VGB Feature: CastleStorm Q&A With Zen Studios Creative Director Neil Sorens

CastleStorm

Announced earlier in the year just prior to E3, CastleStorm, alongside PlayStation Vita exclusive KickBeat, represents Zen Studios’ continued push to explore new development horizons beyond pinball.

The castle vs. castle projectile war game, combining real-time tower defense strategy with the style of physics-based destruction made popular by a certain flock of irate avian creatures, is on track to launch later this year, first for Xbox Live Arcade, published through Microsoft Game Studios. CastleStorm is also “being prepared for release across literally every digital platform,” but Zen Studios is suddenly being cagey about naming specific destinations, as you’ll read in our latest Q&A interview with the studio’s Creative Director, Neil Sorens.

VGBlogger: We know CastleStorm is coming to multiple platforms, but the initial announcement and the listing on the Zen blog only specify Xbox 360. Any reason for that? Is XBLA the lead version in terms of timed exclusivity or anything like that?

Neil Sorens: Yes, the XBLA version will be out first, and the other platforms will follow in the months following, although we are not able to 100% confirm any others at this time.

VGB: Just to confirm, which platforms specifically will CastleStorm be available on? Is a Wii U version planned?

NS: We can’t confirm any specific platforms beyond XBLA yet, but we’re certainly hoping to bring it to as many places as possible, including Wii U.

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VGB: Will any of the versions feature motion control options, whether it is Kinect, PlayStation Move, GamePad (if there’s a Wii U version) or any of the gyro/touch features on the various handheld devices? I know PlayStation Move has worked particularly well for cursor control in other tower defense/strategy type games like Dungeon Defenders and Swords & Soldiers.

NS: We’ll support touch controls for sure on platforms where that is possible. We don’t have any plans yet to use motion controls, as the game doesn’t have that typical RTS-type interface.

VGB: How will the controls and content vary from system to system in general? Was it difficult to make sure that there would be the same fidelity of controls across such a diverse range of hardware?

NS: We have two control schemes: one designed around standard buttons/sticks and one for touch interfaces. Each scheme differs slightly depending on the device, but by and large it plays the same across all platforms. We were lucky in that the game wasn’t too tough to get working well with both schemes. And other than controls and some simplified physics on one platform, the experience across platforms is just about identical.

VGB: CastleStorm’s gameplay is described as being a mix of ballista castle destruction and troop and resource management. How does the game balance between these two opposing styles of play?

NS: It depends on the mission objectives, the level design, and your personal style. Some objectives and levels will be more suited to firing weapons, and others, to deploying troops. Many will offer you flexibility. And keep in mind, you can use troops and weapons (and also spells) in offensive and defensive roles: you might focus on knocking down their castle with weapons while you defend with troops, for example. Action and tactics, rather than resource management, are the game’s focus. The resources (and weapon/spell cooldowns) are just there to encourage the player to use all their tools to achieve maximum efficiency.

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VGB: What is the overall objective for each mission? Simply to destroy the other army’s castle, or are there other tasks that will need to be completed to achieve success? Basically, how does a typical skirmish play out?

NS: Destroying the castle is one common objective. Others include capturing the enemy’s flag with your troops, holding off waves of enemies, and various objectives unique to a specific mission. There is also a wide variety of bonus objectives such as using (or not using) specific troops and weapons and getting a certain number of headshots.

VGB: The game’s story appears to center on a war between Knights and Vikings. Will each faction have a dedicated campaign storyline to follow in this conflict or are the two tied into a single campaign?

NS: They are a single campaign. You’ll get to play as both sides as the story unfolds.

VGB: The first trailer hints at some rather silly projectile attacks, namely cute, fluffy sheep. What other wacky ammo types can we expect? Do the various ammo types have different advantages/disadvantages?

NS: There’s an exploding apple, a homing eagle, and a few other oddities. Each of the weapons is designed to be good for a specific purpose and varying degrees of less good for other purposes: vs. troops, vs. castle, single-target, area effect, precision required or not required, and so on.

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VGB: The castle construction toolset is a feature I’m sure a lot of gamers are going to be excited to play around with. How robust of a toolset does the game offer, and in terms of controls and interface how will players go about building towers?

NS: You’ll be able to place rooms and decorative objects essentially however you like, although gravity can be a harsh mistress if your placement isn’t sound. Fortunately, you can see how well your castle designs stand up to gravity and ballista weapons in a test mode before you take it into battle.

The editor is basically a two dimensional stack of blocks, with the blocks being a room, gate, or decorative piece. You can pick and choose from any of these blocks and use an analog stick or touch screen to place them in the castle space, as long as there’s room.

No castle building takes place during actual missions – you take care of all the fiddly stuff like upgrades, construction, weapon/spell selection, etc. between missions.

One interesting facet of the castle is that each of the rooms within it provides a specific gameplay bonus: troop barracks enable deployment of that type of troop in battle, treasuries give gold earning bonuses, and so on. If a room is destroyed during battle, its gameplay effect is lost. That means you’ll want to make sure your most important rooms are well-protected! And it also means that there’s a tradeoff between cramming as many rooms as possible into your castle to get their bonuses and putting up thick walls to protect those rooms.

VGB: Does the castle creator tie into some form of unlock system for earning new construction pieces or will everything be available to builders from the start?

NS: You’ll be able to unlock castle pieces and upgrade castle rooms as you go through the campaign.

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VGB: Will a community apparatus be in place for players to be able to share/download user-created castles?

NS: No, you can fight against other players’ castles online, but there’s no sharing mechanism.

VGB: Will the PS3 and Vita versions share cross-platform features via PSN, such as save data transferring, online multiplayer, etc?

NS: Right now our save game data is too large for the cross-platform save feature. But if the limit is raised, we may implement it. If by some chance we happen to be working on both PS3 and Vita versions, that is.

VGB: Any chance of a buy-one-get-them-both bundle deal for the PS3 and Vita versions?

NS: No promises, but as a company we have, whenever technically possible, gone to great lengths to avoid forcing players to re-buy stuff. I think that’s a good tradition.

About the Author

Matt Litten is a 28 year old from-the-womb gamer turned video game reviewer/blogger and current editor/owner/operator of VGBlogger.com. Matt got his first taste of gaming as a youngster on the NES and Atari, and the rest is history from there. In 2004, three years removed from high school and still looking for a career direction in life, Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com, and after a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez Matt turned his attention to VGBlogger, and to this day is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary.