. It is wasting your effort. Your map lives its own life now and publishing next version will only confuse players. The only exception is making expanded versions of the map when an expansion of the game is released. However I really doubt it is reasonable. If you still want to create, start a new map, perhaps using new features included in the expansions. Learn from the mistakes you've committed before, and from players' feedback about your published maps (don't expect too much, players write to creators very rarely). And be prepared that your second map will be worse than the first one, but the third will be better!
6 FINAL REMARKS
Well, have you really read all I had written? Do you want to apply my suggestions? If so, (and if not) you may post me a feedback, my e-mail can be found at the bottom of this article. Now I want to answer a few questions you may want to ask me. Just treat this chapter as a very short FAQ.
Yes, I know I was somewhat brutal. Encouraging you to make Heroes maps was not my intention. I prefer quality over quantity, so I intended to show you how to create a good map and to help you decide whether you should try or not. Of course it is possible to make a good map using another methodology, why not? Just I don't know any other good one.
Do I use these methods? Yes. Most of them. Not all for every map. And I always experiment. Sometimes making and publishing an experimental map is more important for me than making a solid, robust, and 100% error-free one. You should also know which rules must be obeyed and which ones can be broken. But remember breaking the rules is risky. A few of my maps were not published due to too much experimenting. But - as a result - next ones were better.
When (at the end of chapter 2) I was writing about masterpiece maps, I asked myself: is any of my 51 maps a masterpiece? Comparing my maps to other ones I decided that 4 of them are close to be ones. They are: 'Promiseland' (a Heroes1 map, lacking some look); two episodes - 7 and 11 - of my Heroes3 campaign 'Riders of Apocalypse' (episode 7 lacks some dynamics, while episode 11 is a bit too easy); and 'Pirates L.T.D.' (Heroes4 - the map is unstable perhaps because of too many scripts inside). And well, one of my map is a masterpiece: the 12th episode of 'Riders of Apocalypse'. All the 5 mentioned maps are less than 10% of my work. Mapmaking is not an easy task.
Do I know more about mapmaking methodology? Yes. I just pointed out the most important guidelines. So can you ask me more questions about mapmaking? Yes. Sure. Just write. I'll try to answer.
Good luck in mapmaking and anything else.
7 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS AND DISCLAIMER
I'd like to thank Dragon Sister for all the valuable comments that helped meto improve this article. But don't blame her for all the headspins, heart attacks, nuclear explosions and all the other natural and unnatural disastersthat may be caused by reading this text. I am the only one responsible for allof these events.