Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Games on a budget

Today I was sucked into Plants vs. Zombies (PVZ).  This video gives you an idea of how it works.  Essentially you have a garden with 5 tracks on it and zombies continually attack along the 5 paths trying to kill you.  You plant various plants in the tracks to stop them.  You have a resource that limits your placements called Sun, and each different plant in your arsenal has a cooldown and a Sun cost.  For example, sunflowers produce more Sun, pea shooters shoot peas at the zombies, snow peas shoot peas that slow the zombies and cherry bombs explode to destroy all nearby zombies.  There seem to be all kinds of ways to build a garden that can defeat the various zombies, though I did not get very far into the game since I only played the free version that ends after 1 hour of playtime.  The gameplay is both very simple and extraordinarily addictive; despite having several other games to play and tons of things to do right now I just couldn't stop playing.

The graphics in PVZ are nothing special, the pixel counts are low and nothing looks remotely realistic.  However, it does have that special attribute that is far more important that graphical quality, which is of course art.  The pictures have very few pixels but it still looks great and very appealing regardless.  In that way it reminds me greatly of Diablo 2 which even today still has tremendous visuals - the flickering light of your torch illuminating the dungeon walls as skeletons slowly wander into the light towards you, the shadowy pulse from their necromantic master flying out of the darkness and gigantic demons spitting out hideous demon babies.  Neither of these games has anything to brag about in terms of polygon or pixel count and yet both simply look pretty and the pictures fit the theme of the game perfectly which is far more important than how advanced the graphics are.

After playing PVZ some I came up with some ideas for a 2 player version of it.  My idea is to have each player play both the zombies and the plants side simultaneously with each having different mechanics.  Each player would be attacking the other player's garden while trying to defend their own and the winner would be the one who gets a zombie through first.  A few things would be necessary - firstly, the power of the zombies would have to ramp up over time to the point that a garden defense must ultimately fail so that the game will definitely terminate.  Secondly the zombie attacks only really make sense if the zombies are at least somewhat random so I would have to find some way to implement a 'fog of war' effect so that each player cannot see much of the base he is attacking and must go in blindly some of the time.  I figure that the best way to handle zombies would be to simply have cooldowns on each kind of zombie that start off very high and drop eventually to nearly zero.  That way the early zombie attacks would be necessarily weak and eventually they would be unstoppable.  Obviously I couldn't simply port PVZ in its entirety as I would have to pay royalties for such a thing but I am confident I could design a functionally similar game that would be sufficiently different to be immune to lawsuits.  Maybe it is time to get to work building the skeleton of it and find out how much Snidely really wants to make a game!


  1. Um so it sounds exactly like tower wars in SC2 or WC3. Where you send monsters at your opponents defense. I'm sure you could just rip the ideas from one of those as usermaps aren't licensed by the creator.


  2. As Deke said, this is actually a pretty fleshed out genre in the use map settings/custom games subculture of RTSes. Typically in those games you spend minerals to either build more towers on your side or to spawn more monsters on the other side.

    These games typically escalate to a guaranteed ending by how income works. You get an income every so often (15 seconds, say) and that income is increased each time you send a monster at your opponent. Sometimes you also get income for killing monsters.

    For example, you may get 10 minerals every 15 seconds. You can build a cannon for 5 minerals or you can spawn a zergling for 5 minerals. Spawning the zergling increases your income by 1, so you get 11 every 15 seconds instead of 10. Killing that zergling gives you opponent 1 mineral right away and nothing going forward.

    Clearly you want to spend your money on zerglings here so that you can earn mega interest on your money, but you need to spend some on cannons so you don't lose.

    Eventually you create insanely powerful units that come with a ludicrous cost but you got that much money by steadily increasing your income. Or you don't spend any money at all for a while to build up a big amount and then spawn a whole ton of smaller things in the hopes some will get through.

    I don't know that I've played a good one of these yet in SC2. I'll keep my eye open and let you know if I see one so you can get an idea of what sorts of things are being done.

  3. Yes, it's a fairly standard tower defense game. Welcome to the party Sky. :)

    The challenge: find a new category (or break the walls down on a current one.)

    I will build it (or more likely, get it built.)