You may be surprised by some of the titles of the games pictured above. Yet, as surprising as they may seem, it’s not surprising at all really. At it’s core, Starhawk is a tower defense game with more similarities to games like Plants vs. Zombies than you may think. But don’t take my word for it – I spoke with Lightbox Interactive CEO Dylan Jobe to get to low down on just what inspired their latest creation and how.
DJ: I remember the day I was flying back from LA and playing Plants vs. Zombies on my iPad. It was still pretty early yet on Starhawk. Well, early is a relative term because we really spent a loooong time in pre-production. We knew we needed to be different with Starhawk but it did take us quite awhile to find our sweet spot. We wish we could have done it faster but, ya know how it goes. Anyhow, yeah so playing PvZ I was really intrigued by a few very simple things they did like showing the player the zombie types that would be attacking with that initial camera pan. Or the simple joy and cadence of tapping the suns as they are plopped out on to the game board. I also really liked the fact that I had more plants than I could use in my “seed inventory” which helped to stimulate some really interesting player choices.
DO: So how did that impact Starhawk?
DJ: Well, it was the simple yet fun esthetics of collecting and spending sun which got us thinking about our very simple economy — killing to build and building to kill. The idea that shooting buildings, enemies, and vehicles would yield the currency for our Build&Battle system and how it had to be gratifying to “get paid”. And really Dave, to an even larger degree, PixelJunk Monsters really inspired us for how way we handle our Build & Battle currency. In PJM, the player uses his towers to destroy enemies and then they poof into coins that the player then collects and uses to build more towers.
DO: Ok, now how does that sort of a system translate into a game like Starhawk?
DJ: Well, in Starhawk, there are more structures than the player can hold in his inventory at any one time. Now we don’t have a “pick your seeds” phase, but the way the player gains access to Build & Battle structures in the solo-campaign occurs by 2 methods. The first one, is the very straightforward way via Cutter, your gearman up in the dropship. He provides you with the critical path structures that you will need for a mission. However, that was not enough for us. We really liked the variability that we saw players get from PvZ but we chose not to do a “seed select” phase due to a variety of technical and design reasons. So what we ended up doing was pretty slick in the end, and that is to hide/place non-critical-path Build & Battle parts in each mission that players can “salvage”. The salvage pick-ups are the ones you may have seen in the videos or in our demo solo-mission — they’re the ones that have the glowing yellow boxes around them. And in the demo we didn’t really *hide* them so please don’t think that’s our best attempt at hidden pick-ups :-p
DJ: The cool thing about this system of salvage pick-ups is that it helps to seed interesting player choices in the gamed: does a player build up some defenses and then go out and explore a bit to see if he can find new parts? Does the player tweet his friends to see if they know the location of any hidden parts? Or, after completing the mission, does the player see that in the end-mission rewards screen, there was a +4000xp bonus award for using only Flak-Turrets to defeat the Hawks… thus informing him that, “Hey, there are Flak-Turrets hidden somewhere in the level!”. So, he may want to replay that mission with a different strat, look for the Flak-Turrets and then farm the mission for 4000K xp.
Wow, this is kind of a ramble. Sorry about that!!!