Storm Front. Ah, the best of all the maps that come with the game. I was going to write up a series on all the maps included with the game, but far too few of them are good enough to bother with, and why repeat the original error? Many people have posted about wanting easier download options for maps in Rebellion, but I want something far more radical, a vastly slimmed down map pool with the crap maps removed or drastically reworked by people who understand what they are doing, hopefully before any kind of ladder is implemented. Even the random maps need work.
So what is so good about Storm Front that is missing from other, inferior, maps? Well first of all there is the varied terrain. Storm is a single star map without wormholes, but the only other terrain missing is the space junk/asteroid belt- unlike, say Maelstrom, a 3s map which is a reasonable concept until you realise there are no neutral gravwells at all- and Maelstrom is one of the best of the other maps. Also the problem with 1 vs 1 multistars is that they tend to choke at the star, unless the designer makes a special effort to prevent this, and this effort isn't present in maps like Agamemnon's Bounty. Wormholes might be an improvement, also we might consider a separate star with just a further neutral, to involve the entire range of techs.
Next there is the layout. If you've played random 1v1 maps they tend to be strung out so that the players are many jumps from each other, and they are narrow, so that far too many choke at the pirates or sun. As they are narrow they often depend on a battle over a single key central planet. Also, like all random maps, they can be wildly imbalanced. Storm Front is balanced, and has three main 'lanes' of attack that are not easy to choke, through the gas, star, and magnetic-storm-magnetic. Also, Storm creates 'skirmish space' between the two main groups of planets and between the two smaller side groups of planets, as well as by its use of dead asteroids. This both allows more room for manoeuvre without the creation of vast fleets as a byproduct, and means that the struggle over a single central planet is rarely decisive- you can survive the loss of both the centre roids and the volcanic without necessarily having lost the game. 'Skirmish space' is a concept used by nearly all the RTS games I've ever played, but it is a rara avis in Sins, vastly to the detriment of the game.
Storm Front is sometimes criticised for favouring the Vasari because of the central neutral extractors. This is somewhat true, however there are only three neutrals, whereas the consensus is that 2-3 per player is a fair amount. Also, the lack of planets means that there are fewer extractors in the game overall than usual, and the introduction of trade on starbases means that long trade routes are possible than in the game as first released. If you have to play Vasari with only 1-2 neutral extractors to take, which happens fairly frequently, then it is difficult to say that you have any advantage at all. Perhaps a junk/asteroid belt near each homeworld would also help, along with a Backstab-style one-way wormhole leading to it?
Finally, like all maps Storm Front can be heavily affected by the militia defences. The desert can be a gift with only one heavy cruiser, or very difficult to take with very heavy defences, and this has a large impact on the early game. However, the desert is really the only planet that this applies to, unlike the randoms where you can get almost impossible situations. Storm Front will always offer you its two roids, and you can strike early for the two roids in the centre if you feel you have to. Better than being roided, with a volcanic and a magnetic cloud, no?
So then, on to another of my pet projects. I've always wanted to do a through analysis of the game, illustrated by a series of replays. Having the same map for each game is really helpful for analysis. However I've never considered myself as one of the top players and though this isn't necessarily a fatal handicap, I'd like to at least be playing at near to my best level and I simply haven't played very much over the last year. This can be solved by more effort on my behalf, though my relative lack of ability does make it more difficult to illustrate the sort of handicaps that you incur if you start with a Revelation, for instance, or refuse to use the turret method of colonisation. What I hadn't been able to solve beforehand was that the game itself was too imbalanced to make it a valuable exercise, as first the Illuminator and then the awful overboosted Skirantra simply ruined games. The current version of the game (if only we had this version two years ago many players might never have drifted away) is somewhat more playable, though I do have reservations about the current Advent ability to cope with starbases in plasma storms, because of their stupidly expensive anti-starbase cruiser.
However, I've always said that balance problems are always far better discussed with the aid of replays, so it might be best to get on with that... I still need more practice, and I'm not going to post any replays without having asked my opponents if they object before the game. One of my greatest regrets in Sins is that I never posted a great 3 match series of replays from summer where we had a 3v3 with the same teams for 3 straight games, as I've never seen that sort of replay before, and it is so common in other RTS games. I'll try to organise some best-of-three 1v1 games when possible. Unfortunately a full 'set' of six games is unlikely to be possible unless by a special effort. PM if interested. Or maybe one of the genuine top players could play the games instead and I could revert to my favoured commentary 'eco' slot? I wish.