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Feature: How  Defense Grid  Went From Bleak To Beautiful

Feature: How Defense Grid Went From Bleak To Beautiful

May 27, 2009 | By Staff

May 27, 2009 | By Staff
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In a new Gamasutra feature, Dave McCoy, art director for Defense Grid: The Awakening developer Hidden Path, has recounted in detail the evolution of the art style in his studio’s downloadable 3D Tower Defense-style game, with intriguing results.

Originally titled Last Stand, Defense Grid was originally conceived as yet another game in a post-apocalyptic setting – but the team at Hidden Path chose early on to go in another direction. McCoy explained:

While the machine-organisms described in the original proposal were retained, we fairly quickly re-considered the setting and circumstances. Bleak, half-destroyed urban environments are a common setting for games (albeit many great ones), and we wanted to create something a little more distinctive.

After a while, the endless grey-brown dark destroyed city environments (no matter how artfully created) start to all look the same. Having previously created my own share of them at other game studios, I was eager to explore alternate ideas.


That’s when Hidden Path began to turn in the direction of the final product, which showcases environments that mix ancient structures with futuristic technology. The style is both attractive and functional from a gameplay standpoint. McCoy added:

In addition to being evocative imagery, this blocky ancient appearance would help emphasize the difference between the player's defensive structures and the smooth bio-tech appearance of our attackers. Plus, it would give the game a unique look and help springboard the rest of the visual design process.

We did wind up departing from this style for a few of the levels seen towards the end of the game. If you have finished the storyline part of the game, you will likely recognize the levels these paintings inspired.


Those “bio-tech” enemies took the form of insectoid-machine hybrids, which contrasted from the blocky weapon towers that players use to fight off the hordes. Originally, the team had a wider array of towers and enemies, but whittled down that amount in order to not to confuse players.

Creating the game in 3D, as opposed to the 2D environments of many popular Tower Defense games, meant new challenges as well as gameplay opportunities.

Unlike the great majority of Tower Defense games, many of which are flash-based with simple 2D graphics, our proposal was to create a game with advanced 3D environments and characters and high production values similar to what one might expect from a triple-A retail game.

You can now read the full feature at Gamasutra, in which McCoy recounts the creation of Defense Grid from concept to execution, while sharing several pieces of concept art from the game (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).


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