Experiencing games on a show floor is always a bit strange, in the sense that game concepts need to be grasped instantly, since there are people waiting in line. With a title as delicate as the multiplayer tower defense game 42 Stories, it becomes even more difficult to manage, since it’s built on control and solid building schemes. Still, with the necessary tuning, there is a good amount of potential that sees just a few gameplay elements boil down into a tense, strategic fight for the heavens.
Anything in the game is played in just one static screen. Two humble abodes stand next to each other, trying to reach the skies. Backgrounds are represented by a simple hand-drawn sketch, with a bit more complexity for the structures making up a player’s tower. In the foreground, lots more detail is put into each little segment, such as miniature skyscrapers, menacing skulls or even hovering spaceships. Motion in the clean drawings gives the field a bit of extra life. Additionally, each segment weaves neatly into the next, so a tall building looks like one giant cacophony of styles. It’s cohesive, at least.
How the game used to look.
To get to the top, players can choose between 3 types of segments, ranging in different costs. A living quarter is a simple, inexpensive defense block, while offense costs a bit extra and resource builders cost even more. For each, a certain amount of money is deducted from a constantly climbing number, depending on how many resources are gathered each second. Each player goes head to head, trying to find the right combination to both attack the opposing building, as well as protect their own and climb ahead. That’s the first, rudimentary aspect to gameplay.
To make things a little more interesting, segments can also be upgraded into more potent structures. In particular, offensive units can then wreak havoc, as they fling ever more powerful projectiles to the other side. Upgrading also changes the appearance of the building, to illustrate its progress into the future. This can even go as far as some Jetsons-like domes. Still, aside from aesthetics, upgrades also ensure an upper hand. Segments that are more advanced than their counterpart will see their projectile effectively halt others and even overtake them, making some fights rather one-sided.
Sketches of how upgrades would differ in looks.
As a measure of balance, upgrades come with an additional fee. Whenever a particular type becomes more advanced, building any subsequent item of the same type will come with those requirements. For example, if an offensive block costs 150 to build and is upgraded to level 3 at a cost of 350, all new attack sections will also cost 350. There’s no going back.
Stacking carefully is important as well, since destroyed segments collapse, only to put their overlaying sections in harm’s way. So, for instance, if a defensive structure is taken down by an opposing attacker, whatever was atop of the destroyed building now comes into the line of fire. Since upgraded units also tear through weaker ones like butter, planning ahead may be necessary. Sometimes, sacrificial buildings may need to be put as a placeholder, just to get another building upgraded and ready to withstand the assault underneath.
How it looks now. Much classier.
When all these things combine, 42 Stories becomes a little like a game of chess; where each opponent tries to find a weakness in the other side. Still, balance isn’t quite there yet. By coming out of the gate with a heavily upgraded assault building, it’s possible to pretty much cripple the slower opposition for a good while and that creates a gap in progress between the two parties. Since trying to win already becomes harder when lagging behind, this can create an even bigger imbalance. Still, the developers mentioned trying to iterate a few more features and furthering balance. It is still in development after all.
With the right amount of fixes, 42 Stories could become a teeth-gnashing duel of wits; more so than may be apparent on the surface. Creating a tense battle between towers with just a few gameplay elements in place is quite impressive already. Even checkers are just little circles overtaking each other, until a skilled opponent is on the other side. Then, it’s a race to the top.
Those bastards took a picture of me too! 0/10!
You can also see a brief run through the prototype build created for the Ludum Dare, whence 42 Stories spawned from, below. Keep in mind, however, that the game looks a lot better now and is much more balanced. This is just to get a depiction of the idea that the game has; not so much how it actually plays now.