Tower Attack and Stony Glory: Drone

There’s something hugely depressing about tower defence games. I’m not just talking about that crushing, opaque sense of failure that arrives with each penetration of your meticulous defenses. It’s more the unshakable feeling that you’re wasting your time- perhaps because so much of your time with them is spent watching wave after wave crash pointlessly against your towers. Thank goodness, then, that a fellow by the name of David Wilson has made a pretty interesting tower defence/action hybrid freeware game called drone that actually manages to be even more depressing.

The product (David claims) of some 900 hours of work, drone’s idea is that instead of simply letting you spend your cash on towers or towers special abilities, it presents an entire shopping mall of possibility. You can buy towers, weapons, factories which produce minions of your own, vehicles, armour, command towers that let you control minions directly, even damage-absorbing ‘nodes’, all with the aim of keeping your little guy alive as successive waves of enemies move in to scrub you from existence. Be a sniper supporting a regiment of axe-bots, a maddened tank driver, a spanner-armed engineer sat behind wall of defences, it’s all up to you.

As an evolution of an arena shooter, drone’s a wonderful concept and more than worth giving a shot. There’s a dim sense of panic appropriate to the genre in trying to protect your fragile structures, and it’s rewarding to employ a bit of shooter moxie to lure enemies away from your factories, perhaps only to dispatch them all with a deft little pipe bomb. Really, the whole game is as polished as you like. The fonts and movement are smooth, the projectiles leaden, and the whole game proceeds with a strange, mathematical perfection.

Which, I suppose, is where the depression comes in. For all that drone (or, more accurately, drone part 1, since Wilson’s currently hard at work on the next instalment) might resemble an arena shooter, the heartless logic behind it is straight out of a tower defence game. The need for your avatar to routinely buy expensive ammo, the fact that you can be caught in a coincidental pincer movement by two railgunners, your achingly slow movement speed and hefty health bar, all of it grates with the arena shooter’s natural emphasis on pure skill.

As such, a death in drone only sometimes feels like an error on your part. Receiving a withering salvo from a gang of machine gun bots feels more like being bullied than anything else, and while it only takes a few seconds to lose a factory to a boss bot, coming back from that blow to your wallet can seem if not impossible, then at least rough and undesirable. Combine this with drone’s uniquely grey visuals and its slinky, empty atmospheric soundtrack and you’ve got something that, for all the tanks and explosions and dollar symbols, seems to have forgotten the simple rules games like this need to follow.

All this said, I’m really looking forward to part 2. If it’s developed in the right direction, this could be an absolutely awesome piece of freeware. It’s stuffed full of steamy potential like a Chinese bun. Play it yourself and see. Also, since tower defence plus action elements seems to be a
growing genre, I’m just going to suggest right here that we call this new hybrid TOWER ATTACK. I think that’d be pretty good.

For any fence-sitters, here’s a gameplay montage of drone in all its stony glory.


  1. Mac says:

    Looks interesting ,,, music from ingame or just part of vid?

  2. Heliocentric says:

    Warcraft 3 mods just called, they want their idea back.

  3. Tzarkahn says:

    This is brilliant, played for the first level or so, fun it is.

  4. bbot says:

    I’m not quite sure what you’re trying to say, here.

    Is it, “Tower defense games are derivative”? In which case, a duuuuh? Of course they’re derivative, they’re tower defense games. Have you not been paying attention for the last two years?

  5. Barts says:

    “opaque sense of failure that arrives with each penetration ”

    I sense strong Hank Moody influence there…

  6. Laneford says:

    When is someone going to make a TD game where you play as the nameless horde swarming the defences of the implacable AI and his equally implacable towers of shooty death?

    • roy7 says:

      There IS one, actually, where you choose the types of creeps to send and can upgrade them and even set the paths. The AI makes towers to fight you off. But I can’t recall the name. :/

    • Sacred_flame101 says:

      @ Laneford

      There are actually some around. Here is a link to one: link to be aware that if you click the arrows you can change the creeps paths

      You might be able to find more by googling reverse tower defense

    • Polysynchronicity says:

      I’m pretty sure someone already has done this.

    • Ginger Yellow says:

      PvZ had a mode where you played as the zombies.

    • Vinraith says:

      @Ginger Yellow

      And it was the best mode in the whole damned game, if you ask me.

    • Wulf says:

      I’ve got to agree with that!

  7. WTF says:

    Warcraft 3 players need to get the hell over themselves. Just because TD games happened to come from W3 it does not mean that they did them right or that they own the idea.

    Move on…

    As to this game – don’t really see what it has to do with TD games at all. Feels more a like a shmup to me. Graphically it even reminds me slightly of Xenon. Still pretty good fun but does not seem that original

    • mrmud says:

      I think the problem is that the war3 map scene rarely gets the credit it is due for all the amazing stuff that it has produced

    • PleasingFungus says:

      Well, if you want to be picky about it, Tower Defenses really came from Starcraft, where they were called “Matrix Defense”…

      So, let’s not fuss. Game looks really interesting; will have a look once I get back to my computer!

  8. RC-1290'Dreadnought' says:

    I only played the first two levels(the melee only and the ranged only). It was very nice to make a diamond shape made of nodes and build one factory and a lot of turrets in between. It became possible to take on 6 waves at a time.

  9. Po0py says:

    This is awesome. If I’m not mistaken you could basically sit your ship in the middle and build a protective base around it and play as a standard tower defense game. Or you could outfit your ship as a badass mean-machine and go round blasting enemies asteroid style. Or play both strategies. The art style is really nice and simple. It reminds me of that Dyson/Eufloria indie game from a couple of years ago.

    • Wulf says:

      …has it really been a couple of years all ready?

      Time flies.

    • Po0py says:

      Aye, well I remember playing an excellent but early version Dyson about a couple of years ago. I think it was released as Eufloria late last year. Unfortunately it is £15 on steam which is a little pricey for me.

    • Wulf says:

      Yeah, I remember playing Dyson on the TIG Source forums too. It wasn’t that I disbelieved you, it’s just that it’s surprising… time really does fly, I hadn’t realised that it was so long ago, though World of Goo is probably much older than I think it is, too. My perception of time is a little off in that regard.

  10. Arathain says:

    I’m really enjoying this. I focused on building myself a nice base with turrets and factories, surrounded by nodes, with me running about with just a spanner, and that worked great. I’ll try playing it just using weapons next.

  11. CMaster says:

    Good fun. Got to say I lean towards building stuff rather than fighting myself, but that could just be me in general.

  12. Wulf says:

    I’m mildly worried by the tiny text. If I have to pay attention to tiny text whilst playing (as opposed to just when building) then I might not be able to play this one (I’m surprised so few devs take visual disabilities into account, we all get older) but if it’s only when building I should do fine.
    I’m going to give it a go and report back!

    • Wulf says:

      The config.ini has a UI scale variable! :D Bless ‘im! I’m not sure how well that’ll work, but that’s very promising.

    • Wulf says:

      The default UI scale is definitely too small for me, and I think I found a bug. Funny bug, too. It seems that setting ‘size’ over anything but 1 makes the game not understand the ‘Scale’ variable, and setting UIScale to anything over 2 makes it totally forget the ‘UIScale’ variable.

      With a scalable UI I could enjoy this. So I’m actually going to go and see if I can’t mail the dev about this!!

  13. Dave Wilson says:

    Oh man, this is awesome. Thank you so much for reviewing my game. I wasn’t sure my e-mails would manage to jut out of the massive pile of e-mails you no doubt get every day, or that my game was good enough.

    But here it is, the system works. You don’t have to be an indie darling to get your stuff noticed, just good old fashioned hard work pays off in the end.

    She’s a stats fest all right. No cute little cartoon animals or user friendly interfaces here. Just functional symbols and numbers all over the place.

    I’m gonna re-do all the art and add this whole rpg element to it. Should be pretty wild.

  14. Jorlin says:

    Looks a bit like a slow version of geometry wars…. doesn’t it?

  15. Redd says:

    Goddamn every time I save up the 20000 for The Juggernaut (bitch) I get myself shot out of the cab the next wave.

    Fantastic game though and, to whoever asked, that music is in the game and it’s sick.

    • CMaster says:

      Best use for the Juggernaut is to park it up somewhere and press fire to open the doors, letting out the constant stream of axebots. You can move it and repair it, but sitting in it for long periods seems ill advised as you will get hit a lot.

  16. Tei says:

    I don’t know, but seems wildly popular just now. Downloading it is a hell, here.

    Tei@zulu ~
    $ wget
    --2010-04-06 21:21:36--
    Connecting to||:80... connected.
    HTTP request sent, awaiting response... 200 OK
    Length: 10492888 (10M) [application/octet-stream]
    Saving to: `drone.exe'

    96% [===========================================================================> ] 10,095,599 --.-K/s eta 15s

  17. John Peat says:

    Really quite enjoying this – love the look, the music and the tutorial style – but the actual game seems a little uneven in difficulty.

    You can setup a nice defense only for 3 ‘big axes’ to appear and destroying everything, for example.

    Enormous potential tho – with a bit of tweaking and all that!!

  18. PixelProspector says:

    a really promising game! lets see what part 2 will deliver….
    i think the site has currently problems to handle the RPS traffic…
    heres an alternative download
    link to

  19. Tei says:

    Really fun and original game. Its something new, I can say instaclassic?

  20. llasram says:

    I never could get into the way typical tower defense games make you spend so much time sitting around waiting to see if you’ve lost. I’ve recently been playing the casual game Clockwords which bills itself as a tower defense game, but completely inverts the action. The “buying” phase is pretty inconsequential, then during the “defending” phase you are so madly typing that you don’t have any time to even glance at the pretty pictures. Multiple examples of a new evolution of the genre in the works?

  21. SpinalJack says:

    I found the command tower really hard to use if you want to command your units more than a screen away as the screen will keep trying to track back to the player making it impossible to hold your units in the right position. Spamming axe factories is fun, after a while you save up so much money you just buy a juggernaut to piss about with.

  22. Tei says:

    I can even imagine a deathmatch mode, since this game flow freely from arcade shooter to slow pace turret defense, and everything in betweb. It even make me create new strategies. I have never seen that back on all other turret defenses. I play all other turrets defense games starting with a bad strategy, and optimizing it, while I advance levels. Maybe upgrade to a good strategy. On this game I have changed more than 4 types of strategies. It works to me, and works more than Dyson or any other game you can compare it to.
    It has also very high production values (music, graphics, engine [but somewhat flicky things]) on his own style.

    I normally hate turret defense games that force me to use “direct intervention powers”. But on this one feel really smooth. I can even learn more about the enemies using my direct intervention skills, and use that new expertise to build better defenses.

    To say something negative, the interface could be a bit better, It works, but is a bit confusing and break some minor usability standards (read: work different than most normal UI’s )

  23. geldonyetich says:

    Found and finished it last week. It really is an outstanding little game. When I’ve a few cents to rub together, I’ll probably toss them in this guy’s tip jar.

    Did encounter one little bug where one of my two big resource mites in area 3 had a resource node spawn right off to its side in just the right place where it couldn’t turn to reach it. So it spent the remainder of the match endlessly circling the node.

    Another critique: the game rewards you for not doing what’s boring. You get a little completion chit for going through the area with no structures or no weapons, when the game is at its best when you’re mixing both.