Indie Jeff's Weekly Pick: Terrorhedron

By Jeff Mattas, Dec 25, 2011 12:00pm PST

Though the core pillars of the tower defense genre have been around since the early '80s, the genre finally came into its own around 2007, beginning with indie Flash titles like Desktop Tower Defense and Flash Element Tower Defense, and eventually spawning some great titles such as PopCap's Plants vs. Zombies.

Indie developer Dan Walters of MCRO Games recently released his take on tower defense called Terrorhedron, an incredibly well-crafted experience that infuses innovative elements like programmable turrets and online co-op, all in fully 3D environments.

The first think you'll likely notice about Terrorhedron is its attractive and clean visual style, perfect for presenting the player with intricate 3D battlefields. Underneath the surface, however, are a number of gameplay layers that really help the experience stand out. It's not surprising to find out that Walters has a background in architecture. "Adding the 3rd axis to a genre whose gameplay is usually 2D is nothing more than obvious, yet somehow it has never been done before," he told me.

First and foremost, Terrorhedron is a deceptively strategic experience that pits players against scores of the titular, multi-colored orbs that invade the game's six different maze-like maps in progressively difficult waves. The different hues of the colorful spheres are more than just cosmetic, and indicate the individual strength of each unit. The Terrorhedrons also vary in speed, and players will very quickly learn to fear fast-moving black Terrorhedrons, for example. Should one of the evil little buggers reach the end of the maze, it reduces the player's "life" relative to its current strength. Once the player's "life" reaches zero, it's game over.

Defending a given map is a matter of constructing and programming various types of turrets to eliminate the procession of multi-colored doom. Seven different turret-types (some of which unlock via progressing through waves), are the main components of the player's arsenal. Hardpoints on the map--to which turrets must be anchored--limit the possible locations where defenses can be placed. However, the player also gains access to 4-faced and 6-faced platforms to which other turrets (or platforms) can be attached. In later waves, it's often necessary to build snaking branches of platforms littered with turrets in order to achieve the firepower necessary for a successful defense.

The view of the action can be easily adjusted via simple 3D camera controls, which is important because the path of the invading Terrorhedrons in each of the game's six maps twists and turns in gravity-defying patterns. In fact, Walters informed me that players can expect an update to the game very soon which improves camera pivoting significantly (as well as adding "per-turret kill stats").

The various turret types--ranging from damage-dealing laser turrets and plasma cannons, to enemy slowing EMP turrets and Energy Vacuum turrets--are all purchased with a finite pool of funds that increases slightly with each kill. Turrets can be leveled up to more powerful alternate versions of themselves, and in one of Terrorhedron's most inventive, strategic twists, each individual turret can be programmed to target specific enemy-types: nearest, furthest, strongest, weakest, fastest, or slowest, for example. Successfully completing advanced waves pretty much requires that the player really manage their defenses effectively, and the best combination of turrets and programming is fun (and often tricky) to figure out. "I set out to create a pure tower defense game that would really challenge anyone who thought they had figured out the genre," Walters explained, "so, no matter how good they were, there would always be a layer of challenge."

Given the intricacy of the levels and the complexity of setting up the perfect defense, Terrorhedron's online co-op mode for up to eight players is ingenious. "You really do not need 7 friends," Walters qualified. "I usually play with 2 or 3 of us, and the cooperative nature is great fun."

But how exactly does one cooperate in a tower defense game? "Sometimes you will have to pool resources and each pay for part of a defensive formation, other times you each build at different places along the track," he explained. "Every now and again the team will get caught out and have to coordinate fast to kill the last few targets and stay in the game. A lot of the fun is discussing strategies and exchanging ideas too."

Personally, I'm still learning the ins and outs of the perfect defense, and Terrorhedron's refreshing blend of deep strategy and unique presentation (and co-op!) are more than enough reason to keep me playing for quite some time. I thought I'd seen just about everything tower defense games had to offer, and I'm pleasantly surprised how handily Terrorhedron has proved me wrong. Even if you're a bit burned out by the formula, MCRO Games' offering will likely make you remember why you once enjoyed that type of experience in the first place.

Terrorhedron is one (but not the only reason) that Dan Walters is an indie developer worth keeping an eye on. He told me about another intriguing idea that's been percolating at MCRO Games for a while now that he describes as a "turn based, indie, strategy, martial-arts simulation." While he still hasn't determined for certain that it will indeed be his next project, his description is quite interesting.

"The idea is that you control the tension of the muscles in your player's physically simulated body, competing against other players in multiplayer, planning each quarter of a second, turn by turn," Walters explained. "Any motion that the human body can do in real life is possible and because the game plays out in slow motion, the physics simulations can be very detailed."

"Think street figher, crossed with chess, only with 3D graphics and the most detailed physics simulation in a game, ever," he clarified.

While that as-yet untitled new project is still just a glimmer in Walters' eye, Terrorhedron is currently available for PC for only $5 via the MCRO Games website. Tower defense fans--whether relative newbies or crusty old vets--will likely find a lot to love about a game that brings a surprising amount of new depth to the table.

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