Designing the Carrot Launcher

Initial Inspiration

The Carrot Launcher is the result of two separate ideas converging during a meeting. On the game design side, anti-air was high on my list of potential tower mechanics. On the creative design side, the Carrot Farm was high on Naomi’s list of environment ideas. At some point during one of our weekly meetings, somebody pointed out that it would be fun to launch a carrot into the air like a missile, and then Toli sketched this:

That sketch hit all the right notes for us, and the Carrot Launcher was born. Establishing the visual direction also turned out to be crucial for moving forward on this design, which I had been stuck on. “Carrots that behave like missiles” gave me a specific feel to design towards, and gave me a launching point for the powerup ability.

Fleshing Out the Design

As soon as we had established this as a missile launcher, “Macross missile spam” immediately came to mind as a fun visual reference for the powerup ability.

I also had a notion that making this a targeted line AoE would be interesting, as flying enemies tend to follow long straight lines, so it would set the player up for satisfying situations where they can place the Carrot Launcher in the middle of a flyer path, and line up shots that hit a lot of Bees. My first idea was to target it like this:

and fire a bunch of missiles to create a series of explosions in a line. I implemented it, played with it, and it felt cool, but after a few playtests I started to realize there was a problem.

Carving Out a Niche

One of my primary design goals in Defend the Cake is that each tower should have a sharp and clearly defined role. While this first iteration was effective against swarms of Bees, it wasn’t nearly as effective against the new enemy being introduced in the same level the Carrot Launcher first appears: the Drone Bee.

Drone Bees have 5x the HP of normal Bees, so the explosions that felt awesome against Bees would barely scratch the Drone Bees. I didn’t want to just amp up the damage, because I didn’t want the player to be able to build one Carrot Launcher and instantly be able to wipe out an entire wave of Bees with one shot. There are only a few flying enemies in the game, so if the role of the tower is anti-air, it better feel awesome against all flying enemies.

Back to the Drawing Board

I went back to what I started with. Is there a way of combining line targeting with firing a bunch of missiles, and make that feel fun and effective against all flying enemies? I didn’t have an answer at the time, so I decided to sleep on it.

The next day, I had something new to try: the player targets with a rectangle, and then the tower fires a bunch of missiles and distributes them amongst the enemies targeted.

It worked great! Targeting felt good, and a single Drone Bee gets hit by all the missiles for a ton of damage, while a swarm of normal Bees each get hit by a missile or two. It also felt more unique as the Watermelon already had a circular AoE ability, and the first iteration of the Carrot Tower felt too similar. The fact that it was no longer AoE also allowed me to increase the damage per missile, making it feel more impactful, without being massively more effective against larger swarms.