Video Game / Gemcraft

Gemcraft is a free-to-play Tower Defense series developed by Game in a Bottle and distributed by Armor Games, a major source of Web Games. It has a distinct Fantasy setting with a rudimentary storyline that varies between installments.

Generally, An Adventurer Is You, assuming that said adventurer is always a noble wizard out to reach some goal on the other side of the world, come hell or high water. In this case, come monsters, by the bucketload. You, the Squishy Wizard, must protect your tower (tower defense, get it?) at all costs, by placing towers next to, and traps on, the path leading to it. However, a key difference splits Gemcraft off from other tower defense games instead of being able to upgrade your traps and towers directly, you must power them with gems. Gems are mostly obtained with a spell named Craft Gem (which is basically the source of the game's name), and have distinct colors (which affect the types of powers they possess) and levels (which affect their strength). By combining gems correctly, you can create better ones to better fight those evil monsters.

The eight gem colors (and their special abilities) are:

  • Red: Splash Damage in the first two games. Changed to "bloodbound" in Labyrinth: The gem gets extra power from a percentage of the monsters it kills.
  • Orange: Mana Leech. Each time it hits a monster, you gain mana.
  • Yellow: Multiple Damage. The first two games gave a flat rate to deal triple damage. In Labyrinth, the multiple damage rate can be ramped up as high as you can make it (starting with double damage).
  • Lime: Multi-hit. Starts with one extra hit, but can be ramped up to be able to hit more than two monsters.
  • Green: Poison. Ignores armor, so useful for armored waves as well as swarmlings.
  • Cyan: Shock. Can stop the monster in its tracks.
  • Blue: Slow.
  • Purple: Armor Tearing. In the first two games, each hit has a chance to reduce a monster's armor by a set amount; in Labyrinth, each hit lowers a monster's armor by a given ratio, based on the gem's power.

The latest chapter, Chasing Shadows, was released to Armor Games in April 2014 and will be released to Steam later in 2014. It removes Lime gems (moving their multi-hit to Red) and adds two more colors, changing the colors thusly:
  • Orange: Mana Leech.
  • Yellow: Multiple Damage/Critical.
  • White: Poolbound. Increases the gem's damage and specials when the mana pool levels up.
  • Red: Chain hit (from lime, and moving it closer to its original Splash Damage role).
  • Green: Poison.
  • Cyan: Regeneration suppressing: lowers monsters' health regeneration rate. (Shock was made into a Freeze spell).
  • Black: Bloodbound (from red). Increases the gem's damage and specials based on the number of monsters the gem has hit.
  • Blue: Slow.
  • Purple: Armor Tearing.

This game series provides examples of:

  • Airborne Mook: Apparitions in Labyrinth just fly over the terrain, and have a lot of health. Thankfully, they don't hurt you, they're slow, they're uncommon, and they give 3 free skill points when beaten.
    • A much nastier version is the Shadow, encountered only once as a boss in the storyline, but the player can choose to fight one as a Boss in Mook Clothing via the level settings. These can fly anywhere on the terrain, have tons of life and armor, can spawn homing shadow balls that aim for your orb, and create a large and fast swarm of Mooks. When low on health, the Shadow will perform The Slow Walk right at your orb and instantly destroy it should you fail to kill the shadow.
  • Allegedly Free Game: Gemcraft: Labyrinth and Chasing Shadows contains a five-dollar "premium" version which unlocks extra modes, skills, and battlefields. While criticised heavily, they are praised by the hardcore crowd as one of the greatest examples of replayability.
    • Chasing Shadows ups it a lot, as there are many achievements, levels, and skills that can only be found by completing certain maps in certain sectors...and those that require completing a Premium-only level are thus unaccessible.
      • The best two gems for level-grinding in Chasing Shadows, the red chain hit and the white poolbound, are premium only, thus unavailable on most maps to free users. Plus, the infinite mode, Endurance, is only available via the pay versions. To compare, on the early levels, you can get 1000-2000 points. With Endurance, you can easily get 10,000 points on initial maps even without the later game upgrades, and makes getting multiple levels per round easy. While the free version eventually becomes almost unwinnable after some time, the bonus levels make the pay versions almost too easy.
  • All Your Powers Combined: Crafting multi-colored gems becomes less beneficial until you combine all 8 colors into one gem. At that point, it gains the power of all 8 gem types rather than the 3 dominant ones, and its damage, range, and firing speed all skyrocket. Averted in Labyrinth: Supergemming in this manner doesn't exist.
  • Bonus Level: Getting a glowing frame (equating to a really high score) in the original on all levels in certain section would open one of the hidden levels, all of which were a one color level. In Chapter Zero, completing maps on Heroic will eventually unlock bonus levels. In Labyrinth, the four maps in the corner can only be opened by doing special field challenges. In Chasing Shadows, vision fields serve this purpose, being levels that only need to be cleared once for full reward and locked you into specific challenges. Other fields only unlocked after another field was beaten on at least Glaring.
  • Brutal Bonus Level: Pretty much any bonus level either already is this, or can be made into this with appropriate difficulty modifiers.
  • Chain Lightning: Lime gems (red gems in Chasing Shadows) can strike chain hits.
  • Damage Reduction: Via Armour level. Some particularly annoying mooks gain armor every second.
  • Death of a Thousand Cuts: Swarmlings do this. A single swarmling costs very little to banish, but if enough of them manage to slip past your defenses the combined cost can make giants look easy by comparison.
  • Disc One Nuke: One of the early stages in Gemcraft: Labryinth has a tower surrounded by eight amplifiers. Place a gem in each of the amplifiers, and the tower gem will kick ass. This nuke becomes MUCH more powerful if the player buys the "premium" version and uses endurance mode with this strategy to get a ridiculous multiplier to their XP gained. A similar setup occurs in Chasing Shadows.
    • Red gems in Labyrinth. They add a percentage of their kills to their damage. Meaning a red gem that's been there since the first wave can have a damage of over 1000 by the final waves. The gem won't dominate the game by itself, but becomes much more powerful when combined with the lime or yellow gems (which multiply the offensive power.)
      • This power was nerfed slightly in Chasing Shadows. The black gems now multiply both damage and specials and count hits rather than kills, but use hit levels rather than raw hits.
    • A different Disc One Nuke in Labyrinth (the ability to juggle monsters over mana leech traps by building and demolishing walls to keep them going back and forth over them) led to the developers putting a hard cap on the number of demolitions one could use on a level.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Slow gems were not even in the first game; you had to use trenches to slow down the enemies, and even then that was hard. Also, there was a soft Cap in the first game, unlike later games which just kept going until it was too high. Finally, there was no way to pause gameplay when building or thinking, which meant that everything was based on twitch-like gameplay, unlike later games which became closer to Take Your Time.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The Forgotten gets her name from the fact that she keeps escaping for so long, she is now forgotten that nobody knows why is she exists.
  • Fake Difficulty: The Shadow boss from Labyrinth. It has the ability to spawn a HUGE, fast Zerg Rush of units that will take a bit of time to take down... and there's a possibility that it spawns them right in front of your orb, making it impossible to avoid massive damage.
  • Flawless Victory: Defeating a map in Labyrinth without letting any enemy touch your orb gives an xp boosting medal for that round. In Chasing Shadows, the orb gives extra experience for each flawless wave.
  • Gemstone Assault: Subverted with the Gem towers that fire energy, but played straight with the Gem Bombs that you can drop on a bunch of Mooks.
  • Game-Breaking Bug: In Labyrinth, the glitch that allows the creation of near infinite strength gems has a chance of deleting your save file.
  • Kill Sat: A Focused tower, a gem tower accompanied with a complete 8 supporting amplifiers in a 3x3 box, qualify in this trope. As amassing powerful gems in each amplifier (taking a fraction of its damage, range and firing speed), the tower gets a significant boost so wide it can fire across the map, disintegrating anything that simply spawns into battle. While Amplifiers alone are expensive, skill investment can be only thing that stops you from making one.
  • Level Grinding: And lots of it. In Chapter Zero, you'll have to level up to 200 in order to max out all your stats, and in Labyrinth, there is no level cap for 3 of the skills. For the premium version, the Ritual skill will let you gain one starting and maximum mana for a set number of battle amulets you possess, based on its skill level.
  • Luck-Based Mission: Prior to Labyrinth, crafting causes you to receive given a random-color gem based on those available in the level. The same goes for using Gem Bombs on enemy-spawning buildings — they may or may not destroy the building due to randomized damage.
  • Make My Monster Grow: You can use gem bombs to provoke more enemies to attack, which also causes them to become stronger but give more Mana as well. Use this effectively, and...
  • Mana: This is needed to build things, craft gems, cast spells, and as a last ditch Mana Shield to banish monsters that get too close. It builds up slowly every second, but largely comes from monsters you kill, and gets increased by using orange gems in the right places.
  • Mana Shield: If a monster reaches the destination, it's either sent back to the beginning via a banishing spell or causes a game over.
  • Metal Slime: Apparitions in Labyrinth. They are uncommon foes that fly over terrain slowly and have a TON of hit points, but they can't harm you at all and will just enter and exit the map. However, killing these gives the player 3 free skill points!
  • Multi-Mook Melee: Because it's tower defense.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The Forgotten. Also, epic bosses in the first game.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In Chapter 0, you spend the game searching for the Gem of Eternity. When you find it and capture it, it turns out to have been containing a monster (for eternity, hence the name) which then possesses you, setting the stage for the first game.
  • One-Hit Kill: In Labyrinth, the Shadow will perform The Slow Walk towards your orb as a Desperation Attack. If it touches your orb before you destroy it, your lose instantly regardless of Mana left. In Chasing Shadows, this ability is given to Spires.
    • This can be turned on for ALL enemies in Chapter Zero by playing a "Sudden Death" game. If Swarm waves weren't annoying enough, now any one of them can kill you, no matter how tiny and pathetic they are.
  • Path of Most Resistance: much of the game's strategy is based around deciding how much you want to follow this in the name of more experience.
  • Rewarding Vandalism: Using Gem Bombs on the buildings strewn about may let you uncover hidden relics.
  • Scenery Porn: A Flash game having this level of detail is absurd. Later games have maps with beautiful backdrops that the series gets much praise for.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The Forgotten is sealed away in the Gem of Eternity, but the mage from Chapter 0 is foolish enough to lust for it... and breaks it.
  • Skill Point Reset: You can do this for free at the skill screen.
  • Sound of No Damage: The game plays a metallic clink if an attack on an enemy is nullified by Damage Reduction.
  • Splash Damage: Red gems give splash damage in first two games. Lime gems give a multi-hit version (which is likely why red gems were changed). Red takes Lime's multi-hit in Chasing Shadows, while the Barrage spell fires shells that do splash damage as well.
  • Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl: The Forgotten gives this vibe, despite being a faceless skeleton with long hair.
  • Stronger with Age: Blood- and Pool-bound gems are two variants that revolve around this trope.
    • Bloodbound increases the efficiency of the gem the longer it stays in the middle of the battle. Constantly killing (or hitting in Chasing Shadows) enemies will make the corresponding gem stronger.
    • Poolbound, in Chasing Shadows, increases its power (or the whole gem as a component) the longer you stay in battle, provided that you continuously build more powerful gems as a result of the constantly growing manapool.
  • Zerg Rush: Swarmlings are the most notable example, but really "rush the enemy with enormous numbers" is the primary tactic of the enemy forces in general.

Chasing Shadows contains examples of in addition to the above:

  • Absurdly High Level Cap: High enough to make even Disgaea hang its head in shame. Technically there is no hard level cap, however there is a limit to how much experience points you can get. Beating the same field twice doesn't give you full XP, it gives you whatever the difference is between your new XP and your old record - fail to beat your record and you get nothing. That said, by stacking difficulty, talisman bonuses, and battle traits you can gain billions of XP per level, and with almost 200 fields in the Steam version of the game, your wizard level can get absurdly high. The soft level cap is generally considered to be somewhere around Level 50,000.
  • And Man Grew Proud: According to one of the journal entries, the Forgotten was summoned because of this. The wizards of old, convinced that they were invincible, and greedy for more power, began summoning and enslaving ever more powerful demons, until they finally pulled up one they couldn't control. In one of the Vision fields, you get to oversee the ritual that started the whole mess.
  • Batman Gambit: The Forgotten's plan to get captured by the wizards enough times for the fake Gems of Eternity to become fully corrupt.
  • Boss in Mook Clothing: The Giants. Overlaps with Damage-Sponge Boss, as high levels in Endurance mode have their HP written in scientific notation, once they pass the 1-trillion (1e12) mark.
  • Cool Gate: The Scythe Gate not only looks cool, it's actually essential to the plot by ripping the Forgotten out of the protagonist's body.
  • Death Is Cheap: Referenced at the beginning of the game: your body is always hiding in an old tower in the game's easiest level, while the Orb of Presence lets you clear the way of monsters. If they manage to break the orb, the protagonist only needs to make another.
  • Dual Boss: Demons and Spires occasionally attack in pairs or couples. On higher difficulty, even three or four can be on the battlefield at once.
  • Difficulty Spike: Once you're past sector P, monsters start having enough armor and HP that you won't make it very far unless you can pull out a grade 5-6 gem on the first wave. Several maps after that, you need to have enough knack to make pathing harder for the mooks on top.
  • Disc One Nuke: The Beam attack deals low damage, but hits 10 times per second, making it ridiculously easy to stack specials on a monster. Paired with an Orange gem, it can harvest mana by the thousands as early as in Wave 3. Paired with the black gem, it can make it grow uber powerful in a hurry. It becomes a self-boosting nuke later in the game, in levels where you have access to White gems, which improve the gem's damage and special (i.e. they make it harvest even MORE mana) the more times you hit the Mana cap, giving you a gem that basically upgrades itself for free provided that you spend your Mana wisely.
  • Evil Evolves: The Demons start out as merely annoying, but as you clear more sectors, they gain several abilities, such as attacking your orb directly, slowing down your spells' recharge time, spawning and reinforcing monsters, and so on. They even retain all of their abilities if you meet one by replaying a previous level.
  • Four Is Death: Field T7 has four broken orbs with the corpses of their corresponding wizards nearby. It's also the field where the most spirits appear.
  • The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You: With the exception of the Menu Time Lockout, merely pausing the game in the time dial can have a strategic advantage. However, Shadows retain a small bit of movement even while time is paused; either shooting your orb or spawning more creeps as you struggle to find a way to kill it without the protection of your paused towers.
  • Fun Size: The Orblets Battle trait. Orblets appear around your Orb with each an adorable chime sounding at the start. While Mana increase provided by these orblets is minuscule, they help prevent up to 9 enemies from being banished by your main Orb, securing more experience in return. Lose any of the orblets by letting the monsters carry them away from the map, on the other hand, will significantly reduce Mana gain from any source.
  • Fun with Acronyms: The spell you get by obtaining the fake Gem of Eternity is called "Wake of Eternity". As you find out eventually, it's not just your enemies that it brings woe to.
  • Good Powers, Bad People: The Forgotten has the ability to create life, and her minions make regular use of beacons which can heal wounds, cleanse illnesses, provide shields, and protect other structures. Unfortunately, since the Forgotten IS an evil demon, she mostly uses her life-giving power to create and sustain her living weapons.
  • Healing Factor: All monsters regenerate health now. The Cyan gem and Shrine of Infection can counter it.
  • Hope Spot: Towards the end, wizards from the Spiritforge start sending you help with their own gems and towers. Things go downhill really fast from there.
  • Interface Screw: At first the Forgotten merely flashes across the screen. If she shows up in the middle, she blanks out everything but the game map- not only are you unable to cast spells or do anything with gems, you can't even see how much life you have.
  • Jump Scare: The Forgotten will regularly and suddenly appear with a Scare Chord in later portions of the game. Her appearance also enrages the next few waves, making them stronger, or disables your HUD, preventing you from casting spells or moving gems for a while.
  • Level Grinding: While the leveling system only counts the best score for each field for the purpose of leveling up, you need a lot of grinding to get the Shadow Cores needed to upgrade your Talisman and increasing the difficulty and XP yield of levels.
  • Mook Maker: The Shadows will regularly drop off monsters on the path. Also, Possessed Giants gain the ability to spawn Swarmlings when they're killed.
  • More Dakka: One of the new features of the game gives your gems an extra attack with limited charges that they can use together with their normal attack: the long-ranged, armor piercing Bolt, the continuous-firing Beam, and the multiple explosive Barrage shells.
  • Mighty Glacier: Spires are nigh-unstoppable beasts who dwarf even your towers and will destroy you with a single hit, and have a cap on the damage they can take from every shot as they make a beeline for your Orb... which takes them about five minutes to reach, which gives an ample window of time to shoot them down.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Whenever a wizard trapped the Forgotten, she corrupted the Gem of Eternity. By going to the Spiritforge and performing the ritual with the fake Gem, you gave her the chance to activate all the corrupted replicas and blow the Spiritforge's gates open. Oops.
  • One-Hit Kill: Let a Spire reach your orb, and no amount of Mana and Banishment upgrades will save you.
    • Also, if the monster waves run out before you manage to unlock a wizard tower or charge an ensnarement socket, the ritual fails and your orb gets destroyed.
  • Overshadowed by Awesome: Armor Tearing and Suppressing gems hold very conditional statistics that are barely manipulated by the game; Armor Tearing is only useful early on, when your weak gems cannot get through the armor easily. Even then, Poison gems not only ignore armor for their special, but they generally remain useful all the way up until Critical Hit gems become readily available. After that, a combination of Bolt and trapped Critical Hit gems will do most of the rest of the work. By the time Suppressing gems could become useful, the enemy's regeneration tends to be large enough that the displayed number is around the enemy's actual health pool, while the gem itself is probably nowhere near that.
  • Percent Damage Attack: The Wake of Eternity. In addition to shredding armor, suppressing regeneration, and having a chance to banish enemies, it also deals 20% of their current health to them as damage. The Shrine of Blades (the Critical Hit shrine) also deals additional percent damage (based on the gem grade used) to enemies caught in its blast, up to 40% of their current health. Very useful against giants, which by the end of the game can have potentially millions of HP, even if you don't anger them; and absurdly useful in Endurance, where all the monsters get constant health increases per wave, even beyond the trillions.
  • Psycho Strings: Play when a demon is about to show up. The Forgotten is heralded by a dissonant piano chord.
  • Rocket Tag Gameplay: Endurance Mode culminates this kind of sort, provided with enough skill and level. So long as you build powerful gems, the monsters keep growing until either you overwhelm it with damage or they overwhelm your tower with their exponential health increase. Both sides win, as long your experience out-gains your previous attempt.
  • Shout-Out: The Wake of Eternity icon looks a lot like the iconic image of a certain horror movie... which is fitting, since the Forgotten is a dead ringer for said movie's antagonist.
  • Taking You with Me: Demons and Spires will explode when you take them down, demolishing all walls in their vicinity. Not noticing that can let monsters slip through very quickly.
  • Tripod Terror: Spires, albeit with altogether too many legs for comfort.
  • Scratch Damage: All attacks deal at least 1 damage no matter how much armor the monster has.
    • Spires cannot be damaged for more than a certain portion of their maximum HP, so continuous fire from several gems is one of the best ways to defeat one.


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