I've been meaning to get to talking 'bout Puppygames' Revenge of the Titans for about three months now. Thing is, I'm too old to do this sort of thing on my own any more and the home help just laugh when I ask them to assist with my important cutting-edge video game writey words. So I drafted in GreggB of Tap-Repeatedly to help out, who occasionally risks his life commenting here at Electron Dance.
Gregg already wrote up his full-blooded impressions over at Tap and it was clear that we both had different experiences of Titans. He loves it and has pre-ordered; I appreciate it but know it's not for me. We put our puny human brains together and talked out the finer points of this intriguing game. There are some naughty words here. And we also invoke TEH CAPITALS.
HM: So I would say it's not tower defence. Can we say that? It's more RTS where the only mode is defence. And your units aren't mobile. And I guess it's not RTS either. What is it Gregg?
GB: It's tower defence. You defend with towers. I think more than anything it stretches the definition of tower defence to the point that people aren't quite sure what it really is.
HM: I think this has given me gameplay indigestion trying to work it out. I think it's why I'm poor at the game. My RTS and TD heads both fail.
GB: Well that's the thing with me: I'm crap at RTS and pretty damn good at TD. What Titans requires is the sort of multitasking you'd associate with an RTS and that's when most people start wondering what genre it belongs to.
HM: I think, above all, Titans is a master of PANIC. It starts out gently, put a few turrets down...
GB: Yeah absolutely. It revels in it.
HM: ...but then you've got titans coming from all directions. And they won't stick to a specific path, making a point of avoiding being shot. You have to run around with your cursor trying to grab cash and reload... and then you've got the scrolling and the mad SPEED RUSH at the end.
GB: It gets intense very quickly and not everybody is going to be up for that, especially the folk who expect the sort of TD experience they've gotten used to. But having said this, the game does offer ways around the difficulty curve, or at the very least the micromanagement -- which is ultimately what makes the experience so damn frantic. The tech tree is the key.
HM: I have a few problems with Titans, and three of them are around the tech tree. It isn't clear what the best strategy is on the tech tree, you really need to replay multiple times. The design of the tech tree probably needs a bit more work - I think the ability to toggle the view is a step in the right direction but still seems overloaded. And last - did you know automation isn't available in the demo?
GB: Yeah I only found that out when I was watching my brother try the demo. There's a side of me that wishes it was in the demo just to ease in certain people. Regarding the tech tree: I actually quite like stumbling through it, acquiring unknown tech and experimenting. Each time I've played a new version of the game I've taken a different route and it's never felt any easier or harder. I think Puppygames have definitely struck a nice balance with a lot of the tech.
HM: I must admit on my first play on version 1.4 I struggled, but I think that was because I simply had no cash. I was throwing units out there like crazy. This time round somehow I felt I understood the game better and had more money to use on the tech tree.
GB: It's remarkable how experience changes the way you play. For a long time I didn't know you could stack add-ons and this really hampered my progress but after that discovery it totally changed the game. Okay so it did make things easier, but there was more to consider because, while I was making my turrets shoot faster, they were running out of ammo faster. So there's a nice double edged sword dynamic going on with certain things. It's like silos: they cost a lot but ease the collection of resources because your refineries can store more. Do you buy them or build more refineries? Then there's laying out your buildings so that the add-ons make the most of them. It's fascinating.
HM: I'll be honest. After I played Titans first time a couple of months back I thought: love the music that made me think of 80s BBC Sci-Fi...
GB: Yeah, it reminded me of A Clockwork Orange actually with all the synthed up classical music.
HM: ...love the not-retro-yet-retro look and style, love the simplicity of the graphics, but really, fuck this game, because it hurts my head. But when I played recently, even though I swore my ass off at the screen, I could see that there was a complex strategy in here. And I hadn't got that at all, being all "this is TD". And if you don't get that, the game will piss you off.
GB: I can totally understand that reaction though. I did the same thing when I saw the Titans TOTALLY avoid my heavy emplacements. 'Where the fucking twatting hell are they going?!'
HM: That drove me crazy. I couldn't understand what I was supposed to do. Learning to cope with herding the titans is a black art.
GB: It is, do you risk placing expensive turrets and the titans going another way or do you scatter loads of cheaper ones everywhere in the hopes of herding them in? That’s when I decided to research scanners to pick the little devils off from a distance.
HM: They'll suddenly swerve when you place a new turret and go off to find some hole in your front line which they think is the better route. NO NOT MY FUCKING REFINERIES NOOOO
GB: Yeah I saw those tough gidrahs, the ones with the three eyes, going straight for my refineries so I started looking at barricades to stop them doing that. Unbelievable. It all fits together so nicely though even if it does seem very chaotic at first. I think that's why I'm liking it more and more: each technology opens up new possibilities and new combinations to try out. Though I can't imagine how mental it'll get beyond Mars.
HM: I introduced myself to the guy setting up the Puppygames PCs at the Eurogamer Expo. I thought it might be Cas. But he turns round in his blue T-shirt that says "Eurogamer Expo" and says he works for the expo. I think Cas should send me a photo to compensate for my embarassment.
GB: We should try and get an interview out of him or Chaz. At the very least a photo.
HM: I think my worry about Titans is a Tidalis type of worry.
GB: Scatterbrain clusterfuck luck?
HM: Well there is that... but more because it's a weird hybrid that may turn people off very fast. I was absolutely sure it was not for me on my first go. And my second go. It was only hearing others say how great it was that pushed me back again.
GB: It rewards persistence.
HM: It's harder than it appears. And it always defaults to the insane difficulty level, only dropping down if you explicitly ask. That's kind of crazy so I hope that changes as the beta progresses.
GB: I love that though because I usually start on the hardest setting and work my work down. To have a game enforce that but also give you a back door out makes a real change. Apparently the game automatically adjusts the difficulty depending on your success (or lack thereof) but I don't know how that works with the option to restart a level on an easier difficulty. Perhaps it's a more deliberate option than letting the game decide.
HM: From a demo point of view, it becomes frustrating pretty quickly. And we all like to consider ourselves hardcore, which means you blame the game. It probably should start out easy on the demo.
GB: I can get behind that, after all Earth is supposed to be a ‘warm-up’ planet. Starting easy and getting harder for those doing really well would probably be a better way around, at least that way it wouldn’t deter people.
HM: I loved getting the gold medal every time I finished a level, but eventually had to drop the difficulty. The crystals were just spread out all over the place. And I hate scrolling around the map. I need a de-scroll device in the tech tree. I don't know what that means, but I can still make the word up.
GB: Did you try land mines? They're a lot of fun. Very handy for sneaky titans.
HM: Either not in the demo or I couldn't reach them in the tree because all my cash was going on more blasters more blasters.
GB: I was surprised at how much I could eke out of the cheapest blasters with a few well placed cooling towers and scanners. Optimisation is vital to climbing the tech tree.
HM: Talking about the game makes me think more fondly of the time I spent with it, but I don't know if it's really for me. It gave me caffeine-like jitters when it was done with me.
GB: It's rare to play a game that requires ALL your attention, never mind a TD game. They're usually so... passive.
HM: I don't think I could say this was a bad game at all, just that I'm not man enough for it. I'm comfortable with that. Perhaps I need a chillout mode, which is slow and graceful. They play muzak in the background and the titans look like small kittens.
GB: Or pansy-assed chimps?
HM: Perfecto. So Titans is like an RTS/TD hybrid that requires the same attention as a manic arena shooter. But gets easier if you work at it. And you do need to work at it. Does that sound right?
GB: You certainly do need to work at it. RTS usually scares me off but the TD element in Titans makes it a much more palatable experience, for me at least. If I was required to attack as well as defend then I'd probably have a much harder time with it. The focus on defending a single point makes the micromanagement much easier to deal with.
HM: Interesting point.
GB: Attacking and defending would make it a much more daunting prospect.
HM: And often RTS' mix in researching and exploring and economising at the same time.
GB: Yeah, there's none of that so it's all more manageable. I have a base, I must defend it.
HM: Very Descartes. So in summary - it's a good game?
GB: I bloody love it. We'll have to see how I get on beyond Mars though. Hopefully The Chick Parabola won't come in to play. It's that tech tree though, I can hear it calling me right now...
HM: Thumbs up from GreggB & HM then.
GB: Check the demo out and don't feel bad for lowering the difficulty. It's a tough game.
HM: And remember it's still in beta, constantly being tuned. You can download the latest beta direct from Puppygames.
Post-game buzz: A RTS/TD hybrid with joyous look and feel; more difficult and involving than you'd think.