Saturday, April 26, 2008

immortal defense

I'm slowly working my way through this top-10 list of 2007's Best Independent Games - more accurately, I'm playing as much free content as I can get away with. As someone who has followed gaming culture since he was a wee boy, I can say that one of the most positive trends of the past couple years has been the rise of the independent developer. There are still huge gaming studios, like Bethesda or Blizzard, that spend millions of dollars on games that push your system specs to the limit. But the high cost of these projects mean that these companies are less willing to take creative risks; you're much more likely to see a World of Warcraft clone nowadays than something truly original (or even something that drifts just a little from people's expectations: see my post on NCSoft's defunct Auto Assault). It's very similar to the situation in Hollywood - which is ultimately why we turn to those independent film makers for something without a 2 or III in the title.

Here's an example of indie spirit. A couple years ago, some hardcore gaming nerds started using the Warcraft III world editor to create a new genre of game: Tower Defense. The idea is relatively simple. There is a horde of enemies (often called "creeps") marching from point A to point B, and you need to destroy them in some form or fashion. The two methods at your disposal are to: 1) directly attack the creeps (often by pointing/clicking your mouse on them) and 2) setting up guard towers on the map which automatically attack creeps as they pass within range. There is a strategic element to tower placement, and also how you allocate resources to either build more towers or upgrade current ones. Perhaps the most popular example of this is the flash-based browser game, Desktop Tower Defense. If you haven't tried it yet, click on the link to give it a whirl (no installation of anything required) and you'll see what this genre is all about.

I haven't been particularly intrigued by this kind of game, in part because there's an inherent level of stress in the model. The creeps keep coming, more and more and more, until your defenses are eventually overwhelmed. Your goal is to put off the inevitable Armageddon for as long as possible. In this sense, Tower Defense games are a spiritual successor to the 1980 classic, Missile Command.

Oh god, how I used to hate Missile Command! You have 6 cities to defend from a constant bombardment of missiles, that move faster and faster with each successive stage, until your enemy eventually wears you down and all your people die. Sure, they tried to put this in a sci-fi setting (missile defense on the moon?), but every 5th grader knew that this was all about defending Los Angeles from the damn Ruskies. The stress was incredible. And it didn't help that the typical arcade controller was a trackball, which depending upon the amount of pizza-grease applied by the previous player, may or may not be responsive to your immediate desperate need. Strategy was all about rapid trajectory assessment and placement of anti-missile explosions. But eventually, you would lose, and the guilt over your failure would haunt your 10-year old mind for the rest of the day.

But back to the topic at hand. Immortal Defense is a more sophisticated and abstract tower defense game, set in a creative alternate universe. There are dozens of maps to play, even in the free demo-version. On each map, there is a predetermined "path" that your enemies will take - and you have as much time as you need (but limited resources) to set up a defense network to blast the invading ships to hell and protect your homeland. What sets Immortal Defense apart from its brethren is a varied set of towers (or "points") that provide satisfying tactical options and combos, as well as an intriguing campaign replete with odd characters, bizarre platitudes, and metaphysical twists. Trying to explain the gameplay (or the plot for that matter) is actually difficult since it's a little abstract - but I can assure you that the learning curve is relatively flat and you'll pick up the basic strategy in minutes. It's definitely worth a download and a few minutes of your time. You get a healthy 32 maps to play in the free demo, and if you do happen to get addicted, the full version comes with over 100.

1 comment:

  1. I've been playing Desktop Tower Defense now for about four hours. It's crack for the stress junkie. I should go to bed.