with this thread I want to discuss some general topics about map design. It's not about graphics, it's about how map design interacts with game mechanics and gameplay as a whole. The reason for this thread is quite simple: most maps in WoWs are... bad. So bad that they influence gameplay in a negative way. And I think this bad map design is not accidental. I hope some of the devs read this and join the discussion.
I will start from a very general approach and then go into the details. So be prepared, there's some text ahead...
Tactics in a F2P game
All military tactics are about reaching one goal: Concentrate superior firepower at the main point of action. To achieve this you need:
Proper coordination of your forces.
In WoWs there is another aspect which comes from the fact that there are two victory conditions: 1. Killing all enemies. 2. Winning by points. Both conditions interact - at least at high level gameplay - in that way that you can try to trade HP for winning points. This interaction can be quite complex on a tactical level.
The aspect of coordination is the most delicate one in a F2P game, where teams consist of players of different levels and who normally don't know each other. In general, good map design should balance tactical complexity with easy access for inexperienced players. What does this mean? Tactical complexity means there are different goals which conflict to each other, for example you have to sacrifice map control (intelligence + initiative) to get a certain cap. Easy access means that new players intuitively make the right tactical decisions and don't run into "traps" only experienced players recognice. While tactical complexity is quite appealing in competetive gameplay, it has disastrous effects in random gameplay: The lack of either intelligence, initiative, or coordination - or of all three - makes tactics simply nonexistent in battle; the game degenerates to a simple shooter lottery. I think everybody who played at least some battles in WoWs knows what I am talking about. As you cannot force players to do something specific, map design should at least make good tactical behaviour more obvious.
Coming back to the first paragraph, what is "good tactical behaviour" in WoWs then?
Concentrate your firepower on a small part of the enemy force. Numerical superiority is highly self-energizing: More firepower on less targets, less counter-fire. That doesn't mean massing your ships at one spot but at least not to spread out the team over the whole map.
Dictate the enemy the terms of battle. Initiative is highly rewarding, as long as gameplay does not favour defense over offense too much. If it was so, the game would be utterly boring.
Keep pressure on the enemy up to retain initiative. Ships have limited speed, they should not give away their influence on the battle by sailing into the off.
Play your ship to its strengths, try to mitigate its weaknesses.
Use your ship's strengths to mitigate the weaknesses of your teammates' ships. This is often called "teamplay".
Play the objectives; this often refers to caps and earning points.
What is good map design?
Good map design includes:
Maps must be fair; no side should have a decisive advantage.
Maps should offer multiple tactical ways; otherwise the map becomes boring.
Maps should give both sides enough space to maneuver. The map should not be reduced too much by inaccessable parts, "death zones", etc.
Maps - as a whole - should not favour certain ships or ship classes. This would interfer with ship balancing.
Maps should encourage players to make good tactical choices; see above.
The means of map design are:
Islands. In WoWs islands are simply blockers: depending on their shape, islands block movement, (ship-to-ship) vision, shells, and torpedos. To use other words, islands nullify certain game mechanics. Side note: islands do not block radar and hydro.
Caps; they are part of the second victory condition, which is winning by points.
Positioning of spawns.
Islands are of course the most important part, although the game works even without them (map "Ocean"). Their effects are:
Blocking movement: With small islands this effect is quite trivial, but it becomes problematic with bigger landmasses: They generate "inside, no out" situations (see map "Sleeping Giant", A-cap) or "outside, no in" situations (see map "Okinawa", A-cap), both not much to be desired. In addition, bottlenecks tend to favour the defender too much as they can be closed effectively with very few ships. Generally, blocking movement should better be created by the enemy himself and some small islands he can use for cover. Map designers should take a very careful look when deliberately using Islands to gain this effect.
Blocking (ship-to-ship) vision: Generally speaking, this effect favours ships with bad concealment and penalizes ships with good concealment. Concealment consists of two parts (standard value; bloom when using weaponry), this eventually has to be taken into account; same with ship classes. Standard concealment is some very important value for ship balancing, so islands should in general not interfer with it too much, except for cruisers which often have too bad concealment for their intended role (supporting destroyers). Suppressing the gun bloom is problematic with battleships, so placing islands where they can be used that way from battleships only should be avoided. As a rule, map designers should use islands more to give players opportinities to break contact (chains of small islands) instead of blocking vision on the approach (large landmasses).
Blocking shells: In WoWs you have three ways to avoid hits: Dodge shells; be invisible; use islands for cover. Islands should only supplement the other two ways but not make them superflous. That means: no fortifications. However, some ships rely on this third way, which are mostly cruisers. As a consequence, islands for this purpose should be used at places where cruisers can use them effectively, even if they have limited weapons range. Parking behind an island and not beeing able to shoot at something makes a ship pretty useless.
Blocking torpedos: This may be a sidenote, but very flat islands which only block torpedos can be fancy at some places.
Caps are the other main tool in map design. Caps refer to the second victory condition (points), and the general question how much emphasis is put on this second victory condition. In Standard Mode it becomes a simple defend-only condition, which favours passive gameplay massively; this topic will not be discussed here. In domination mode the question is: Do I place caps at the tactical least favourable places to make the second victory condition as much separated from the first one (sink all enemies) as possible? Or do I place caps where ships should go anyway, just to give players some sort of guidance and reward? While most maps in WoWs currently seem to prefer the first way, I would strongly recommend the second way, at least in Random Mode (see above). Caps are mainly a necessity to make both teams move (that may be different in competetive gamplay). For destroyers caps are of course of much higher interest, maybe even more important than fighting enemy ships. Destroyers are fast, fragile, and very valuable; the team which loses its DDs first often loses the battle. Therefore caps should not be designed like "DD traps".
Last but not least positioning of spawns: Spawns can determine tactics; this should be avoided. Scattered spawns encourage team scattering; that should also be avoided. Diagonal arrangement of spawns seems to work better than a vertical arrangement.
What is wrong with current map design? My answer is: It contradicts to fundamental parts of good tactics:
It encourages team scattering: Scattered spawns; caps at the very sides; landmasses which split the map into parts without a (realistic) possibility to move from one part to the other.
It encourages camping: Too much cover at back sides; many bottlenecks.
It offers inexperienced players many opportunities to move into positions where they are useless: Misplaced caps; "death zones" in map center (= all run to the sides); cover in least usable locations.
It does not improve class balance: Not enough cover for cruisers; too much cover for battleships; bad island design around caps.
It does not reward teamplay but enforces class Separation: Separate "playgrounds" for battleships, cruisers, and destroyers; lack of cover for cruisers at important positions.
Just go through this text again, you will find a reason in almost every paragraph.
It already has become a lot of text. I would like to discuss this theoretical stuff on current maps to make it more understandable.