Hey SOASE fans!
Galaxy Forge has cast a huge shadow on the sins in-game map designer, which many have ignored because its a bit difficult to work with, and takes time to figure out. Galaxy forge is certainly a stronger map designer, but it has a two shortcomings that the in-game designer doesn't. 1) Galaxy forge maps are difficult to distribute to other players because the multiplayer engines (LAN/ICO) have no map downloading feature. 2) While you can set planets to be randomly generated in galaxy forge, their positions and phase lanes are absolute, which while you may not consider it shortcoming, consider that most MP games are played on randomly generated maps. Its a strength and a weakness at the same time. The in-game designer lacks much of the customizability that galaxy forge offers, but where it is lacking, it makes up for in ease of distribution and random generation. So if you're looking to create a specific map whose layout remains the same, go with galaxy forge, but if you're looking to play a user defined map thats different every time you play it, go with the in-game designer. The following is a comprehensive guide to the in-game map designer and will help you understand exactly how it works.
The first thing about understanding the in-game map designer (henceforth referred to as the IGMD) is understanding how the game's stock random maps work. Small Random, Medium Random, Medium-Large Random, Large Random and Huge random (single and multi star) all operate from the same set of rules the developers created. The developers also created the IGMD so you could manipulate those rules to create your own Random maps. The stock random maps that the listed above have a few flaws that often drive ICO players crazy like: no HW connected asteroids, not enough neutral extractors, too many neutral extractors, too many magnetic clouds and economic dead zones. The good thing is you can manipulate the rules of random maps to get rid of these problems, and create some unique maps of your own. So lets get started on learning what the rules are and how to change them.
You can access the IGMD from the single player, multiplayer and ICO menus (after log-on). Once you're there you'll notice 4 scrollable windows, a variety of buttons, sliders and numbers.
1.) The Maps window:
This window contains all of your saved custom maps, and allows you to duplicate, save, rename create and delete your maps. All the buttons are pretty self-explanatory. To start a new map hit the create button and go ahead and rename it. The copy button is a great feature as it will allow you to adjust your maps quickly for a different number of players, without having to go in and remake everything.( I used the copy tool to create my own versions of the devs random maps of various sizes) Next to this window is a slider with "Map Size" next to it. This controls the overall size of the star systems, particularly how far apart the stars are. You can make absolutely gigantic maps (just be sure you have the time and computer power to handle it). For multiplayer games, its best to move this slider all the way to the left, or you'll be spending a lot of time watching your ships travel. Below this slider is the map info for number of players and planets.
2.) Setting your Rules:
The rest of the IGMD window is divided into three sections: Stars, Planet groups, and Planet group contents. Each window represents a sub-group of whats selected in the previous window. These windows will already have some defined rules in them when you create a new map. Go ahead and click the "Remove" button below the Stars window until there isn't anything there so you can start from scratch.
A.) The Stars Window:
As you may have guessed the stars window controls how many Stars are on your map. To create a new star press the add button and then press "change star type" to be prompted with choices of star color. Red, Green, Blue, Yellow, Random and Random non-green (ftw?). Once you've created a new star you use the sliders and number below it to control some of the star systems attributes. First is how many players can be at the star. Now here's a tricky part about the designer. When you add a player to that star, the designer automatically adds in 3 planets for every player, a terran, and asteroid and an ice/volcanic. You cannot change this, so even if you do not have any planets defined for that star, having a player there automatically puts 3 planets per player. Once you've defined how many players can be at the star (0-10) you adjust the sliders below to define the systems size and phase lane attributes
Orbit Radius: This slider defines how far away the furthest planets from the star are. The players you put in this system will always be on the outer most edges of the system. Its best to keep this slider to the far left for your star systems, as even the smallest amount makes a very large system if the system has players in it (the IGMD has an in set minimum distance for players from the star which is pretty far no mater what you try and do), and the larger you make the system, the more time your ships will spend traveling. I'd only recommend moving it towards the right if you plan on making a systems with more than 100 planets in it, or you could make a system thats unpopulated by players that has a distant bounty of planets (just some suggestions.)
Phase lane length: This slider defines the average length of phase lanes. When the IGMD generates your map, it looks to this slider to decide what distance an acceptable connection between planets is. The designer will automatically make a connection to every planet you define for the system (so there aren't any planets that you can't get to), but additional lanes will be decided by this and the next slider.
Phase lane chance: This slider defines how many phase lanes your system will have. Its directly tied into phase lane length in that the higher the two are, the more phase lanes there will be connecting your planets together. If you'd rather have fleets make more jumps to get around the system, keep the phase lane length a bit shorter, and the chance higher.
B.) Planet Groups:
The planet groups window allows you to control where the planets in your star system are located relative to the star itself. For an even distribution of planets around your star, its important to have several planet groups per star confined to certain areas.
Minimum/Maximum distance sliders: The distance sliders confine each planet group to a certain distance relative to the systems star. The far left being closer to the star, the far right being the outer ring closer to the player's 3 planets. You'll want to make bands of planet groups around your star, each confined to a certain area. For wider bands, set the minimum and maximum farther apart, for tighter circles, set them minimum and maximum closer together. Its a good idea to have a planet group confined to the outer ring of your system so that your players planets are not set too far from the rest, and a long phase lane that takes a long time to traverse doesn't separate the players from the rest of the star system (unless thats your thing, but TBH, its not that fun). If you have a star with no players in it, you'll want to use these sliders and the orbit radius slider for the star to define the stars size.
Neutral Colonies slider: The neutral colonies slider is an interesting little tool that allows you to adjust the frequency and strength of planetary militia within each planet group. All the way to the left will give the standard amounts of militia per planet that you see in the devs stock random maps. As you move the slider more to the right, it increases the chance that the planets in that planet group will be pre-colonized by the militia guarding it, and may even have defensive structures assisting the militia ships in their gravity wells. Generally its not a good idea to have the players planets surrounded by neutral colonies as it makes it difficult to get the game going having to clear and bomb every planet near you to establish a colony there. Its best to set this slider for most of your planet groups all the way to the left, and then have one or two planet groups have a chance for neutral colonies to keep things interesting. You may want all the inner planets closest to the star to be neutral colonies, or make one very wide banded planet group to disperse neutral colonies all over your system.
C.) Planet Group Contents:
The planet group contents window allows you to set what kind of planets are in each planet group and how many there are. For an even dispersement the best idea is have more planets in the groups that are further away from the star, but its really up to you how you make it. just make sure you put enough planets in so that phase lanes aren't too long, I can't stress how much this effects gameplay. To add a planet to a planet group just hit add and then change planet type. You've got a lot of options there and most of them are straight forward, some need a little explanation. Random - Any and Random - Mix are essentially the same thing and will choose at random planets from the list with the exception of pirate bases and wormholes. Random - Special will choose between magnetic clouds, gas giants and plasma storms. Also note that wormholes always come in pairs, (having 2 as seen to the right, actually creates 4 wormholes) and while you can't specifically tell which wormholes to link where, by placing wormholes in two different star systems, you increase the chance they will link across the star systems. For each planet type you create within the planet group, you must tell the IGMD how many to generate. For a specific number, set the minimum and maximum to the same number.
The most important step in making your map is testing it first. Hit the preview button and the game will automatically load the map for you, fill the empty player slots with random Ais, and allow you to see the entire map as if you were watching a replay with all visible turned on. You can play the map here if you'd like to get a feel for how it runs. First thing you should do though is examine each star system to make sure everything is relatively where you wanted it to be. Make sure your phase lanes aren't too long by either comparing the longest to the phase lanes connecting the players HW to their asteroids (really shouldnt be more than 6 or 7 times the length, but definitely look out for phase lanes that are 10-20 times that length) or just send a scout along the phase lanes and see how long it takes. If you get slightly bored while the scout is in transit, chances are the phase lanes are too long. If the map doesn't look the way you wanted it just quit and you'll be taken back to the IGMD screen where you can quickly adjust some of the sliders and preview again. Once you see what you like, its a good idea to quit and preview a few more times (since the maps are different every time) to make sure the generator is following your rules consistently. Save and you have yourself your own custom made map!