Last year's tower defense game Comet Crash was extremely well received by critics, so you have to wonder what developer Pelfast has in store for the expansion. The game set new standards for the genre by allowing you to play offensively while defending your turf. Bionic Swarm is set to come out next week with 50 percent more content, including two new environments, additional gameplay features, 16 new levels, and 10 battle maps, as well as new units. We spoke to John Bates to fill us in on the upcoming expansion and what's in store for the future.
GameSpot: Being able to go on the offensive is not typical in a genre that's mainly about defense. How did the idea of Comet Crash initially come about and why did you decide to go with this twist?
John Bates: I am a big fan of RTS games like Starcraft and Total Annihilation. When we were brainstorming about what kind of PSN game to make, I thought it would be great to have an entry-level RTS game that anyone could pick up and play. In those games, sure it's fun to destroy an incoming rush with defensive towers, but not much competes with the excitement of demolishing an enemy base. The question was: How do you rush without having to micromanage your forces? Tower Defense creeps were the perfect answer.
GS: It turns out people liked having the power to attack while defending. Were you expecting that kind of reception?
JB: We did have a lot of fun in play-test sessions, but Comet Crash was our first release, so we didn't know what to expect from the general gaming community. We hoped people would like it as much as we did. It was an incredible experience when we started to get positive signs from the players and press.
GS: Tell us about the expansion and the new features.
JB: Bionic Swarm brings some major new features. We wanted more late-game strategy, so we added the research tower where advanced units and towers can be purchased. Scouts and tanks generally became less useful in battles as time went on, so they can now be upgraded into airborne swarms of units that transform into snakes and dragons. These swarms can only be hit by air weapons, but they must still travel along the open path so they open up some new strategies. For additional defense against snakes and dragons, we gave the drone a kamikaze upgrade that allows it to seek and explode nearby airborne units.
Sometimes it's nice to just disintegrate a few enemy structures. The missile silo builds and launches guided missiles that the player can use to weaken enemy defenses or break open a back door to the enemy base. And finally, there is the missile defense tower to help defend against guided missiles. You will also notice a change in resource gathering. Bionic Swarm introduces a new type of resource rock that is impenetrable to weapon towers. The new harvester towers extract thorium resources from flying rocks. The player no longer needs to gather thorium coins but must instead strategically build harvesters and bring them flying rocks.
The player ship now has a health upgrade that comes from resource rocks. By increasing health, the ship can hang out longer in enemy territory for various insidious reasons.
GS: What kind of feedback did you get from the players? Did you make any adjustments in the expansion?
JB: We received tons of useful feedback from players. Many of the requests are addressed with the upcoming patch and expansion. For example, some of the hardcore players discovered potential stalemates in multiplayer battles. With the powerful dragon upgrade and guided missiles, it will be much more difficult to sustain a perfect defense.
GS: What do you think is most appealing about the tower defense genre?
JB: I like the casual style of tower defense that makes it approachable by a wide audience. One of the remarkable patterns we've seen with Comet Crash is that it is not just for hardcore gamers, especially in co-op mode. With both battle mode and co-op mode, there is something for both competitive and noncompetitive players.
GS: Why do you think Comic Crash was successful?
JB: Comet Crash was developed by three people with no fixed schedule or deadlines. That may have helped keep the design process agile. We could quickly try out new features on a whim or throw out features that didn't work out without worrying about running out of time. For every two features in Comet Crash, there was a third that didn't make the cut. That process led to unique gameplay elements that were embraced by strategy fans, and they helped spread the word. As newbies in the gaming industry, we were also lucky to have been reviewed by some highly visible gaming sites, such as GameSpot.
GS: What is next for you?
JB: We are still trying to answer that question! We have lots of crazy game ideas and hope to begin work on one of them soon. What we end up with may be a huge departure from Comet Crash. How about a PlayStation Move game?
GS: Sounds interesting! We'll be looking forward to it. Thank you for your time.