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JPublic Will Play It - January 2011 - System Protocol One

Posted 01-01-2011 at 09:50 AM by jpublic
System Protocol One
Developer: While True Fork
Publisher: While True Fork
Platform: PC (Steam)
Price: $10

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Our first JPWPI feature of 2011 will be a short one. This month we're going to look at System Protocol One, a tower defense game from new indie developer While True Fork. WTF (heh) touts themselves as a startup formed on a licensed game engine and a credit card. They appear to be fairly enthusiastic about being game developers, and their site is marginally humorous.

Let's talk about the particulars of SPO. It is, as I said above, a tower defense game. The graphics are what WTF calls 'RetroGlo' styled, which is remarkably similar to what you've seen come out of games like Geometry Wars or Tron. All glowing lines that are used to build various 2D and 3D objects. The music is composed by a group called Viral Culture, and is a pleasant and appropriate bit of synth/techno.

First off, we're introduced to the level map, and instructed to go through an overly long tutorial sequence, which I'll criticize later. In it, we're given the basic premise - that is, you're a sysadmin working for a corporation, and your job is to defend the place against hackers and their viruses. Viruses appear from one or more infected data ports, and move towards as many data cores. You drop your defenses in the enemies' way, making gauntlets for them to go through whilst your towers whittle them down.

The level map. Note the bottom left where I've gone through the tutorial, and some available levels in the center in light blue, green, and yellow.

Your defenses are limited by Cache, which is the money you can buy towers which (you gain more for killing viruses) and the Free Apps count, which puts a hard cap on the number of active defenses you can have. You can also spend cache to upgrade towers and other defenses, which gives them special abilities.

Should a virus get to the data core, you lose Integrity. If that runs out, game over. As you go through each mission, you're ranked on Efficiency. You get a higher score for using less cache on each stage. I never managed to break a rank of 90%, and according to the online leader boards there are a lot of people better than me at this.

So, since I've survived the tutorial, let's talk about the rosters, shall we? I've put a picture for reference a little later.

There's six types of enemies (at the top):
  • Stock viruses - standard, basis by which others are compared (Red)
  • Overclocked - faster, weaker (Purple)
  • Hardened - tougher, slower, can even throw off weak attacks (Bright Orange)
  • Adaptive - regenerate health over time (Green)
  • Refurb - these don't care about how powerful your attacks are, they only care about the number they get hit by (Brown)
  • Background - are ignored by Ping Cannons and Firewalls (Light Grey)

Five towers (light blue on the right, top to bottom)):
  • Ping Cannons - this is your workhorse, at higher levels can it can stun, ignores Background viruses
  • Multiplexer - attacks quickly with weak attacks
  • Pyramid - ranged area attacks, slow
  • Compressor - attacks in an area around itself, must charge up to attack
  • Sudo Kill - Insta-kill, but very slow and can't touch Boss enemies.

The list of items you get to fight or play with. The only things not on this are the data port and data cores. And yes, I did muss out the text box in the center.

Four firewall defenses (dark orange, bottom, right to left). You drop these in the paths you build for the viruses to run over. Note they can't touch Background viruses, with one exception. They are:
  • Capacitors - this builds up a charge and zaps an enemy that runs over it, best as a last resort
  • Honey Pot - sucks down a non-boss virus and picks it apart, can only eat one at a time, grows stronger over time
  • Code Injectors - poisons enemies that run over it, at higher levels can poison more often
  • Scan Bomb - one use, damages all enemies near it and causes Background viruses to be revealed

Finally, there are three other items you can drop (the green ones on the left). The first is the Wall, which doesn't eat up Free App count, but does use up cache. Good for guiding enemies down the path you want. The second is the RAM Upgrade, which increases Free App. The last is the process Monitor, which gives you semi-useful info on the current wave of enemies.

Now that I've given you the background, let's talk about my experience actually playing the bloody game. I'm not going to give you a play-by-play, as a tower defense game is uniquely unsuited towards this sort of thing. I played quite a few levels, and I'm pleased to see that SPO does throw some interesting tricks at you.

There are some really odd topologies you get to play with - cylinders, cubes, platforms that face each other, and inverted cubes. These add a lot of interesting strategic considerations as you route your enemies over the stage. Another trick is fragmented space, which is basically an area viruses can pass through without problems, but you can't build on. The last trick is the standard rule restriction - you are limited with what you can do.

Thankfully the last one is only really used on the 'Guacamole' series of stages, aka the bloody hard and surprisingly frustrating Whack-a-Mole levels.

The first of the 'tube' levels. These things can get confusing.


So, how do I feel about System Protocol One? For the first game by a new indie developer, it's a damn good effort. The game is based on solid, well-balanced mechanics, the controls and user interface are inoffensive, and the difficulty progression keeps you constantly challenged. In addition, the Steam leaderboards add incentive for you to try to do better on each mission. We're also treated to a couple minor new ideas and twists in the tower defense formula.

I do have some complaints. The tutorial at the start is soul-crushingly long. While it does allow you to learn about all the enemies, tools, and game mechanics you have to deal with, it's fairly overwhelming to a new player. As much as I appreciate having all the towers and tools available to me at the start of the game, a more measured approach to introducing tools, concepts, and enemies to the player might have been more appropriate. In addition, every time I played a level, it was either an easy success or a dismal failure.

My biggest and most severe complaint is that System Protocol One doesn't really give you anything a myriad number of free flash tower defense games already do. The graphics are arguably better, and there's good music, but this game is no Defense Grid or Immortal Defense.

If you love tower defense games, you may want to consider a changeup in System Protocol One. Otherwise, it's not really a standout.

1) The JPublic Fun Rating: 2.5 out of 5

2) The JPublic Irritation Rating: 3.5 out of 5

3) The JPublic Value Point: $3.00

Comments and discussion in the public thread here.

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