Dungeon Defenders Developer Q&A -- Tower Defense Gets a Vibrant and Deep RPG UpgradeBy Jake Gaskill - Posted Oct 13, 2011
Action-oriented tower defense games have been all the rage the past year or so thanks to titles such as Orcs Must Die, Trenched, and Monday Night Combat, the genre is gaining in popularity, and for good cause; it’s damn fun. Enter the team at Trendy Entertainment and their upcoming downloadable title Dungeon Defenders. We spoke with development director and CTO for Trendy Entertainment Jeremy Stieglizt to find out more about Dungeon Defenders’s unique take on the action-RPG-tower defense model and what players can expect from this deep, vibrant, and chaotic title.
G4: As soon as you see Dungeon Defenders in action, you can’t help but immediately be struck by the art direction and visual style. What were some of your inspirations? How did you decide on the pseudo cell-shaded look?
Jeremy Stieglizt : For Dungeon Defenders' visual style, we were inspired by a grab-bag of pop-culture staples. From video games, we were particularly drawn to the graphics of Torchlight and Castle Crashers. In other media, our goal was [Hayao] Miyazaki meets Lord of the Rings, mixed with a bit of Saturday Morning Cartoon flair. Going toony let us take some of the classic stock fantasy archetypes in a new direction. Also, we wanted to use a bit of cel-shading in order to distinguish Dungeon Defenders from the plethora of grey-and-brown gritty games out there, and use the graphics as a lead-in for casual players before they discover the game's depth.
G4: We’ve seen a number of third-person action-RPG/tower defense hybrid games released recently. What do you think sets Dungeon Defenders apart from the competition? How did you decide on this particular genre in the first place?
JS: We decided to make Dungeon Defenders a hybrid between Role Playing Games and Tower Defense, because we wanted to combine the strategic planning and tactics of tower defense, with the long-term replayability and depth of an expansive online RPG.
Dungeon Defenders stands alone from any other title due to its deep RPG mechanics and local and online multiplayer modes. In DunDef, you can customize everything, whether it's your weapons, your armor, your pets, or your character. Every statistic can be upgraded, items can even be renamed and stamped with your own hero's name to gain infamy online. We're a loot-fest in the sense of Diablo or World of Warcraft; basic adventuring will net you objects ranging from mundane random bulk goods, while epic runs may yield extremely rare legendary unique items. And in multiplayer, the cooperative gameplay is supported in a way that few games are: players really have to work together as a team to succeed against the brutal hordes of enemies, and each of the four hero classes has unique abilities and defenses that emphasize "role playing" in the original sense.
G4: Tell us a little bit about each of the distinct character classes. What are their specific abilities, defenses, special attacks, etc.? Can you jump between them freely, or do you have to stick to one for the whole game?
JS: Dungeon Defenders has four hero classes, and each of them has totally different abilities, defenses, and weapon types for a distinct play experience. They are:
- The Apprentice: This character class uses staffs to fire ranged and area-of-effect attacks. He features magical defenses which deal elemental damage and has an overcharge ability which allows him to cast and summon faster and a devastating Mana bomb which can clear the screen of enemies.
- The Squire: This character class uses swords, hammers, and any other manner of object for close-range melee combat. His secondary attack is block (the only class in the game which can do so). He has high-HP, high-Damage physical defenses. His abilities allow him to activate blood-rage and turn incredibly strong and fast, or do a devastating circular slice.
- The Huntress: The Huntress is a stealthy character who uses guns and other ranged weapons. Her secondary attack is a reload. While her weapons may be powerful, you have to be careful to reload them at the right time or you’ll get stuck without any defenses. All of her defenses are traps, and she can sneak behind enemy lines with her invisibility ability to devastate the enemy.
- The Monk: The monk is the only character who has ranged and melee attacks. He has no physical defenses, and all of his defenses are auras which buff allies or effect enemies. His abilities involve healing and boosting the power of players and defenses around him.
You can change Hero classes at any time during a mission, outside of active combat. This supports a great single-player experience, where you can level up all four hero classes simultaneously and swap them in to gain the benefits of each of their Defenses for your master strategy.
G4: Give us a quick overview of the game’s various modes. It supports co-op across all modes, correct?
JS: Yep, every mode has local and online 4-player co-op play, and there's even a basic deathmatch/PvP mode that we snuck in there when you just get the urge to bash your ally's head in.
The main modes of the game are:
- Campaign: This is the main story of the game, composed of 15 levels with predetermined enemy layouts, boss-fights, and cinematics that bookend the various chapters. It's a pretty epic run-through for a downloadable game, and will take the average player about 15-20 hours to complete.
- Challenge: These are 15 missions that each have distinctly altered rules. For example, one Challenge called "Assault" requires that YOU attack Enemies who are defending THEIR Crystals, while another challenge involves defending a Crystal that is constantly moving throughout the level, and yet another Challenge called "Chicken" involves one player randomly becoming the Chicken who dies in a single hit, and the other players have to defend him! They're all very fun in their own unique ways, if not occasionally a bit sadistic...
- Survival: This is an essentially endless mode where you defend against increasingly difficulty waves of enemies on any mission until you eventually lose (and you will lose!). The further you make it and more "awards" you rack up, the higher score you get for the leaderboards, and the better loot you're going to find.
- Pure Strategy: This is a mode where you are a Ghost who can't interact with the enemies at all, and they ignore you too. All you can do is build Defenses, and in that sense, it is a "pure" Tower Defense mode where strategy and not reflexes are all that count.
- Mix Mode: This mode is similar to Survival, except that the enemy layouts are completely randomized, for a different experience every time you play. So on one run you might get a healthy mix of easy Orcs and Goblins from the North sector, while the next time you play, you discovery 50 Insane Warriors and three Ogres coming from that same region simultaneously. It's a very amusing and intense mode, as you'll often encounter ridiculous enemy layouts that completely upend whatever you were planning for.
Every mode also has four difficulty settings, each with unique items to acquire and slightly altered rules. For example, the "INSANE" challenging difficulty mode explicitly limits the amount of time you are allowed to build in each Wave, and the Crystals you are defending do not heal between Waves, but by excelling on this difficulty, you'll tend to find better loot.
G4: If there’s one thing RPG fans love, it’s stats, and from the looks of it, you guys have gone above and beyond to make sure this game is a stat-lovers dream come true. How many different ways are there for me to rub my dominance in my friends’ faces? What is the Adventurer’s Tavern?
JS: Every item you find has a unique set of statistics, with no two items being entirely identical through our item generation system. In addition to that, items have randomly unique appearances, such as different color schemes and sizes. You can upgrade every statistic on each of your items as you see fit, and when you reach the maximum upgrade level (which varies item-by-item), you then get to name your item as you see fit and it's also stamped with your hero name for all to admire (sorry console owners, no profane names allowed! PC owners... go nuts). Your hero himself can have a totally custom name and color scheme of your design, and as he gains in levels, you can apply points to unlock new abilities, though you can "Respec" for a price at the Tavern if you want to experiment with a different kind of "build," such as more Defense-oriented hero vs. Offense.
Speaking of the Tavern, it's your "hub" where you can do a number of things, such as purchase items and services at the Tavernkeeper's shop, review all of your gear in your item-box and share between your heroes or other players, and test out your gear on training dummies to see how effective you've become statistically.
But the Tavern is also customized in unique ways, it's YOUR Tavern. As you gain more accomplishments (meta-goals) within the game, of which there are about 60, they are reflected in trophies and decorations that adorn your tavern walls, and you can also review your statistics record in detail as everything you've ever done is recorded for analysis. You can drop items and lock them so that other players may admire, but not steal, your loot. And most cool of all, you can spy on visiting players from your secret observation room. Urm, forget I said that.
G4: How do “Familiars” factor into gameplay? How many different ones are there, and how does their leveling system work? And you can trade them with other players, correct?
JS: Familiars are little pets that follow you around and have basic AI behaviors to help you out. Each familiar type has a different essential behavior, and there are about 20 kinds of familiar types. They range from familiars which heal you, to those which heal towers, or boost towers, or boost you, or attack enemies in various ways. Leveling them up involves investing Mana (the game's currency), at which point you can choose to improve any of their statistics -- and the pets grow physically larger with each level, of course in relation to how large they were to begin with. When you see me strutting around with my Level 30 Gigantic Green Serpent, well... nevermind. And yes, you can trade them with other players, but then you'll have to deal with the emotional consequences of abandoning your pet…for shame!
G4: The PC version includes some rather robust modding features. What tools will be available to players, and how will players be able to share their creations with other players?
JS: We looked at what we could do as an indie developer that would set us apart from the big corporations out there, and what the PC market is all about, and opted to make Dungeon Defenders the most mod-able game we've seen in a long time. Specifically, we're going to be releasing all of our game source code and all of our game assets, so a creative user could literally rewrite the code to make, say, a first-person adventure RPG total conversion out of Dungeon Defenders, or a straight Defense of the Ancients clone. Since the game is based on the Unreal Engine 3, a lot of intrepid gamers already have experience tooling around with this kind of tech from Unreal Tournament and Gears of War.
Transferring the content to other players is easy -- if the new content is a Mod (i.e. a new map or change that only ADDS content), then it will actually transfer to other players dynamically when they connect to your game. If it's a Total Conversion (i.e. changes that replace or rewrite content), it has to be manually installed, though the game launcher has an easy graphical interface to manage and launch your installed Total Conversions. We're totally stoked to see what completely new game types or even new games the dedicated DunDef community come up with!
G4: There are obviously clear DLC plans in place. When do you expect to start rolling out that content?
JS: Here’s an exclusive! We're preparing an entire DLC expansion campaign, which continues the storyline from the original game, and includes new lands, enemies, bosses, items, challenges, more RPG elements, and even deathmatch arenas. We're planning for that to start rolling out in mid-November, about a month after the game's release. Beyond that campaign, we're looking forward to continuing to add new content to Dungeon Defenders as long as people are playing it!