AoMH SD Adventure contest 2020: Swenne
Swenne's entry to the 2020 contest. The scenario is titled "A viking story" and is for AoM:EE.
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Gameplay mainly resolves around taking over a little settlement, building and growing up your village slowly. There was an interesting catch in that to get villagers you needed to send off your excess military onto a boat to perform raids where a short time later they return with some goodies. I liked this mechanic as it changed up the usual of just training villagers which made the map feel unique as well as being thematic.
I felt the balance was just about right. I am a pretty terrible standard player and the attacks kept me on my toes. I ended up losing the final battle but I felt that was due to poor planning on my side rather than due to bad design. I've not dared try the other difficulties but that should be good for returning players for additional replay.
I felt the map was creative in getting across the story and theme in the ways I have mentioned earlier with the raid system. The finding lost villagers was a nice touch too. The enemy attacks were nicely done too based on your limitations. If the map was larger they would have been more proper travels but I did see you had transport boats coming in to do the shore raids. My only gripe was there was not really much explanation for the raise - in particular the quite large attack shortly before the army arrived which came as a big surprise for me.
Map Design: 4
I felt that the map design was decent and fitting for the area. The scene fit the environment very well and I felt immersed in the story. To get the top score I would have liked to have seen a few extra touched such as maybe some variance on tree sizes, perhaps a touch more differentiation in the area around the base to differ them from each other - although the terrain mixing and elevation was good.
It is presented as a cute little story of a viking village growing up, going on raids and getting stronger. The story and gameplay fit together very well. My only gripe was midgame it was not clear what you were doing regarding progression until it announced an army was coming. The large raid near the main attack also came a little bit of a surprise but that might have been due to my base being ill equipped.
Nice little map making good use of the space. I liked the clever use of the water in the cinematic space to make the map larger where you had the boat going back and forth for the raids.
Minor bug: The music stacked near end of the game due to flaming weapons being cast. You can resolve by looping fade out music.
[Edited on 08/14/20 @ 02:34 PM]
This unofficial review was written for the Mini Adventure competition.
Ah yes, Vikings and their love for sailing the seas and raiding faraway places of riches. There is not much that can come close to being a purely raw and rough adventure as a Viking raiding story. So it was a real shame when I found out that the scenario actually wasn’t about such an adventure.
It was actually a scenario about going back home just after the raiding had already been done, and defending your home from other Viking raiders. But I wished I could have done the raiding instead.
Later in the game you are offered the opportunity to plunder nearby villages by assigning some of your troops as raiders by making them board a Viking warship. Then the ship sails off and comes back a few moments later to let you know if the raid had been successful. But again, I wished I could have done the raiding. That was the adventure I was actually craving for.
But to be fair, defending against powerful enemy raiders could be pretty adventurous as well. But it’s just that the scenario lacked a sense of urgency and uneasiness that I would expect to feel in such a setting (more on that in the Atmosphere and Balance sections). So all in all, it did not really feel like a true adventure to me.
Immersive storyline and experience (5/10)
I think you did a good job with the cinematic introduction. You added some nice close-ups to create a more vivid cinematic experience.
The story itself was pretty basic. I think you could have made the story a bit more exciting if you had taken a bit of a different approach. For instance, what if your raiding party had made a mistake by plundering a village from a mighty warlord whose clan now seeks vengeance? Then all of the raids that are coming your way would feel much more personal. You could also have had a few mini-bosses who had a personal vendetta against you because you attacked their home, perhaps one of them calling you out to fight in a duel to mix things up. And then you could have had the epic climax where the mighty warlord Gargarensis and his army comes to your doorstep. This would have been more immersive as opposed to being attacked by some random unnamed raiders.
Well, the scenario feels (and looks) like a regular campaign mission because it has all the high standard qualities to be one. But there was so much potential here to make it be more than just that.
So what I’ve said and suggested in the Immersive section could also have helped here to set a more dramatic tone in your scenario. Your Viking tribe knows they’ve messed up by raiding a powerful clan and deserve everything that will be coming their way. And now you face the momentous task to survive against a fearsome and vengeful foe. Now you can create some weight to this task by adding some increasingly dramatic Viking war music and adjusting the lighting to be increasingly grimmer while the enemy raids get fiercer by the minute. This would have been a way to create a more powerful atmosphere.
You did a good job of making your scenario challenging by having the enemy attack the player from multiple angles so that you could not just fortify one or two areas. But it was also challenging because of two other wrong reasons.
Firstly, I think it was a mistake to completely forbid training villagers (and forbid farms at Titan difficulty). The gameplay feels very slow because of this combined with the very limited number of villagers you start with. And secondly, I think it was another mistake how you balanced the difficulty settings on top of that where you handicap the player even further, making the gameplay feel even slower. I strongly feel like you should have at least allowed the player to train a limited number of villagers and strengthen the enemy rather than handicapping the player at higher difficulty settings. But honestly, I think it would be even better to not have a villager limit at all and have the player constantly make conscious decisions on how to balance the economy vs military.
All of this would have created an opportunity to throw way more varying deadly attacks at the player, creating the feeling of constantly fighting an uphill battle where you desperately try to rebuild and improve your defences, stronger wave after stronger wave. That would have been a much more exciting gameplay experience for me, which in turn would also give me more reason to replay the scenario if I would be defeated.
Map design (5/10)
You did a fair job with the map design. There is a nice smooth transition present between the gameplay area and the reserved area for the cinematics. It was also a smart choice to use the ice terrain to prevent the player from blocking off the enemy spawn areas.
Speaking of the enemy spawn areas, I feel like you could have done a better job at hiding the fact that the enemy units were spawning on the map from out of nowhere if you had slightly moved the gameplay area to a more central location. Then you could have spawned them just outside of the gameplay area. Seeing the units being spawned breaks a little of the immersion.
You also did a fair job with the eyecandy. When you’re going for a more classic RTS experience with base building, then there’s automatically not much room for rich eyecandy because it would obstruct the gameplay. So the only real opportunity to add some eyecandy was to add them in the cinematic area, which you did, albeit a little bit. Most of the area was covered with oceans and cliffs to block off the gameplay area.
There’s one unique feature you’ve added to this scenario: the raids you could occasionally send out. It’s a really nice addition because it fits really well with the Viking theme.
I played on Titan difficulty and I felt like the raids needed too much investments for too little returns. At some point I had sent out an army of 20 units and only 4 units returned with about 400 resources and 2 villagers. I stopped sending units after 3 raids because I just couldn’t afford to take such heavy losses with the precious few villagers I had, and I would rather focus on stockpiling resources and purchasing upgrades to keep up with the increasingly difficult enemy raids.
Another big issue is that the raids felt like too much of a gamble because I never knew what the rewards and how challenging the raids were going to be. It would have been nice if you could have sent out a scout to scout how tough the enemy and how high the potential yield would be. Then you could make a more strategic decision which and how many units to send, rather than blindly sending a random mix of units into a potential massacre.
Final score: 33/70
[Edited on 08/14/20 @ 05:01 PM]
Playability was very solid and bug-free for the most part. However, the expeditions were a little clunky on my first playthrough. There would be some expeditions where none of my soldiers return, despite there being a message stating that the expedition succeeded. In addition, it wasn't clear to me what would be considered a sufficient force for a successful expedition. On my first playthrough, I only sent five to ten troops, and oftentimes they'd all die and all those resources would go down the drain. In addition, the space was rather cramped, and by the end, my soldiers were having a difficult time getting to the enemies because of all the buildings in the way.
I think the balance of the scenario hinged too heavily on the expedition mechanic. As previously stated, on my first playthrough, I was completely unaware of how many troops would be considered 'enough.' I would just send five to ten and lose them all, setting me further behind in economy, as I was also not receiving those precious villagers. On my second playthrough, however, I banked everything on the expeditions, and didn't fail a single one, resulting in a much better economy, researching every single tech, and I could basically laugh off all of the attacks. I did enjoy the fact that the attacks were rather small scale, and more for the purpose of generating favor.
Despite my gripes, I think the expedition mechanic was a really fun one. If it was more clear what I gained from sending more troops on expeditions, it would have really helped. Perhaps sending more troops would speed up the expeditions, or allow for more loot to be plundered. I honestly don't know how the mechanic works because it's so obscure. I assume you have the expedition units teleported to that island in the water to fight some generated enemies?
Map Design: 4
The map design was nice and clean. No complaints in this area.
The storyline was simple, with only a single opening cinematic giving a brief introduction to the village and then a nice little villain at the end. I was confused at first because there didn't seem to be any sort of goal at the beginning. It wasn't until the raiders came to warn me of impending doom that I was able to get a grasp of the actual win condition of the scenario.
Overall, I really liked this scenario. I failed miserably on my first playthrough due to all my expeditions dying, but it was a really nice addition. Too bad the strategic decision-making with the expeditions was almost non-existent (fill up the boat every time).