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Video Game / Netstorm

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A 1997 Real-Time Strategy blended with a little Tower Defence to create a smoothie of intriguing possibilities and a whole lot of headaches. Combat units are stationary buildings, that you cannot control once built.

The landscape is scattered islands in the air, which makes up the (unimaginatively named) world of Nimbus. You control (or possibly ARE) a high priest that worships the three furies of Nimbus (Thunder, Rain, Wind) and your battles somehow relate to their unending battle for dominance below the clowds. You build a temple to the furies, they give you a variety of towers to blow up the other guy's towers and temples. The aim of the game is to capture enemy priests and ceremonially toss them off the islands to be eaten by the furies.

Getting from one island to another is done by means of bridges that your temple makes. You get given small sections which you join together to make large bridges. First off, you need to go and gather resources which in Nimbus is Storm Power. This appears from Storm Geysers, most of which are tiny little islands spread around the map. You bridge to them and send your mooks off to collect the crystals. Secondly, you need bridges to get to the other guy's island and blow his stuff up. You can place units on your island but mostly that will put you out of range of the other guy, and the only other place you can build units is attached to your own bridges, that in turn connect to your island. Bridges are very hard to destroy, and placing them correctly is one of the major skills of the game. Particularly, placing bridges very quickly and in such a way as to prevent an enemy from placing his own bridges and units is pretty challenging, and doing it fast and so you can still attack from them is an art form.

This brings us neatly on to the units themselves. Each of the furies has its own tech tree, and there is a general purpose one (Sun) that any side can use to fill in the gaps in its own tree. Each tree you want to build units from needs a specific workshop built, which costs a fair amount. For any given battle, players normally stick to at most one tech tree plus the sun tech tree. Each tech tree has its own strengths and weaknesses, but in principle contains: A generator (provides 1 bit of its specific type of energy in an area around it, units require between 1 and 3 bits of energy to be supplied to build, but not to operate, can 'meltdown' in multiplayer to destroy bridges in its immediate vicinity), A cannon-type unit (that shoots stuff), a blocker (blocks shooty things), barrier generators, an anti-air defense tower, an air-attack unit (you build a base unit that continually builds little attackers) and ground and/or air transports for capturing storm power and enemy priests. In no particular order, the tech trees are:

Thunder - Most damage, most toughness, most cost, very inflexible.

  • The Thunder Cannon does the most damage in the game and has the longest range, but must be built facing one way and cannot turn once its placed.
  • Thunder's blocker unit, the Bulwark, has the most hp of anything and is invulnerable to air attacks, but still takes damage from ground shooters normally.
  • Thunder's anti-air unit is the Vander Tower, which shoots out lightning in a large radius around it, only attacks air units and requires 3 bits of energy, but does a lot of damage and attacks fairly rapidly.
  • The Barrier unit is the Arc Spire: You build two of them on a horizontal or vertical line, and lightning begins to course between them, damaging anything that gets caught in the lightning pulses.
  • Thunder doesn't have any air units.
  • The thunder transport is the Bulf which is a large ox-type creature that can go collect things for you. It's very slow but also the toughest transport.

Wind - Low damage, high speed, variable cost, high flexibility.

  • Wind's cannon is the Crossbow which has a comparatively short range, but is also a very flexible cannon that fires extremely rapidly. It doesn't turn, but can hit anything inside a sixty-degree arc in front of it. It also does double duty as an anti-air cannon. Widely regarded as the best unit in the game due to its flexibility, low cost and decent damage.
  • The Wind Tower is very weak, but on one side it is invulnerable to all cannon fire. Obviously this is quite a plus.
  • Wind's air attack unit is the Dust Devil, which is invulnerable and does a lot of damage but doesn't last particularly long. It also cracks bridges it passes over, making them easier to destroy.
  • Wind's ground transport is The Sail Skater, which is a essentially a small sailboat on wheels. The fastest moving transport in the game, though its ground restriction means that air transports are usually quicker in actually getting to and from Storm Geysers, due to not having to follow twisty bridges.
  • Wind's air transport is the Airship, which is relatively fast and unusually tough for a Wind unit, but quite expensive and very large, making it easy to hit.

Rain - Decent damage, decent speed, decent cost, decent flexibility, extremely relentless.

  • Rain's cannon is the Ice Cannon. A rotary cannon that burst fires ice spikes with a short pause in between each volley. Can only fire in a fixed direction like the Thunder Cannon, but is shorter ranged and deals less damage. Ice spikes 'bounce' on impact with an enemy unit, dealing a small amount of area effect damage that can eventually break through even the invulnerable side of Wind Towers.
  • Rain's blocker is the Ice Tower, which has fairly low hp, but it also regrows for free once it's destroyed, and is almost impossible to destroy entirely. Numerous layers of them can provide an ablative barrier that regenerates faster than the enemy can destroy it.
  • Rain's barrier generator, which doubles as an anti-air unit, is the Acid Barrier. You set up two towers on a direct line, and an invisible line of acidic death forms between them. Any unit that touches the line of death is immediately killed and slurped up by the towers. This is obviously pretty useful, but you need to take care, because the towers themselves are not protected.
  • Rain's air attacker is the Man o' War. A flying jellyfish that shoots lightning, with a long 2 minute lifespan, high range and good damage. The Man o' War is unique in that it prioritizes enemy transports over anything else, and should a Man o' War kill any unit its 2 minute lifespan is reset, allowing a single Man o' War to potentially last forever as long as it can keep killing. The lifespan reset also resets the Man o War's attack range, meaning that they can sometimes end up in very strange locations due to following transports deep behind enemy lines.
  • Rain's ground transport is the Crystal Crab, which is pretty fast, reasonably tough, will make an extremely obnoxious noise and attack other transports to steal what they are carrying when it encounters them, leaving them stunned and canceling their orders, which is very annoying.
  • Rain's air transport is the Cloud Floater, which is fairly expensive, reasonably fast and quite hard to kill, as most shots will pass right through it.

Sun - Low cost, extremely average with one notable exception, can use any energy to build rather than requiring one specific type.

  • The Sun Cannon is basic, but useful. It is the only pure cannon that can turn after you place it and can fire straight up, down, left and right. It has decent range and hitting power although nothing special. It is cheap and effective.
  • Sun's blocker is the Stone Tower. Tougher than Wind and Ice Towers, but with no special abilities. Very cheap and easily spammable due to requiring only 1 bit of energy.
  • Sun's anti-air is the Sun Disc Thrower, which is dirt cheap and flings large bronze discs within a short radius. Functions exactly like the Vander Tower except smaller, weaker, cheaper and the sun disc thrower will attack ground units as well. As the only ground attacker with a full 360 degree fire arc, it can be it useful under lots of situations.
  • Sun's air attacker is the Whirligig. By far the weakest and least impressive flyer, but also the cheapest. Unlike other flyers, when Whirligigs run out of fuel they return to their spawner to refuel. As this process takes longer than just spawning a new Whirligig due to travel time, this is actually a disadvantage, though it does look cool.
  • Sun barrier generator is the Sun Barricade. This is the notable exception to the Sun lineup and together with the Crossbow forms the bread and butter of your forces. You build two towers in a line, and a force field beam forms between them. Unlike the other barriers, this beam stops all projectiles dead without exception, making it a supreme defense and also the only defense that cannot be eventually worn down by Ice Cannons. The Sun Barricade and the Crossbow are your bread and butter units that everyone uses because they are just that good.
  • Sun's ground transport is technically the Golem, but literally everyone gets it by default from their Temple. The cheapest transport, and also the most fragile, Golems form the backbone of your gathering efforts.
  • Sun's air transport is the Balloon, as with all Sun units it is cheaper and weaker than its equivalents. Though slightly slower and much more fragile than the other air transports, its low cost and easy availability make it very common, as generally speaking if your transports are under enemy attack you're in deep trouble regardless.

So yeah, you build between islands, you shoot units with your units, you blow the other guy's temple up, knock their priest out, capture him and throw him down a hole into the endless storm below, which pleases the Furies and grants you the knowledge of how to build a new unit.

Although utterly unrelated to game play, this is a game with a LOT of flavor, and for a world that you never really get to know, it takes quite a lot of pains to get you interested. EVERYTHING has an encyclopedia entry, and there is a whole lot of quotes and really good flavourful writing. It's actually kind of sad that no other games in this universe were made. We also get a glimpse of the normal people living in this horrible, war-torn world, living in sunken houses and clinging to the edges of the islands. It's pretty cool.

For some years now, Netstorm has been freeware and maintained by the people at NetstormHQ. Additionally, a Spiritual Successor titled Disciples of the Storm is currently searching for funding on Kickstarter here. Jim Greer, one of the creators of the game and founder of Web Game site Kongregate, is taking part on the project.

This work contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Beating A Dead Player: You don't win just by blowing up all the other guy's stuff, you need to shoot HIM a bunch and then sacrifice him to your gods.
  • Bizarrchitecture: given the semirandom nature of bridges, every path traced between two floating masses will have a thousand little bridge stubs that lead nowhere, various unexpected deviations, wavering paths that don't seem to make sense and occasionally branches that go nowhere that were simply used as a dump for unwanted bridge segments (that will eventually collapse on their own).
  • Checkpoint Starvation: No check points, no saves of any kind once you get into the fighting. In the harder missions, this seriously ratchets up the difficulty. Particularly since bridge pieces are random this can affect how quickly you can get to resources or how you place towers, and that means that when starting over because you screwed up later on, it can be tough just to get back where you were.
  • Color-Coded Armies: Not a vast amount, but there are colours that tell your sides apart. Your islands and towers have an appropriate border, while your transports and priest are the right colour. You are blue, the bad guys are variously red, purple, yellow and green.
  • Com Mons: You start out just with the sun cannon and sun disk thrower, but as soon as you get a hold of the shiny toys they are, if not forgotten, at least relegated to marginal use. Every element has a better cannon and a better anti-air choice, although they do cost more.
  • Cruelty Is the Only Option: The victory through tearing out your enemies' souls. No one seems to have that much a problem with this, though...
  • Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors: In theory, Wind beats Thunder (Thunder Cannons can only shoot in one of the 4 cardinal directions, and Wind Towers are invulnerable on one side), Thunder beats Rain (Ice Towers are weak but regenerate, Thunder Cannons can destroy them very quickly, and Bulwarks are invulnerable to air attacks, such as Rain's powerful Man-o-Wars), Rain beats Wind (Ice Towers are never permanently destroyed, so you can use them as permanent blockades over which the short-ranged Crossbows can't shoot far. Also, Ice Cannon shots ricochet off buildings they hit, allowing them to hit Wind Towers in one of the vulnerable sides), and Sun can't take Wind, Rain or Thunder in a direct fight, but has ways to attack from safety (for example, Sun Disc Throwers can attack diagonally, unlike every cannon, and while Sun Barricades themselves are weak, the barrier between them is impervious to cannon fire).
  • Excuse Plot: Oh yes. The plot of the campaign is kind of non-existent. You get told that you are part of this big war thing, but the characters and sides aren't in any way expanded upon. You basically go and fight people. Sometimes you have to fight a few at a time because you were betrayed or something, but no-one is really paying attention.
  • Fire, Ice, Lightning: There's four building types with different attacks. Sun is well-rounded, Air performs short and quick attacks, Rain tends to be persistent attacks, and Thunder tries to overpower with raw strength.
  • Immune to Bullets: Forcefields and a few defences are invulnerable to projectile attack.
  • Inverse Law of Utility and Lethality: The more powerful a tower is, the more it will cost and the lower range of movement it will have. Most obviously, the thunder cannon and ice cannon have powerful long ranged attacks, but you better hope that you pointed it at something that's really worth killing, because it won't be shooting anything else. The crossbow and sun disk thrower can shoot across a much wider area, but at much less range. Oh, and they can shoot aircraft too. The sun cannon is somewhere in the middle.
  • Last Chance Hit Point: Slightly. If your priest is incapacitated (by being shot repeatedly in the head with a gun that shoots things about his size for example) he doesn't die, he's just in a coma or something and has a magic coma shield. If you still have a temple you will recharge health and assuming you aren't still being shot eventually return to health.
  • Level Editor: A whole bunch of fan-made maps and even campaigns and story missions have been made with such a tool.
  • Lightning Gun: Thunder Cannons fire discrete "chunks" of lightning, and Vander Towers zap any airborne units that get too close.
  • Luck-Based Mission: your success is dictated in part by what bridge shapes you get. You can't alter them, you can only choose between four, and those are completely random; if you get a particularly unlucky set, and don't get the shapes you need quickly after that, your resource gatherers might need to walk around mazelike paths to get to the geysers, significantly lengthening the time before you get resources. Also, not getting a bridge to end right where you need can mean positioning a fixed unit in a sub-optimal location, and potentially suffering consequences from that.
  • Mirror Match: Most of the time you have a different tech tree to your enemies (so you can rock/paper/scissors him to death) but sometimes you have to beat the same tree. Also, all the priests are just pallet swaps, so in a sense every fight is a mirror match.
  • Overheating: The ice cannon shuts down briefly between bursts before restarting.
  • Recycled Soundtrack from Shattered Steel.
  • Regenerating Health: The ice tower that constantly regrows, and the priest can sometimes regain health too, but nothing else in the game can without specific spells.
  • Reinventing the Wheel: In multiplayer, obtaining all techs and winning another game allows you to advance to the next rank for combat bonuses. The catch is that you need to re-research all of the units.
  • Shattered World / Floating Continent: Obviously, what with the floating islands. Apparently the islands have some sort of propulsion system that is used off-camera, but you can never use when it would actually be useful.