Genre-Bending in CastleStorm II: Bringing Kingdom Management to a Lane-Pusher
Published: August 31, 2020
Game design is a careful balance between the familiar and the innovative. On the one hand, fans of a certain genre often have a base set of expectations for how a game in that category will play, and those expectations are forged over years of playing titles in that genre. On the other hand, players want something new and fresh.
The charge for a game designer (or a team of game designers) is to develop a concept that appeals to fans of a genre while also challenging some of the preconceptions around how this type of game can or should work.
When we developed the first CastleStorm, we purposely kept a narrow focus on our target genre: lane-pushers. And then we used player feedback and our own growing RPG experience to introduce several new twists on the genre in CastleStorm II.
CastleStorm II’s core genre is “lane-pusher,” which is a bit of controversial genre definition in its own right, but for our purposes here we will define this genre as being a mostly 2D real-time strategy game where maps are segmented into singular or multiple “lanes” or paths. In this genre, you are often playing as a hero commanding an army while AI manages the actions of lesser troop units.
Today, games like Dota 2 capture much of the attention in the genre, and some industry writers use the term lane-pusher and MOBA interchangeably.
Our team loves this genre, and for the first CastleStorm we focused exclusively on those fundamental ideas of a lane-pusher—level strategy, unit selection, and combat—and mixed in a bit of Angry Birds level destruction to inject more personality.
CastleStorm II expands game mechanics much farther with new systems inspired from other genres.
We looked at how we could make the player feel connected to a grander world. One of the limits of the lane-pusher genre is that choices in one map or gameplay round rarely have consequences for the next round. Each battle is a self-contained micro-experience.
We built a world with systems to bridge that strange gap between battles, which meant looking at games like Civilization and Heroes of Might Magic for inspiration on how to make that zoomed out, big picture view of a world a compelling gameplay experience. Now, not only are you fighting battles with interesting enemies, you are managing your broader kingdom and making choices that impact your army and how you play your next battle.
The core of CastleStorm is comprised of lane-pusher mechanics which have unique twists, but our new big experiment is to expand the usually narrow focus of a lane-pusher with a bigger world full of meaningful gameplay choices.
It has not been the easiest project to develop because of the high-stakes we set for ourselves, but we’re excited about the potential.