Defenders of Time – Hands on at the Four Lights Studio
For those who don’t know, this isn’t my normal day job. My writing for QGN has been completely in my spare time for the past few years. I actually work at a musical instrument store here in Las Vegas. So imagine my surprise when at E3 I met a game studio who’s office is literally right across the street from one of my stores. For the past year, Four Lights has been developing their upcoming debut game, Defenders of Time.
DoT is a tower defense game in which the player usually follows the normal tower defense mechanics. However, Four Lights has thrown in a couple of twists to the genre that really give the game a much deeper strategy, as well keeping you on your toes every second of the game. While you still need to defend waves of creeps, both on the ground and through the air, instead of setting up your defense and hoping it’s enough to last the round Defenders of Time has you constantly changing the shape of the battle field in real-time. You’ll re-route enemies, sell towers to replace them with more powerful or alternate versions, and so on to complete the game. Instead of solving one static puzzle at a time in the game, you will be forced to solve puzzle after puzzle in the game as you defend your map’s exit points.
The art style actually lends itself well to identifying your towers and other elements on the game map. Reminiscent of 50’s style Americana, affectionately called “Chrome-Punk” by CEO John Flury; the bright colors of your towers as well as neon of the creep paths make it so an experienced player will be able to tell at a glance what the strategy is for the oncoming wave. For instance – Black Tower seem to do great DPS, and their upgrades are either good against flying enemies or armored ground troops. Blue puts a slow on enemies causing them to stay near your towers longer. White boosts your effectiveness in their area, as well as helps see stealthed and phasing units as they get close to your towers.
The battlefield changes constantly, really making you stay on your toes. Enemies don’t just come from one side of the map and exit on the other, either. Multiple different entry and exit points make you keep on your guard. Focus too much on one area and you leave the other other exit open to leeching. It’s a game all about balancing your focus, and multiplayer really makes this an especially rewarding challenge if your team happens to come out on top.
At E3 I only experienced the single player. I was unable to get back to the Four Lights booth as I had other appointments to attend to, but we made it a point for me to get over to the studio since it is so close to home to try the multiplayer. One of the downfalls of multiplayer tower defense games is the inability to communicate effectively. Four Lights knows this, and has implemented features in the game to help groups out.
Each team comprises of four people, three players and their commander. The Commander helps shape the overall strategy of the defense by placing markers for towers as well as ghost towers so players know where to line up the defense. They are also responsible for sending the creeps against the other team. The rest of the players combat the enemy commander as they try and shake off your defense. One of the great features of the game is integrated VoIP, making it so you can talk to your teammates easily. You also have control over their volumes so if one player’s mic is too hot, just turn it down in their menu. Forget to plug in your mic before the round starts? No matter, just plug it in and once your PC recognizes it you’re good to go! (Which I think is awesome. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to restart LOTRO just so my Mic would work.)
Another feature is the ability to draw on the UI and the map. This way you can literally show your teammates where those towers need to be, or where an enemy is exploiting a vulnerability in your defense. The feature comes in handy especially in hectic situations where you need to quickly show your team where towers need to go or where to re-route a ground or flight path. I didn’t see it too much in my gameplay, but that was likely because, according to John, the development team has been playing together for so long they no longer need to talk to implement their strategy.
Re-routing the ground paths and flight paths is essential to victory in this game. Towers by themselves are not too powerful, it’s when you route the creeps around as many towers as you can that you start to see their effectiveness in groups. By placing a tower near a path you alter the maze based on where you placed it. If you want to block off a section and re-route your creeps back up towards your towers, you can. The only thing you cannot do is completely block the path so that the creeps no longer have a way to the exit. Most tower defense games will also penalize you by not allowing you to sell towers once a wave as begun, or when you do sell it your return isn’t anywhere near what you paid into the tower. Defenders of Time has complete resell, meaning you place a tower and need to change it, you get back 100% of what you paid into it. No longer are you penalized because you made a mistake, if you identify that mistake you can fix it and be more effective as a result.
I will be honest, I was a little overwhelmed during the first match. Just learning what all the towers do will take some time, but once I started to get the hang of certain ideas and strategies I was able to start placing and upgrading towers based on the situation. We won game one, and moved on to another, more complicated map. John warned of the potential to focus solely on the left hand side of the map that the right side becomes so undefended that you are scrambling to get some towers over there until it’s too late. I figured because I was on a team of devs that this wouldn’t happen.
Within the first minute we started to leech lives at that right hand exit, causing me to immediately panic. I placed a few towers and was able to stem the flow till another teammate came and routed the path more effectively. But that rush of an ever evolving playing field really gave me a jump. It was then I realized that I will not be able to simply rest and survey my section of the map while the creeps fell near my towers. While I’m focused here, the enemy commander is exploiting a weakness elsewhere. Ever evolving, always thinking strategy – my kind of game.
The third map John asked for us to have a challenge, as developer Issac was ripping apart the enemy team’s defenses each round. So Lead programmer, Curt Hartung was asked to command the opposing team. We played on a map that literally didn’t have textures yet called Vortex. If there was ever a time I can say that visuals didn’t matter, it’s this. While the game boasts some amazing artistic and technical talent, with some of the team members working on titles such as Command and Conquer, Need for Speed and EVE Online, as well as movies such as modelling for Transformers; the gameplay didn’t suffer one moment because the map lacked textures. We still had a wild and crazy match, where Curt’s team (my team) ended up winning in a stunning comeback. John was pointing out to me as I played that both teams were susceptible to flying units, yet neither commander had used them yet. Issac burned our team down to about 8 lives out of 50, while his team hovered in the mid-30s. I looked at the other team’s layout (a cool feature so you can see what they are doing and maybe grab some ideas from their tower placement) and noticed that they had a lot of green towers (good against ground), Tier 2 black and blue towers (blue for slowing, black for the ground unit DPS) and some white towers in case Curt used phasing creeps. I could, even though I had only played for about an hour at this point, see the vulnerability as well.
Curt saw it too. Almost instantly the enemy life total began to plummet, while we stayed at 8. After the match, Issac revealed that he knew we were weak against flying, but he wanted to finish the job with ground. An achievement might actually be born as a result of this!
Defenders of Time is the first Tower Defense game in a while I’ve literally really looked forward to. Their willingness to make fans happy is also a great reason to keep any eye on the Four Lights team. While single player will be free to download, multiplayer is really where this game becomes fun. The multiplayer mode will be available for $20 and it will unlock the rest of the maps, as well as the ability to play online against others. If you have friends who don’t own the game, you’re in luck. A cool feature will allow you to let your friends join in your game, regardless of whether they own it.
The idea is to bring players in and build that developer-player relationship that’ll be beneficial for all. Maps released will be free downloads, and if the team decides to do any Expansions later on, those will be reasonably priced as well. Players can also rejoice knowing they will never see a micro-transaction within the game as well.
Keep an eye on the little studio in Las Vegas as this type of game developing seems lost in our industry today. When everyone is completely focused on ways to get the most money out of the consumer, it’s refreshing to talk to a development studio who really wants to make a great game first, and continue to make consumer-friendly games as long as they are around. I honestly would have paid double for this game, but $20 is a great price point for a lot of gamers. They will get a great game to play with your friends, and if they don’t own it – no sweat. Quite a way to get the consumer happy with your studio, and one that doesn’t seem to be a simple marketing ploy. In talking with John and the rest of the team, their main concern is making a quality game people will want to play, and it comes across in every way.
Defenders of Time will be available on Steam this fall with Four Lights shooting for a September release. Beta should start around the end of August. Keep up on all the details with the development on their Steam Greenlight page as well as their official webpage.