Taking a Stab at Tower Defense

18 Feb

By Nick Halme

Ever since its inception in Starcraft years ago, Tower Defense has become a bit of a phenomenon. Essentially a game where you do nothing but place towers in strategic positions and watch them defeat wave after wave of enemies, it’s easy to draw conclusions. Although it appears to be a game where you literally sit and watch instead of play, observe anyone playing a match of Tower Defense and you will quickly notice just how engrossed they are with the game. So why is it that a seemingly boring game is capable of sucking people in like this?

Call me crazy, but I’m going to attribute this mainly to visual feedback. No, I don’t mean it’s fun to watch waves of enemies explode because it looks pretty; it’s fun to watch waves of enemies explode because of the context. The towers that you placed are disposing of this onslaught, and watching those little icons disappear before the wave escapes their range is satisfying.

The game takes that little idea and runs with it. As the game progresses you can build more and more towers, all relative to the amount of money accrued by killing enemies, and the number of enemies in a wave increases – or the enemies increase in strength. As Newsweek editor and gaming aficionado N’gai Croal puts it “the intensity of the encounters evolves from allowing me thoughtful and deliberate strategizing at the beginning to forcing me into frantic micromanagement to counter the overwhelming foes in its latter stages.”

So although as a player you have very few actions in Tower Defense, each of those actions carries a huge amount of weight in the game. Placing a tower in the most efficient spot possible and creating chokepoints becomes a science to be mastered.

What comes along with the limited control is uncertainty – people’s eyes are often glued to the screen because they’re worried that their towers won’t be able to handle the next wave, which means they need to change their strategy fast.

Changing your strategy probably means you’re going to have to sell some towers and reposition, unless you’re sitting on a lot of cash. Economy management is most likely an artifact from the game’s heyday as a Starcraft map, but it still works in the newer versions. While the economy is much different than that of an RTS (no multiple resources here), there is still the factor of upgrading what you have, creating more weaker towers, or surviving until the late game to bring out the big guns. Taking a note from the arcades there is also a high score associated with how long you have survived – something that will keep a player coming back over and over again to best themselves, despite the game having no concrete ‘end’.

To compare it to another game I’m familiar with, in Unreal Tournament the visual feedback is watching heads explode like melons when struck by one of your bullets — in Tower Defense the feedback is arguably the game; a spectator sport that the player engineers for themselves.

Missed the Tower Defense train? I find that hard to believe, but here are some of the more popular versions floating around right now:

Desktop Tower Defense

Vector Tower Defense

And for those of you with a PS3, check out PixelJunk Monsters for Tower Defense with co-op and player avatars.


2 Responses to “Taking a Stab at Tower Defense”

  1. Mack February 20, 2008 at 6:13 am #

    I am afraid to admit I’ve never played a tower defense game.

    Unless you count Warlocks which is Super old and an incredible four player game.

    It’s not really tower defense though.

    Anyhow, I’ll try one of those ones tonight, and let you know how they go.

  2. Chammi September 19, 2008 at 11:11 pm #

    Not that I don’t agree with you, because you’re completely on the ball when it comes to TD’s typical demographic, but for me the most satisfying aspect of TD is actually the building. I love planting towers and watch them serve their purpose. I especially like it when I upgrade them and they morph into something else. The best is when I can arrange those towers in some sort of aesthetic pattern but with strategic reasoning behind it.

    Call it nurturing instincts if you will (:

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