Things missing in Forged Alliance, Session 3

Session 3: Map editor

A working map editor, with variable map sizes (and maybe a way to custom edit unit stats for that map as well, al la WC2) is important. It is important for the online community, for custom and even for ranked play if the map is good and fair enough. It is important for those that do not have an online account, so that they can make their own maps, and get more value and more play time out of the game. It may even entice them into the online community. RTS games without a decent map editor are destined to go the way of the bargain bin, because there is no way for the simple majority to feel like they can contribute to the community. So they play, get bored and leave.

The current “beta” map editor is way too hard to use. You need like three different programs just to make it work. You need to open and close projects and edit lua files, when all you’re even making is the most basic skirmish map. So don’t you dare tell me that it has a decent map editor. I like map editors. One of the first things I do after getting the hang of a new RTS is go and check out the map editor. Now I’m not a modder, but I have been know to make a few mean maps in my day. This is something that is sorely missed in Supcom.

Session 3b: Unit editor.

This is something that, to my knowledge, no RTS company has done, but what about a full fledged unit editor? Something along the lines of Galactic Civilizations 2. That, for me, was one of the most fun parts of that game. You may even be able to use it in competition if you balance in a fixed or scaling cost for “items” and restrict certain upgrades/weapons to specific factions. It would go a long way towards cementing SupCom as “the most modable game ever.”

You know the drill, get to it.

25 Responses to “Things missing in Forged Alliance, Session 3”

  1. Engineer Says:

    First, regarding the unit editor: the unit editor in Galactic Civilizations 2 works so well because it is a turn based strategy game with no multiplayer component, most of the elements in the editor don’t actually effect gameplay, and Stardock has put an absolutely enormous amount of effort into creating the editor and improving it over time. It is easily the most amazing and awesome unit editor ever created, it is very easy to use and has limitless potential. The idea of something along those lines for SupCom is great to think about but definitely would not be till SupCom2, and maybe not even till SupCom3. (quick plug for Galactic Civilizations 2, if you like space and strategy and awesome AI opponents, head over to http://www.galciv2.com and check it out! I give it 10/10 easily)

    The map editor is definitely a serious concern. This is another one of those cases where I would be curious to know what GPG was thinking. Obviously map editors don’t create themselves, so the developer has to pay to get them into the game, and a good one takes a lot more time than a hacked one like we got. Supreme Commander simply hasn’t sold on the level of the Blizzard games, for example, so perhaps it was a funding shortage. I have to think they wanted to create a good map editor, but the complex nature of the maps probably made it too expensive for them to afford given a no doubt limited budget and schedule. Releasing a “beta” map editor as they did was an easy out; it provided the user community with a map editor but they aren’t required to support it or develop it further.

    In the long run, I tend to agree with Lucus that it will be harmful for the game’s community not to have one. SupCom can survive without it thanks to the awesome variety of maps that come with the game, but it will push the game toward stagnation over time while a solid map editor may have made a big difference. Still, user communities tend to be reslient so no doubt maps will be made and played for years to come using the current flawed editor.

  2. Engineer Says:

    Ok I am a moron for double posting on my own blog, but I want to step back for a second and point out what I believe is the winning strategy for game developers when it comes to editors:

    Instead of creating a powerful in-house editor for developer content creation and then a separate, dumbed down but easier to use editor for users, I think game developers are best off spending their resources creating a single easy to use, powerful editor. They can use this to to create the original content and then ship the editor with the game so that the users have the same powerful and easy to use tools to create custom content. This is what Stardock is doing with Galactic Civilizations 2: Twilight of the Arnor; they are releasing the same editors they themselves use to create all the original content, and they took the time to make them easy to use both for themselves and for other users. I think this is a win-win strategy whenever it can be implemented.

  3. Widjet Says:

    Arguably, GPG have released the same editor that they used to make the game (just without some of the proprietary bits like model importers, a la Oblivion Construction Set). Also, the editor is arguably easy to use – certainly easier to use than typing the map in as binary, and easier to use than that fan-made editor that we had to use for a while.

    I know the editor is flawed, and I know that it hasn’t got a thing on something like the WC3 editor, but it’s a definite start. Ideally, they would release all the specifications for the map and model formats, as well as a pluginable editor skeleton, so that anyone in the community can write specific editors for the various parts of it. A bit of judicious moderation by a developer or two could prevent a saturation of trivial, useless plugins. After a few months of free labour from their fans, and they’d have a very powerful, useful editor, even better than the WC3 editor,

  4. TheBlackKnight Says:

    The good ‘ol debate wether the editor sucks or not. Tricky question, correct. Now is the current editor sh*t? If you look at it from the point of an end customer, then yes, the current editor is to unstable and it’s fair easy to “convince” him to crash. What would be my wish, besides an endless stream of knights to fight against?
    Well actually I have three::
    GPG releases a editor that works with FA *and* vanilla && with some serious bugfixes
    or
    they release the interface specification of the engine, so that $someone can code his own version of an editor
    or
    they release the whole editor source under an apache/gnu like license (yay!!!!!)

    the other issue at hand is the vault, it’s just not as foolproof/stable as it should be, that that’s going to be “what’s missing in FA session 4.5”

  5. Molloy Says:

    TA did fine with 3rd party editors. I’d say they’d be best to just release whatever resources and information the community need to develop their own tools.

    As games get more sophisticated it gets alot harder for players to make decent units. The order of complexity between a Total Annihilation unit and a Supreme Commander one means we’ll never have a very vibrant scene for that kind of thing anyway. It’s like how there aren’t a fraction as many Half Life 2 mods as there were HL1 mods. You can make the tools as user friendly as you like but creating anything is going to take alot more people, and as a consequence alot more organisation.

  6. CannonFodder Says:

    While the map editor does, indeed, suck, so do most in-house developed tools. Almost none of them are ever created with an end-user in mind, and as such poor UI and lots of crashes is simply dealt with or worked around. Here’s to hoping for a better one in the near future!

  7. EbolaSoup Says:

    I’ll bet that a lot of this stems from how a developer wants to use their engine. If they are like Epic, they make their engine a big part of their business model and license it out to other devs. If they are doing that then it behooves them to make a fairly robust and user-friendly toolset (for modders and pros…not necessarily fans) such as the Unreal Ed. Then they are essentially in the software tools business which GPG may not want to be in. Look at the recent lawsuit by some dev claiming Epic failed to deliver and support the Unreal 3 engine properly. But still, I kind of hoped that Supcom might be the kind of project that launched an engine that others used for other titles.
    If a dev doesn’t want to go that route then the only two options are to try to make the modding abilties of a game a big selling point and hope that it pays off in the long run by extending the shelf life and brand of a title. In this direction they would spend some effort to make a suite of user-friendly tools and include it with the game and hope it takes off. I kind of think this is what GPG did with Dungeon Siege. They seemed to promote the “Siege Editor” on their site a lot. They also tied in with Autodesk and included a branded version of their gmax product which was essentially a stripped down version of 3ds max. Autodesk doesn’t promote this app any more.
    The other option that a dev can take is to just make the tools that they need to produce the game and try to spend as little extra cash/time as they can get away with. Afterwards, they can make some efforts to get a version of the tools out there and hope people can make do and run with it or they just don’t even bother much with the modding community (Console games and many PC games do this).
    My suspicion is that GPG wanted to do with SupCom what they did with Dungeon Siege as Chris Taylor talked at times about how moddable it would be. But somewhere along the way I imagine that they had to scale back their ambitions. That happens in every game, I think, but given how significant this aspect was, I wonder if they weren’t getting pressure from THQ. Maybe they were going over budget. I dunno. I have some suspicions about their relationship with THQ given the lack of promotion of FA and their going with another publisher for the Xbox version.
    So I think that we got about all we’re going to get as far as an editor. But for the next version of SupCom maybe they can get back in cahoots with Microsoft for publishing. Think what you will of them, their game titles get supported and promoted in a top-notch way.

    As a side note: The Supreme Commander Wiki (http://supcom.wikia.com) has an excellent tutorial on map editing especially compared to just reading the forums at GPGnet. After kicking the tires for a bit, I read that tutorial and could follow exactly what they were getting at. They use a concept of a map inspired by Winter’s Duel and make a map called Summer’s Duel. I hope that lot’s of people find and use that site because it can a great resource. I don’t have any affiliation with it, I was just extremely impressed by that tutorial.

  8. LucusLoC Says:

    im not really sure you can compare RTS engines with FPS engines. it seems to me the FPS engines are used over and over again, because the content is mostly story/multiplayer driven. you will often see 10, 12 or even more games all using the same engine. you rarely see this with RTS engines. a lot of RTSs come out that are the only game to use that engine (RoN, WC3, C&C3. . . correct me if i am wrong) it seems that if you make two RTSs with the exact same engine, all you have done i made the same game with different skins and balance. of course this is an oversimplification, but just look at the mod community and all the different styles of gameplay (zone control anyone?) arguably these are “different” games, but to me its just SupCom with different rules. i think many in the RTS community would agree, exact same engine = exact same game with different mutators turned on. I think that this is primarily because the engine brings so much to the game in an RTS (unlike an FPS where the engine is only what you look at, the game depends on the levels, guns, play style etc. of course there are many exceptions, like fear, that added to the base engine to make a unique play experience) don’t get me wrong, im not saying that a “new” game based of the SupCom engine can’t be better. im just saying its still going to *feel* like SupCom, just in a different skin. i think that is why you don’t see massive RTS engine licensing, because all the games based off of that engine would feel about the same (unless the add a lo of extensions to it, in which case you may as well just write your own). the reason you want a good map editor in an RTS is not for developers who are going to license your engine (you’ll actually be lucky to have any) but rather for the fans, so they will be able to more easily make new content for the game, and keep it alive for longer, so that you can sell more copies. the easier it is to use the map editor the easier it is for more people to make content (but you also want to keep all the advanced controls available, for the hard core modders). i know that i tried to use the editor, and while i can get maps working, its just to frustrating juggling between programs. so i don’t make maps, despite the fact that i usually love to do that (i was an avid mapmaker for SC and C&C, because i only played them single player. my friends would get them and usually liked them. in SC i also priced queens so high in gas that you could not use them. i hated them soooo much. . .)

    on another note, what would be interesting to see is a random map feature, like in RoN. if you then combine this with “unexplored” (something which no one uses and everyone hates, because the maps never change) it could be really interesting.

  9. EbolaSoup Says:

    Yeah, I guess you’re right about RTS engines. The only examples I can think of offhand of new projects using engines from previous ones are StarWars Empires at War. I believe that was based on the Dawn of War engine or some Warhammer game. But even there, I believe it was the same developer and if so they just re-purposed their own tools rather than licensing it. The other example it when they used the RomeTW engine for that History channel show. They may even have just been using the game out of the box.
    So licensing it out to others may not ever have been on the table. Still, it does seem to me that the modding aspect of Dungeon Siege was much more heavily promoted by GPG than it is for SupCom. My wife played it but I never really did so I may be wrong. Does anyone here have a sense of that? Has GPG been less active in promoting and facilitating modders with SupCom than they were with DS? I wonder if it’s a money/publisher thing.

  10. Kymlaar Says:

    I think just as important as a new map editor is the auto-downloading of maps. While TA didn’t do it, FPS titles have been doing automatic downloading of maps for a long time. A good map builder doesn’t make as big of a difference if deployment of those maps can only be done in a manual way. If they included something in the multiplayer lobby code that made the game automatically download unknown maps, provided they were available in the vault, it would get many people involved in vault content.

    Don’t get me wrong, the vault is a wonderful thing. I just wish I could get a map from it automatically when I connected to a host.

  11. Meddish Says:

    haveing good map editor is useless if u have to manualy downlaod the map point 1!
    secondly licencing ur engine is again useless i remember ‘Z2’ ‘Earth 2140’ ‘Earth 2145’ and one other game that all used the same engine and they where all useless because after u played one u had played them all!
    next as for the editor i like the dumbed down version, i think EVERY map editor needs one, BUT i also think in the case of supcom the profisional tools need to be released to us as well even if they are more buggy and crash more often if they give us more options, and if they cant do this then drop us the code on what we need to do to make out own tools and we will.
    but again all of this is useless if there isnt a auto download feature!

  12. Echo Says:

    I WANT BETTER CO-OP MAPS. Senton is gettin hella old

  13. Monk Ellipse Says:

    Kymlaar, that is an *excellent* point, auto-download would make playing custom maps a TON easier!

  14. mOoEyThEcOw Says:

    I personally have to disagree with the comment about no RTS having a fully modable game, WC3 with the TFT expansion has an editor so powerful you can make a shooter out of an RTS game, and the RTS based editing is superb (I know I use it daily), and because of it there are at least 10,000 maps for WC3:TFT and the game is still going strong 5 years later.

  15. LucusLoC Says:

    all this does is underscore my point on how important a good map editor is. we need a good map editor!

  16. LucusLoC Says:

    this is totally off topic, and probably years in the future, but could you imagine a co op mode where there was a base commander, like we have now, and the teammates took control of an individual unit in fps mode? all the unit stats would be exactly the same, but instead of an ai controlling it all they would see are the requested waypoints from the commander. any unit not under the control of a player would behave just as it does now. its like uber micro!

  17. Widjet Says:

    this is totally off topic, and probably years in the future, but could you imagine a co op mode where there was a base commander, like we have now, and the teammates took control of an individual unit in fps mode? all the unit stats would be exactly the same, but instead of an ai controlling it all they would see are the requested waypoints from the commander. any unit not under the control of a player would behave just as it does now. its like uber micro!

    From what I understand of what you said, that sounds like Natural Selection (the half-life mod). It only works if you have a good commander, so it can be frustrating.

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