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    Creating Instruction Maps

    Creation of Introductory Bit Maps for AOE

    by Frank Steidel


    I’ve been answering many questions in the scenario editing forum lately and one subject that seems to cause a lot of confusion is the introductory bit map. In this article I hope to answer the many questions concerning various aspects of bit map creation. The documentation that comes with “Age of Empires” is a bit spotty on this subject, so I’ll try to clarify some of the aspects of making the maps.

    What I’ve done is create a map of ancient Greece as it stood at the start of the Pelopennesian wars between Athens and Sparta in 431 B.C. This article will cover how this map was made in an easy to follow step by step manner. The most readily available program for designing custom bit maps is the Windows 95 Paint program, so this is the program that I have used for my “Greece Project”.


    Why make an introductory bit map?

    The introduction is a very important and often times overlooked part of any campaign or scenario one might make. As a reviewer for the Granary here at AOE Heaven, I have downloaded and played many works written by many different authors. Too often, I find work where the introduction has been sloppily done or even overlooked completely. Many authors don’t fully understand how to make a bit map or don’t wish to take the time needed to craft a good looking and effective map.

    This is, in my opinion, a mistake that can be easily avoided. Along with the history and introductory story a well designed bit map gets the players attention. A well designed bit map helps get the player involved in the scenario and also helps to orient the player to the situation the work is about to present. A good introduction not only tells the player what to do, but also, why they need to accomplish their goals.

    What is going on in the rest of the empire? 
    How does this scenario fit into the bigger picture? 
    Why should the player even care?

    These are the questions that a good introduction needs to answer. By doing a good introduction with a well thought out map the author shows that he/she has taken the time necessary to do a good job put a lot of effort into their work. When a player starts a campaign, the first thing they see is the introduction. If the player is greeted with a well written story and a great looking map, they will be anxious to play and the anticipation they feel will be heightened considerably. In short, they will feel involved with their civilization.

    I find that making a bit map is one of the most fun parts of creating a scenario or campaign. Making a map really allows the author to exercise their creativity. What kind of map should I make? Does the situation call for a strategic map of the entire empire or a more tactical type of map showing battlefield at hand? Which images, if any, should I put into the map? What fonts should I use for the map? Which colors look the best? The combinations are nearly limitless.

    What type of bit map should I make?
    There are many different ways that one can go about creating a bit map and there are many different styles of map that one can make. Here I hope to cover some of the choices facing designers in this regard.

    One popular style of map is the strategic or atlas type of map. This map often covers large areas of land, sometimes an entire empire. This type of map can be especially useful when starting the first scenario of a campaign. The map shows a large area of land where the scenario is often times actually played on a much smaller, highlighted part of the map. This type of map would orient the player to the bigger picture and would show where his actions fit into the war.

    For instance, In a campaign of the Punic wars between Rome and Carthage the map might show the Roman empire and Mediterranean Sea. The locations of Rome and Carthage as well as other important locations would be indicated on the map. This would give the player a sense of scale and help involve the player in the work. The same map could be used in subsequent scenarios with a different area highlighted. The first scenario may have Hannibal crossing the Alps and attacking Roman forces in northern Italy. The next may have a Roman attack on the city of Carthage. The same basic map could be used for both scenarios with the only change being the first might have northern Italy highlighted and the second the northern African coast colored. Using this technique cuts down on the number of maps needed for a campaign.

    Some situations might be well served by going with a map of a more tactical nature. In the example above the first scenario may use a strategic map and later scenarios might focus in on smaller areas as the big picture has already been set up by the previous map. For instance, the second scenario might show the northern African coast centered on Carthage with the starting locations of the Carthinian and Roman forces shown.

    In some situations the author might not want to give away too much information with the bit map. This often comes into play in campaigns where the player starts out in the stone age and must advance through the ages as the campaign unfolds. Perhaps the player starts in the south and must in the course of the scenario traverse the map, crossing a mountain range in the process. One that the player doesn’t know about until it is uncovered. How might a designer handle the bit map for this type of situation? One method is to make a mystery map. An author might make the map detailed in the area around the stone age tribes starting point and leave the rest of the map vague. In the blank areas the author could import some generic terrain and animals into the map. We’ve all seen copies of old maps where large areas are simply left blank as unknown. Maybe the unexplored area could be labeled “unknown Territory” or some large question marks put into the map. As the campaign is played out larger areas and more detail could be added to the bit maps as discovered by the player.

    A simple and often times overlooked type of map is the “all text” bit map. I’ve used this type of map to good effect in my scenario, “Blood on the Sands”. In that situation,my story was telling about how the player had been captured by the evil Kordeshi and found guilty of spying on their kingdom. The player is then sentenced to die in the Kordeshi arena. The story continues, “As your guards jostle you roughly past the arena gates and through the screaming crowds, a seemingly drunken man stumbles and falls into one of your guards. At that moment you feel the drunk press something into your hand”. The bit map I created for this represented a note. The bit map contained the writing from the note, which said, “We have managed to smuggle some of our men into the arena and when the time is right we will try to get you out alive”. The scenario then begins with the player inside the arena facing a pack of lions. That’s just one way in which an all text map can be used to effectively set up a situation. As a bonus, this type of map can be done quickly and easily.

    There are many different kinds of maps that an author may choose to use in their works. Here, I have just pointed out a few. A map can be anything from a simple hand drawn map limited to basic outlines all the way up to complex, highly detailed pieces of art.

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