Defender's Quest coming to Steam!

Before I give you guys the big announcement I've been promising, first thing's first - yes, we've heard all about Steam Greenlight, in fact you've all been emailing us pretty much non-stop about it :)

Now for the announcement.

Turns out, we won't be submitting Defender's Quest to greenlight this August, because we just heard back from Steam and their decision has rendered the issue moot.


Our review team has taken a look at the information provided, and we would love to offer your game on Steam.  Please provide your full, official company name and mailing address, and we'll get the process started.  Let me know if you have any questions.
(Emphasis mine).

We've actually known for a while now, in fact, we got the email a few days before they announced greenlight, so we have just been holding this back until the contracts were signed making it official.

We're in touch with Steam representatives now, and though we haven't signed the final paperwork just yet someone on our forums did some snooping and outed us already, so we'll just go ahead and make this public now :)

The only real thing that would prevent us from getting on Steam at this point is us deciding we're not happy with their contract terms (and from what others have told me they're supposed to be quite reasonable).

Now that Steam is really happening, I'd like to update everyone on where we're at with Gold Edition.

1. Where are My Updates?

First off - people have been emailing us about the latest updates, wondering if their game updater is broken.

Do not fear!  If you're running version 0.9.01, you have the latest public version of the game. We temporarily halted incremental updates while we were working on Gold version because it involved some major surgery to the guts of the game, and we have to finish sticking all the organs back inside the patient before we can wheel him out of the hospital :) The next update will be gold edition, when we skip ahead to version 1.0.0

Our latest private test build is up to version 0.9.52 - if you want to be a tester, just PM me on our forums.

2. Is Gold Version a Free Update?

We keep getting this question, even though we've answered it a bunch of times in a bunch of places, but I just want to be absolutely clear - YES! Gold Version will absolutely be a free update to all current owners of the game. Free updates means free updates!  :) 

The price will be going up to $9.99, but that's only for new purchasers. So if you want to get in early, now's your chance to buy the game while it's still only $6.99!

3. Will we get Steam Keys? 

We don't know. We'd like to give existing owners of the game a free steam key, but that depends on two things:

1) If Steam will let us - we haven't heard back on this issue just yet.
2) Technical Feasability

To date, nearly 16,000 people have bought Defender's Quest. Our team consists of one full-time worker (me), two part-timers (Anthony and James), a musician (Kevin), and a handful of external contractors.

So, I want to give everyone Steam keys if they'll let us, but I'd have to figure out some way that doesn't involve manually answering thousands of emails. We'll keep you posted.

4. Show me the SEXY NEW ARTS!

Okay, I've been enough of a tease! Let's show you some before/after pics comparing Gold vs. Old.  Art is very near final - only minor tweaks at this point.

First of, let's take a look at the new battle graphics. We have new sprite art for all the characters and enemies, as well as new tiles.  Sprite art comes courtesy of Tyvon Thomas, and the tiles were done by Zhi Jiang.

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All the characters have new animations and everything looks a lot more fluid and lifelike than before. I should really post some video clips.

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As you can see, the overworld's been given a major overhaul. The new Azra sprite was done by Tyvon, and the tile art is all Zhi's work.  Azra is animated now too - her cape and hair blow in the wind while she's standing on the map.  Also, I've done my best to simplify the interface, removing the ugly chrome and just replacing it with black, and toning down the candy-coloredness of the buttons.

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Obviously, the cutscenes have been given a massive overhaul. The amazing Karen Petrasko illustrated all of our new backgrounds, team member James Cavin is responsible for the character art, and I've been handling the new shading/lighting overlays for the characters.  We initially considered redoing all the characters in a completely new style, but given that we have over 200 unique poses (not including mouth open/closed frames), that would have been prohibitively expensive in terms of both time and money.

The town and party interface have gotten new paint jobs, too.

5. Show me the SEXY NEW FEATURES!

Okay, so a while back we made a bunch of flimsy promises about what we're going to offer in Gold edition. I'm proud to say we were able to deliver on most of them, and even throw in a few more!

Here's a quick list:

  • New Game+ mode!
  • 7 new sidequests!
  • Lots of new cutscenes! (for the sidequests)
  • 8 bonus battles! 
  • 8 magic books for Azra!
  • Unique item upgrades, with special powers!
  • Re-balanced spells that grow with Azra's level!
  • Advanced targeting logic for defenders!
  • New enemy types!
  • New bosses!
  • Mod support!
  • Tons of bugfixes!
  • Tons of balance tweaks!
  • Preview enemy stats before battle!
  • Detailed enemy and status effect info in battle!
One feature that didn't make the cut was Azra's journal.  Unfortunately, James injured his writing hand, so we weren't able to get that content ready in time. We'll do our best to release this feature as a free update in the near future, and any journal entries you would have unlocked through play will just appear retroactively.

So, let's talk a little bit about some of these features and how they improve the game experience.

New Battle Stuff

There's a lot of new little things in battles I want to talk about. First of all, when you mouse-over enemies in the battle preview, it will show you what level (or levels) they will appear at in battle, and what their stats and abilities are. Previously, the only information you got was the enemy graphic and level ranges, so it was kind of hard to mentally prepare for a battle. 

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The version on the left is from the old game, and the version on the right is from the New Game+ version of the same battle, which features buffed-up Snake Ghouls that have a 70% chance of dodging physical ranged attacks (like arrows).  

Let's look at some changes in the battles themselves.
(Click to embiggen)
First, we're now using icons for stats instead of text, we've got a new targeting bar with advanced options, and you can now toggle individual skills on and off. 

I changed the color of the recall button to blue so it stands out better against the health meter. I also removed unnecessary words to reduce clutter, etc.

New Targeting Logic

I shrunk the target buttons and replaced words with icons to indicate first/last/strong/weak/fast. There's also tooltips that explain exactly what each one does.  
There's  four new "options" that can be enabled  independently of your main target option - you can have all, some, or none of them active. Finally, there's a save button to make the current settings the default for this character. Very convenient!
The four new targeting options are "cheap", "effect," "chance," and "bulldog mode", respectively.  

CHEAP:  If the current target can be killed outright with a cheaper attack, use that instead of the best one. This lets you avoid overkill.

EFFECT: Optimizes attacks that use status effects. This makes your defender avoid enemies with incompatible effects (don't use fire on ice, etc), as well as enemies that are immune to or strong against your attacks.  Finally, it makes you favor enemies that have the least (amount*time) of your current attack's status effect.  

Wrenna's logic is 
"Last+Effect" - she hits the last enemy in range, inflicting chill. Next, she hits the second-to-last enemy (has no chill yet), and inflicts chill. Then the third-to-last, etc, until chill runs out on the original target, which she hits again.

CHANCE: Makes a defender favor enemies with the least chance to dodge or resist their attack.  This takes into account darkness, as well as enemy strengths (more on this later).

Ketta's logic is "Last+Chance," and she has two lines of enemies in range, a group of vanilla revenant in front, and a group of dark worms behind.  Normally she would target the last dark worm, since her logic is "Last."  However, those have a 75% chance to dodge, so she targets the last vanilla revenant instead.

BULLDOG MODE:  When bulldog mode is on, a defender will stick with their current target until it dies, goes out of range, or the main target priority is switched.  This is for when certain enemies are likely to fall out of your target logic as their health changes or other mobs come into range, and you want to make sure to keep pounding on the same one. 

There's one final option that only appears on boss battles - ignore/don't ignore the boss. This covers the edge case where you want to do something like target the strongest enemy, but NOT the boss.

Stat Icons and Skill Toggling

The old interface was pretty wordy and cramped. Given that I was using obscure abbreviations like "EVA" anyway, I figured I'd move to icons that take up less space and don't visually compete with the actual stats. 

There's tooltips on everything, so you can figure out exactly what each thing means if something's unclear. 

You'll notice on the left that "Whirlwind" is red, indicating that the technique is unlocked and ready to use, but it's been darkened. This is because you can now click on techniques to disable them in case you want to "save" them for later.

Let's say Slak is about to face a mob of  15 slow-moving Revenant that will all clump up around a corner, but - oh no! - a single fast-moving worm is running ahead! Normally his whirlwind would be wasted on the worm. Instead, you switch off whirlwind and dispatch the worm with his other skills. Then, you wait for just the right moment with the huge mob, switch it back on, and take them all out.

This kind of micro-management shouldn't be necessary for most of the game, but I figure it's best to give people too much control rather than too little. Besides, some of the really nasty revenant in New Game+ have crazy new abilities that might need this kind of fine-tuned response.

Which brings me to...

New Enemy Abilities

Designing a whole new set of battles for NG+ would be an insane task - we'd basically be making a whole new game. However, it'd be a major letdown to just have higher-level monsters. So instead, we came up with special NG+ only variants of the old enemies that replace them in the new missions. 

So, everywhere you see a Snake Ghoul in the old game, you'll see a Snake Ghoul+ in NG+, etc. Not only do these enemies have pumped up stats, they also have new abilities. 

This is the new enemy panel. This shows the enemy's basic stats (speed, attack power, range, how much damage they'll do to Azra), as well as any special abilities - such as number of strengths (the bicep) and enemies spawned (the egg).

Mousing over the bicep explains what the specific strengths are, and mousing over the egg reveals what kinds of enemies are spawned.  The status panel to the right shows active status effects, and mousing over these shows the effect and remaining duration of each.

This Blood-Mad Revenant+ only has a few of the new abilities on offer, so let's take a look at the full range:
  • Regeneration - enemy regains health over time
  • Strength (resist) - enemy takes less damage against certain attack types
  • Strength (evade) - enemy has a chance to dodge certain attack types
  • Strength (immune) - enemy ignores certain status effects
  • Porcupine - enemy deals damage to attacker when hit with melee
  • Phasing - enemy phases in and out of existence, and is impossible to target when phased out
  • Healer - enemy can heal other enemies
  • Russian doll - spawns an enemy that spawns a different enemy that spawns a different enemy, etc...
  • Spells - Zelemir and the final boss have always had spells, but now you can see what they are!
These all appear in various different combinations. For instance, most of the NG+ water enemies are immune to fire, most armored enemies are immune to cold, most attacking enemies have phasing, most vanilla revenant regenerate, and most fast enemies have a high dodge rate vs. physical ranged attacks (arrows, basically).  This is designed to mix up your strategies and force you to rely on different kinds of defenders in each battle.  Furthermore, most sidequests restrict which classes can participate, mixing things up even more. 

Of course, it'd suck if only the enemies got new powers.  Although there aren't any new skills or abilities for defenders, we've made a huge improvement to the equipment system.

Equipment Upgrades

First of all, all the store shelves in NG+ are stocked with new equipment to spend your hard-earned scrap on.  These items are basically "enchanted" versions of the generic stuff from the normal game, so an enchanted metal shiv - thanks to the power of magic! - is more powerful (and expensive) than an iron sword from the regular game.  

More importantly, all your unique items are getting a new lease on life.  Remember how you couldn't sell any of your uniques, even after they became totally obsolete? That's because in NG+, you can find some friendly hermits to transform them into amazing super-weapons.

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NG+ battles will not give equipment as rewards, instead they will give skulls. These come in three varieties - stone, bronze, and obsidian. When you visit a hermit, you can trade in your skulls to upgrade an existing item - the above example shows swords. This always upgrades the item's stat bonus, but can also have additional effects.

For weapons:
  1. Adds % stat bonus, so it "grows" with you. This can be attack/defense or any other stat.
  2. Adds a new attack flavor (like burn, knockback, poison, etc).
  3. Improves an existing attack flavor (2x chance of criticals, poison does 1.5x damage, etc)
  4. Special bonus against a certain enemy type (2x damage vs worms, deals poison to spitters, etc)
For armor:
  1. Adds % stat bonus
  2. Resist vs. damage flavor (ex: 50% physical resist)
  3. Dodge vs. damage flavor (ex:  25% chance to dodge ranged) 
  4. Save vs. damage flavor (ex:  If HP > 5%, a fatal melee blow just reduces you to 1 HP)
  5. Porcupine - deal damage and/or status effect to melee attacker
Since the only way to get the super items is to earn them from the normal game and then collect skulls from the NG+ challenges, this encourages you to go back and try every challenge in both game modes. Your party data is shared between the two games, so whatever you achieve in one is automatically carried over to the other. Think of it as one party that can visit two different "game worlds" - that of the original game, and the new-game+ one.

Bonus Missions

Finally, when you're done with all that, there's the new bonus missions. Most of these will be large, "epic" battles with something like 100 waves each, but a few will be "endless" modes.  The current plan is to include one endless mode without attacking enemies, and one with. 

Bonus Missions are now unlocked as soon as you've met the smallest star requirement, regardless of whether you've beaten the game.  Furthermore, there's one set of bonus missions for both Normal and NG+ modes, and it counts stars from both games, so you'll have to go for 100% completion if you want to try the hardest missions. 

Bonus missions will grant large XP rewards, as well as books. We've currently got over a dozen books that we're happy with in the game that change Azra's spells and the rules of battle. 

Mod Support

Finally, I'm pleased to announce that Defender's Quest gold will ship with rudimentary mod support. Now, this is only for people who aren't scared of XML and diving into my questionably designed data formats. If you're one of the many who have been routinely hacking your save files, then welcome aboard :)

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The way mod support works, is that you can export data from the game, change it, and then load it in as a mod. The game will then use your supplied data instead of the default stuff.  If you don't supply your own version of a file, it reverts to the default one.  So if you just change data files, it uses the default graphics. If you just change graphics, it uses the default data. Etc. 

This means you can do everything from simple data tweaks to enemies and defenders, to full-fledged "total conversions" with new art, new story, new overworld, and even new enemy types, character classes, and skills.  Anything we define through data (which is pretty much everything) you can change, too.  The only thing you can't do is add new fundamental logic to the engine, but we'll be in close touch with the mod community to add support for new things if we can.

Mod Support right now is still a bit buggy and I need to crank out some documentation for it, but for those of you who are brave enough, it should afford a lot of flexibility and creativity right out of the gate. There's also no tools (other than text editors and photoshop) to work with, and there's not a lot of useful error checking for bad data, so early modders are likely to break things in strange and beautiful ways without much feedback as to why. That's something I'll be working on post gold release.

I'll do my best to keep from breaking compatibility with old mods moving forward and try to continuously improve the experience. I can't WAIT to integrate Defender's Quest mod support with Steam Workshop. I'll be talking to the Steam techs about whether or not we can make that happen.

Summing Up

So, that's everything that's new in gold edition, I think. It's been a wild ride, and we are so grateful for all of your support.  There's loads of new content in gold edition, and hopefully mod support should give the game a lifespan long past just going for 100% completion.  I look forward to seeing what you all come up with :)

I suppose there's one last question - when's it coming out?

The answer is "very soon."  Right now the build is stable and we're just going through the final rounds of testing and balancing.  We could probably ship this Friday if someone put a gun to my head.  As I said before, we're still talking with Steam, so it'll probably be a while before that's ready.  More than likely, we'll ship gold edition on our own website (and push the update to existing players) and the other digital distribution portals (Desura, GamersGate, Impulse, etc) in the next week or so, and the game will be released on Steam some undetermined time after that.  I don't know how long it will take to get set up with all our partners, either, but my impression so far is that they've just been waiting on us at this point.

As soon as 1.0 goes out the door we will start working on 1.1 features, chiefly the journal. Depending on how things go, 1.1 might be the version that ships on Steam.