ValeGuard - Going it alone
Being a solo dev is tough. And Ryan(@rjdrag) —the developer behind Lost Tower Games—knows it. I caught up with him after discovering his latest creation ValeGuard in my Steam feed. He was kind enough to provide me a key and I was so pleased with the game I felt convinced he must have had help developing it. But no. The game was entirely developed by, as Ryan says, “Just me, baby! Just me!”
What drew me in was the simple-yet-polished art as well as the gameplay style that was, at first glance, reminiscent of ye olde-timey Warcraft. Ryan’s biggest influence was Lords of the Realm 2. “I’ve always loved that game,” he says. “And the labor system is inspired by that game.”
A not-really tower defense game
At its core, ValeGuard is actually a descendant from the tower-defense genre, but is evolved enough to feel more like a real-time strategy game. There are elements of both, along with character development, resource management and random events.
Players spend each day building up their defenses and infrastructure, arming their bowmen, spearmen and others, allocating workers and spending up their resources. And each night brings a seemingly random event. Sometimes a lone traveller wanders through offering healing or crafting weapons and items. Sometimes a trader sets up shop, allowing the player to buy and sell needed items. And sometimes the enemies come.
Enemies approach the town from one or more of several entry points, and players spend their daytime turn positioning troops and building towers and walls to defend from the impending onslaught. If the town survives, repairs can be made in the morning (at the cost of precious resources) and more troops can be trained, fed and everything else.
Ryan has been working with games for years, “mostly doing art stuff,” he says. ValeGuard is his first solo foray into the world of game development. He built ValeGuard entirely in Playmaker. “It was 7 months from idea to Early Access. Then another 3 months of EA work.” In my humble opinion, that was time well spent. The finished product is highly playable.
According to Ryan, “It was tough as a solo dev, and I've learned a ton. I think being very decided on the game from the start saved me from a lot of pitfalls.” One thing solo devs seem to have a particularly hard time with is finding that perfect balance between simplicity and grandiosity. Most everyone loves a complex game with great depth and nuance. But solo devs rarely have the time or resources to create something too deep. ValeGuard really hits the sweet spot with just enough complexity to keep the game interesting, without being too much. Add in the polished graphics and bug-free environment and we’ve got something that is definitely worth a look!