Presented by Intel

In 2010, EXOR Studios’ X-Morph: Defense was still just a prototype, and it was a twin-stick shooter. There was something missing, however. “We decided it wasn’t unique enough,” says Wojciech Lekki, the studio’s co-founder. They needed a twist.

EXOR started out as a group of students working on mods. The roots of the company go back to 2003, when they were creating maps for StarCraft and Age of Empires. After that, they started working with Gamelion Studios on mobile games. Eventually, they left to found their own studio, releasing a Half-Life total conversion mod, and then the hectic vehicular action game, Zombie Driver.

That history of modding and total conversions, that ability to see a game and imagine how an entirely new experience could be carved out of it, goes a long way to explain why what was once a twin-stick shooter now has a whole other strategic tower defense layer. That was the twist Lekki and his colleagues were looking for.

Of course, turning the game into a hybrid created a new batch of obstacles that the team would need to overcome. There were balancing issues, as the developers tried to figure out how towers would interact with enemy vehicles, and how powerful the ship controlled by players, one of the twin-stick shooter’s holdovers, would be. The controls had to be redesigned too.

“One of the obstacles was getting the controls right, so players could place the towers intuitively on the gamepad and on mouse and keyboard,” Lekki explains. “This was kind of crucial because in many tower defense games, the player points and clicks with the mouse, but with X-Morph: Defense, you fly and build towers with your ship. This took a lot of time and iterations to make it right.” Essentially, X-Morph’s ship is a very dangerous cursor.

Battle plans

Despite introducing new mechanics and trying to combine two disparate genres, the flow of X-Morph should still be very familiar to tower defense aficionados.

“You land, and you begin with the build up phase,” Lekki says. “You get some resources, and you can see from which directions the enemies will be attacking you, and what kind of enemies they are, so you have to plan your defense, put down some towers, build a maze, and destroy some buildings to slow them down. When you have your towers placed, you hit the start button, and then the mayhem begins.”

It’s during those action phases where the twin-stick shooter wrinkles can be seen. Along with protecting towers, there’s a great deal of shooting and accompanying destruction. Lekki even notes that a player with good shooting skills can make up for a “lame tower setup” by attacking enemies before they become a threat. And there are other, slightly sneakier, ways to take control of the battlefield.

“If you don’t want a bridge in a certain place, you can destroy it,” Lekki points out. “You can destroy a building, it will collapse on your enemy’s path, and they will have to change their route. You can destroy pretty much everything in the game.” Falling buildings can even squash unsuspecting foes. Laser fences can be placed, as well, funneling enemies towards traps and or corridors of death. Intermissions between waves of enemies give players unlimited time to create whatever type of devious setups they can imagine.

Tower defense mode, survival mode and more

X-Morph: Defense launched on Steam at the end of August, but Lekki and the team continue to work on it. They’re not the only ones. Given the studio’s background, a map editor was a must, but Lekki acknowledges that it’s hard to come to grips with. Tutorials are being created that will hopefully

make the creation process smoother, and Steam Workshop support is on the cards too.

DLC, with new maps and end level bosses – giant robots created to protect Earth from the alien invasion players are a part of – are in development, but Lekki also wants to expand the game with more modes.

“We’ll be adding a pure tower defense mode in the very near future. We have a lot of fans who tell us they’re not that interested in the shooting, but they are interested in the tower defense aspect, so we will be doing a separate game mode that doesn’t require any shooting at all.”

A survival mode, where players will need to face off against endless waves of random enemies, is being planned as well. Both modes will be free. Lekki wants DLC to have extra things like new maps, while free updates add more core features.

It’s been an experiment with plenty of challenges, but Lekki feels like it’s absolutely paid off. With players now wanting a pure tower defense mode, the decision to introduce this extra, tactical layer has been vindicated.

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