Amateur Development
Maps For Railroad Tycoon II


As I described earlier, I had a great love of the original Railroad Tycoon, by Sid Meier. I played it and played it until I had the game completely solved, scoring the maximum that could be handled correctly by the game's high score board for each of the four maps.
The biggest shortfall of the original is that it only had four maps. Sid had managed to wring more gameplay out of each map, however, by randomizing the game's resources to a limited degree. I had played so much of it, I practically had reverse-engineered the process, knowing the general boundaries of what could appear where.
When RT2 came out, it was not developed by Sid, but by Phil Steinmeyer. The rights to the franchise had been sold. RT2 came with a very nice historical-based campaign and a goodly selection of maps based in the real world, set in different eras. There was a much greater selection of what to play.
Unfortunately, the maps in RT2 tended to suffer the same game balance issues as the four maps in RT1: each map had a "best" area in which to start, and starting anywhere else would definitely lead to making less money. In other words, each map had one best solution and once you found it, any replays where you were not deliberately playing variants (eschewing profits for new adventures into smaller markets) meant that you played the same strategy over and over.
I wanted the kind of gameplay that I could get from my best Descent levels: multiple valid strategies from the same map. In Descent multiplayer, the valid strategy is often dictated by the opponent. One must choose where in the level to force fights and where to try to avoid fights, and which areas are best to fight in depends on the behavior and talents and weapon preferences of the opponent. In RT2, in single player, something else was needed to create strategic variance, some quality in the maps themselves by which the optimum path to victory would vary from game to game.
So I set out to create well balanced maps with several good opportunities to make money, and then to increase the randomnity of the resources on the maps so that the same could be played many times and the best strategy would change from game to game.
I figured out that part of the game balance problem was an imbalance between passengers/mail (the most profitable runs, supplied by population centers) and everything else (supplied by industry). The maps needed more dense industry, relative to the population centers, or else every game, game after game, turned into another passenger/mail milk run with the odd minor freight running on the side.
The balance I found to be suitable to my goals was to avoid the "mega city" population center and spread the population around more evenly, with minimal variation so that the population portion of the map would be fairly constant, then to increase industrial density and have lots of randomnity involved there, including several tricks I learned for combining industries in varying combinations.
There also turned out to be a nasty bug involving "oversupply" of raw material industries hand-placed on the map. Any such industry would start the game with a huge stockpile, and then settle in to its normal production rate, and this broke the game balance for all maps that hand-placed any raw materials. So at one point, my maps were the ONLY user maps in existance that worked around this bug, with all industries auto-generated via carefully tailored regions. One could safely hand-place middle-man industries or end-user industries, but not raw material producers.
Ports turned out to be a balance problem as well, as they could generate up to four kinds of raw materials. These were abused by many map makers, wrecking the balance of their maps.
I learned all of these lessons while producing my very first map for RT2, called "Coal Country". This map went through many iterations, and two releases, the second to fix some problems with my victory condition scripting and with certain industries, which would not appear on certain kinds of terrain.
I figured out a way to isolate players one from another on the same map, so I created a multiplayer map for up to four players, broken into four smaller squares where players could not intervene into one another's territory. I created identical map conditions for each player's area, to make the game fair, and then I carefully tailored the industries to make the map highly replayable, and I engineered a "Victory Points" system via the map scripting to give the player three different goals and let the player choose the order in which to pursue them. The "best" strategy changes from game to game. This map is called "Free Four All".
My third map is a two-player multiplayer map of lengthy duration. Each player is isolated to one half of the map, and the game is broken down into ten segments. In each segment, a player must meet a different type of goal to advance to the next segment. Each advance opens up another new territory in which to play. The finale segment involves transporting goods from one side of the map all the way across to the other (it's a long way!) This map is called Grand Prix, and it's quite a race. One can play Grand Prix in single player, too, but the AI is completely incapable of managing the scenario, since the AI is not properly coded to haul industry efficiently, and it cannot fathom what to do to meet some of the goals. So the AI just sits there. It's quite sad.
My fourth map is my masterpiece. It's an all-mountains map called "Making the Grade", and it is one of the most difficult RT2 scenarios ever produced. Most RT2 maps involve finding the flattest areas for the fastest runs and raking in the dough. In MTG, there are no flat areas, anywhere, and most of the terrain is so ungodly mountainous, it is difficult to run a profitable railroad at all. One must be quite skilled even to get off the ground, and there is a lot that must be done within a hundred years to win the gold medal victory. For this map, I expanded on my "Victory Points" system to create a staggeringly rich gaming environment. There are ten goals in MTG, and making even one of them wins you a Bronze victory, which means that this nasty-tough map is accessible to all players, as even those of lesser skill or experience can reasonably hope to achieve that victory level. Winning the Silver victory requires accomplishing three of the ten goals, and winning the gold requires achieving nine of the ten. Actually, there are only nine goals, but one is worth two points, so there are ten points to be scored and one only needs nine of them to win gold. I also managed to strike the perfect balance on this map to duplicate the effects from the original Railroad Tycoon game in terms of how doing rail business in an area would build up the local area, make it grow. (RT2 has the feature, but it is so low and slow as to be insignificant.) Making the Grade was considered the definitive test of single player skill by the elite RT2 community from the time it was released until the time I left the community upon the release of Descent 3.
By popular demand, I produced a "short multiplayer" version of Making the Grade with less stringent victory conditions, so that folks could play it in MP in a more reasonable amount of time. Only the victory conditions were changed for this version, and only for MP.
My fifth map was a tiny affair, a very small map set in the most ancient of ancient railroad times. I altered the production of passenger cargo to make it irrelevant, then reduced the mail output, and created an industry-based map for play with the weakest, slowest locomotives in the game. It's a unique little map, called Local Industry.
My sixth and final map is an all-electric-locomotives map, requiring player to use nothing but electric lines. This took all my map scripting and design expertise to make work, as it was quite a challenge massaging the map scripting and scenario conditions to remove options that were not meant to be removed. I got it done, though, and the result is called Ben Franklin's Kite.
I also edited and rebalanced the custom map of my RT2 buddy, Chuck Barkman. He produced a historical map of his home region in British Columbia, Canada. I helped him with industry balance and other technical aspects. His map, along with my six, are available in my Railroad Tycoon II Map Archive.
All of my RT2 maps are done on custom terrain. Much easier to tweak the game balance when I could adjust the terrain any time I felt like it. No need to maintain geographical integrity. However, for my "grand finale" map, my blockbuster scenario, I undertook the challenge to produce a real world map, duplicating historical railroad conditions in my home region of southwestern Pennsylvania. My effort was partly inspired by CeeBee's map of his home region, and partly inspired by putting my scenario crafting skills to the ultimate challenge, attempting to wring my type of enhanced gameplay out of an accurate historical scenario. I put almost a month of real time into this scenario, and I learned a lot about map making in the process, but at this point in time, I learned that Franz's efforts at PopTop to get me a job there working on maps for them had failed, and as this labor was so intensive, and I was palpably disappointed in not landing the job, I abandoned my seventh RT2 map and never finished it. Instead I moved on to Beta Testing D3edit and Making maps for Descent 3.

- Sirian

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