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Customs Creation - July 2016

Posted July 3rd, 2016 at 09:07 PM by HS Codex

The Good, The Bad, and the SoV-Worthy
Author: Scytale

Iíve looked at many, many customs on Heroscapers.com, from some of the best to some of the worst. There were those that inspired my own creativity, and others that made me simply shake my head. But what makes a Heroscape custom ďgoodĒ or ďbadĒ?

The real answer is both uplifting and unhelpful: a custom is as good as you yourself believe it to be. An absurdly overpowered magic-casting robot wielding a pineapple is exactly as great as you think it is. But itís unlikely many others will agree with you. Everyoneís tastes are different, leading to a wide range of opinions of what is good or bad, innovative or inexcusable, exciting or dull. But that doesnít mean there arenít rulesóor at least guidelinesóto help you create something that will be loved by other íScapers. Understanding these can be helpful for any custom creator, and all the more so for those that are aspiring to have their creations accepted into the Soldiers of Valhalla.

The aspects that Soldiers of Valhalla Judges look at are balance, theme, creativity, and playability. While certainly not everyone is interested in SoV approval, these are important categories that every custom creator needs to consider. It is ok to ignore one or more of them to create the custom you wish to make, but do so knowingly. Simply neglecting any of them can and often will negatively affect your design. While each of these aspects could support their own articles, Iíll give a brief overview of each.

Before I get into each aspect, however, there is a key design feature that permeates all aspects. The thing that is both the most important thing to keep in mind, and the thing that I most often see people ignore: a unitís role. What is it the custom is meant to do on the battlefield? Does it charge into the front lines to do as much damage as possible? or slink through the enemy units to assassinate a key figure? Perhaps it works as a support unit. If so, can it function hiding in the start zone, or does it need to perform a more active role to work optimally? Is it better used in early, mid, or late game? There are a lot of ways units can contribute to a game; know what value your custom provides to a battle. Relatedly, consider your unitís place in various army builds. Is it a tightly-synergized unit that only works in certain armies? or a general-use beatstick? Is it an expensive figure that armies need to build around? or perhaps just cheap filler? Always keep in mind how a unit is intended to be used and what builds it is expected to be used in.

Letís first look at balance. The importance of this is obvious, but there are multiple aspects, and it can be surprisingly tricky to get right. It isnít too hard to get a customís pricing in the correct ballpark simply by comparing with official units with similar stats and abilities. But to really nail down a unitís value, you need to know and understand its role. Compare its cost effectiveness against other units that provide the same benefit. If itís better (cost-effectively) at drawing in enemy units than the Kravs, thereís probably something wrong. Likewise, if it fills the same role but is cost-effectively worse, itís unlikely to see much play unless it provides some other benefit. Remember, though, that price point is a factor as well: for example, Guilty McCreech has different uses than Syvarris. Itís also important to think through how well your custom (perhaps unintentionally) performs in other roles. This analysis can lead to a redesign to better focus on the intended role, or a reworking to fit into a different role. Units that are cost-effective in multiple roles should be looked at with caution: there is intrinsic value in being useful in different ways.

Next , how about theme. Heroscape can support most anything, including a sword-wielding bullet-dodging WWII soldier, a lizard-armed viking, and a merciful war robot, but it mainly deals in classic tropes. What theme you choose to pursue is your choice, but, whatever it is, donít take it lightly. Name, general, powers (and power names), left-side stats, right-side stats, and even price point are all variables that can be used to relay theme. But donít think of any of these by itself, nor should you rely on any one of these to supply the theme. A disciplined elf with Deadly Strike doesnít paint nearly as much of a picture as a ruthless rogue with Stab in the Back. Go back to the unitís role and merge that with a theme, then try to make every piece communicate both. Be careful, though, not to be so enamored with theme that it drags down other aspects of the design. This aspect, probably more than any other, is one that derails customs when creators are unwilling to give concessions.

ďCreativityĒ is rather vague and subjective, but at the very least one can say that a unit that is too similar to an official unit is lacking in this area. Thatís not usually a problem I see though: when it comes to creativity, the problem I usually see is too much creativity. Heroscape has a fairly open system, but not completely so. Not everything is possible, and sometimes even the simplest concepts require an inordinate amount of twisting, bending, and verbosity to fit into the Heroscape ruleset. To me, the height of creativity is a custom that is able to fulfill a role and convey a theme using simple, easily understood powers, yet remains distinct from everything that has come before. Be willing to concede some features if it can make your custom simpler and sharper without losing its essential qualities.

Last but not least, playability describes a unitís performance once it hits the battlefield. While balance plays a part of this, itís really much more than that. The most important thing to keep in mind, once again, is role. How effective is the unit at its intended role? You need to take all aspects into consideration, including its value to an army and its value when order markers are spent on it. A powerful front-line attacker may look good on paper, but if it requires too many order markers to get into position it may not be worth fielding, especially if there are more effective options available. A cheerleader becomes almost worthless if it requires more effort than itís worth to keep it close enough to grant boosts. While theoryscaping is a good place to start, actual playtesting is invaluable here. Compare and contrast your custom against others with a similar role, try out various builds, and diligently look for ways the unit can be used outside of what you intended.

For a design to excel in all aspectsóbalance, theme, creativity, and playabilityóis a challenge at best, impossible at worst. Not all concepts work, while many more lack the potential to be great. While creating customs, you will often need to decide whether to be content with a mediocre result or simply scrap a design. But thatís not a mistake or even a failure. What writer pens a timeless epic with every work? What musician creates a mega-hit with every song? Donít expect everything to come out brilliantly, but instead continue to strive to make each custom be the best it can be, learning with each attempt, success or failure.
Total Comments 5


HS Codex's Avatar
Coming in just in time, we are pleased to present this article by Scytale, one of the authors taking over the Customs Creation Department. Remember to give us feedback on all our articles!
Posted July 3rd, 2016 at 09:08 PM by HS Codex HS Codex is offline
TheAverageFan's Avatar
Very good advice on covering a Custom's purpose. Although you neglected to mention one of the biggest deterrents from a Custom being SoV-compatable: does its miniature have ready availability!?

Posted July 4th, 2016 at 11:04 PM by TheAverageFan TheAverageFan is offline
Scytale's Avatar
True, I didn't say anything about figure availability. But the purpose of the article isn't SoV submission, it's the creation of a great custom. Figure availability is yet another hurdle that must be overcome to be accepted into the SoV, but it doesn't have any bearing on a custom's quality.
Posted July 5th, 2016 at 12:44 AM by Scytale Scytale is offline
wriggz's Avatar
It is nice to see what I feel I have internalized after years of custom making.

I believe the "Keep Working" suggestion is the best of the bunch. Creating, revising, and repeating can really put a unit through it's paces, but sometimes you also need to create something new to give you the idea to take a mediocre unit to the next level.
Posted July 5th, 2016 at 08:31 AM by wriggz wriggz is offline
IshMEL's Avatar
Great advice! I am often too "caught up in theme" at the expense of playability, and keeping the unit's role in mind during design (not afterward) will help keep me on track.

One aspect of good design that you've touched on is the simplicity of powers. This is not only more elegant -- it makes the figure more playable. If I have to read a power three times to understand how it works, I'm more likely to mis-use it. And, it's less fun to play against, as it's harder for your opponent to remember just what "Magic Cyber-Pineapple Special Attack" does. And over-long power descriptions lead to crimes against typography!
Posted July 5th, 2016 at 11:23 AM by IshMEL IshMEL is offline
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