Behind the Curtain: Mapmaker as Entertainer

 by Charles Watkins



Finishing a map is an emotional moment. For players, it is a sweet moment of triumph as final cutscreen plays across the monitor, swords lifted high and fireworks filling the sky. But along with the thrill, there is a spot of depression as the realization sets in that the game is over. Most--if not all--of the map has been explored. Opponents have been defeated and will rise no more. Heroes it took so long to develop have retired from the fray. It’s like closing a book.

But for mapmakers, the emotions are amplified. As their creator, the mapmaker becomes even more attached to the fantasy world and its inhabitants. After driving their evolution in the course of development, the mapmaker must now send the creations out on their own and hope that they perform as expected.

Instead of having spent a few hours with the map, the mapmaker will have spent weeks. And toward the end of the project, the mapmaker becomes immersed in final testing, last minute changes, and packaging the map for distribution. Then the map goes out and the mapmaker can only wait for others to play it. If all goes well, players enjoy it and reward the mapmaker with their praise, which is especially sweet when it comes from a reviewer or fellow mapmaker. If not, players are disappointed and the map is ignored. The torture for the mapmaker is not knowing which outcome will result.

In this series, I’d like to explore the emotional side of heroes from the point of view of the player. But much of the discussion is addressed to the mapmakers, since their reward stems from the reactions of the players. By providing players with an enjoyable experience, mapmakers can in turn enjoy the praise and recognition that makes all the work seem worthwhile.

Essentially, the mapmaker is an entertainer. No matter what type of map it is – pictorial, battle, puzzle, RPG, or whatever—it will be judged by players according to whether they had a good time playing it. The different types may be enjoyed in different ways. A picture map may offer stunning graphics. A battle map may provide a venue for a fair fight. A puzzle map may present challenging problems. An RPG map may be populated with memorable characters. But from the players’ point of view, it comes down to a brief departure from the cares of the day to a world inhabited by Heroes of Might and Magic.
these main pleasures – discovery, beauty, and success.

In this series, I explore each of these ways for mapmakers to entertain their players. Rather than offering a how-to on the mechanics of map construction—am important topic that has been well addressed elsewhere—I’m focusing on the psychology of players and ways that mapmakers can make the players’ experience as entertaining as possible. There will be three main installments to the series, each on a different way to develop appealing maps.

Part 1: Discovery. Here we will see some ways for mapmakers to create and sustain the anticipation that leads to the pleasure of discovery.

Part 2: Success. The elements of advancement and victory combine to give players a sense of accomplishment, which can be amplified in several ways

Part 3: Aesthetics. In this installment we look at ways to make maps attractive to the eye and to use the visual dimension of Heroes to best effect. I also move into an area less related to the entertainment value of Heroes maps and into a higher realm of human needs, but first it’s necessary to look deeply into the entertainment arena.