PAX Prime Preview: Hidden Path Entertainment Shakes Things Up

I couldn't think of a more pleasant way to end my first day at PAX Prime than sitting down and chatting with Hidden Path Entertainment's affable CEO Jeff Pobst. Pobst showed off Hidden Path's two new projects: A sequel to wildly successful tower defense game Defense Grid and Windborne, a fresh take on "creation games" such as Minecraft.

Defense Grid 2 Shakes up the Tower Defense Genre with Tactical Depth

In crafting Defense Grid's follow-up, Pobst and his team had to come to terms with the variety of audiences their work resonated with. Tower defense is a sublime experience for those wanting to tune out after a long day at work. Build a few towers, click play, and watch as hordes of aliens and bad dudes get mowed to the ground. But as the Defense Grid community became more vocal about small mechanical changes on the Hidden Path forums, it became clear that many players yearned for more micromanaging of build orders and tactics.

It is with these two audiences in mind that Defense Grid 2 offers unprecedented tactical depth for the usually shallow tower defense genre, but decidedly keeps it away from the tower-building, dude-shooting experience. In Defense Grid 2, each tower type has a number of small tweaks players can make in between sessions. Want to increase damage over time at the expense of firing rate? You got it. Upgrading towers in the middle of the game, though, still offers the most substantial, fixed progression towards total annihilation of enemy dudes.

Defense Grid 2 has also implemented a new scoring system, shown as a real-time bar graph in the upper-right corner of the screen. As long as it's going up, you are efficiently killing all dudes and making money just as intended. If the bar graph starts dipping, you might want to examine your strategy and see what's wrong. This system improves feedback to players beyond the vague "resource" system of the first game, but also lets players truly dive in the deep end of tactical analysis and high level play.

Pobst promised that by release, an annotated version of the bar graph would be presented to the player after each level. These annotations would point out when each wave of enemies started, as well as other notable events from the game. Players will then be able to rewind through a recorded version of their level to see exactly how each strategic choice affected the outcome of the match. Again, folks who just want to watch stuff blow up won't need to interact with this system at all. But for the obsessive min/maxers, this system is a godsend, and adds much-needed depth to tower defense.

Defense Grid 2 will release on PC in 2014, with a beta on Steam Early Access starting in November.

Windborne, Voxels, and You

Yes, Hidden Path's ambitious "creation game" Windborne is a lot like Minecraft, but there is a lot more at work here than meets the eye, and it's the first creation game I would consider playing.

Windborne is made of voxels, meaning tiles in the world can take on a multitude of shapes. On top of placing/removing tiles in the world, the voxel construction allows players to shape tiles in real-time with the mouse wheel. Think of the difference between a steep hill and a perfectly flat cube, and you get the idea of the world shaping we're talking about.

The other neat thing Windborne is bringing to the creation genre, something I've lamented for a while, is a story mode with a clear end goal. Windborne takes place on a floating island inhabited by creatures called Djinn, who have recently undergone a calamity that has disrupted their entire ecosystem. The beginning of Windborne will prompt the player to help the Djinn rebuild their world and get things back to normal. It is unclear how explicit it is going to be--Pobst isn't sure whether characters will even speak yet--but the promise of something to work forward to in Windborne is great for folks like me, who can only take pure, open creation so long before moving on to something else.

Windborne will be available on the PC in early 2014, with Steam Early Access beginning in October.