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The hidden problem with the Arena map

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The hidden problem with the Arena map

Postby  SMB360 » Thu May 11, 2017 12:10 am


The way Arena places the extra (non-player) resources is completely broken, which gives rise to some of the ways in which the map can be unfair. This is due to the middle land having some kind of ability to swallow anything that should be placed at its centre, and force resources towards its edge (or the edge of the map, if there are back pockets behind bases, as in some 1v1 spawns of Arena), and commonly clump them in strangely artificial lines and grids.

Long essay version, with examples and discussion of what is wrong with the map

All of the main versions of Arena share their main code regarding how the map is put together with the standard Arena that comes with the game. So all versions share the same problem. The extra resources (gold and stone which do not 'belong' to players) are supposed to be placed a certain distance from all players' TCs, and randomly scattered across the entire area which is at least that distance.


You can see in the picture above that ALL of the extra resources have gone into that little pocket on the right. This is because the min_distance_to_players for the extra gold and stone is 40 (so 40 tiles from the TC). That means there's only the far right side and far left side of the Arena available to place these resources on, because those are the only areas that are at least 40 tiles from both TCs. Still, the game had the opportunity to put some of the resources on the right and some on the left, but it chose to put them all in a small clump on the right. Note that there would be a much larger area to put the resources in on the far left side, if the game wanted to, but it still clumped them all together. It won't ALWAYS do this, but Arena definitely exhibits a strong tendency to clump its resources together.

In 1v1, this usually isn't a problem when the resources spawn in the arena, because they'll usually be off to one side, in neutral ground. The requirement for the resources to be at least 40 tiles from both TCs means the resources generally can't appear directly between the bases. However, as we all know, sometimes in Arena you have an extensive back area, the far reaches of which can easily be 40+ tiles from the TCS, and quite often the extra resources get placed in these areas behind a player's base if it's possible. Again, the game will show a strong tendency to clump the extra resources together, so quite often multiple extra golds will appear in these pockets behind players' bases. Contrast this to a map like Arabia, where the extra golds and stones have the ability to scatter across the map properly (though sometimes they won't, but that's working as intended according to the parameters defined in the map script).

In TG, the problem emerges more clearly, first of all because in larger maps you don't get the same extensive pockets behind player bases so much, meaning that the extra golds have to go in the middle. The player bases are generally on all sides, and the map is large enough that the extra golds can be at least 40 tiles away from everyone's TC and still fairly close to the walls. In this situation, what you'll see is that the extra golds, if they appear at all (we'll come on to this in a moment) will never appear particularly far away from players' walls - certainly not towards the middle of the map - and they'll usually be clumped together in a line or grid formation that meshes with the player golds, with fairly regular spacing. Often, this places too many golds too close to some players (or one team). As AoC players, we're used to imbalanced maps and we deal with it. At least the golds are not behind the enemy base in TG. But the middle of the map will be curiously empty.

So, what causes this clumping of the extra resources and an emptying out of the middle on Arena? It's to do with the way the map is made. The base terrain on Arena, unlike most maps, is forest, and the player lands and middle area are cut out of the forest and grass terrain is laid down. On most other maps, it's the reverse, with the base terrain being grass and forest terrain replacing the grass. There are two commands for this. One land is created for each player by one command. The other command places a middle area of grass which must stay a distance of at least 18% of a map edge from each border. This land has a slightly different grass than the grass used for player lands, you may notice. It is this land which causes the problem with the extra resources. The game tries almost as hard as it can to force the extra golds and stones to appear as far away from the middle of this land that creates the central 'arena' on Arena. This has an effect on where the extra golds and stones can appear. Quite often, they won't appear at all, because the game has no option but to place them near the middle area, because there is no area on the map that is at least 40 tiles from all TCs and yet isn't in the middle of the map (more precisely, in the middle of the land that creates the middle area). Take this screenshot:


The bright red rectangle is the only area on this map where the extra golds could appear, because everywhere else on the map is at least within 40 tiles of a TC. You will notice that there are no extra golds and stones in this area, because it's close to the middle, and Arena tries very hard not to put any extra resources in the middle of that land. It also tries to put resources into fairly evenly-spaced clumps in a line or grid formation, as I mentioned before. Here is an example of this occurring on another TG map where the player bases leave more area at least 40 tiles away from TCs, so that these formations of extra golds, stones and forage bushes appear outside of bases. Due to the clumping, all the resources have appeared next to three players on one team, nicely placed in one area which is mainly outside the walls of the pocket player on one team. If you divide the map into two halves, one for each team, literally every single one of the extra resources has been placed in one half of the map, with such regular spacing as to look almost deliberate. There was plenty of space on this map, where the player bases are mostly very far towards the edges, for a random scattering of resources, which is what should happen, to take place, but instead the map looks very artificial.


Here is an example of where I have modified Arena slightly to illustrate the problem better. I've made the middle land into dirt terrain, asked the map to place a lot more extra resources, and reduced the minimum distance to players. The result is massive load of extra mines appearing outside player walls in the conspicuous grid formations, but once again avoiding the middle of the map.


Now for the somewhat more technical part: how can we fix this, and get a random, broadly fair distribution of resources in the middle of the map?

It will presumably involve remaking the map without that curious middle land that seemingly has a black hole at its centre, or else adding some kind of property to it (and/or the resources intended to be placed upon it) Unfortunately, I'm not sure how this would be done without either introducing another problem or making the map stray too far from being Arena.

You could do it if you only had the middle area comprised of player lands instead of having a separate middle land which serves the dual purpose of creating the middle arena and giving players access to the middle. Without the middle land to join together the player lands and a command to then connect all the lands, you can't use other_zone_avoidance_distance to force player lands apart, because then the map would turn into Michi, as the zone avoidance distance would be filled in by the base terrain, trees. Without other_zone_avoidance_distance, player walls, given that you want them to be a reasonable size, can spawn too close together far too frequently, and will not uncommonly even go so far as to intersect.

Scripter suggested adding another land to the middle with a different terrain and forcing the extra resources to spawn on that terrain. But as soon as you add another land on top of the player lands and the one middle land, bad things start happening with the trees:


It gets worse. You obviously wouldn't want any extra gold to only appear in the middle. This isn't Gold Rush, you want your extra golds to scatter into the empty space properly. So, you have to make that land with the dirt terrain cover more of the arena - close to, in fact the same amount of space the original middle land that created all the problems occupied. So, suddenly we are back to square one, only with more than a single offending middle land, you can get this kind of thing going on. By making the dirt area bigger and asking the extra golds to only place on dirt, with a minimum distance to players enforced, the old problem has reared its head and the grid formation of resources with regular spacing, all clumped in one place where possible and avoidng the middle, has returned:


So, how do you solve a problem like Arena, and make those extra resources properly spawn into the right areas and scatter properly? I haven't a clue. But this curious behaviour created by the middle land is what has given rise to Arena's famed unfairness with back pocket resources in 1v1, and extra resources either spawning unfairly or not spawning at all in TG (due to the lack of back pockets or empty side areas).

Even if you just place extra resources for each player but try to make them spawn a greater distance away, they still encounter the same problems as long as you have that middle land and you ask them to spawn further away than right outside the walls (as extra resources should). But that middle land, as far as I can see, is the indispensable key to making Arena work as intended.
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Re: The hidden problem with the Arena map

Postby BMAPC187 » Thu May 11, 2017 12:35 am

I think smb's account got hacked by onemillion lol

Re: The hidden problem with the Arena map

Postby  SMB360 » Thu May 11, 2017 1:01 am

I've done a few OneMillions in my time :P I think it's interesting enough to know that there is something weird going on on Arena, but most people will need some explanation of how mapping works to follow along. I guess this is what happens when you're having difficulty explaining something with precision and you don't spend any time editing 11
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Re: The hidden problem with the Arena map

Postby  fenris_w0lf » Thu May 11, 2017 8:36 am

Have you tried to remove all groupings of stone/gold? (ie number_of_groups, tight_grouping, variance, placement_radius etc etc) - and if you tried, did it get worse or better or did it introduce some other problem?

Edit: Also; I didnt fine-read your wall-of-text :p but did you also try to increase the min_distance_to_players ?
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Re: The hidden problem with the Arena map

Postby  d20random » Thu May 11, 2017 1:40 pm

I understand the problem, but envision a solution from a slightly different angle. Much of the backpocket unfairness seems connected with the TC-to-walls distance and the randomness of open space pockets to place resources in (ie how pockets aren't player space but can be accessed only from the side of a player's base), and I completely agree that having your resources EITHER completely safe in a backpocket OR very exposed and vulnerable (sometimes even outside the walls) adds an unfair and unfun amount of variance from map to map.

The idea of the fix is to disallow the map to create backpockets by building the bases in such a way to increase TC distance (forcing it further to the edges of the map) and placing them deeper inside base terrain that would surround either 2/4 or 3/4 with base terrain (forest) rather than wall. i imagine we would see something very similar to the yellow base on this


after this, the "fair game" terrain (not part of the middle black hole) would expand something close to doubling, which should add enough variance to take care of the "grids" of minerals problem by providing enough space to randomize them in.

Spawn radius of main mineral piles should be lowered to guarantee them inside the base and make the rest "fair game" by placing them outside the walls, but still much closer to the player base rather than the center.

I'll try this out as soon as possible and report back if it works!
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Re: The hidden problem with the Arena map

Postby  Haiyti » Thu May 11, 2017 3:01 pm

Nice work but honestly I don´t see any real problem of unfairness with arena since it doesnt have unfair hills and can be played as a very aggressive map with any civ especially if your own map is bad. So if u dont have extra res in your own base and there are non on the sides go aggressive in castle age or early imp and better micro player managing to get a decent boom behind still wins. Complaining about map in arena is usually just random boomers that cannot switch their style and adapt to maps to still play effective.
Edit: To give peple with weak maps a fair game and possibility to win it´s important to play TR ofcourse.
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Re: The hidden problem with the Arena map

Postby  Skittle » Thu May 11, 2017 3:13 pm

  11 May 2017, 14:01 GMT » Haiyti wrote:
Edit: To give peple with weak maps a fair game and possibility to win it´s important to play TR ofcourse.

Yeah, imagine u r turk vs goth...
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Re: The hidden problem with the Arena map

Postby  klavskisLV » Thu May 11, 2017 6:35 pm

Yeah, this is a problem indeed, but got to agree with Haiyti on that one, i mean, sure it would be better if the extra resources would spawn in a normal balance, but arena really is a map with options, depending on map, you can go all in aggro eddie style, you can go boom, if you have a nice pocket map, most likely the only biggest issue is, you can't really know what your opponent has in their back on 100%.
MetalRTS: oh I have one I just dont use it correctly :D
MetalRTS: i have it bunched up in corner :D
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Re: The hidden problem with the Arena map

Postby  _InDuS__novice » Thu May 11, 2017 6:42 pm

Simple solution - Play Arabia :)
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Re: The hidden problem with the Arena map

Postby  SMB360 » Thu May 11, 2017 9:51 pm

My intention wasn't to point out unfairness. I agree with everyone who has mentioned different options players have on Arena. It was more of a 'did you know?' post pointing out why the resources spawn like they do on Arena, because it's the only map in the game where they exhibit this weird behaviour that actually defies the rules of the RMS script as far as I can see, with the second part of my post being aimed more at mappers who might find the question interesting.

I wasn't posting because I wanted to change the whole map around or affect the player starting resources for perceived fairness. It was more a case of 'can we get the extra resources to appear on the map in a non-buggy manner?'

I find two issues with d20random's solution. First, by recessing the bases too much into the forest, you create one small front to defend. Second, at present, if the resources can't appear at the back, they will generally appear in front if there is room (i.e. they won't be too close to the middle of the 'black hole') but with the bugged spacing and clumping shown in my pics. I suspect by creating more 'fair game' territory you will actually get an increasingly noticeable bugged grid placement of resources. If there is less 'fair game' space the game simply doesn't place the resources and everything looks a lot more natural. The presence of the unexplained 'black hole' is the real issue. There are plenty of other maps where you can place resources on a central land and there are no issues (granted, some maps do this just by placing terrains rather than lands, so there are different methods). And it's curious that a standard map like vanilla Arena exhibits this black hole.

@fenris_wolf I've played with a lot of the group settings. Increasing min_distance_to_players eventually increases the likelihood the resources won't be placed by moving everything closer to the black hole. The black hole causes a lot of the group properties to behave improperly when you change them.
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