The final days of autumn are upon us.
Here in Gainesville, people have ditched their jean shorts and mustard-stained wife beaters for pullovers and carpenter jeans. Holiday lights sparkle from the lofty downtown apartments. The scents of peppermint and homelessness waft down Main Street, sending out waves of nostalgia and nausea.
Inside the studio, holiday preparations are underway. Our mighty Christmas tree spreads cheer in the front lobby. At the top of the plastic perch stands Optimus Prime. Keeping him company below is Raiden, Donkey Kong and the blue dude from Bubble Bobble. (A quick Google search says his name is Bob the Bubble Dragon.)
But where are the presents? There’s not a single gift for Bobby Pink or Suzy Killmore, the orphans we abducted to fuel our coal heaters and clean our kitchens.
Rest assured, there will be presents — not just for us and the orphans, but for you, too.
The gift-giving starts early with the introduction of two new maps to our Ranked mode, Akatiti and Tower Wars. I spoke with their respective map creators to learn more about the process of making these maps.
Scott “Cr4zy” is the 22-year-old creator of Akatiti. Hailing from Peterborough, England, he studied graphic design at New College Stamford. His first map for our game, Helms Deep, was a recreation of the namesake location from the Lord of the Rings. The map featured epic vistas and exploding walls. He entered his next map, Akatiti, into our Dungeon Defenders Map Contest. This gorgeous map was a natural evolution of our original campaign. Akatiti won first place, and Scott earned a smooth $1,000.
Scott: The idea formed after watching the most recent Indiana Jones. Ancient Mayans in a jungle had some excellent visual choices to try out. Along with DD having a Mayan art set, it helped make sure the level would be created without needing to create lots of new content.
How long did you work on the map?
Scott: Just under a month on the level in the engine, with a week or two throwing ideas around on paper for layouts/visuals.
Speaking of layouts, how did you design the layout of the map?
Scott: With a lot of doodling and changes. With basic ideas of level design from previous games influencing what and where routes would go. Being my first original DD level, there were a few changes once it was placed into the engine to even out route lengths and balance the mob flow.
What were some of those changes?
Most were small minor changes, such as the addition of another spawn point and route to flesh out an area of the level that was otherwise boring and empty. And some small changes for player-only routes that, while not massive in impacting gameplay, they allowed for a much better flow for players. Helping them get around to defend better.
You mentioned that basic ideas of level design from previous games influenced this map. What are those basic ideas?
Scott: It’s hard to explain some of it. I find bits just come naturally. Other things like keeping a fair amount of routes so that it’s not too easy or hard to defend and making sure that the route sizes go hand-in-hand with the amount of mobs. Too many routes with too many mobs and not enough DU ends in a big mess of dead crystal. A lot of it comes when you play it over and over with constant minor tweaks to values.
You worked on Helms Deep before working on this map. Did you learn anything from that experience that you applied to Akatiti?
Scott: For me, most of the work I did on Helms Deep was teaching myself more about modeling and texturing. The extent of the work I did there was to do with that. I did get onto some mob pathing, where I ran into multiple issues with the AI that required a few navmesh tweaks. There was also the distance models in Helms Deep that Jeremy informed me of using certain materials to avoid the outline post-processing drawing hundreds of lines everywhere.
What was the most difficult aspect of creating Akatiti?
Scott: There wasn’t many major issues I encountered. A few Unreal Engine crashes lost some progress now and again. I spent a fair amount of time learning new tricks though, such as animating models for the butterflies, dragonflies and the secret turtle. Along with that, there’s some interesting technically arty stuff for the water to look more realistic by mapping the “water flow” so it actually follows the river shape.
Speaking of secret turtles, are there any undiscovered secrets left to be found?
Scott: There isn’t, unfortunately. After Dredd went and teased the next series of PC events, people were positive something was hidden in Akatiti.
What ideas didn’t make it into Akatiti?
Scott: Things I ran out of time on, mainly minor details, cobwebs and the like. There were also limits on the filesize so some additional textures were dropped for plants
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Scott: I can’t think of anything else other than saying thank you to everyone who voted and Trendy for running the competition! Congrats to those who found the secrets, and hopefully Helms Deep will one day come out.
Grant “Alhanalem” Dotter is the 29-year-old author of Tower Wars. His previous work includes Rainbow of Death and Port Etheria. Tower Wars is a marked contrast to the traditional PvP offerings in our game and on the Steam Workshop. Players split into two teams. Each team is given one half of the map, and players cannot travel to the enemy team’s side. The goal is to outlast the other team. But it’s more than a simple game of survival. Players can spawn almost every creature in the game, including Spider Queens, into the enemy team’s side. Coordinate your enemy waves effectively, and you could end their dreams of winning in a matter of minutes. This map won second place in our Map Contest.
Grant: Partially from a custom game in Warcraft III by the same name, and the map layout along with the periodic enemy streams is a bit inspired by DotA (Defense of the Ancients).
How long did you work on it?
Grant: Easily 300+ hours in total, almost evenly split between building the map itself and setting up the huge amount of kismet needed to make the map work. Also a fair bit of time spent bouncing ideas off of and working together with fellow modder Dingle for scripting things that couldn’t be easily done with kismet.
What was your visual inspiration for the map?
Grant: A lotta bit of Mistymire Forest, one of my favorite maps, a little bit of DotA. The cave running under the map drew a bit from Glitterhelm Caverns.
The centerpiece of Tower Wars is the enemy spawning system. Each enemy has a mana cost. How did you determine the cost of each enemy?
Grant: Partially trial and error, but also partially based on the amount of mana the enemies normally drop. Also, there’s the value each enemy contributes to leveling up your spawns and unlocking the boss, which was added after initial testing had most players investing all mana into leveling up and none into summoning or improving defenses (leading to a typically very sudden end where neither team is prepared for the assault that follows).
Did anything change during the creation of Tower Wars?
Grant: The basic layout stayed pretty constant once I got it established. The visuals early on were very rudimentary. The detailing went in towards the end. (And I honestly didn’t leave myself enough time for that, in my opinion.) I kinda had a “feature creep” problem where I kept coming up with ideas and trying to add them. Some got in, some didn’t.
What ideas didn’t make it into the map?
I originally planned to carry over the ogre token concept by having them appear as you summon enemies (as an incentive to keep summoning). I ended up not doing this after I decided that the measures I had already taken would work. I also considered offering a choice of bosses to spawn (with varying requirements), but I ran out of time for that.
Dungeon Defenders is not known for its PvP gameplay. How did you expect the map to be received by our fans? Was that the case once the map was available to the public?
Grant: My hope was that, since the focus of this map was still on tower defense, that it would be recieved a lot better than your typical PvP map. I think it was very successful in that regard. Because you aren’t battling the opponents directly, it allows for strategy to be a bit more important, as well as for a larger amount of stat variance before things become too unfair.
You worked on Port Etheria before working on this map. Did you learn anything from that experience that you applied to Tower Wars?
Grant: I learned a lot about Unreal Matinee (for making animation in cutscenes) in Port, which led me to try to make a nice boss intro (the first one was much more simplistic). It was also when I really took command of the geometry tools. Coming off of Port, I was able to set up more precise blocking and tower allowance/prevention.
What was the most difficult aspect of creating Tower Wars?
Grant: The kismet logic for awarding items, which may have been in vain, was needlessly complicated and took many hours to set up because UE3 was lacking some kismet functionality that would have been really useful and for the system which controls upgrading your enemies. Hands down, those things took the longest, though setting up the bosses was not so simple either.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Grant: I really hope everyone enjoys it. I certainly had a lot of fun making it. I made this because I liked the idea of Competitive Tower Defense (on Karathiki), and I wanted to take it to a higher level after nobody else stepped up.
Ask Us Anything with Jeremy Stieglitz
Have a question for the team? Want to know about something in the game or what our favorite colors are? Ask away in our new Ask Us Anything thread! The thread will close on Monday, and answers will be posted in next week’s Digest.
Jeremy: Yep, we’ll do that as an additional Xmas bonus for all the Nice DunDef players!
Will there ever be a challenge version of the Sky City map? – Winterbraid
Jeremy: Nah, that’s what Boss Rush was for.
Is there a particular reason Trendy seems set against tweaking (even just limiting to bug fixing) item generation? – CrzyRndm
Jeremy: Could require a lot of iterative rebalancing over the game to redo various loot drop percentages.
Can you give us any sneak peeks or hints as to your new project? – Onion Knight
Creations of the Week
Here are this week’s 10 billion mana winners! If you have an amazing video or screenshot, upload it to Steam. If you have a piece of fan art or another Dungeon Defenders creation, send it to email@example.com. Each week, we’ll choose five lucky winners and display them here in our Digest.
Courtesy of Emel Walsh
Previously on Dungeon Defenders
Meet the Trendy Team: Esther Ko — In this week’s Meet the Trendy Team, I spoke with Junior Animator Esther Ko about her career at Trendy and why she runs around all silly-like in her office.
Community Member of the Week: Iyashii — In this week’s Community Member of the Week, we chose Iyashii for his moderation service to our official forums and for his charismatic personality, which stands at odds with his venomous nickname. Read on to learn more about the man behind the handle.
This Week on the Website
Friday: PS3 XP Event Recap, Trendy Friday Fun!
Monday: Community Member of the Week, 360 XP Event Reminder
Tuesday: Meet the Trendy Team, Code Drop Tuesday
Until next time,