Subverting a Genre
"Anti Tower Defense" (less generic name coming someday) was made as part of a scripting assignment wherein we had to make, guess what, a tower defense.
So just to give a bit of (very skippable) context, I was just starting my second year of my Game Design program. While I had a lot of fun finally being able to work in teams (I had been making only solo small projects until then), I missed having the full creative control on a game. I mostly stuck to programming in group projects, so I did not get to do a lot of game design. Now, the Scripting 3 class required us to do only solo projects, as to make sure we were responsible of all the coding. This was a nice opportunity to get to explore my own ideas (which didn't always go as well as planned, as you'll see in the blogposts for "Let's Find Love" and "Generic Barebone FPS").
My class had to vote for the 3 genres we would explore throughout the semester. Much to my disappointment, two of the genres I like the least were chosen: Tower Defense and FPS. I went as far as to ask the teacher if it would be possible for some students to do a different genre, to which he answered that it was negotiable, because it involved doing a custom evaluation grid for that student. I had the idea of asking to make a rhythm game instead of an FPS when the time would come, but I never got around to making it.
When I accepted my fate of doing a game I was really unenthusiastic about, I immediatly tried as hard as I could to think of a way of reappropriating it. I was stuck on that seeminlgy unsolvable puzzle for a while. But as every time I'm looking for ideas, I tried to find a way of making it about love. I don't remember much of the ideas I had at that stage, but I know most of them were not really different in their mechanics but only in the theme (like having towers shooting love until your crush is in love with you? I don't know).
Trying to incorporate love into the tower defense genre wasn't giving any satisfying results, and the due date was slowly approaching. I then decided to take a different approach, but not too far: how to make the game pacifist? And that proved to be quite effective: I almost thought instantly of a game where you have to AVOID the towers.
So the idea is quite simple: you're a third party in a conflict that tries to push away all soldiers out of the towers' range. There's a game of tower defense playing itself: the towers are placed on predetermined spots, they upgrade sometimes, and all sorts of soldiers try to pass through them, always following the same path. If you walk towards a soldier, they'll be pushed in the opposite direction. That's it.
I didn't think the idea was brilliant, but it was mine , and it played very differently from a typical tower defense. I would say it doesn't even belong to the same genre, since tower defenses are about strategically placing towers, managing your resources (money) and watching the conflicts unfold. Here, none of those mechanics are present. Because of that, I worried at first that it wouldn't fit the requirements for the assignment, so I read them very carefully to make sure it was alright, and much to my relief (and my surprise), it was. Knowing that, I had a newfound motivation to work on my game.
I'm generally happy with the design of my anti-tower defense, but there are a couple of things I would definitely like to improve upon in a potential future iteration. One of the things that prevented me from making the game I wanted to was some of the requirements. The teacher expected us to have soldiers that shoot the towers, and to have the soldiers arriving in waves. I didn't like the idea of having shooting soldiers for my game: it would then be tempting for the player to just let those soldiers shoot the towers, and making it easier to save soldiers afterwards, where I wanted the player to be a total pacifist and to try to avoid conflict altogether. As for the waves, they make sense in a real tower defense, when you alternate between phases where you place your towers and phases where you're being under attack. In a game in which there's nothing to do in-between wave, there's no point to it, and I'd rather just have a game that never stops.
Speaking of requirements, I tried to achieve some of them too lazily. Since it took me a lot of time to come up with an idea I liked, it didn't leave me a lot of time to actually implement the game, and so I was left doing all of it quite quickly. One of the requirements was to have different kind of enemis and towers. I just put the first things that came to mind. They aren't too interesting, and they're not balanced at all. The tiny soldiers that move very fast and have low health just get killed way too quickly, without the player being able to reach them; and the "sniper" tower on the top right corner that kills you instantly is just way too overpowered.
One thing that annoys me a lot with this prototype is that it's pretty unclear how to save the soldiers. You basically have to push them out of the path; but if they get back to the path, they'll follow it again. I would be more clear if there were maybe little arrows on the path, to show where the soldiers will go if they cross them, and of course if I added animations to the soldiers as to show the transitions in direction. Also, you can just push the soldiers out of the map. Once the player discovers this strategy, the game just becomes absurdly easy.
This is one of my school projects I liked the most, and while I think the current state of the game doesn't show how much potential this design has, I believe in it, and I'd be glad to expand it in the near future. I don't think it can be a groundbreaking game, but it can be a modest original game.
Basically, I think it goes to prove my point that we should try to make more non-violent games. It's not that there's anything inherently bad with violent ones, it's just that I believe there's so many of them that there's a lot of originality to be found in more pacific ones. As soon as I switched my mindset to make a game about avoiding conflict, finding new ideas was a lot easier. It's also a good design exercise, as you will not be able to rely on established ideas as much.
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