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Wave-Based Survival – Past, Present And Future

An increasing number of developers now are choosing to include wave-based survival gametypes with their games, some popular examples of games which include such modes are Gears of War with its Horde mode, and the Call of Duty games in the series which were developed by Treyarch, and includes its famous Nazi Zombies mode (not available on Wii versions of their games), and the upcoming Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, with its new survival-based Spec Ops mode. It’s hard to argue that these game modes are popular with the players, because they regularly see many thousands of players playing these gametypes in co-operative multiplayer.

But why? Players seem to enjoy the challenge that comes from defending themselves against (sometimes) endless waves of AI-controlled attacking enemies, as this presents a different challenge to competitive multiplayer or the single player story or “campaign” of a game, as these survival modes generally encourage teamwork with up to 4 other players. This is a good way for developers to encourage teamwork in their games, as it is usually essential to surviving for longer periods of time in these game types and helps to develop players’ teamwork skills, which in some cases will carry over to the competitive multiplayer of these games. Overall, these gametypes generally has a beneficial effect on a player’s ability to co-operate with other players, and work together to complete the objective (which in most cases is just “survive as long as you can”).

Nazi Zombies Mode from Call of Duty: World at War

Nazi Zombies Mode from Call of Duty: World at War

Nazi Zombies from Call of Duty: World at War and Call of Duty: Black Ops, and Horde from Gears of War are two of the most popular wave-based survival gametypes, as these games generally sell in the high millions on their release, but there are many other popular games which also include a gametype like this. However, although Call of Duty is often credited for the creation of this gametype with Nazi Zombies in World at War, Gears of War 2 was released around the same time, which was the first installment of the series to include it’s now very popular Horde mode, but despite these opinions, there were similar gametypes and other forms of wave-based survival in many other games before these, and these two games may only be credited with the popularization of this genre, as before these games there were a large number of “tower defense” games which use the same concept of survival against waves of attacking enemies.

Tower Defense games have existed for a long time, but are primarily only smaller titles developed by much smaller companies than full retail games, or in some cases even developed by a small group of people as Flash games. These games are popular among players for mostly the same reasons, except that there aren’t many tower defense games which offer players co-operative play for teams of 4-5 players. Unlike with the survival modes included with full retail games for consoles and PC, it is harder to choose a specific few tower defense games which stand out from the crowd, as it is much easier to develop a tower defense game for Xbox Live Arcade, the PlayStation Network or as a digital download or browser-based Flash game for PC, and as such these are in much greater numbers.

Gears of War 3 Horde mode Screenshot

Horde Mode from Gears of War 3

Recently, a lot of developers are choosing to put more complex versions of the classic wave-based survival ideas into their games, allowing players to earn money or points which they can spend on upgrades for their character, weapons, or defenses to be placed around the area, all of which can increase the chances of survival, and add more fun to the game, but this leaves the question as to what direction the popular sub-genre will take next. It’s hard to think of something that hasn’t already been done somewhere – Vehicles, turrets, upgrades, boss enemies, with pretty much all the good ideas already taken, it’s hard for game developers to be original anymore, but it’s impossible to deny the growing popularity of this sub-genre of gametypes, and only time will tell what the future holds.

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  • Jimmy

    Don’t forget Resident Evil

  • Halo44327

    I would say wave-based/horde games are great. Red Faction is an example as a great wave-based game. Has 50 waves with 3rd person shooter action. Wave games are good for replay value. Technically it doesn’t matter which game has it as long as it is horde-gameplay I’ll play it. Its not like a game you throw away after you beat it like 3 times. I think its good they are doing it. Also what if you hate playing online. Nowadays for me, camping and yelling, screaming, cussing, and blaming, and betraying are getting annoying. It bothers me how we cannot socialize in games without blowing about how someone was a noob. Just get a wave game, like Nazi Zombies or the new Modern Warfare 3, grab a trusting buddy or your friend next door and play waves. 🙂