PAX East 2014 - Defense Grid 2

In any industry, the indies typically have the toughest uphill battle. The obvious reason is lack of resources to throw at unexpected problems, but there are many other things that indies have to contend with to bring their precious baby to the masses. Hidden Path Entertainment delighted fans in 2009 with Defense Grid, a tower defense grid that gave the player the chance to repel advancing alien forces. After a few years (and tribulations), the publisher is back with an even more ambitious sequel, which was on display at PAX East 2014. They're developing the game for Steam, Xbox One and PS4 and were on hand at PAX East, where founder and CEO Jeff Probst sat down with Omnicomic.

Those familiar with the first Defense Grid will feel right at home with the overall concept of the sequel. Place your first tower and then aliens arrive, seeking out your cores and will fight their way through your defenses in order to steal them for their use. To prevent the thefts, players will be given the choice of placing one of ten towers with various abilities. These include gun towers for general fighting, inferno towers that have a large area of effect, laser towers that add more damage after passing, cannon towers and missile towers, which are primarily aimed at stopping bigger aliens. Building these towers will dramatically affect the outcome of the stage, primarily through the game they deal, but also because their locations will directly affect where the aliens go.

One of the biggest differences between Defense Grid 2 and its predecessor is now the aliens will take the shortest path to the cores and that path may not remain constant. While that path will seem obvious at times, the crux of the processing behind Defense Grid 2 is the complex calculations going on behind the scenes. When you place a tower, it will directly affect the path the aliens take towards your cores, with that path being recalculated on the fly. Fortunately for the player though, you'll clearly be able to see the path they're taking, giving you ample opportunity to position your towers accordingly. Because there are numerous paths that the aliens can take to steal your valuable resources, it encourages the gamer to get a little creative when it comes to fighting them off. It's tough, but fair.

"What we've done with Defense Grid 2 is included a lot of the things that made the first one popular," said Probst, "such as different kinds of towers and aliens with different strategies. We really want to experiment with giving the player the chance to create new paths. One of things we're showing is pathing...paths coming through where the aliens are currently going. They're always going to take the shortest path and players can visualize that path on-screen to help them plan accordingly."

In addition to the new guns and path situations, players will have one more bit of competition in the form of their previous runs. Hidden Path has added a real-time scoring aspect to the game and all the player has to do is glance up at the top-right of the screen to see their current score. The score remains positive and will award medals for various milestones associated with points levels. Replays of levels will show you your previous score and rate of scoring, giving you something else to contend with in playing the stage. What's more is the possibility of showing friend scores and leaderboards as well, ensuring that you and your friends can continue to brag about who beat the stage fastest.

There are some other features in the game that fans will surely appreciate. For starters, you can now rotate your view of the battlefield with the right stick, which provides different perspectives when strategizing. There are certain parts of certain stages that will move based on time or action triggers, adding or removing more possible landing spots for your arsenal. There will be health bars on the enemies, showing you how many more missiles the juggernaut crashing through towards your cores can take. And (in what might be a welcome change from the first game), there are no flying enemies in Defense Grid 2, which means no more shaking your fists at the sky as an airborne alien makes off with cores.

"We've built a very balanced system that allows people to solve the game anyway they want to," said Probst. "There is no right way. Working with players in focus tests, we'd get responses saying 'I've solved it the way you wanted me to,' which often turned out to be ways we didn't think about really. The idea of taking a very balanced system that people can use to solve the game they want to is a really important part of the game. That creativity that players themselves bring to the game is where a lot of the fun comes in. And when bad things happen (such as stealing a core), there's still a ton you can do. It's important to the game that when you're faced with adversity you can do something about it."

Hidden Path Entertainment is shooting for a fall release and if the demo shown at PAX East was any indication, that may be a lot longer than most want to wait. Still though, the publisher wants to offer a game worthy of succeeding the first one and if that means a few more tweaks need to be made, then so be it. In the meantime, start thinking about how you're going to start re-routing all those aliens coming after your cores.