Previews

GDC '09: Hands on with Star Defense on iPhone

Not another tower defence game

GDC '09: Hands on with Star Defense on iPhone
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| Star Defense

Towers aren't good enough for the game makers at ngmoco - they had to reach for the stars. Going hands on during Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Star Defense promises to tackle an overcrowded genre with a slick 3D graphics and multi-touch controls.

Star Defense puts you in control of mining colonies across the galaxy that are under siege by alien invaders. Landing on each colony via pods, alien intruders stream out of their shuttles in a continuous line.

Your objective is to eliminate the aliens before they reach the ore stockpile on the other side of the colony. From the icy surface of a distant glacial planet to the manufactured metal of an intergalactic mining rig, the game has you beating back aliens in at least seven different environments.

Battles occur in waves. You have control over when the aliens emerge from their pods, the creatures walking a line that can be easily blasted with turrets placed on either side of the pathway.

Icons lining the right side of the screen allow you place turrets with a slide of your finger, a translucent circle showing the turret's range of attack. A preview of the next wave of enemies to emerge from the pod provides guidance as to which turrets to build.

Gauss turrets exert physical damage on the most basic of enemies. Light probes are easily defeated with these low level turrets, but stronger foes require different weapons.

Coil turrets deal out electrical damage, whereas enemies weak to fire attacks are best confronted with a line of Neo-Plasma guns. These can be upgraded, of course; tapping an placed turret allows you to spend a bit of cash for greater offensive capabilities.

Each wave brings a slew of aliens that stress your network of turrets. Unlike the fixed view Tower Defense games, the 3D space in which you play brings an additional layer of challenge.

Dragging your finger on the screen moves the level, whereas multi-touch allows you to zoom in and out. Aliens stick to a defined path, but huge numbers crowd the small walkways that snake across the surface of each level. Strategy involves a combination of building the right turrets to counter enemies appearing from the pod and manipulating the stage via touch controls to place them wisely.

Should it prove too hard, you can drop the level of difficulty from testing Admiral to entry-level Ensign. Succeed in completing stages on these harder settings and you could earn achievements tied to specific accomplishments.

While these features bring dimension to Star Defense, they don't distinguish its core design from others in the genre. Slick 3D graphics and solid controls ensure it will be intuitive to play, yet the question remains whether it can stand out from the pack on visuals alone.

At the very least, it promises the polish we've come to expect of ngmoco games when it releases to the App Store in April.