Author Topic: Soldat 2020 feedback series, pt.2 - Maps  (Read 324 times)

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Offline Aeronic

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Soldat 2020 feedback series, pt.2 - Maps
« on: July 10, 2020, 04:09:37 am »
Hello, and welcome to the second part of my Soldat 2020 feedback series: Maps. 

Quote from: Intro
I recently came back to Soldat after a very long time, and it's rekindled a spark.  I miss games like this!  But the game's not the same as it once was.  For better and worse, it's changed - not so much the game itself, but the way it's being played. 

Now with Soldat becoming open-source, there's a new opportunity ahead for where the game goes from here. 

Thanks to the nostalgia I have for this game, I'd like to offer my perspective on some of what's different as someone who was involved with the community for a few years in the mid 00s, and offer some thoughts on other areas of improvement I can see.

This series is split into four parts.  Click the link below to view my the relevant topics currently released:

1. Movement
2. Maps
3. Community
4. User Experience

---

The maps in Soldat dictate a player's experience in terms of moves required, angles and combat possibilities, and so on.  What's changed in the last 10+ years? 
« Last Edit: July 17, 2020, 07:23:02 am by Aeronic »

Offline Aeronic

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Re: Soldat 2020 feedback series, pt.2 - Maps
« Reply #1 on: July 10, 2020, 04:12:48 am »
I've gotta say this straight up, and it's going to be harsh: the fact nearly all the maps that are new to me are shitty little fuckboxes is really quite depressing.  They offer almost no gameplay variety. There isn't any room for tactics or strategy beyond throwing shit at a wall and hoping it'll stick.  CTF has been lobotomised. 

Hurts to say it, but it really stinks. 

The older maps generally encouraged players to learn how to move, adapt to different angles and master combat, how to establish map control, etc..  In something like ctf_X or ctf_Guardian, though?  There's just running at each other like idiots, with clearly defined, dumb limits on how each section of the map can be played.  The same can be said of nearly every map introduced since I stopped playing.  What the hell happened?  These new maps are just an inescapable clusterfuck.  They're all designed for one specific and incredibly limited brand of competetive play.

Map control is a basic tenet of any competitive game.  Items in Quake aren't there just because the items themselves create dominance, it's because they create set opportunities for how the next engagement might go down, and the player best able to take those variables into account wins.  It's not just videogames, either.  Sports, paintball, etc..  There are natural benefits to having positional advantage. 

But Soldat went in a completely different direction as I was leaving the game.  The core community evidently just want to run at each other and shoot.  The only variable is weapon efficiency.  They wanted to have no opportunity to counter a flagger once they leave the base unless someone's already on the enemy side of the map. 

There's no such thing as taking ownership of a position that can give a player or team an advantage...  Take one step forward of your base and you're already in the center of the map, another and you're already in the enemy base.

What the hell?   

Since I last played, there are only three or four CTF maps added that aren't complete anus.  Many of the maps that were new when I stopped aren't exactly modern classics either: Division and Steel are pretty cramped and only work in competitive settings; Cobra and Snakebite are prototypes of what was to come: shitty little spamfests. 

It seems the size of what mappers think their creations should be has been cut down so much they're all intended to be played in 2vs2 or 3vs3 only.  There are usually only two, sometimes only one, engagement points on any route, and the amount of gimmicky trash like with the idea of being able to chain cap flags directly from one base to the other has been pushed way too hard.  That idea doesn't even have any merit in the first place, it's just a gimmick, nothing more. 

Reverse ctf like Hormone would be better relegated to its own custom game mode - this RCTF has no place in standard CTF, and even then Hormone is hardly a flattering example of it.  Better again, just make RCTF a mutator (see UX thread) that automatically swaps flag positions so it can be played on any map designed for CTF. 
« Last Edit: July 10, 2020, 04:33:23 am by Aeronic »

Offline Aeronic

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Re: Soldat 2020 feedback series, pt.2 - Maps
« Reply #2 on: July 10, 2020, 04:18:26 am »
So, I've been overwhelmingly negative so far. 

I should point out I that *do* like a select few aspects of map design which have matured since back in the day, particularly poly designs which allow for better utilisation of the movement mechanisms possible in modern soldat, such as halfpipe style shapes allowing quick cornering.  However, even that comes with a caveat: they are too few and far between and don't have anywhere near enough of an impact in these new gimmick maps to actually make them fun. 

It also isn't a 100% positive - ctf_blade is probably an example of where pushing uncommon movement dynamics all goes very, very wrong. 

Ok...

The point of being critical here, is to establish that the direction of Soldat's map design is, IMO, a major factor in why the game has been brought to the brink.  So many maps are so bad, it's just dumb chaos and new players think shooting is all there is to do.  They are little torture chambers where these new players are completely trapped when matched with good players, and they don't even have the chance to breathe before getting fragged. They don't even have a chance to find out how to use movement or angles to their advantage. 

Without more dimensions to the gameplay to explore beyond shooting, the game becomes oppressive against anyone better than they are. 

CTF was Soldat's crown jewel.  It was probably the most dynamic, deep 2D shooter around.  The bulk of these new maps turn that around, and the only options are spam, throw yourself at the enemy, respawn, repeat.  It's pathetic, it's as if whoever has been in charge of Soldat has been trying to turn it into a dumb, simple flash game - perhaps not a crime in itself, but it's not what made Soldat a game to play. 

To top it off, these maps are cancer for casual play.  The map pool curators over the years have seemingly just completely lost touch with what it was like to be a new player, lacking any perspective of gameplay dynamics outside of the specific style of play they and their friends enjoyed in gathers and competitive settings. 

I watched a VOD recently of 7-8 guys who were friends playing Soldat for an hour and a half, and some of them never even learned how to jump - they'd just jet around the place.  They played Cobra, Guardian, Snakebite, Mayapan, Raspberry, and X. 

You could argue they weren't taking themselves seriously and simply didn't pay enough attention to the controls HUD that pops up on the first run, but that's a poor excuse.  The best way to learn how to play is to provide real gameplay situations that necessitate the use of the basics.  None of the maps they played encouraged a number of these players to find out how to jump in an hour and a half of solid play time.  That's shocking. 

You could also tell by the end of the VOD, they thought the game didn't have enough to maintain their interest much longer, even though they said they had fun.  They took the game as just some dumb fun - they completely missed the hooks of getting better in even the most basic ways above just aiming in Soldat - using movement to advantage, baiting the enemy into compromise, etc..  A good game will grab a player regardless of their intention.  Most people playing Soldat are just looking for some quick dumb fun.  Something *has* to engage them and make them want to explore what the game has to offer. 

I have no doubt that if the players in that VOD played a bunch of the old maps like Laos, Voland, Run, etc., things would be different.  Instead of saying "yeah that was fun", they'd have said "that was a blast", just on that single added dimension to the gameplay they'd be far more encouraged to pursue.   Map design *has* to inform how the game is played. 

Soldat *has* content capable of grabbing people.  Much of it is hidden behind shithouse map design, amongst other things I'll be going into in the other threads. 
« Last Edit: July 10, 2020, 09:17:54 pm by Aeronic »

Offline Aeronic

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Re: Soldat 2020 feedback series, pt.2 - Maps
« Reply #3 on: July 10, 2020, 04:19:36 am »
Anyway... after seeing the dev comments about how they were considering a severe pruning of the map list, I've gotta say that sounds like a great idea, at least in principle. The caveat?  Given the direction mapping took, I'm doubtful the maps I like align with the preferences of whoever is in charge of the game's map curation since I stopped playing.  I feel it would be beneficial to offer some perspective on the situation with 1.7.1's default maps from outside their comfort zone. 

First, a list of the maps I think get a lot right.

Then, a quick run through of those I have concerns with. 

A post for DM first, despite not being as big an issue IMO; then a followup post for CTF. 

I'll be providing each concerning map a mark out of 5; the lower the mark the more okay I am with seeing it removed or heavily reworked.

Offline Aeronic

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Re: Soldat 2020 feedback series, pt.2 - Maps
« Reply #4 on: July 10, 2020, 04:21:43 am »
DM

Which maps get a lot right:

Arena, Bigfalls, Daybreak, Jungle, Krab, Rok, Tropiccave, Veoto

Some that don't:
Airpirates
The interior is difficult to move around in, while the exterior is too open.  Very few opportunities for fun mid range fights or using terrain as cover. 
It's not particularly unbalanced, it just leads to gameplay that is uninteresting, limited and awkward.  Requires smart use of jets, which new players cannot achieve, and so I think they'd struggle to like this map.  There's no wow factor at all. 

I also don't like it being one of the first maps a new player will see: it's visually dull despite its high res assets and texture manipulation, and it's difficult for players unfamiliar with it to get a grasp of the size and combat possibilities... IMO it's an all around poor example of Soldat. 

1.3/5

Bridge
With more than 3-4 people, there's so much spawnkilling you could be forgiven if you forgot there's a middle of the map as well.  Tiny, cramped, not very interesting. 

2.2/5

Bunker
Hardly the worst map, but you generally just get one chance per life to do anything due to how open it is, how little jet fuel you have, and virtually no cover. As the bunker itself is too restrictive and awkward to be useful in that the polys and visuals are in the way, this source of cover doesn't really help. 

2/5

CrackedBoot
The tiny "cracks" are basically a free escape route if the player can make it.  Huge open areas make it easy to get flanked randomly from multiple directions, completely out of the player's control. 

Very frustrating map to play. 

1/5

DesertWind
Clusterfuck central.  Gameplay is mostly ultra close quarters, vertical (read: unbalanced due to location based multipliers), it's got somewhat awkward terrain, and with no cover in such a cramped environment?  This map can easily become a shitshow with many people. 
The top area is only ever used as a means to escape and try to find some health, but because it's so open, there's so little jet fuel, and people spawning below can shoot those above right away, it rarely works.

1.8/5

Factory
A showcase of Soldat's gameplay at its worst.  Literally the worst map in the game, its design is in direct conflict with what makes soldat fun. 

Regularly kills servers. 

0.

Flashback
Bigfalls, but slightly less dynamic and less visually interesting.  Vertical tunnel on the far right is almost completely useless.  (P.s.  As an aside, I remember Bigfalls being green, why is it so yellow now?  Not a fan...)

2.5/5

HH
Like 4 mundane mini-arenas jammed into one, where the interconnects between adjacent arenas are cramped and offer minimal capacity for the player moving through to avoid being picked off by someone in the next.  As such, searching for a fight is awkward.
I think some of the ideas particularly on the left side of the map could be taken and used in another map and make better use of them; the rest of the map isn't interesting enough and doesn't attract much action. 

1.5/5

Leaf
Another spawnkilling fest.  Level design encourages constant spawnkilling, and there's really not a lot else to it.  Even in 1v1, there are just 3 realistic engagement points with 2 or 3 very simple types of approaches each.  Yawn. 

1/5

RR
A worse, even more cramped version of arena2.  If you want another tight map, tropiccave has this beat hands down. 

1/5

Shau
Huge map for DM; gameplay gets focused too much in the spawn areas on either far end with large numbers of players; the tunnels in the hill just cut off the players within from being able to get kills; spawn areas are too open. 

1.5/5

Unlim
Yet another spawnkilling fest.  Map design isn't particularly good, much of it rarely even gets used due to the focus on spawnkilling.

0.5/5

---

Perhaps some of these maps are classics, but if there's to be a severe pruning, consider the above a critical take. 

Now for a rundown of notable CTF maps.  Oh boy. 

Offline Aeronic

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Re: Soldat 2020 feedback series, pt.2 - Maps
« Reply #5 on: July 10, 2020, 04:22:02 am »
CTF

Which maps get a lot right:
Ash, B2b, Laos, Maya, Ruins, Viet, Voland

Some that don't:
Blade
Gimmicky clusterfuck with no redeeming qualities.

0/5

Campeche
Super open bases, awkward and limited combat angles, no middle ground, not very fun.  For advanced competitive players in 3v3 exclusively; I can't imagine this map being fun in any other scenario and even then it'd be nothing special. 

1.8/5

Cobra
Spammy little shitbox.  Always hated it; even in vods of top players I can't stand watching other people play it. 

0.5/5

Crucifix
Gimmicky, spammy, tiny, super undynamic with limited gameplay variety

0.1/5

Death
Spammy, undynamic, simple, small. 

I couldn't even remember the map it was based on until I heard about Death2, which sounded familiar somehow... and after downloading it, it all came flooding back.  This may be the nostalgia talking, but frankly, the gaudy colours were the only thing the original map had that set it apart.  The new version has nothing.  It was a mess then, it's probably even more forgettable now. 

1/5

Equinox
I'm not saying these maps are shitty just for being small as if big maps are automatically good, and this is the map that proves it.  Equinox is a shocker. 

The main route is ridiculously open.  With enemies able to come from so many angles, it's literally just dumb luck if you're looking in the right place at the right time.  As the bases are cramped as hell and as soon as someone is more hurt than another, they're immediately at a huge disadvantage due to the super tight chokepoints, and such contrast in advantage on such a long map is overly punishing.  And yet if they canm somehow get in, they're almost likely to get out with the flag thanks to the ability to whore all the healthpacks.  Once they're out, it's very hard to catch them. 

Meanwhile, the lower route is the exact opposite: it's 20km of straight, narrow, unchanging tunnel; other than the short break provided by the middle cavern which doesn't really change how anything is played.  Again, this tunnel just limits how you can engage another player so much that the contest is dumbed down to simple attrition, totally devoid of skill. 

Not a good map for experienced players, terrible map for beginners.  Equinox is more frustrating than fun. 

0.8/5

Guardian
Ridiculously open, tiny, undynamic, spammy mess of a map.

1/5

Hormone
Gimmicky, tiny, unsophisticated, one-dimensional spamfest.  Reverse CTF isn't even CTF.  Just because it's possible doesn't make it a viable idea.     

0/5

Icebeam
Of the gimmicky maps, this is the best, but it's still gimmicky and has limited gameplay depth. 

2/5

Lanubya
It's fine if a bit plain for me, but IMO its terrain is awkward to navigate for new players and neither the combat or movement tech opportunities in the middle of the map are really great for experienced players either.  It's overall a pretty bland map in public games for more experienced players, and one I can see being frustrating for noobs.  Is somewhat similar to Mayapan in size and layout, just more geometrically complex.  Also nothing special for competitive.  The base areas are pretty cool though. 

2.4/5

Mayapan
Bland. Broken AF bridge. Mayapan doesn't really offer anything interesting for players past the most basic skill level.  It's like a spamfest map, only big.  With plenty of more interesting maps, there's really just no point in this one being in the game. 

1.7/5

mfm
I just find it bland.  Don't have anything to say about it at all really. 

3/5

Nuubia
Super simple, super repetitive, super undynamic.  Was this map the beginning of the end of worthwhile map design in soldat? 

1.8/5

Raspberry
There's something in the general layout that I think could be fun.  That said, it falls into the typical pit traps of many of these new maps by trying to be hectic ahead of allowing the gameplay naturally flow - largely thanks to most of the action taking place close to the spawns thanks to the fact the bases are so close it only takes about 5 seconds to get from one to the other. 

2/5

Run
Probably a bit too big, especially given each path doesn't really change how a player must approach any given section from the last.  Movement superiority has an immense advantage. 

2/5

scorpion
Gimmicky trash.  Not even worth discussing, it's just utter tripe. 

0/5

Snakebite
For a spammy map, it's actually just the right size, and can be fun.  It's just bad for casual play, and the lower route is bad design - it's so long and plain, it's really only useful as an escape route.  Even campers will hardly see enough action down there to maintain their interest, while the upper route is too open and with 99% of traffic going that way, is too much for new players to handle. 

1.5/5 for casual play, 2.5/5 for competitive

Triumph
Gimmicky; the chain cap gimmick forces too much attention on the low route which ruins the rest of the map.

1.4/5

Wretch
Big fan of the flag areas in Wretch.  Or at least I would be, if not for seeing how it's played by the best players: shooting the flag up and into their base.  What a dumb, unfun, yet obviously powerful tactic.  Easy to fix though. 

Making the map larger and forcing a team to break defense before entering the enemy base would also be a huge benefit to overall gameplay, as the middle of the map is small, undynamic, and uninteresting. 

2.3/5

x
X is so bad it's right up there with Factory, fighting for the title of being the worst map in the game.  Tiny spammy disgrace of a map. 

Fuckin' Zero. 

Offline Aeronic

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Re: Soldat 2020 feedback series, pt.2 - Maps
« Reply #6 on: July 10, 2020, 04:26:13 am »
I'm just so surprised these maps became the norm.  I know I'm not the only one who sees these maps negatively - similar sentiments were shared by a number of older players I've met, and many new players I've talked with about particular maps agree, too. 

*Why* did Soldat go all-in on this style of mapping and gameplay?  I think the core community just became too insular.  As more people left, there were fewer voices of dissent to give any resistance to the status quo.  In such circumstances, those that do go against the grain aren't united in their opinions, which is needed against a majority of like-minded friends.  And ultimately, for whatever reason, the people in charge liked bad maps and got what they wanted. 

Just a guess. 

To wrap up here though, let's outline features future default maps should strive to implement.

DM:
* Every map needs multiple "areas" with their own 'best' way of being played, and which are viable enough to be sought depending on preference, weapon selection, skill, etc..
* Spawn locations that encourage use of the entire map, i.e. having at least one in each "area" and spreading them out so it's not just more efficient to camp one area. 
* Controlled bounds for how many directions a player in any area of a given map has to account for.
* Escape routes that can be countered, not be free passes.

CTF:
* Be large enough to have control points that allow players outside their base to have some level of advantage when used right. If they're left with less health and no refuge, it's too close to being a guaranteed kill for the enemy, and the gameplay revolves too heavily around dumb attrition.
* Be large enough to afford new players the space and time they require to learn without being totally destroyed.
* Force new players to think beyond the most basic moves. 
* Have clearly defined routes.  Forcing players to guess where the enemy will come from when given too much space is not fun, e.g. top route Equinox.

* And all maps should strive to push players to use a variety of aspects of Soldat's moves set. 

P.S.  Let it be known that I have been critical.  Please feel free to offer your own analysis of a map I have made recently, ctf_Blood: an attempt to create something that preserves high speed gameplay while offering opportunities to control areas of the map, have multiple viable routes without becoming a total clusterfuck, and potentially enjoyable in public servers by new players. 

Offline jrgp

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Re: Soldat 2020 feedback series, pt.2 - Maps
« Reply #7 on: July 10, 2020, 07:34:03 pm »
It looks like you've given a great deal of thought into your feedback and this (as well as your other topic) have made really enjoyable reads for a longtime soldat fan.

What are your thoughts on maps like Blox, Island2k5 and ctf_Kampf? Would you be willing to do a review of Inf maps as well? Inf is my favorite game mode and I had so much fun in maps like Rise, Moonshine, Outpost back in the mid 00s.

Also, what are your thoughts on using ctf and inf maps for deathmatch? I run some servers and I enjoy DM in maps like Ash and Belltower.

As for the decline in map quality, I think it's due to almost all mappers working in isolation and preferring to focus on good graphics rather than gameplay.
« Last Edit: July 10, 2020, 08:02:07 pm by jrgp »
Careful with that axe, Eugene.

Offline Aeronic

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Re: Soldat 2020 feedback series, pt.2 - Maps
« Reply #8 on: July 10, 2020, 11:35:48 pm »
Hey, glad some people are appreciating them! 

  • My thoughts on those maps:
Blox: I'm not the biggest fan personally, but it's ok.  I find the spawns funnel players too much into a large vertical corridor running from the lower left platform to the roof just left of the large top platform.  Too much gameplay is centred around that area, and the sheer vertical size allows a lot of opportunity to get flanked out of nowhere. 

Island2k5: I haven't had much of a chance to play this one, with just a handful of plays.  Initial impressions are that it's very big.  The whole ground level seems the most efficient area to patrol, and it's pretty easy to get sniped by players who aren't interested in getting in amongst the action.  I'd prefer players to be able to have more control over how exposed they are, without compromising their capacity to frag.  Doesn't really feel like it fits as a default map to me, either. 

Kampf: I have so much nostalgia for this map it's very hard to separate that from how it really plays... but, I can try.  This map was hell in large public servers, but I still managed to have fun, and I don't entirely know how that is?  It was near impossible to get the flag out of blue.  It's a clusterfuck, but it's a focused clusterfuck, and I think anyone's capable of enjoying it as long as they aren't expecting a totally balanced experience.  I think part of it is that while it does revolve around attrition similarly to the above ctf maps I disparaged, it's so focused that not only do new players find it easy to grasp what needs to be done quickly, the fact it's such a meat grinder forces them to embrace the notion of pushing themselves to break through, which can be a good learning experience in the right environment.  Good public server map, I think, but unworkable for competitive. 

That stands in contrast to the likes of Guardian, for example, in that that map is just so much more random, and even faster.  Guardian is less about breaking through and more about getting lucky using the huge area you could appear in at any time while still being able to attack 90% of the map, simply resulting in plain frustration for new players. 
  • As for Inf maps, I won't be doing a review of them.  I haven't played any of the maps new to me with other people at all; there are simply no active Inf servers currently.  It's a shame, as I also had a tonne of fun back in the day in Inf; some of my clearest memories of Soldat were from that mode.  But an important part of making Inf fun was large numbers of players, which is obviously a huge problem for the game right now.  I think it makes a great complementery piece to the meat & potatoes of Soldat: CTF & DM. When even those modes are struggling though, there are more pressing concerns that need to be put forward before worrying about how Inf might fit in.
  • DM in maps made for other modes: really depends on the map.  Generally I think it probably wouldn't be that great, especially for large Inf maps, but I'm sure there are plenty which would work.  Some people might even really like it, but I don't think it's something that should be given any kind of development attention going forward.  The option is there for people who can think to try it, and that's probably enough.

  • Map makers typically look to what makes the default map list to serve as inspiration for what they make, as well as the feedback they come across on their own and others' maps.  I think it's very rare to have community mappers truly operate in isolation.  It's whoever is responsible for what makes the default map list who is/are responsible for the style and direction of current & future maps, in a big way.  The issue is that it appears that, over a long period of time, they've ignored all criticism of their preferred style of map. 

    With such a small and dwindling overall playerbase over the last decade, I find it hard to imagine there are many map makers who have truly produced something outside the scope of community expectations. 

    And while I don't doubt some mappers focus on graphics above gameplay, from what I've seen either the graphics aren't good enough for that to be obvious, or there are still mappers who try to address gameplay as well.

Offline machina

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Re: Soldat 2020 feedback series, pt.2 - Maps
« Reply #9 on: July 18, 2020, 06:12:20 am »
Nuubia
Super simple, super repetitive, super undynamic.  Was this map the beginning of the end of worthwhile map design in soldat? 

1.8/5
lol this map used to be a frequent pick on gathers and I definitely do not recall it being "super undynamic". Besides, who did you play with on these maps to assess them? Bots?

Offline Aeronic

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Re: Soldat 2020 feedback series, pt.2 - Maps
« Reply #10 on: July 18, 2020, 07:37:29 am »
I played with Fighta, Wasp, many others.  Generally the players from my local scene you would know via SWC and SCTFL, and many more.  The clan I was a part of won tournaments around the time that map in particular (Nuubia) was popular.