Codex Gamicus
Tower defense video games
Basic Information

Tower defense video games are a subgenre of real-time strategy video games.[1][2]

The goal of tower defense games is to try to stop enemies from crossing a map by building towers which shoot at them as they pass. Enemies and towers usually have varied abilities, costs, and ability costs. When an enemy is defeated, the player earns money or points, which are used to buy or upgrade towers, or upgrade the number of money or points that are earned, or even upgrade the rate at which they upgrade.[3]

The choice and positioning of the personal towers is the essential strategy of the game. Many games, such as Flash Element Tower Defense, feature enemies that run through a "maze", which allows the player to strategically place towers for optimal effectiveness.[4] However, some versions of the genre force the user to create the maze out of their own towers, such as Desktop Tower Defense.[5] Some versions are a hybrid of these two types, with preset paths that can be modified to some extent by tower placement, or towers that can be modified by path placement.


Before tower defense games existed, a Japanese company named ASCII released a game in 1983 that is today described as a "reverse tower defense" or "tower attack" game, Bokosuka Wars, wherein the player must storm an enemy castle, avoiding towers built to shoot at them as they pass, rather than defend it.[6] Another prototypical example that same year was Koei's Hoi Hoi, a turn-based strategy PC game that involved defending confectionaries from cockroaches, which was later remade as Stop That Roach! for the Game Boy in 1994.

Another early prototypical tower defense game was the Atari Games release Rampart in 1990.[7] Yet another early example of a tower defense game was Final Fantasy VII's Fort Condor minigame in 1997.[8] By 2000, maps for StarCraft, Age of Empires II, and Warcraft III were following suit.[9]

Eventually, independent game developers began using Adobe Flash to make stand-alone tower defense browser games,[10] which led to the release of Flash Element Tower Defense in January 2007[11] and then Desktop Tower Defense in March of the same year.[12][13][14] Desktop Tower Defense became immensely popular and earned an Independent Games Festival award,[15] and its success led to a version created for the mobile phone by a different developer.[16] Several other tower defense computer games achieved a level of fame, including Protector,[14] Immortal Defense,[17] GemCraft,[18] and Plants vs. Zombies.[19]

By 2008, the genre's success led to tower defense games on video game consoles such as Defense Grid: The Awakening on the PC and Xbox 360,[20] and PixelJunk Monsters and Savage Moon for the PlayStation 3.[9] Tower defense games have also appeared on handheld game consoles such as Lock's Quest and Ninjatown on the Nintendo DS,[21] and there are dozens of games for the iPhone/iPod Touch and Android.

In November 2010, the genre was first brought to the blind gaming community with the release of Aprone's Towers of War.[22]


Tower defense video games are characterised by the positioning of static units by the player to defend against mobile enemy units who are trying to get from a start point to an end point. There is a set number of enemy units (or 'damage' the player can take from units reaching the end point) who can reach the end point before the level is lost. Some games use a static route that the enemy units follow around which the player places their towers, while others favour a free-form environment that allows the user to define the path the enemy units take. Some games use a mixture of both. Most games allow the upgrading of the player's towers.

Often an essential strategy is "mazing", which is the tactic of creating a long, winding path of towers to lengthen the distance the enemies must traverse to get past the defense. Sometimes "juggling" is possible by alternating between barricading an exit on one side and then the other side to cause the enemies to path back and forth until they are defeated. Some games also allow players to modify the attack strategy used by towers to be able to defend for an even more reasonable price.[23]

The degree of the player's control (or lack thereof) in such games also varies from games where the player controls a unit within the game world, to games where the player has no direct control units at all.

It is a common theme in tower defense games to have air units which do not pass through the layout of the maze, but rather fly over the towers directly to the end destination.

Some tower defense games or custom maps also require the player to send out enemies to their opponents' game boards respectively their controlled areas at a common game board. Such games are also known as tower wars games.


  1. Patrick Dugan (2007-01-30). Slamdance, Post-Columbine - Personal Conversations with Freaks and Geeks. Gamasutra. Retrieved on 2008-12-09
  2. Chris Remo and Brandon Sheffield (2008-07-11). Interview: Soren Johnson - Spore's Strategist. Gamasutra. Retrieved on 2008-12-09
  3. Rutkoff, Aaron (2007-06-20). Strategy Game Pits Players Against Desktop Invasion. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved on 2008-03-07
  4. Scott, David. Flash Element Tower Defense. David Scott. Retrieved on 2009-04-15
  5. Preece, Paul. Desktop Tower Defense (on Paul Preece. Retrieved on 2008-09-25
  6. Gems In The Rough: Yesterday's Concepts Mined For Today, Gamasutra
  7. Luke Mitchell (2008-06-22). Tower Defense: Bringing the genre back. PALGN. Retrieved on 2008-12-24
  8. David Smail, Creature Defense review, Blast
  9. 9.0 9.1 Luke Mitchell (2008-06-22). Tower Defense: Bringing the genre back. PALGN. Retrieved on 2008-12-24
  10. Michael Walbridge (2008-06-12). Analysis: Defense of the Ancients - An Underground Revolution. GamaSutra. Retrieved on 2008-12-09
  11. Jay (2007-01-11). Flash Element TD. Jayisgames. Retrieved on 2007-01-11
  12. Erwan Cario (10 November 2007). Jouer plus pour travailler moins Jeux vidéo. Sélection de petites douceurs en ligne, dangereusement addictives.. Libération.
  13. Chris Remo (2008-11-18). Interview: Flash Tower Defense Creators On VC Deal, Social Gaming Site. Gamasutra. Retrieved on 2008-12-09
  14. 14.0 14.1 Alistair Wallis (2008-08-01). Q&A: Kongregate's Greer And Sirlin On Metagame Hopes With Kongai. Gamasutra.
  15. 2008 IGF Awards Topped By Crayon Physics Deluxe. Gamasutra (2008-02-21). Retrieved on 2008-12-09
  16. Roush, George (2007-12-05). Tower Defense Review. IGN. Retrieved on 2008-03-07
  17. Tim W. (2008-10-24). Best Of Indie Games: Ready, Set, Jill Off. Gamasutra. Retrieved on 2008-12-09
  18. Tim W. (2008-06-13). Best Of Indie Games: Rose, Camellia, Ziczac & Nameless. Gamasutra. Retrieved on 2008-12-09
  19. Plants vs. Zombies nominated for PC Game of the Year.
  20. Kevin Kelly (2008-08-30). PAX 2008 hands-on: Defense Grid: The Awakening. Joystiq. Weblogs.
  21. Daemon Hatfield (2008-09-22). Ninjatown Multiplayer Hands-on. IGN. Retrieved on 2008-12-30
  22. The game was first released on 11-2010
  23. CreepTD manual. Retrieved on 2012-02-13