August 26, 2016

Artificial Defense

Tags: A Gamedev Plays

This post is from the now defunct website “A GameDev Plays…”, copied here for posterity

Artificial Defense is a fun stylish orbital shooter with some tower defense gameplay. Developed by a solo-dev, the game shows a high level polish with tons of nice little touches. It is a pretty and fun game that can keep players entertained for hours (as I have).

The marketing blurb describes Artificial Defense as a real-time strategy game with tower defence and orbital shooter elements. However, after reaching the halfway point, the overwhelming mechanic has been orbital shooting, with a little tower defines, and not much real-time strategy beyond what is normally expected in those genres.

Most (but not all) of the time the player is using an array of weapons (guns, missiles and bombs) to shoot enemies, mainly by leading them just the right amount. Some of the weapons create a small explosion, damaging all enemies in range. Others fire multiple shots at short intervals. All have varying lag time between pulling the trigger and the time of impact. The player has to predict the enemy’s location at impact and fire at that location, rather than where they currently are on the screen. As the enemies build up, this part of the game can become fast paced, but not so fast that people with slower reflexes (like me) can’t succeed. It often feels more relentless than hectic. Especially when a boss enemy spawns and consumes all available attention (and weapon fire), leaving the grunts to build up and overwhelm defenses. The game ends when the player’s CPU suffers excessive damage as the enemies smash into it.

Quick, blast them!

Each time a weapon fires it costs some of the in-game currency, RAM. Without RAM no actions can be performed. The player starts with a small amount of RAM and can gain more through the use of resource towers or destroying certain enemy types. As well as for shooting RAM can be used to create towers (thus tower defense) or conquer in-game structures. Towers can only be placed in certain, highly restricted areas of the map and, unlike many other similar games, can not be used to channel the enemy into choke points. Local structures may give extra RAM production, extra towers, or just meet a mission objective with no other benefit. Each mission has a slightly different set of objectives (don’t use this weapon or structure, gain this much RAM, conquer this structure, etc) so despite there being only a few maps, each mission still feels and plays differently.

Missed

The difficulty of missions ramps up smoothly. The game is very nicely balanced. The player progresses not only by becoming better at the game, but also by upgrading their equipment to better models through collecting RAM at the end of each mission. This RAM can be used to obtain slightly better versions of the existing weapons (no new categories seem to appear) that do more damage or shoot faster or more. Improving weapons and towers is vital to success in later missions. Although, so far there does not seem to be any “bad” upgrade choices. If desired previously completed missions can be replayed to obtain further RAM (but a smaller amount than the initial success). Thus it is possible for a player to grind their way to success if they become stuck and need better equipment to progress. However, this doesn’t seem necessary as I after half-way through the game and have not needed to grind any missions yet - once a mission has been completed successfully, I move on to the next one. Completing exactly half of the 48 missions has taken about 8 hours - so there is value for money.

Upgrade options

The theme is supposed to be computer based: the enemies are computer viruses, the player defends their CPU, and the playing area looks a little like a stylised motherboard. However, this is a weak point of the game as the theme is applied very thinly. There is a DJ spinning disks next to the play area. Why is there a DJ inside a computer? I don’t mind as I like the music, but it still seems strange. Same with the equipment - I’m currently using an Uzi to kill computer programs (huh?). Of course, this doesn’t affect the compelling gameplay, so I just ignore it. Also some of the controls normally available in similar games are only available as equipment upgrades. Want to zoom or fast-forward - pay some RAM. This also seems strange as these just make the game better, why not make them available for everyone at the start?

What, don't you have a DJ in your computer?

Overall the game is very enjoyable. The gameplay is compelling with a definite “just one more game” feel. It is also very pretty, with stylish and slightly abstract graphics (when they match the theme at least). The controls work well, and the game is easy to navigate. There are so many nice little touches in this game (apart from the good balance). The dev has obviously put a great deal of thought and effort into making the game enjoyable to play. There are fireworks when the player reaches certain achievements. The menus bounce pleasingly. It just all feels professionally done - good work for a solo dev.

Highly recommended.

Artificial Defense is out now on Steam (for PC only) for US$4.99 (Steam store page and my Steam review).

Fireworks


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