Tagged: Hidden Path Entertainment

Job listing: Decisive Games, Microsoft’s new strategy game studio

Credit goes to Marcel for bringing this job listing to my attention!

Its been known for a while that Microsoft are looking at the Real Time Strategy for a comeback with the purchase of the Rise of Nations IP from the ashes of the 38 Studios fiasco and the Steam re-releases of Age of Empires 2, Age of Mythology and Rise of Nations made with Hidden Path Entertainment and Skybox Labs but Microsoft’s long awaited return to the RTS genre goes beyond that.

Earlier this year they were hiring for a Software Development Engineer for a “new AAA title within an established and well-loved strategy game franchise”, now this could be several things, really. The listing states for Windows and Xbox, Phil Spencer the Head of Xbox, is a well known fan of Halo Wars and I believe that sooner or later it will get a sequel on Xbox One, 343i are also hiring for someone to help in a new product line (of games) in the Halo universe, the other obvious candidates are the 3 franchises mentioned above that have been re-released recently.

“The Decisive Games team is focused on world class strategy game development, and is building a studio that will bring the next installment in a beloved strategy game franchise to the next generation of gamers around the world.” (Via Microsoft Careers – link reliability may vary as positions get filled)

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The job listing seems pretty conclusive about what the studio is, they are called Decisive Games and they are building world class strategy game(s) as well as asking for “familiar” with Direct X11 and Xbox 360/One APIs.

This job listing comes at an interesting time with Microsoft having a Windows 10 conference on 21st January next year in which Phil Spencer will be in attendance to talk things Windows 10 and has tweeted he will be “focused” on PC gaming but it doesn’t say exclusively focused on PC, so I suspect we will see how Windows 10 will tie in with Xbox One via the OS, likely a new UI and perhaps we will get a tease for something next year, E3 is a long way away and whilst this isn’t a gaming conference Microsoft have teased things before using the UI at the Xbox One reveal so its not unheard of.

Im not really sure if they would be developing a game that is multiplatform in the RTS genre, despite the great control scheme Ensemble Studios came up with Halo Wars I suspect an RTS released on both would not be very successful unless a lot of effort went into controls, UI etc and it would probably end up being two very different games.

Things at Xbox look like they’re about to get interesting for PC owners and the event in January would be a good place for Microsoft to show a renewed commitment to PC.

Defense Grid 2 impressions

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Tower defence games are some of the most addictive games to me, playing through a level, not losing any lives (or cores in this case), getting maximum points is something I find very satisfying – enter Defense Grid 2. The sequel to the 2008 PC game released on XBLA in 2009 had a difficult beginning, a Kickstarter for the project unfortunately didn’t meet its goal for a full sequel but did fund a new expansion for Defense Grid – The Awakening and from there Hidden Path Entertainment were able to make a deal with 505 Games and Dracogen Inc to bring the full Defense Grid sequel to life.

The gameplay from Defense Grid has stayed the same being based on grids (who knew?) which decide where you can play your towers and the routes the invading aliens can take which makes the game very strategic because you need to consider the best place to put your towers especially if several types of tower work well together and sometimes only small groups of grids exist to put towers so it took some trial and error to work out my plans on some of the harder levels. Luckily, there’s a great checkpoint system after every wave so at the tap of a left button (on Xbox One) I can scroll through the waves and go quickly back to the point I want to continue from, a very handy feature that saved me a lot of time by not having to restart every time I lose a core or 5.

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As with most games of this type in the easier difficulties (on normal) you could pretty much just brute strength your way through the level with just placing towers and upgrading them but as you go up the difficulties you need to rely more than just that with a more planned out strategy and using things like the boost towers which allow you to build a tower on top and gain special abilities – more damage, remove enemy shields or increase your score and that can come in very handy with the many different types of aliens that attack, as well as special abilities gained from the Command you choose – my personal favourite was General Cai because I liked the Orbital Laser special weapon (which unfortunately had a 5 minute cooldown!).

It can be frustrating at times to get to wave 10 then have a group of aliens change in type to rip your perfectly laid out plan to shreds but that’s part of the game, you play, you learn and adapt and as I said earlier that checkpoint system is very much appreciated at this point. The different alien traits are fairly standard – some are fast but weak, others have shields, strong and slow, lots of health, vulnerable to fire and so on but there’s a good variety of enemy types and what’s important in a tower defence game to be good to me if a level of challenge and variety which is something I think Defense Grid 2 does very well.

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Having checked out Defense Grid previously one thing I saw a big improvement in presentation and production values which is something I often notice. Recently I was playing Ryse and despite whatever problems it has I thought its presentation and production values were extremely impressive (as an example) and that sort of thing especially with a first impression is important and I thought there was a big step up between Defense Grid on XBLA and the sequel which is nice to see. On a technical level I think it looks nice, regular space planet tehemed art style and it ran well, I didn’t notice any frame-rate issues which are one of my pet hates even at stages when a whole host of towers and aliens at the same time, it’s perhaps a small thing but appreciated anyway.

The levels offer some good variety, there are some that just offer grids and you can place your towers as you like to choose the path the aliens will take and that allows for you to choose your strategy more directly and approach the level as you choose, others have a road with the grids on the side and you build your towers that way, it offers some variety and but personally I quite enjoyed choosing the paths myself and building around that. There a lot of tower variations to choose from regulars like gun towers, inferno, laser and tesla but also ones that focus on killing clusters of enemies (concussion towers) or can inflict damage at a distance and these towers require upgrading to get the most out of them. There’s 3 levels which are different colours and combined with the boost towers can be formidable and more importantly required to get through levels. My usual play style was gun towers surrounded by laser towers with some tesla’s thrown in too and this covered the major weapon types I needed to kill aliens, I’ll admit I found hard to be quite challenging so perhaps I will need to mix that up to get further along.

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Unlike most tower defence games when the invading enemies get to the end point of the level – in this the cores, you actually two chances at killing the aliens, they pick up a core (or several depending on the type of alien) and town around to come back where they came from to take the core back to the entrance of the level, this makes it easier in some ways because you don’t have to worry about killing them before they get to the cores but also when they die they cores float back slowly, so any incoming aliens can just pick up that core and go back without making it to the main core tower to get them, so there is an upside and a downside to this but I think it’s a good gameplay mechanic and differentiates it a bit from other games.

The other thing I wanted to mention is the plethora of options that Defense Grid 2 has to keep it interesting and challenging. There’s lots of gameplay modes, then gameplay type followed by 4 difficulty settings. For gameplay modes you can choose to play through the story which is just the regular mode with the story elements – admittedly I found the story fairly uninteresting but it’s not a major part of the game, you can play it “regular” without the story. Other modes such as Fixed Resources, Grinder (specific waves of enemies), Power Outage (towers only active with the cursor or cores near it), No Red towers (highest upgrade level) and Frozen Core (when a core has been retrieved it doesn’t float back), there are 12 in total which gives you plenty of choices. Finally the type of game allows you choose whether you can sell towers and use special weapons, as well as the difficulty. All this and I havent even mentioned multiplayer, you can play any of the 20 levels in 3 modes: DG Fighter – where aliens destroyed appear on the opposing players side of the map, standard co-op doubles or Coordinated Defense where players can only build on their own squares. There’s a lot there, put it that way.

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Defense Grid 2 is a really fun tower defense tower with enough well executed variations on the formula to make it well worth playing if you’re a fan of tower defense games/. The only negative I wondered about is perhaps you might want more levels to play through but there a lot of options and play styles to keep it interesting and levels need quite different strategies at higher difficulties and in different modes. Along with that there’s multiplayer which is a great addition which will keep you coming back for a long time.

Price: £19.99/$24.99
Formats: Xbox One (played), Playstation 4, PC
Developer: Hidden Path Entertainment
Publisher: 505 Games
Official website

Here is a gameplay video I made to enjoy as well: