Wednesday, May 27, 2015

12 hours since Breach release for iPhone / iPad

Available in App store, and soon to be released on Android (within "weeks"), Breach by Space Rhino Games:

3 grades of abstract tower defense

Armor Games has a good 'abstract' about the Tower Defense genre: "Construct buildings of terrible power and menacing magic in preparation for an onslaught of monster hordes from taking your crystals, slaying cities or stealing babies. Tower defense games are some of the most popular games on Armor Games for good reason!"  Though it makes you think that all tower defense is fantasy... but good for a glimpse of TD.

Got me thinking about 'abstract' in another sense -- the defense games that aren't 'particular'.  Bloons TD ( is more particular than Vector TD (  In Bloons, monkeys pop balloons.  You can identify darts and airplanes and supermonkeys -- the particularity makes it fun.

Vector TD is more abstract.  It's a sci-fi / space TD, and the blips and bloops of light are bare hints at starships, laser towers, etc.  Much is done with color and simple shapes.  It lacks finely detailed drawings and animation, and therefore invites us to imagine more or to zoom out a few levels from the 'particular' somehow.  It's fun, too.

Particularity works well for some TDs (Kingdom Rush!), while abstraction is better for others (Bubble Tanks: ).

I can't think of any examples of flipping between icons/abstraction and particularity that work well in tower defense (comment if I've missed something).  Also, abstract games tend to have little or no story line -- Vector is storyless, but Demons vs. Fairyland [ ] is storyfull for sure).

2 points on music. chill & defend with your towers

2 main points on music and td...

1. If the game is repetitive, you can probably do other stuff with the front brain and kind of play the game on autopilot.  In such cases, listen to podcasts (comics, debates, news, whatever) or listen to music that demands attention.  For me, attention-demanding music is lyric-heavy, or sometimes new music (even when it lacks words).

2. A really busy, engaging, challenging tower dense (or, true, other type of game) requires your attention.  Your brain will be busy.  It will be too busy to follow a subtle point on equivocation in a debate about economic policy -- so skip the podcasts, and go for chilled out music.

What music is good to play tower defense to?  Lots of choices are there for you, these days, with bifurcating subgenres of electronica, etc.  But on top rotation for me this week is...

Django Django

Casino Versus Japan


Azealia Banks

hexage radiant... not enough story for the money

I like some things about Radiant by Hexage (, but I'm stuck on the red jellyfish level and can find no combo that gets me out of the jam without spending real world $ on it.  I don't wanna spend Real World $ on it, because I don't love the game that much.

I have spent $ on Kingdom Rush (, so I'm not opposed in principle -- I just want to feel compelled more by a story that I'm engaged with before I drop $.  Kingdom Rush has done that, but it's not easy to do.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

2016 in Iowa is Tower Defense

The February 1st, 2016 caucus in Iowa is the moment when we get to see how the Democrats, Republicans, and other parties have worked to grab psycho-political territory in rural counties producing corn and sorghum.  What do the welders, teachers, soy farmers, and pipe-fitters think about the ideas presented by all these presidential candidates?

To have success on 1 Feb, the politicians have to have grabbed and secured mental territory for months (a year!) beforehand.  They have had to build zealousy at fried chicken luncheons for a long damn time by now.

This is TD.  The towers are the clots of zealous partisans who mobilize to convince the unconvinced to become convinced of the power of their party to change things in a 'good' way.  The towers, these field offices and student groups and prayer warrior meetups, are powered-up by visits from the candidates or their agents.  To touch the candidate, or just the hem of his sleeve!  This is the mojo that gives the 'tower' the energy to reach more, speak more loudly, and to do the needful.

But what of the 'waves' of 'baddies' moving through 2-lane highways moving through places like Bussey or Le Mars?  The waves are the agents of the opposition -- competing 'towers', clots of flip-side partisans hunting your redheads or blue-heads to make them into blue-heads or to make them turn red.

You defend your towers, running defense to keep your own community mainly blue or red, while simultaneously moving into disputed territories to flip its color for your own camp.

There's also a 'real-time strategy' thing going on, undeniably, alongside the TD elements.

It's a blue board, it's a red board... county by county, hamlet, village, town, homestead, ranch, zip code, school district.  Iowa, you're getting gamed, love.

11 Questions on Good Game Design: Steven Markley on RPGs

There is a bulldog of good game design, and you've read about him before here:

Steven Markley continues work with Third Eye Games and others.  He thinks a lot about tabletop RPGs, card games, and online / video games.  Here is a reprint from our 2006 interview:


Friday, August 04, 2006

Interview: Steven Markley: The Bulldog of Good Game Design

Steven Markley has been building and playing games of all sorts since, what, the late-1980s? Having written work for the big games, he has also designed many of his own. He's a quiet master of alternative worlds and generative, collaborative gaming systems -- if you pay attention to gaming, you have seen his work online. He joins us here for an interview.


1. What is the most exciting project you're working on these days?

I don't have as much time to devote myself to writing and the like as I used to. My own RPG projects are long dead, washed away by Katrina, so I devote what free time I have to writing stuff for White Wolf's World of Darkness games (both the original WoD and new WoD). I don't mind this; WW makes great games, and they're worth my love and time.

Specifically, I'm splitting myself between two gaming projects now. One explores fu dogs, fu lions and ki-rin in a Werewolf: the Apocalypse context, an old WoD game line that has been discontinued but that I continue to love and support. Another thing I'm working on is a new game line for the new WoD called Nephilim: the Legacy.

2. What's "gaming" all about, and why should librarians care?

Gaming is a fancy term for play-pretend. Really, that's all it is. Think of it as a play, but the playwrite (called the game master, Dungeon Master, or Storyteller) lays down the foundation of a play, but she lets the players write their character's personalities, lines and actions. The dice, rules and stuff come in to add definition to the characters, decribe capabilities and resolve potential conflicts. Beyond the game itself, it's a great social activity.

See, most of us sit and wait for our stories to be hand-fed to us, occasionally flexing our imaginations within the bounds of what's been given to us, but otherwise not bothering to think beyond that. But RPGs force us to interact with the story and contribute to its telling; there's a certain magic that results from the ideas of four or five people bouncing around a table or living room or wherever. There's no telling where a story may go, and so will always go in directions the game master doesn't expect due to player input. And that's the beauty of it.

3. Lately we've been talking about "Finite and Infinite Games" in the context of role-playing games. Are RPGs "infinite" by nature?

Stories told through RPGs (called campaigns or chronicles) can be infinite, but aren't necessarily by definition. In fact, they usually aren't. Stories have a beginning and ending, and this is true of RPG chronicles as well. A game master may decide that the campaign will revolve around conflict with a certain foe, and will climax when that conflict resolves in some fashion or another (a peace is brokered, the enemy is defeated, the players' characters fail, etc.); the end of the campaign is the resolution of the climax, character subplots, loose ends. This isn't a bad thing. Campaigns are stories, after all, and the most successful ones still follow that time-honored format.

Still, RPGs can be infinite, if the game master and players want it to be. RPGs allow for that sort of thing. A campaign can end, and another can begin with the same characters or in the same setting with fresh characters, letting the story continue while giving a sense of accomplishment to the players. Or a campaign can be run on and on, never reaching any conclusion but simply continuing until the players move away or burn out... and maybe never really stop. Most RPGs aren't run this way, but the thing is that they can support that style of play.

4. When I last checked, gaming was mainly the domain of boys. Is this still the case? Where are the girls?

Usually staying the hell away from us.

Seriously, gamers have a bad image in general, and with the ladies especially. While some of this is mainstream snobbery toward the fringe, I honestly think a lot of it is gamers' fault. For whatever reason, gamers tend to be poorly socialized males that generally view women as objects of desire or unknowable x-factors, not real people. I think that's true of many men, but gamers end to be especially guilty of it. These guys end up being able to relate to fantasy women better than real ones. One must look at archetypal female portrayals in games to see why: cover models in chain mail bikinis, helpless damsels waiting to be rescued, sultry leather-clad vamps, skyclad hippy-esque elves. The objectification of females is pretty overt in RPGs (though less so nowadays), and it makes sense that not many women try gaming, and those that do often don't stick with it for long. Even female gamers themselves are objects of fixation and unwanted attention by their male counterparts.

There hasn't been a concerted effort to bring women into gaming until relatively recently -- with the advent of White Wolf Publishing. White Wolf helped broaden the appeal of gaming, though, drawing more female fans into the hobby. They did this in several ways. One is language they use: they often use "she" as a gender neutral pronoun, instead of always defaulting to "he"; this is something I've picked up, and I apply to my writing as well. (Others, like Wizards of the Coast, have since picked up on this practice as well.) A small thing, but don't underestimate the impact a subtle shift like this can have. Another thing WW did was make female characters strong and viable personalities, rather than merely sex objects (though there is a subtext of eroticism in the contemporary vampire myth, which WW plays on). Finally, the emphasis of WW games was more on the characters themselves and interpersonal interactions, rather than combat tables and beating down the opposition -- so the goals became more about issues personal to the character, and less about concrete goals like leveling up, kill counts or treasure.

Still, there aren't many female gamers compared to males, even in WW games. I think this is a sad thing, but considering all the previous factors (plus others I didn't consider or I'm unaware of) it's understandable.

Here's something funny related to this issue:

5. Manga is pulling many females into the usually-male world of comics. Does this have any affect on gaming?

Not being a fan of that genre, I can't say much about it. I do notice a lot of female gamers are also anime fans. It's possible there's some sort of correlation, there. WW has an anime game called Exalted that's doing quite well, and many fans of the WoD are also Exalted fans, and vice-versa, creating a lot of genre mixing.

6. I reckon Manga might save comics by bringing a whole new generation of readers in. Is there anything comparable going on in the world of gaming to bring in the next generation, or are the Wizards and White Wolves content to settle for the audiences they've got?

There's always an effort by any business to expand their customer base, man. You don't do that, you fail, or at least fail to thrive. Cater to a small core of purists at your eventual peril. At one time RPG publishers targeted only select demographics (gamers and hobbyists), but they've been doing some clever marketing lately. There's been cross-pollenization between Wizards of the Coast's collectible card games (like Pokemon and Magic: the Gathering) and their D&D property; they've also green-lighted two Dungeons & Dragons movies (though the first was awful), and when they showed the last movie on the Sci-Fi Channel cable they advertised the game itself during the movie. Very slick, very smart. WW brought in anime fans with Exalted, has always and still poaches customers from the goth, punk, iconoclast and "counterculture" crowds with the WoD properties, and promotes t-shirts, custom dice, board games and other products based around their games.

7. Computers and PS2s are up, dice and pencils are down -- is the end near for tabletop games? And what about "live action" gaming?

According to some, the gaming industry is having to deal with a shrinking market, but the reduction isn't that much; other figures say that the number of gamers is holding steady or even that there are more gamers. I guess depends on how broadly you apply the definition of gaming or interpret the numbers. But even there is a shrinking number of gamers, that doesn't worry me; it's the lack of diversity in the market that is the cause of concern. And diversity, whether we're talking about a free market or ecosystem, is essential.

Right now, Wizards of the Coast dominates the market, and with the Open Gaming License other publishers can put out d20-compatible books as long as they display the OGL logo and abide by a few other guidelines. Since ecology was already invoked, think of WotC as a whale shark, the undisputed giant of the waters. White Wolf is a great white shark, while smaller sharks in the form of Steve Jackson Games and Guardians of Order claim their share of fish too. This ocean is brutal, because some sharks have gone extinct or are floundering: FASA, Palladium Publishing, Last Unicorn, and many others. And then there are the small sharks and remoras that feed off the giant whale shark, growing fat off the scraps the monster leaves behind: Green Ronin, Eternal Knot, Malhavoc, etc. Hell, even White Wolf got in on the OGL action and made some excellent d20 products. So in a sense, the WotC juggernaut and its OGL setup has been great for a lot of gaming companies.

However, what this also does is reduce the number of systems available. The d20 whores thrive, while other systems fail. If you'll forgive another analogy, think of Wal-Mart running small businesses out of small towns. I'm not saying d20 sucks; it's a fairly good system, and it's nice that pretty much everyone knows it. If you're hankering for a game, just grab anything d20 off the shelves and you're in business with a solid majority of your gamers. But it's not the best system out there, and even if it was a lot of great ideas and innovative mechanics are being lost to bankruptcy as d20 pushes them out. We need options, choices, alternatives. Gamers rarely form around new games, so as a game publisher you're drawing from a pool of existing gamers -- and with only so much time to game and money to spend, many just buy what they're familiar with rather than blow $30+ on something they've never heard of.

There are good and bad sides to monopolies, but something inside me jerks uncomfortably when I see one start to form.

Anyway, to address your question in short: pen and paper gaming as a whole is doing fine, as far as I know, and I don't see consoles and other gaming mediums being direct competitors, as they fill different gaming needs -- it's like saying basketball threatens football. However, there are fewer gaming systems and companies out there, and from what I can see that trend shows no signs of reversing or even slowing.

8. Okay. I'm a librarian, say, and say I want to establish an ongoing gaming meetup for my patrons. I've ordered all the basic game books (GURPs sets, World of Darkness sets, D&D sets, some others), I'm keeping the library's community room open till midnight on Saturdays, and I've even made arrangements to have coffee, cokes, and popcorn! What's next? And how do I keep the gamers happy so that this keeps on going for months and years?

Well, you've got a good start with just that. I'd get the word out there, to let people know that the option is available to them. Do the security setup on the game books. Definitely go for the three Dungeons & Dragons core rulebooks (Players Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, Monster Manual), 3.5 Edition: they're popular with gamers, are well-known, and have brand recognition. If you have the budget for it, I'd invest in the "core" books for a variety of other systems; the new World of Darkness and associated game cores are a good bet, as well as 2nd Ed Exalted, GURPS plus a couple of its setting books, and whatever else you think will tickle gamers' fancy. You might even ask patrons what they want and let them vote. Read up on the books and play or run something. After that, the game groups will gel or fall apart based on the participants; you can create an environment for them, but it's the people that make the games. So try to find good ones. (Don't bother with supplying dice, they'll disappear on you.)

And here's a sneaky thing you can do to your players: inspire them to read non-gaming books you have in the library. For example, say you're running a semi-realistic D&D game set in fantasy Renaissance France. Give bonus experience points to players with well-rounded character backgrounds, or that can answer certain questions about that time period, or brings you useful information about the setting. And then apply the info in the game in neat ways. They get an under-the-table education, and you [get] better players.

But you gotta have Mountain Dew. There's no real way you can game without it.

9. What are some of the best gaming books that you know librarians don't have on the shelves? Assume we've got the biggies -- what are we missing?

Well, I've never seen gaming books in any libraries. But the gaming books that are my favorites, the nearest and dearest to my heart, aren't necessarily what's the most popular or most available; it can be a bitch running down out-of-print books, believe you me. In the interests of helping you invest your money wisely and appealing to the most gamers, just go with what I recommended immediately above. For D&D, I've heard the Eberron setting is pretty good, and for the new WoD Vampire: the Requiem is the most popular game.

10. What sort of themes and settings are your own games concerned with?

I've pretty much focused on World of Darkness games since my gaming collection was unexpectedly downsized, and thus modern horror is my forte. There are a lot of variations on that theme, as each WoD game focuses on a different niche. Vampire: the Masquerade's theme is Gothic Punk, deals with the loss of Humanity to the Beast within and the uncaring mechanizations of the Jyhad (the eternal struggles the eldest vampires wage against one another, using other Kindred as their pawns). Werewolf: the Apocalypse's theme is Savage Horror, as animistic werewolves strive to save the worlds of flesh and spirit from encroaching doom while struggling with their Rage and personal flaws. Demon: the Fallen is Dark Revelation, in which fallen angels in the bodies of humans reap Faith from mortals while trying to find meaning in a ruined Creation, and struggle with issues of God, Lucifer and rebellion. Different games offer unique takes on the darkness.

11. What has been your biggest source of inspiration as a game designer?

Wow, big question. I'd have to say I've always been trying to recapture the magic I felt when new games were revealed to me, that fascination with their settings and elements. I never could quite do it, though; no matter how meticulous I was with the game's setting and premise, or how painstakingly I designed the system, it always rang a bit hollow to me -- there was no mystery to it, as I was the man behind the scenes, the guy in the black suit making the puppets dance. Endless rewrites and revisions to revitalize my creations did no good. It took me the longest time to realize that. It's just as well all that baggage was washed away.

I still feel the magic for the two World of Darkness, though... with more love for the old than the new. I enjoy writing house material for those games. I write for something bigger, with broad appeal and that still holds magic for me. It's not my own exclusive creation anymore, but I'm participating in my own way, and some people actually like what I do. I get no money or official recognition from White Wolf, but who cares? I'm not sure I could write what I want to if I actually worked for them.

In Defense of the Male Sex and Tower Defense

There's something about meat, fire, stone, stick, bales of hay, the wails of babes and... tower defense games.  Here's a piece I wrote about masculinity / fatherhood and TDs for Jason Louv's Ultraculture back in 2012 ( [Go read all the Ultraculture -- plenty good stuff there, including much on VR and gaming that led to Louv's other blog, YouRift.  YouRift isn't just about gaming, but there's some overlap, and lots of good thinking on virtual reality.]

Anyway, about sex and fire and tower defense, my wife knew what was up:

I was protecting virtual landscapes as a proxy for (and supplement to) the defense of my own little plot in suburban NoTex.  Building and managing archer’s nests? Nope, couldn’t get away with that on top of my own home. Stationing brigands at the corner of the street? I had neither the money to employ any, nor the necessary permits from the city to allow any garrisons on public sidewalks.

Our home was not impervious, but I made small changes to increase its defenses. I got better window locks, bought two new Mag-Instruments and stashed them tactically, had pepper spray and baseball bats and blades at hand. The back and front gates were stubborn, and I stubbornly left them that way. Leaf piles on the walk and beneath windows? A footfall is magnified by the crunch. Of course there was a deadly weapon, but it would be ungentlemanly and unwise to share its nature publicly. So my keep was defensible.

I now take it as a given that I started down the Tower Defense road for psychological reasons.  A young father, looking as I was to shore up my keep and signify 'do not enter' instead of 'welcome' to protect my young wife and our issuance, ran a sort of split-screen reality in which the real defenses and the virtual defense games fueled each others growth.  This lasted some years, and I think it did some actual psychological good; I'm not paranoid about RL intrusions, but I feel ready for emergencies of various kinds.  I'm not addicted to VR or online defense or strategy games, but my (many) hours of playing them has given me some new tools.  It may be that I allocate mental resources differently, decide on what counts as 'emergency' more efficiently, or value the growth that comes from compounding small bits of capital more that I did before -- and if that's all I've gained, well, that's plenty enough for me.

For good work on gender, gaming, and online dynamics, read danah boyd.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

7 Gaming Blogs to watch

(aging or fading now, but a good five year run anyway -- and still lots of good resources there in the archives)

Kongregate! Forums (and other pages on site).


Storm Alligator.  The blog hasn't been updated in a while, and hopefully that means their working on new versions of Demons vs. Fairyland!

4. Games and game talk aplenty.

Kotaku is great, and not bad on Tower Defense.

Game Jolt -- great showcase for indie games.  Some TD in

Not a lot of action in Google Groups on defense games, but if you're diligent you can pull up some good threads.

Monday, May 18, 2015

What do you defend?

Tower defense: funny phrase. You don't defend the tower (most of the time), but rather it's the tower that defends your territories from incursion. 

It isn't "tower defense" so much as "defense by tower". What you defend is a much broader fictional space. You don't defend a barracks or an archer's nest.. you defend a 'realm' of some kind.

If you think of TD as a lens for real life, as I sometimes do, then what do you really defend? And why do you defend it?

Sent from my Orac M-BRANE FieldTouch (Plus).

2 Kinds of Games

“There are at least two kinds of games. One could be called finite, the other infinite. A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play.” -- James Carse, 1987.

I've spilled some ink on the subject of "finite and infinite games" (here, here, here...), as have many others (here, here, here...).  The notion that we can play to win or that we can play to continue the game has been meaningful and revelatory in my life.  It's a simply stated idea that is full of densities and layers -- you can roll around with it for a long time, maybe even forever.

Tower Defense games are finite.  You play them to win waves, levels, and the whole game.  Some TDs bleed out closer toward the "infinite" as you find yourself playing to uncover new relationships between towers, heroes, etc.  When you play again and again to find the secrets, though still in finite territory, you're edging closer to infinite play.

Does that make good TDs fractal, in the sense that they approach infinite play from finite play in the way that a julia set approaches 3 dimensions from a source of 2 dimensional geometric rules (yet never quite getting there...)?

Maybe that's one of the reasons why I keep coming back to tower defense.

Kingdom Rush for Amazon Apps

Kingdom Rush games are on Android, iPhone / iPad, and now... Amazon Apps.  Amazon Apps appears to be repackaging Android with the Amazon brand, so maybe it's actually Amazon Android Apps?  Anyway, good to see Ironhide moving forward!  Great games there.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

4 kinds of waves

1. Starter waves. We see this in all the games. It's just the warm up phase. Easy. Get used to your tools and the space.

2. The suddenly tough run.  All seems easy and predictable until a new baddies tors the board.  You have to go from lax mode to something more serious. Autopilot off.

3. The board changes.  Even if the round is tough, you've been managing, even winning... but then the space itself becomes your enemy by changing the features you've counted on for success.  A new path is cut by a boss, and that throws the relationships between your towers...

4. The sudden ease.  After a very hard run, or set of rounds, you suddenly find unexpected respite. The bosses are easy to beat.  You win.

Sent from my Orac M-BRANE FieldTouch (Plus).

Friday, May 15, 2015

3 ways Fighters are micro-TD

Hexage's Robotek reminds me that 'fighters' can be like micro versions of tower defense.

1. The attack medium ( whether Chi missile, laser, zombie bubble...) is the intrusive baddie coming thru your territory.

2. Your fighter is your tower. Maybe you're a Bot, maybe your a werewolf, or maybe an angry Tree -- your fighter gets upgrades and uses special powers to stop the ingress.  Like a tower.

3. And you move into new defensible  territories / levels after successful bouts with the baddies.

I guess there's a tendency to look backward and see TD, or the pollen of TD in earlier forms and genres... huh.  Cool.

Sent from my Orac M-BRANE FieldTouch (Plus).

The 11 Dimensions of TD, or: tower defense games in eleven dimensions

I think tower defense works in 11 dimensions.  Still fiddling with this number, and welcome comments.  But td works in SPACE, 2 types of TIME (general time of SPACE and time for particular things in the space), 3 types of PLACE (places of towers, heroes, and static baddies), 2 types of MOVEMENT (which is dynamic places of heroes and baddies), and 3 dimensions for TOWERS (type, powers, and relationships).

Tower dimensions are complex enough to be dealt with separately, or as a sub-dimensionality.  TYPE may be for defense or offense.  POWER deals with state of up- or down-grades of towers and the abilities that come from those states.  RELATIONSHIP has to do with what changes are caused by a tower's proximity or distance to other towers, heroes, baddies, or other features.

I think that adds up to 11.  Tower defense is, in general terms, at least an 11 dimensional game.

A new kind of game

Tower defense is a new kind of game.  ATARI's Rampart seems to be about the earliest example, and that came out in 1990.

Tower defense is not:
. A counting game (checkers, mancala)
. RPG (though there may be some role-playing elements involved -- as in you're the general of a base, or you're the commander of the forest guardians, etc.)
. A Risk-type territory grab -- though there are elements of territorial acquisition in some TDs

Tower defense could only have come about as a 'video game' or computer game, because it relies on real-time defense and upgrade of 'towers' and movements of aggressors... TD is a new (a generation old) type of game because it is multidimensional.

It works in at least 11 dimensions (more on that in future posts).

So maybe it's not so useful to think of it as just a kind of chess, go, or backgammon.  It's a whole new thang, man.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Tower Defense

I like tower defense games.  I'll be writing about them here.  I'll also share news about tower defense, review games I like (or don't like), etc.

Lots of blogs blog gaming.  Some of those blog about tower defense sometimes -- but none blog about tower defense exclusively.  I will do that here.

Sometimes I'll write about other stuff related to tower defense, and sometimes I'll write about other stuff with tower defense as a metaphor or a 'lens'.  Sometimes it'll be political, and sometimes you may not like it.  But I like to have quality conversations with folks I disagree with, and maybe some of that will happen here.

Tower defense.  It's its own genre, and it's cool, and I play it lots.