The excitement in a game like Age of Empires II depends a lot on the map(s), and while players are praised on utilizing maps in innovative ways, not a lot of praise goes to the map creators. In order to bring parity to this injustice, VPEsports, caught up with AoE II map creator Chrazini, who created the maps for Battle of Africa 2 (and was also the administrator for the tournament) to talk about his experience as a map maker. In part 1 of this two part interview, we spoke about how Chrazini got into map making, the process of development of a map and the controversial act of laming, amongst other things.
Hello Chrazini! How’s it going with you? How is the situation in Denmark?
Things are starting the loosen up a bit in Denmark with more and more places reopening after the lockdown. I’m personally doing pretty well. I’ve had plenty of things to do under the lockdown, so I haven’t been significantly affected, other than not being able to see friends and family.
Let’s jump into AoE II. Before I begin, I want to convey messages from a lot of people from the community who all thought the maps for Battle of Africa 2 were amazing. Kudos on that! How long has your association with AoE II been and what got you into map making?
That’s awesome! Battle of Africa 2 has been quite the journey, to be honest. It’s one of the first major team game tournaments that I’ve administrated on such a scale, and it’s the first time we’ve done it on Definitive Edition. That did cause some hiccups throughout the event, but we managed to get out on top of the problems. All the positive reactions to the maps are just fantastic and very heartwarming. Needless to say, map-making is a great passion of mine, so it’s incredible to be able to experience them played in this manner.
I used to play Age of Empires back when I was only around twelve years old, but it only truly caught on once the HD Edition was released. I’ve always loved being creative, and I did do some level design for other game titles such as Counter-Strike and Team Fortress 2. Once I fell in love with Age of Empires, it only felt natural to go down the same path and create something custom and unique for the game I enjoyed the most.
So you’ve worked on other games as well! That’s awesome. When you say level design, what exactly do you mean?
I’ve always found some odd enjoyment from creating my own worlds or environments in games and being able to explore and experience them afterwards. The level design I’ve done in the past is essentially just 3D worlds that players were able to navigate and interact with in the respective games – mainly first-person shooters. While I rarely do it anymore, I got a considerable amount of experience and respect for the many talented people out there that do this kind of design.
How long ago did you get into random map scripting for AoE II?
I got into map-making three to four years ago, I believe. It’s been a very gradual process that just started with modifying a few already existing maps, which eventually led to creating my own original content.
Well there may have been a few small hiccups, but on the whole BoA 2 was a huge success I’d say. Any series which was your favorite?
There is no doubt in my mind that the grand final was the absolute best series of them all. It was an incredible performance from both teams; we got to experience almost every civilization in the game, and we had them play on every single map. I could not have hoped for a better final than what we got. If there’s anyone out there that hasn’t watched it yet, I promise you; it’s worth it.
Also, any map that you enjoyed viewing the most?
Many people already know this, but I have a very soft spot for African Waters. It’s one of the first three maps I ever made, and there is a lot of thought that went into the design. The whole purpose of the map was to create an action packed game right from the get-go, and this map always delivers. It is, however, also a map that the players and viewers either hate or love as it is very much unusual and different from what most players are accustomed to. It’s a chaotic map, and I secretly love watching people suffer on it 😉 .
Haha well, I’m sure suffering is what Team Secret felt when MbL disrupted their water economy with towers in the grand final! Alright, so now let’s get into the intricacies of map making. There were a few new maps for BoA 2. When you start making a new map, how do you approach it? How does the process start?
Whenever you’re designing maps for events, the host usually has specific criteria that they want to be fulfilled – that can range from being very vague to extremely specific. Fortunately for me, there was no external host, and Battle of Africa 2 was the second instalment in a series, which means that the players and viewers already had certain expectations to the maps and gameplay. It’s safe to say that the maps for Battle of Africa 2 are a little out of the ordinary – and that’s on purpose. Some of the maps featured in Battle of Africa 2 was maps that had already been seen in the previous instalment – this was a great chance to look and enhance what worked and correct what didn’t. To answer your question though, I usually have a definite end goal when designing maps for specific events. In this case, it was to create high aggression maps with constant action throughout the game.
Like did Memb mention certain things he wanted in a map or did you present him with a few options and you guys decided from them?
There’s generally somewhat of an outline from the organizers, and Memb definitely also had particular wishes for the new maps. I do think I’m known for pushing things a little bit, and I’m not afraid of presenting something that is perhaps slightly skewed from what was initially requested or from what people are used to. Fortunately for me, Memb had complete faith in me for this event, so I was able to create what I thought would be the best maps for the tournament, and I like to think they delivered.
No doubt about that. The maps did deliver, and games did justice to them. Do you look at other RTS games for any inspirations? Or any other things that inspire you?
I do, in fact, look at other games for inspiration; even entirely different genres. The inspiration doesn’t always translate into specific designs, but rather new ways to bend the rules to create entirely new experiences of playing random map scripts. What’s compelling about this, is to try and keep the competitive edge of a map while still innovating and pushing the limits on what’s expected in a random map script. Some of my maps has definitely hit the limit on this, and as a result, have been labelled as gimmicky or just plain wrong – but that hasn’t stopped me yet! A game that I’ve used for inspiration a few times is an old classic called Total Annihilation. There’s not much to say about that, but I wanted to mention that fantastic game.
Once the maps are created, how do you test them? Do you test them out with professional players and take feedback or nothing as such?
Testing maps has always been a considerable challenge. I’ve had friends test maps with me over the years, but it’s not consistent enough to be reliable. Playing with the AI is rarely an option, as it doesn’t fare very well on custom maps – and they don’t accurately mimic actual players very well.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work closely with streamers such as LynxAtArms, who has helped immensely with my maps in the very beginning, MembTV, who reached out to me slightly later, and a few others. This has had a significant impact on how often my maps have been played, and therefore, the amount of feedback I’ve been able to collect over the years. Now it has come to a point where I mostly rely on my experience to know what works and what doesn’t.
I’m sure it’s pretty challenging and more than anything, experience probably plays the biggest role. How does it make you feel to see pros play on your games?
It’s an absolute joy watching the professional players play on my maps. I think I can pretty safely say that most map-makers are the most excited when they have their maps played. This has been true ever since I started making maps. I will admit, though, that while I do enjoy administrating and taking care of tournaments, it does mean that I lose out on some of the enjoyment from watching the games. There’s simply too much to take care of while the games are on and you often know the result if the games are played beforehand.
I can imagine feeling awesome looking at your maps being played. Must feel a bit like God! Nicov said on his stream that laming in Colosseum had such a big impact on the game that it should be banned. A lot of viewers had this on their mind as well, as well as players who thought in a couple of games, laming dictated the outcome. Was that meant to be on purpose? Do you think banning laming would have made for better games?
It wasn’t exactly done on purpose. Actually, the elephants were moved slightly closer to the town center compared to the map from the previous event (to reduce the possibility of laming). Laming has always been part of the game, but with the game becoming a lot more competitive over the years, it has become a hot topic recently. I honestly don’t have a definitive stance on laming. I think it favors some tournaments while it harms others. What I can do from a map-making perspective is to try and make laming more difficult for the opponent. On a map like Colosseum, my options are somewhat limited, but a simple tweak in how far the elephants spawn from the player’s town centers could have a significant impact on how viable it is. There’s always something to improve for the next events, and the community has already provided heaps of feedback, so I can’t wait to work on these maps in the future to make them even better.
Yes, I’ve seen that the AoE community is quite nice as compared to a lot of other games. How many maps did you design in all for BoA 2? Will the ones that didn’t get used be available for the community?
To be fair, some of the maps had been released a few months prior to Battle of Africa 2, so they weren’t exactly designed for the event, but they did fit the tournament nicely, nevertheless. The ones that didn’t make the cut are always publicly available together with all my other maps. They can be found on the official mod browser (www.ageofempires.com/mods/details/1937/). A few of the maps were also returning champions from the Battle of Africa 1, but they did all receive balance changes and some facelifts for t tournament. I don’t recall how many maps I specifically made for Battle of Africa 2. I have designed around a hundred maps in total, and some drafts end up in the bin if I find out they don’t work out the way I intended.
Part 2 of the interview will feature a lot of questions from the community regarding Chrazini’s experience with map making.