“Tower & Defense” — Only You Can Set Wildfires!

Posted on October 12th, 2011
by High school interns Jonathan and Justin

Hello, this is Justin Rabanales and Jonathan Bae and we are interns at the UCLA Game Lab. We both come from the UCLA Community Schools located at the RFK ambassador site and have been interested in the Game Lab due to our love for games. The both of us have been leading a gaming career from as early as 5 years old, and have been playing games since. Our interests in video games varies from FPS to MMO, RTS to RPG, such as Crackdown, Gears, World of Warcraft and Startcraft. Being former hardcore gaming players, today we have participated in the testing phase for Peter Lu’s upcoming tower defense game, Tower & Defense (working title, subject to change) and have been asked to provide feedback. In this review we will be answering a questionaire and outlining our thoughts about this game in the making, from balance to game mechanics.


What was your first impression of the game?

Justin: My first impression of the game was that it was simple yet very fun and addictive once one would get the hang of it. I liked the game right off the bat because I enjoy games with dragons. I thought it would like a tower defence game, however being able to fly off the tower to capture princesses or get closer to the knights and other targets makes the game more playable and much more fun.

Jonathan: I originally thought that the game would be just like the tower defense games where the player uses a form of currency to construct towers, defending a given object or point from waves of AI-controlled units. After playing it for the first time, I quickly realized that this was not the case. Yes, you are to defend a given object from waves of hostile units, but you are unable to construct additional defensive structures to ward off incoming attacks. Instead, the player controls a unit that in itself is an active tower; the many dynamics of the unit depends on how the player manipulates it.


Were the instructions clear? Were the controls intuitive?

Justin: The instructions were rather clear. Tap a point on the screen to shoot, hold the tower to fly off and steer the dragon with your finger. The instructions were pretty much self explanatory. Capture princesses to make it to the next level, do not let any knights get too close to the towers. Unless you want to make the level last longer which would result in a “Game over” like it happened to myself.

Jonathan: The game only hands out simple controls on a silver platter, but it is enough to get the player to get a feel on how the game works and move on from there. The two key components on action are tapping and sliding, both resulting in different functions dependent on where the player does said action on the game interface.


Is the goal of the game clear?

Justin: The goal of the game was very clear. Play as the dragon, fly around and take princesses back to the castle and shoot off knights to make sure that the princess stay in the castle. Non hostile characters were on the road and by killing them one would be awarded a power, but to use this power one would have to take the dragon off of the tower and fly over the power to grab it. If a player accidentally lets a knight get to close to the castle(s) the princesses would be free and run away from the castle, and it would be the players objective to bring them back to the castle unless they want to get other princesses that would be further away.

Jonathan: When the player firsts starts up the game, the first thing he or she sees is the primary objective of the game — how it is approached or accomplished is entirely up to the player. The objective is rather a simple one: save the princesses. To guide your dragon unit to save a princess, the player must first tap and hold the unit, sliding it across the screen. This allows the dragon to become airborne. While in its mobile phase, the dragon is still able to shoot projectiles but do not benefit from temporary power-ups. Additionally, power-ups and other units can be picked up by running over them. Power-ups begin taking immediate effect, while picked up units must be taken back to your tower(s). Tapping the screen while a unit is picked up causes the dragon to drop the unit, causing issues when the player is trying to maneuver the dragon itself.

Levels progress once all of the towers in the playing field are full — they become full when the player transports princesses from the road lanes back to a tower. It takes four princesses to fill a tower, and in the first few levels, to reach to the next level. The number of towers increase as the player progresses further through the game. As many as three towers can be present in the active playing field.


How is the difficulty of the game? How well does it scale with each level?

Justin: I found the game rather simple at first but I think that it was just simple at first to get the player comfortable with the game and it’s controls and objectives. However once I got to the fourth level things started getting harder. A lot more knights, way more wizards that summoned undefeatable ghosts and less princesses appeared on the screen. At first I thought that it would be easy like the levels prior, however as it came down to capturing my last princess, a knight made his way to one of the castles that had four princesses and they all escaped. After this happened I knew that the game would start winning from here on out. I made several attempts to pick up more princesses for the castle. However, by the time i brought one princess back to one of the empty castles. A knight would make his way to my full castle and let four princesses escape. One of the things that makes the game hard were the powers that let the dragon shoot huge fireballs. Sometimes i would accidentally kill a couple of princesses because of this power. Therefore, one has to be careful how they use their powers.

Jonathan: Difficulty of the game progresses whether or not the player chooses to proceed to the next level. The difficulty scales linearly with time spent playing, forcing players to eventually aim for the primary objective of the game rather than earning points. Players who prolong a level, voluntarily or involuntarily, are punished with the game sending faster spawn rates and continuous waves of “elite” tiered units. In the first few levels of the game, the scaling rate is not as significant; the only real difference is slightly faster Knight spawn rates. However, once the player gains access to a new tower, the difficulty measures begin spiking incredibly high. Not only does the player have to retrieve more princesses, prolonging game play, but it forces the player to defend on two or more fronts. Additionally, new hostile units are introduced, designed to hinder the player’s efficiency and to prevent the player from completing the primary objective.


What is “fun” and not “fun” about the game?

Justin: To me the whole game was fun from the moment I started playing. The controls and rules are simple however, to apply it and be able to fight off 30+ knights and other characters while trying to fly to get the last princess can prove to be quite challenging, especially when the ghosts around the castle pretty much absorbed all the powers that I released in attempt to kill the knights. After a knight made his way to one of the castles. I accidentally killed all the princesses with one of the powers I was trying to save up to slow down the ghosts and kill the other knights charging to the castles. One of the most fun things about the game was the ability to use a power that would go through all the characters it hits and send off smaller versions of itself after every character it hit. I loved shooting this into the ghosts because a big part of the screen would be covered in ghosts and knights on fire. One of the places were the game could be a little more fun is the capturing princesses part. There were many times were I would shoot knights and other characters while I was taking a princess to the castle and it resulted in me dropping and losing the princesses.

Jonathan: Perhaps the most notable aspects of a game as simple as this would be the power-up system. Unlike most other games that include the usage of power-ups, they do not stack or have a combined effect, making power-ups more situational rather than for all-time use. At first, the player begins with no power-ups other than the standard fireball. As the player begins killing units that can give power-ups, the power level of the dragon scales incredibly high as more and more power-ups are taken. Eventually, the player will have to take no more than two taps to clear the entire screen of enemies, which gives excellent breathing room on demand. However, the downside of having a multitude of stacked power-ups can result in the clearing of all spawned princesses on the playing field, delaying the player’s primary objective of the game. Should the player continue grabbing upgrades, he or she will begin gambling his or her success in the game for a better high score.

I can only name one “un-fun” factor in the game, and that would be the dropping of picked up princesses on a tap. There have been countless times where I found myself with the same number of princesses at the tower due to a mis-tap, whether it was because I was steering the dragon back to the tower or the dragon would not respond to the sliding movement. Regardless, having human error being accounted for adds to the skill factor (negligible or not) in playing the game itself.


If there was one (or more) thing you could change about the game, what would it be?

Justin: I personally enjoy games were one can upgrade a character, if after every level the player would be presented a window to upgrade certain things like, the speed in which the dragon flew, how fast the knights moved and how many orbs could be added around a tower to defend it. A possible addition would be if the player could add a couple of dragons to the screen so when the player would get swarmed with 30 or so knights and other NPCs one can summon a dragon or two to help them out to make the game a little easier. However I would add harder characters to kill. A good example of one is a knight that goes in zig-zags or a knight that changes direction and doesn’t directly go to the castles but dodges the dragon’s attack and fights the dragon back. Personalizing the dragon could be an add-on to this game, change the coloring of the dragon and maybe even the knights one would be fighting against. Another power that could be added to the game is a power that makes some of the characters you hit fight against the other characters. To cause chaos, that would be pretty fun to watch meanwhile half the screen is covered in other characters burning by the other dragon’s powers. If the dragon could have a life bar then the game would be more challenging. Adding such things as ballistas and other siege weapons that would be able to fight off the dragon. One of the ways the game could be more challenging is to add more distance between the castles. The castles being too close made it a lot easier to defend. Having more distance between castles would make the player want to move more to be able to better defend a castle with more knights heading towards it.

Jonathan: Although I realize and understand that the game is still in a testing phase, and that some mechanics may not be completely polished for release, a few changes I’d make would be to allow the player to choose the difficulty level (to be basic: easy, medium and hard), introducing an entirely different playing field as a result. The number of possible unique factors available in this new playing field would be rather astronomical, especially at an enhanced difficulty level. If possible, a two-player mode could be possible as well, although on individual interfaces in one large, shared space. A common addition would be the introduction of boss levels found in most games, although it would have to be altered to suit the concept of the game.


How much would you pay for this game?

Justin: I honestly wouldn’t mind paying about five dollars for this game, If extra content could be included later on in the game it would make the game more able to cost maybe a dollar or so extra.

Jonathan: I may not be a fan on simple games, but seeing as how this is just about a mobile device game and the content it has, I’d most likely pay between $5.99 to $7.99, depending on if more changes and interesting additions are introduced to the game.


Other comments?

Justin: The sound effects and music were pretty good.They fit the game and it’s play style. I like the whole knight saving princess theme. I’ve always seen the game in the knights point of view never the other way around where one would take control of a dragon fighting off knights. I also really enjoyed the power system.From burning things one by one to burning things with a big fireball to incinerating the entire screen.

Jonathan: While the game is not amazing, it is not bad either. For some, it can be addicting due to the high scores system. It definitely has a lot of room for potential, as its basic foundation is already set-up neatly. At its current build, there have been no bugs or errors, or if there were any, they were very minor and hardly noticeable. This game is just about ready for release.


Overall, the game has good potential. With a few changes here and there, it can be rather addicting for players and has room to be tuned for players seeking challenge in games. Should Lu continue building on his project even after its release, the game can be successful and even more so if it could be converted into an app. As mentioned before, the game is just about bug-free and should play smoothly. But just remember that having a really pimped out dragon can backfire on you. Literally.