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  • Space Narratives: Rethinking Map Generation

    - Keith Burgun
  • I got my start in game design doing traditional Rogue-likes. My first game was 100 Rogues(now sadly rendered unplayable due to a combination of iOS updates and a long story involving legal rights), very much a typical turn-based Rogue-like, somewhat inspired by Shiren the Wanderer but with character abilities more along the lines of Diablo or Warcraft III.

    Since then, I've made 4X games, wargames, a weird experimental DotA-Rogue hybrid, and other things in this space. To that end, random map generation is something I've always thought of as an obvious starting point for my designs. Whatever I did next, the first thing that I knew it would have would be randomly generated maps.

    To say that this is because of my background in Rogue-likes would be having it sort of backward. I still think I had good reasons for wanting randomly generated maps in the first place; the general "proc-gen-ness" of the games were a big part what brought me to Rogue-likes in the first place. For me, the fascination with Rogue-likes had something to do with witnessing a pattern of games being too consumable, too puzzle-like, for too long. I thought of games like Advance Wars, which I enjoyed, but which you could kind of only play through once. Once you know the strategy that works, you kind of need a new Advance Wars map to play on; you've kind of "solved" that level (at least, for single player).

    Gem Wizards Tactics

    In 2019 I began work on Gem Wizards Tactics, my own answer to the issues I had with games like Advance Wars. As such, one of the first things I decided about the game was that it was going to have randomly generated maps. This would contribute to the game being endlessly replayable, with billions of potential map configurations that challenge the player in different ways each time.

    Gem Wizards Tactics was a one-person operation pretty much, with me doing 95%+ of everything, so the amount of time I could spend on any one aspect of the game was limited. But I got the map generation working well enough. Forests would spawn in clusters, hills and mountains would be dropped in one at a time in random spots, and roads and rivers would shoot through the map in various ways. The towers (which are the objective) spawn at roughly the same distance from the player start, and player also has a guaranteed starting location that's paved and guaranteed to be nice and clear of obstruction, to help them navigate themselves into place for the battle (another thing I wanted to do differently was to skip the 'placement phase' many tactics games have).

    Here are a couple of examples:

    The mountain-looking tiles you see are impassable (usually). Rivers are hard to walk through, forests give you more defense, and hills give you extra attack damage.

    Overall, the maps look alright and I haven't found the generation to swing the randomness too much. In short, it works.

    But I'll never make another randomly generated map again! And I'm actually going to add a bunch more non-random maps to Gem Wizards Tactics in the next patch (coming in a week or so).


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