Monday, April 29, 2013

Wards with Fiends

For Most Dangerous's latest vaporware design project, Nick and Max sketch out the concept of Wards with Fiends: a social game where you get to send nasty "presents" to wreck your friends' stuff.

"Social gaming," at its core, hooks its players not primarily on gameplay, but on the social interaction between friends that the game provides.  What Farmville and Words with Friends have in common is that both leverage guilt and obligation to friends to keep the player coming back for more.  I've heard numerous tales of players playing social games to keep their mothers entertained, or because they felt bad leaving their social-gamer friends alone, but rarely because they want to play the game for its own sake. 

Wards with Fiends is a competitive social game for mobile platforms but instead of returning to the game to entertain their friends, players will continue to play for the purposes of sending waves of Fiends against their friends to destroy their defenses.  In Wards with Fiends, the players take on the role of a magician trying to protect her castle from the attacking summonses (called Fiends) sent by competing wizards.  She does this by building magical defenses (called Wards) and placing them around her castle.

Before the social component, Wards with Fiends is essentially a tower defense game.  It has all the requisite tropes: waves of fiends start from the edge of the isometric map and work their way towards the player's castle.  The player places and upgrades various types of Wards that attack the invaders, and try to keep them from reaching the base.  If the invaders do reach the base, the player is penalized. 

When the social component is added to the game, however, Wards with Fiends more resembles a game in the tower wars genre.  Tower wars games originated as Starcraft and Warcraft III customs maps and are similar to tower defenses, except that multiple players each build their own defenses competitively on the same map.  After killing waves of enemies using their towers, each player may either spend the gold they earn on more towers or on extra waves of enemies to send against their opponents' towers.  In Wards with Fiends, players will be encouraged to come back to the game in order to send Fiends against their friends' castles.

Around once per day, each player is sent a Fiend that gets more difficult based on how developed her defenses are.  When she logs into the game and starts the wave, the Fiend and his minions begin their onslaught, trying to survive all of the wards and make it to the castle.  Once the wave is complete, the player receives gold based on how well she did.  However, before she can spend it on upgrades for her castle and new wards to add to her defenses, she must do one more thing: she must choose an upgrade for a Fiend that will soon be visiting one of her friend's castles.

And it's in her best interest to inspect her friend's defenses carefully, because if the Fiend makes it to her friend's castle, she gets a tidy little gold bonus!  Thus, if her friend has many fire Wards, she'll probably want to give the Fiend the Fire Protection buff.  If there's a particular weak point in the friend's defenses, she might want to use the Command buff and direct the Fiend towards that spot.  Or if her friend uses physical Wards, the Armor buff might be the proper choice.

As engaging as the original tower wars games in Warcraft III were, they were limited by their status as custom maps to short, self contained games where players were quickly eliminated.  Wards with Fiends takes advantage of mobile and social gameplay to transform the original tower war genre into a long-term game about progression, where players start with small collections of Wards, and if they succeed, they eventually have vast defenses that are tested daily by extremely powerful Fiends.

Will this take on social gaming (using farmville-like timers combined with competitive social elements) work?  Or is non-competition a core draw to players who play these games?  The next step in creating this game would be to paper prototype it, which is always challenging with asynchronous multiplayer games, but it could be done!  Next up: Wards with Fiends T-Shirts!