A hot topic of discussion, more often that not, is the selection of maps used in the Red Alert 2 'Quick Match' setting. For those unaware of its existence or indeed its function, it is basically the matching system used by most people playing on the ladder. You are automatically matched with an opponent in a similar point range.
There are a selection of specific maps that are used within Quick Match - these have changed in the past. Of course, players may play on a map of their own choosing through 'Custom Tournament Games' - but there are measures in place to stop 'one mappers' from achieving places in the Hall of Fame. Furthermore, any good RA2 player will tell you that it is not the done thing. Real skill lies in being versatile - playing on a range of maps.
The current selection of quick match maps (which is not actually listed anywhere as such), contains a mixture of maps - large ones, small ones, naval ones and ones with multiple tech buildings. The selection is indeed rich and varied - but it is also old and tired. At some point, one must consider exactly what people's attitudes are to playing on the same maps over and over again. There are arguments both for and against this. For example, people often have their 'favourite maps' - the ones they have played well on for years and honed their tactics on down to the tee. On the other side of the coin, some people will become sick of playing the same maps, which invariably result in the same tactics being used.
There is a very strong correlation between maps and tactics used - that is the only area where I can see new tactics being invented in the future. We have to be realistic here - the game is over five years old, most tactics have been tried and tested to death. But with new maps, come new tactics - new ways to exert influence, new ways to kill the game off.
Anytown Amerika - Bring it back?
The issue of balance is central to this topic. The oft lamented 'DC Uprising' (bottom right starting position) and 'Hammer and Sickle' (anywhere on the left) are indeed imbalanced - other starting positions have a strong advantage due to better access to certain buildings and resources. This, of course, is the case on many of the quick match maps. Personally, I do not think we should be looking to change maps based on imbalance alone - where did you ever hear about a famous battle that was perfectly balanced? Taking advantage of imbalance is part of warfare! Red Alert 2 is a strategy simulation, which expects players to interpret their positions and act accordingly - whether disadvantaged or not. Creating a series of bland, perfectly balanced maps would be rather dull. Luck should remain a part of the game, to a degree.
So, what maps should be used? Well, this is a very difficult question - there are a number of maps that could be added to quick match, or replace existing ones. Adding any new maps would doubtless cause uproar, as there is always somebody who will tell you how imbalanced such and such a map is. Regardless of this, there are a number of maps that have been around since Red Alert 2's inception, but are very rarely used. Take the examples of 'Anytown Amerika', 'Mount Olympus' and 'Country Swing' - some of which have been used in quick match in the past (some time ago, I might add). I have found matches on all three of these maps quite enjoyable - despite the fact that Mount Olympus may be regarded as somewhat of a derrick rush map. Top players often don't approve of maps that involve a lot of derricks - claiming that it reduces the skill involved and that luck becomes the prevalent factor. I vehemently disagree with this. Adapting tactics as a result of your success, or lack of it, in capturing key strategical structures is part of being a flexible and adaptive player. Another option for maps lies within the numerous Yuri's Revenge maps that were created, several of which have been ported to Red Alert 2 and are actually available for download from the Strike Team Website. Some are obviously more suitable than others - Westwood seemed to create a lot more 'city maps' in Yuri's Revenge, which often means long games.
Hammer & Sickle - should it be removed?
Another factor that must be considered is the provision of the maps for our beloved 'newbie'. These players aren't bothered about playing on balanced, fair maps. They just want to have fun. What typifies fun for such a player? The ability to capture lots of buildings, garrison lots of buildings and generally pot around for longer than your 3 minute tank rush. Whilst such wishes may indeed contrast notably to those frequent and competent players, they are just as important: these people also paid their money for the game, so deserve the right to enjoy it.
In terms of deciding what maps should be used, a clear structure would have to be decided. It would be unwise to leave such decisions open to a mass public vote or in the hands of one administrator. Here, discussion is needed. I would propose the appointment of several well respected members of the Red Alert 2 community to form a 'Quick Match Map Selection Committee'. These members could be appointed by the adminisrtators, or put forward by the public. This committee would then invite discussions of the current maps, consider what would be best for all parties - and decide on the addition of new maps or the removal of existing ones.
This area is one that involves so many different opinions and factors that it will always cause a lot of debate - but I think it is indeed necessary. I enjoy playing quick match on the current maps, but I know them all rather well - and they can become somewhat irksome. This is one of the reasons I like to play friendly games on other maps - it provides a bit of variety, a refreshing break from the pre-ordained quick match maps that have been played to death.
None of us like change, indeed it is the most human of characteristics to resist it (to quote Harvey-Jones). It is, however, vital. We cannot allow quick match to become boring. It certainly isn't at the minute, lots of new players and redirection have prevented that. But, with time, things will change - that is why I think action is needed sooner than later, to help keep quick match refreshing, inventive and enjoyable.