Tower defense may be one of the more over-saturated genres out there right now, but they’re still immensely popular. What does it take to “evolve” the genre though? Eiconic Games is aiming to do just with Final Horizon, a tower defense title that sees the player fighting against waves of nigh-unstoppable alien bugs with advanced weaponry. And no, they don’t come in peace.
Final Horizon is scheduled to release for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita, and we received a chance to speak to lead programmer David Pollard about various aspects of the game including the location-based damage system, support for cross-buy and cross-play between the two platforms and much more.
Ravi Sinha: Final Horizon promises to be an “evolution” of tower defense. The one thing we know for sure is that there are bugs, they have vehicles and they are pissed.
David Pollard: That’s right, in Final Horizon humans have colonized the far reaches of space in the search for resources and have awakened a fearsome enemy, known as the Insectors – an race of aliens whose robotic weaponry mirrors their insect-like characteristics, both in style and behaviour. There’ll be robot spiders, scorpions and burrowing Scarabs, swarms of wasp-like flying spaceships, and much more, all bent on your destruction.
Ravi Sinha: It also seems the Insectors will have some kind of location-based damage system. Knock out a leg, and they’ll continue limping towards their target. How does this affect the gameplay, and does it expose certain enemies to weaknesses to favour the player?
David Pollard: We want the player to be able to see the Insectors get physically damaged as their weapons hit them – legs will get blown off, armour plating shattered. On top of that, damaged robots that have lost a leg or two will relentlessly limp on towards their goal, but at a slower pace allowing your guns to finish them off and perhaps slowing up those enemies coming up behind. Certain weapon types will be more likely to cause this kind of damage, adding an extra tactical decision to gun placement.
Ravi Sinha: We’ve seen various missiles that the Insectors will use. Some of them look like something out of Swat Kats. What kind of functionality are we talking, and what other hardware will they be unleashing on players?
David Pollard: The Insectors have a hugely varied arsenal at their disposal, which they’ll be using against the player’s towers (and other targets). Some enemies will hang back and launch volleys of missiles from long range, while others will get up close and personal, firing plasma beams, detonating bombs.
The player will have plenty to deal with, not only defending the main objectives, but also keeping their towers from being destroyed. But they’ll have plenty of extra tools at their disposal too (shield towers, for example), and some types of defence tower will be able to shoot larger missiles out of the sky.
Ravi Sinha: What kind of defenses will the player be equipped with to deal with the Insectors? Will the missions be traditional, straight-forward tower defense or will there be some kind of spin put on things?
David Pollard: There’s going to be a range of ways to play the game, from the more traditional tower defense style, to controlling an orbital defense platform, or taking direct control of one of the towers. But even the tower defense style levels will be much more than ‘straight forward’ and will have a lot of variation in what the player will have to do in order to win.
Ravi Sinha: What modes will Final Horizon have? With all the emphasis being placed on the enemy faction, will there be a chance to play the game as the opposing force, a la Anomaly Warzone Earth? How about multiplayer?
David Pollard: We haven’t got plans for multiplayer, at least for the first version of Final Horizon. But we are planning to add a mode where you get to play as the Insectors, choosing which attacking forces to send in against the human defenses. I’m thinking of this almost like a puzzle mode where you have to make the right series of choices to break down lines of defenses.
Ravi Sinha: Given that this will be Eiconic Games’ first PS4 and PS Vita title, how great is the pressure to deliver?
David Pollard: Well, it’s not our first Vita title (we made Total Recoil, and PulzAR before that), but it is going to be our first PS4 title so we certainly want to do the console justice. But we’re the ones putting all the pressure on ourselves to make the best game we can.
Ravi Sinha: What features of the PS Vita and PS4 do you feel benefit the game most? Will it be taking advantage of any features such as Remote Play, Cross Saves or Cross Buy?
David Pollard: I think we’re planning to have the game as a Cross Buy purchase, and we’ll certainly look to get Cross Saves supported. It would be very cool to get some sort of second screen stuff working with the Vita on the PS4 version too if we have time!
Rashid Sayed: Are you guys planning to use the touchpad on the DualShock 4 controller? If yes, can you please explain how?
David Pollard: It’s something we’re going to look into, certainly – we still need to prototype a few ideas, one of which is to see what it’s like using the touchpad to control a mouse-like pointer for selecting towers, etc. It’s quite nice on the Vita being able to use the touch screen to tap select things. One of the things we’re doing is giving the player a few different ways to control the game to suit different play styles.
Rashid Sayed: How long will the single player last and do you have plans to incorporate a multiplayer component in the game?
David Pollard: We’re planning to have a pretty substantial single player campaign, with plenty of replay value. Even once you’ve played through the whole story you’ll be able to replay each level again with new, more challenging objectives. As mentioned before, we don’t have plans for multiplayer, we’re going to save that for the sequel!
Rashid Sayed: As you must be aware that several well known developers have claimed that the PS4 is 50% more powerful than the Xbox One. What are your thoughts on this and is this really the case?
David Pollard: Looking at the specs of the two machines it certainly seems like PS4 has a decent edge in that respect, but we don’t have access to the Xbox One so couldn’t say for sure. It’d be interesting to talk to a programmer working on a game that’s targeting both to really get a definitive answer to that.
Rashid Sayed: Much is being made out of the 8GB GDDR5 RAM memory on the PlayStation 4. As technology advances do you think this will make sure the PS4 will not become obsolete?
David Pollard: There’s a few interesting things about the PS4 that should keep it from becoming obsolete too soon, as well as the choice of memory. For example, the way the GPU is set up to encourage it’s use not only in the traditional way of drawing stuff on the screen, but also as a resource to do complex calculations, means that much like the PS3 before it, it will be a while before engine coders will work out how to really push its capabilities.
Ravi Sinha: Despite the controversial start that Microsoft had with its indie publishing stance, it seems to have gotten things in order with ID@Xbox. Regardless, what is it about Sony’s indie development policy that had you opting for the PS4 along with Vita this time around?
David Pollard: I think it’s the open attitude of the guys at Sony that really helped make that decision – they are just so much more approachable. Over the last year or so we’ve been able to build a great relationship with Sony, whereas Microsoft’s XBLA policy of requiring a publisher with release slots burned us in the past and in Microsoft I just can’t see the passion for indies you get from guys like Sony’s Shahid Ahmed (and even Shuhei Yoshida!). There are welcome signs this is changing at MS, but at the moment it feels like that might just be a reaction to their recent PR disasters and not a genuine change of stance. Hopefully I’ll be proved wrong though.
Ravi Sinha: Shuhei Yoshida recently remarked that indie games can be system sellers as well. Seeing the lineup that Sony has in mind for the PS4, would you believe that to be the case? And how does it alter the dynamic for next generation games development when indie developers can provide compelling experiences but with lower costs?
David Pollard: I definitely think indie games can make a big contribution to how attractive a console is. Personally, I prefer to play games on console rather than PC (mainly due to working in front of a PC all day and needing to get away from it when I’m relaxing!), and there’s a lot of great indie games on PC that I’m really excited to see coming to consoles, and now brand new indie games coming straight to PS4, which is amazing! And I think there is room for both indie games and AAA games on next gen consoles – they are very different beasts after all.