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Designer answers


by Sulis

  1. Describe the process of making a complete scenario starting from the idea and ending in the submission of your finished scenario. Do you have a schedule in which you have written the exact tasks for every day?
    The process starts with an idea. It doesn't necessarily have to be a castle, or a sequence of events you would like to see. Sometimes a good story will be enough to allow the imagination to run riot. The landscape may be determined by the story, but more than likely by the image I have in my head, or how I would like the AI, or the event win criteria, to be achieved. Difficult to describe, but our Mapmaking 101 section will soon blossom to life with my thoughts on this. I don't stick to a schedule, I work on a map when I feel inspired, when I am free (busy life outside of Heavengames!) or when an idea springs to mind. More often than not, the final version of a map is a heavily edited one from the initial thought I had.
  2. What is your first piece of advice to a new scenario designer?
    It could be to check out the maps available here. The vast majority have something worth investigating, and naturally some more than others. But the key to a good map for a new designer is to take time out before hitting the editor and work out what you want to happen in your scenario. Pen and paper will always be at my side as I work.
  3. How do you decide the map size of your scenario?
    Difficult to summarise. There are usually many factors that can decide how big you decide to build. I try to choose the smallest map size possible, rather than have a 400 x 400 map with 20% of it being used. I like to think big, generally speaking. The vast majority of my maps are 300 x 300 or even 400 x 400.
  4. How do you balance your scenario (invasions, events and victory conditions)?
    Playtesting. Lots of playtesting. Some people are very good at map design and seem to naturally achieve good balance. For me, it takes many hours and I still don't get it right (in my eyes, anyway). I try to make the win conditions relevant to the story if possible, or at least try to have some relevance to where I want the scenario to go.
  5. How long does it take you to design a scenario? (you don't have to answer this question if you have already mentioned this in question #1)
    Again, this depends. Historical castle reconstructions take me hours and hours. Gathering information, pictures, snapshots, etc can cover a good 40% of the design time. I try to look for small details as well as grand, overhead images that are more popular.
    Landscaping takes me a minimum of 20 hours' work. Sometimes more, depending on the scenario and what I want to achieve. Playtesting can again take 20-30 hours, trying different approaches, and attempting to explore 'what if' situations, given that everyone approaches and plays a map differently to how I do.
  6. What is your favourite eye-candy and why? What is the most common eye-candy you use? (note: this does not exclude natural eye-candy, such as rock formations, erosion etc.)
    Lowered walls is my favourite eye candy trick, and what I use more than anything else. It's not that I want to recreate huge, intricate castles all the time, but I want to be able to add something a little special to the scenario where a pre-built castle is planned.
  7. Do you design scenarios for multiple games at the same time?
    No. But then I only design for Stronghold (and Crusader) at the moment. My choice, that's all.
  8. What do you like and what don't you like about the SH editor?
    The 'look' of the game, from buildings to landscape, is something that appeals to me. It has real atmosphere. The ease of use is refreshing. I have concerns over the erratic behaviour of the AI and I would like to see more options for events as well as building objects. There's nothing in the game that I would say that I don't like, but there is room for improvement.
  9. Do you playtest your scenario yourself or do you ask for playtesters?
    More often than not, I playtest myself. I do occasionally ask people to look at my scenario, but I prefer to choose people who I know I can trust, and who have a good idea where I am coming from. I've been designing a while now, and I feel comfortable that I know what I'm doing.
  10. How do you know your scenario is ready to be submitted?
    I don't. Given the chance, I'd tweak and amend until the map had completely changed from the original idea. Sometimes you just have to say 'enough is enough' and press that button. If it works, looks okay and covers the main ideas I want to include, then it's ready.
  11. If a fancy eye-candy you want to have on the map requires you to make playability worse, would you add that eye-candy on the map? (i.e. the graphics vs. playability issue)
    This is one hell of a question. I've recently submitted a map (Sylvandell chapter 5) that has bags of eye candy and I think that playability did suffer as a result. The AI were hell-bent on destroying everything, rather than doing what they were supposed to do... kill the defending armies, but I sat and thought about the scenario. I wanted a city to be completely under siege, and overrun with hordes of enemy units. In some way this worked out okay, and the reviews have been generous to this effect. If the eye candy makes the map glaringly unplayable, then no. I'd prefer to remodel.
  12. What makes a scenario fun to play?
    A map that works, does what it is supposed to do, and invloves the player in some way. We're talking about correct use of events, or a scenario that means you don't just sit back and let it happen.
  13. If you're considered a creative designer, then what is the secret behind your imagination and creativity?
    I wouldn't consider myself to be any different from any other designer. To regard myself as creative, or better than anyone else, is shallow and pretentious, two traits I genuinely deplore in people.
    All I try to do is design something I think I would like and that would appeal to others too. Anyone can design what is regarded as a quality scenario if they take their time, plan carefully and have a genuine interest in what they are trying to achieve.
  14. Which one is better, designing ten 4.0 scenarios or one 5.0 scenario (quantity vs. quality)?
    Neither. Whilst I'm always open to reviews of my work (I do like to see if people think I've done something they enjoy, or hate for that matter), I don't really pay too much attention to the scoring. Some people can be obsessed with obtaining perfect 5.0 scores. Some people will only submit what they feel to be the highest quality maps. To me, that's not what designing is about. Designing is about fun, sharing ideas and enjoying what you do.
  15. Do you work on many scenarios at the same time or do you concentrate your efforts on a single scenario at a time?
    Sometimes, depending on what I have in mind. My Sylvandell series was developed all at the same time, but only because I had such a strong idea of what I wanted to do and where I was going with the series. But aside from this, no. I try to concentrate on one map at a time. It's really what works best for the designer, for we are all different.
  16. Do you work on your scenarios regularly or irregularly?
    Irregularly. When I feel like it, I will design. If I'm busy with other things, I won't.
  17. After you've submitted a scenario, do you feel confident or uncertain of the success of your scenario? How do you try to ensure the success of your scenario?
    I suppose I feel somewhere in between. Obviously I think it's okay and should be well received. I hope others enjoy it too. Success to me isn't about the score or the review, but if people like what you've done, you usually find out one way or another, and not necessarily via a review.
    I don't try to ensure the success of my work as such. I do what I like to do. If people hate it, then so be it. If people really enjoy it, then that pleases me. If it inspires others to do something themselves, then that's the best part. I prefer that relaxed way of working.
  18. Would you submit a scenario if you were certain it wouldn't be rated high (high is 4.0+)?
    Yes, why not? I know that some of my stuff has weaknesses, and I try to do my best to combat this. I'm nowhere near the best map designer out there, and I don't try to be either. I don't think I design bad maps, some aspects are well received, others aren't. If I think the scenario in question has something to offer, it will be submitted.
  19. What keeps you motivated to design scenarios? Why did you start designing scenarios?
    Motivation? No idea. I have peaks and troughs. I find the editor addictive, and I can't stay away from it for too long. But I'm reaching a stage where I think I've done everything I wanted to do in the editor. So who knows...
    I started designing scenarios after finding Stronghold Heaven. I also played some maps by two designers here and was so impressed that I wanted to have a go myself. As the forums sprang to life and discussions ran riot over how to design for the game, I wanted to try it for myself.
  20. What do you do when you're not motivated enough to design scenarios?
    I work on my garden, go for long bikerides, read, draw, paint, sketch... I don't let a lack of motivation bother me. There's always other things that need my attention!

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