We had the chance to talk to Four Lights about Defenders of Time, a new unique tower defense game that just went live on Steam. I had the brief chance to play it at E3 and was totally enamored with it. The Four Lights team put together some very in-depth answers to some tough questions and for fans of tower defense, like myself, there is a lot of amazing and cool things in DoT that totally worth checking out. For now, on with the interview!
Be sure to check out the Tower Talk series for more detailed info on the towers and the game.
There are a few (a literal few) really good stand alone tower defense games out there, what sets Defenders of Time apart from the rest of the genre?
We're pretty big fans of Tower Defense here but when we started designing Defenders of Time, we started out with the premise that if we could buy a game like it already, we should skip they year and a half of development and just buy it. The core thing that that we were having trouble finding was a classic top down Tower Defense that was designed as a team-based multiplayer game. They do exist but they're pretty obscure and frankly we weren't having much fun with them. We wanted something like Wintermaul Wars taken to the next level. Early on in development after we had gotten vs. mode, we discovered the next thing that we think really sets Defenders of Time apart. The game was originally balanced as a typical Tower Defense. Build. Wait. Build. Wait. It’s a pretty classic combination but what we found was that when one person plays against three people, the lone builder usually crushes the other three. Yet one person would regularly beat a team of people. We came to the conclusion that this has to do with communication overhead. A single person has a unified vision while the team has to hash things out which doesn't always end as cleanly. The solution was pretty simple and has really contributed to making Defenders of Time feel very unique.
We made the game faster. We gave the players more money. We made the game more intense. We just kept doing it until we felt like we needed help to play. A single player can play against a team but it’s a real challenge and as a team there's always something to do; something to refine. Part of working at this pace is making mistakes and part of the nature of Defenders of Time is playing against a dynamic enemy with a group of people so another unusual step we took was that we made towers sell back for 100% of their placement value. To the player, this means that the biggest mistake they can make is not spending their money because all towers do damage ... even if it's not optimal and the second biggest mistake they can make is not shifting their defenses to deal with a threat. This created a problem earlier in development because we had made the game so intense that there could literally be hundreds of towers on screen at once which was so much fun but it was really a handful to deal with.
Every tower took two clicks to do anything to: Build: Two clicks. Sell: Two clicks. Upgrade: Two clicks. We created rapid sell and added build shortcuts to deal with this. After that, we had to clean up communication. Because so much stuff is going on, players need to get their ideas across quickly and a lot of that has to do with maze shapes, which was more than a little awkward to explain even when you can yell across the studio. "Where do you want me to place this? How is this supposed to look? Wait... you want me to what?" We built a drawing tool to fix that. Hold down shift and you can draw on the map. Hold down control and you can draw on the UI.
At E3 I got a quick chance to play a few matches and one of the interesting dynamics was there was a commander that sort of planned the battle out and guided players on where to place their towers. How is that dynamic working in current builds?
We originally created the commander in response to a problem that we had found in some older tower defense games. Each player could choose his or her own offensive creeps which lead to a very confused attack. The commander was envisioned as a player who could objectively analyze both the defense and the offensive situation without having to be in continual motion. In some situations where there are a lot of new players like during E3 or during a LAN party, the commander works to help the new players lay things out since the commander generally has more experience than the builders and in other situations where the commander is on an experienced team, the commander observes the enemy team and devises the least pleasant combination of units they can think of.
Will there be a single-player experience available beyond a standard tutorial?
All of the maps are available as single player maps and more importantly all of the launch maps are available for free in single player. Just sign up for an account, download the game and you can play as much as you want for as long as you want in single player. Here's our evil plan: We think you'll like the game so much you'll want to play multiplayer, which is where the best part of this game is and you'll buy it.
Defenders of Time is more of a mazing style tower defense game, but will there be a possibility of other modes, such as fixed path or even some casino style random tower placement maps?
Wayyy back in the beginning we looked at what kind of Tower Defense we wanted this to be and a lot of the best and most interesting games were the pre-pathed ones but we thought that there was more we could do to make a mazing Tower Defense just as good or better. The middle way between a wide open lasagna stack Tower Defense and a pre-pathed tower defense is what we've got. The places that players are allowed to build are restricted to some degree, which forces them to be really creative in how and where they build things. We're still creating new and more efficient mazes on maps that we've played literally thousands of times ... So the short answer is no we really like the way we have it set up.
What types of DLC content can players look forward to extend the experience. Maps? Additional towers?
DLC. That's something of a dirty word these days. Here's the plan. Small things like a map here or there we're just going to patch in. We've got two more maps in the pipe, which we're just going to give to our players as soon as they're ready. When December rolls around, we're going to have a companywide meeting about expansion pack 1 and what should be in it then we're going to spend a few months creating new maps, new features and all that fun stuff. That's going to be $5. After that we're going to start working on expansion pack 2 which is also going to be $5. I know, I know you're thinking ... “Wow... a couple years from now it’s going to cost like $300 to buy this game” but here's the thing … every expansion pack that releases will cause the previous pack to become free and we're going to do this ... upgrading the graphics, adding towers, creating new features and building new maps until it no longer makes sense to do that. We think that players who really love our game won't mind spending a few dollars for the latest and greatest and we're going to make sure that when they do that they don't regret it.
For players starting out when the game launches next week, what are the different types of enemies and the corresponding counter?
First the towers:
- Black: Single target
- Green: Radial ground area of effect.
- Red: Ranged Area of effect. (Huge range means it may not hit what you hope it will)
- Purple: Chain lighting.
- White: Reveal stealth, improves the towers around it.
- Blue: Slowing effects
There are a few potential responses to each kind of enemy but here are the basics:
Swarm: Use lots of AOE Red or Green -- they work best here.
Death split: Make sure your maze is long and try to use something with some range. Red or Black would work pretty well.
Fast: Everything works pretty well against fast but fast is used as a surprise move. Forgot to place towers in good air spots? Watch out they might try and blitz you. Blue can be used to slow these guys down which can give you the precious needed seconds you require to react to and destroy fast units.
Armor: You can try and use red or black towers to destroy these guys or you can use the green cosmic nova to temporarily disable their armor and use groups of green and blue to take them out.
Regen: Nothing is bad against Regen but black tends to work best since it deals all its damage immediately and to a single target. The real key is to concentrate whatever you have into the smallest cluster you can so that an enormous amount of damage is dealt before they can recover their health.
Timed Phasing: Again, like Regen, most things work pretty well against them but they phase in and out of existence and will skip large portions of your maze probably with your luck this will include the super high damage zone you just built for Regen. The best thing you can do is spread your damage out. They're not that strong but if you don't hit them, it doesn't matter what you have. In a pinch use red because it’s got a nice long range.
Turn phasing: The key is to build lots of little turns into your maze to get these guys to phase into existence and if all of your damage is located in one super efficient straight you're going to be out of luck.
Stealth: It depends on if the wave is pure stealth or not but generally the best thing you can do is spread white towers around. When a white tower pings, it will reveal anything in its radius but you're going to need a lot of them. If the stealth is ground-based you can try and use green, which will damage them even if they're not revealed. If you get really clever, you can try and use red but the wave has to be mixed for this to work. A red tower will target a visible enemy and then the impact will damage everything that isn't phased out surrounding it ... including stealth units.
Air: A lot of the same responses to ground units work on their air equivalents but the panic button is purple. If you don't know what to do and the enemy has turned your whole defensive plan on its head, use purple.
How will matchmaking work and what types of modes can players look forward to? Will players be able to group up?
The very first thing you see when you log into the game is the big green start button. Just hit that and you'll be in the matchmaking system. If you'd like to get a little more advanced, you can choose what kind of match you'd like to make 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, or 4v4. You will automatically be matched based on the combined skill level of your team. If you'd like to play with a friend, it’s pretty straight forward. Go up to your friends list and hit invite next to their name -- even if they're a free user, you can play together. Adding a friend to your friends list is as easy as typing in their name and hitting add friend. If you'd like to play a specific map or configuration with your friends you can hit the custom tab and get a group of up to 8 players together or you can do some other neat things like 4v1 or co-op by just placing all of your friends on one team.
Will players be able to build their own maps? How would these maps be shared if they were able to?
Sadly ,that system doesn't exist ... yet. I don't think it'll be the subject of our first expansion pack but it might be the subject of our second one. If you want it tell us, we love hearing from people.
I was only able to snag a quick look at a 4v4 map, but are there other modes such as a pure 8 player coop mode or a single player mode where others can spawn creeps or some kind of interesting thing like that?
A maximum of 8 players can play at any given time with a maximum of 4 on a given team and a max of two teams but the teams don't have to be even. So 2v3, 1v4, and 4v0 (which is co-op) are all possible and balanced.
In addition to the previous question, a mode in which it's a 1v1v1v1v1v1v1v1, where each player is its own commander?
That would be awesome but the maximum right now is 1v1. Again, with any of this stuff, let us know if it’s something you'd like to see in the future. We want to see people having an awesome time playing our game.
Finally, can you describe what you think is the most unique tower in the game. I know that there were some towers that adjusted flying creep's pathing, which I thought was an amazing mechanic, what other cool stuff is there beyond that?
The most literally unique tower in the game is definitely the white tower for just the reason you mentioned. It can alter the air path ... which is actually an interesting story. Our network engineer Curt is a big TD player. He joined Four Lights about halfway into our development and he hates static air paths. He thinks it’s a terrible mechanic and refused to work on a game where the air paths couldn't be re-directed. We told him that we didn't have time so one day he comes into work and says “Hey look what I did ...” We've actually had things like that happen a few times. Every time we're all in awe of what one person accomplished because they believed it needed to be in there. Our camera has a very similar story.