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» Generals: Terrain and Map Editing

Remember the good old days of Red Alert? Remember those long multiplayer battles? Those delightful FMV cut scenes? The might of Soviet tanks? The finesse of the Allied Chronosphere? The hideously pixelated graphics? Come to think of it, I don't know what I saw in the original Red Alert. Playing it after these 8 long years makes me feel old; that computer games have evolved so much in so little a time. Before I start to weep and get nostalgic, I remember one thing that attracted me so much to the multiplayer side of Red Alert: The vast numbers of original and enjoyable maps that were available.

Where did these come from? Westwood? You wish. Instead, we were witnessing the begins of fan-made maps: Something which has grown out of all proportions in recent years, with our own Red Alert 2 section here at CNC Series oozing of map goodness. The quality of these maps is, to say the very least … variable. Let's just say that not everyone will get picked up by the Westwood talent scouts. Yet, rising from this chaff of mediocrity has arisen a small group of map-makers who must have collectively given players of Red Alert 2 hours of gaming pleasure.

This massive selection of maps was eventually integrated into WOL; with maps being traded across huge distances for multiplayer games, rather than on the traditional Coffee-stained-Amiga-formatted floppy disk at LAN Parties.

We can't think of a funny comment to go with every image you know.
It is therefore sobering to think that when Westwood originally released Red Alert 2, there was no Map Editor. While Westwood's narrow-minded marketing gurus obviously failed to see why an Editor was so important, a little man decided to act. And act he did. Mr. Wagner wrote a fully functioning map editor with one of the easiest learning curves ever. Even I could make maps in it! Eventually, Westwood got in on the act. Instead of demanding the editor be taken down or deleted, they worked with Matthias Wagner and created an improved version: This, the Yuri's Revenge version, survives to this day.

From this, we can conclude that Westwood, and now EAP, do see the benefits an easy to use map editor brings. But what are they planning for Generals? The screenshot on the right is our only clue.

Bearing in mind the complete fiasco that consumed the community following the revelations that there would be no official ladder, EA have perhaps been wise to keep the bulk of the details about their map editor under-wraps. The encouraging information is that the editor will definitely be released. It is critical, not so much as to the success of Generals as a single-player game, but critical to it's success online, that the editor is released. The problem is, we're looking at a tool that has been developed "by professionals for professionals": Not for the bedroom programmers. I dread that the Map Editor for Generals may be too difficult for the average fan to learn.

The "Generals World Builder" as it is more correctly known, is something we've seen a mere 1 snapshot of. For the success of playing the game online, and for the websites who fuel the community, I hope three main things of it:

    1. Easy to Use
    Perhaps the most obvious thing we should desire from the World Builder is simplicity. Granted, scripting packages and so on give enormous potential to the mod makers and map builders, but the fact remains that simple things will enlarge the appeal of the World Builder: Most notably the WIMP (Windows, Icons, Mouse, Pull-Down Menus) system that it seems to be based on.

    2. Reasonable Sized Maps
    What? But I've got a |337 T1 hardline, why should I worry about downloads? Sadly, the world-wide broadband revolution we hear so much about is as far away as the communist one. Here and now, most users are still using their antiquated 56k modems. So, for these poor people, living in a past wilderness without DSL or Cable, have pity. Pray that the Generals World Builder doesn't created maps around the same filesize as your average Renegade patch.

    3. Reliability

    UnrealEd: Button overload.
    For those of you who have graced UnrealEd, you'll know the anguish you feel when your delightfully crafted map is ready for compilation. But no. Access Denied. Invalid page Fault. Bluescreen Error. Followed by hitting Computer etc. Final Alert was fortunately free of such errors, and let's hope the World Builder shares this attribute.

In conclusion, we cannot afford to be complacent about the Map Editor for Generals. This editor is vital to the game's success online, and vital to the community, but it is still too early to lie back in the knowledge that the World Builder will be a good tool; there is simply still too much to go wrong. The recent charade with Emperor's Map Editor is evidence enough of what can go wrong. Fans were expected to download a complex tool weighing in at 30 megabytes. Editors of such size have to be included with the game; it's vital.

Just think, Super Prison Break wouldn't be around here were it not for the map editor. Surely that will persuade you.

» Jim

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