Features & News
Introversion Software: The Interview
November 25, 2009, Author: Neil Hughes
The Killers once sang “Indie rock ‘n’ roll is what I need, it’s in my soul”. When push comes to shove independent gaming is in my soul and what I need. With this in mind, imagine my delight when I saw Introversion Software’s Chris Delay recently at the Eurogamer Expo.
The creative, artistic and design direction of Introversion can be primarily attributed to the inspirational Chris Delay and fortunately for us, we managed to grab him for an interview.
Q. For gamers that do not know too much about Darwinia, tell us briefly about the history and why they should buy it upon release.
“Darwinia originally came out on PC in 2005, and won the IGF (Independent game festival) Grand Prize in 2006, along with two other awards. It received crazy rave reviews when the game was first launched, and (in my opinion) is still Introversion’s best ever game.
During 2008 we released a Multiplayer sequel called Multiwinia. It’s set in the same world but plays quite differently; Darwinia is slow and cerebral and spiritual, and very story driven. Multiwinia is all about fast action and war, with a quirky and slightly masochistic sense of humour.
Darwinia+ is the combination of both games, coming to Xbox Live Arcade early next year. It’s the very best version of Darwinia we’ve ever done, the Directors Cut, if you will.”
Q. Darwinia has been described as Cannon-Fodder meets Lemmings, did Sensible Software inspire you in anyway to develop games.
“Oh yes, of course Cannon Fodder was a big inspiration to us, and forms one part of the core mechanic of Darwinia; i.e. controlling a squad of five guys, using the mouse to move and shoot. Cannon Fodder is one of the best games of all time, and we’ve no shame in taking that control mechanic and re-using it.”
Q. So when can we expect Darwinia+ to arrive on Xbox Live Arcade?
“We’re expecting a release very early next year.”
Q. You have been used to the freedom associated with being an independent developer free from the restraints that publishers bring. Was working with Microsoft a steep learning curve and did you ever get to the point of thinking, this just isn’t worth it?
“Microsoft is a large and slightly terrifying company, and at times we have had our reservations on their methods. They sent us a huge document on all the things they felt were wrong with the controls and user-interface of Darwinia, and it took us a long time to go through it. Microsoft have a very good feel for what works well on Console, and it’s not always the same thing as what works on PC. We ended up changing a great deal of the control mechanisms, rethinking them with console controls in mind.
Microsoft have a crazy high quality bar, and it’s been tough to meet it. For months they’d be sending builds back to us, saying they just weren’t good enough. But looking back on the process now, I’ve got a lot of respect for that; the final game is by far the highest quality game we’ve ever released. Every single screen and interface and control system is polished to an incredible shine. You can’t really argue with a method that ends in such great results.”
Q. Darwinia has been a huge part of your life now for many years, is there a side of you wants to put it to bed once and for all.
“Of course! I actually started work on Darwinia in 2002, under the codename of Future War. We’ve had the PC release in 2005, the Steam re-release in 2006, the Vista version in 2007, Multiwinia in 2008, and now Darwinia+ in 2010. I feel like I’ve worked on it forever, but it’s a defining part of Introversion, and we’re all very proud of it.”
Q. The success of Xbox Live Arcade, Indie Games and iTunes has once again made it possible for “Bedroom Programmers” to create something unique. Do you think this will continue or will it go on to become quite corporate too?
“Right now, all the signs are good. Indie is here to stay, there’s several different viable platforms for release of Indie games, and the deals on offer make a lot of sense. None of that was the case even three years ago. I’m really hoping it continues this way; I think Indie has brought us some of the best games of the past couple of years.”
Q. Do you still work from a small house nicknamed ‘The Flying Hamster’?
“We no longer work in the same building as when we first coined that term (which is a mispronunciation of “The flat in Hamstead”), but we’ve come to believe “The Flying Hamster” is more of a code-word for wherever we happen to be working; the same way that “Air Force One” follows the President around.”
Q. Do you think the success of Indie Games on the Xbox Live Arcade will give more freedom to independent developers or are the profit margins to small?
“The royalty percentages and deals on offer are much better now than they were in the retail days, and are genuinely good deals. Success on Xbox Live Arcade isn’t a rare thing; many many games do very well, and some games do astronomically well. It’s no longer the “1 in 10 shot in the dark”. XBLA brings a strong base of hardcore gamers (and others), and it brings them in the millions.”
Q. Is there any truth you have partnered up with Channel 4 for a future project? How did this come about, and what are your plans?
“We did partner up with Channel 4 for a while; they were looking for something cutting edge that came from a small UK team, and we had a game idea that fitted their requirements pretty well. Over the course of three months we put together a game design document, and mapped out what we thought would be an incredibly cool game. However it wasn’t to be, Channel 4 ultimately declined to fund the rest of the game, and it’s now sitting on a shelf.”
Q. Time and time again Independent developers prove that gameplay matters to them rather than striving for outstanding and realistic graphics. Is this a conscious decision?
“A conscious decision, and a required decision. With the likes of Modern Warfare 2 Indie companies can’t possibly compete in the arena of realistic graphics. However once we’re free from that realistic graphics aim, we gain the ability to explore other kinds of graphics that are more abstract and in many ways look cooler.”
Q. What are your core philosophies as developers?
“A core philosophy for us is that we’ll always have at least one original game in development at any time, and that the primary aim of our company is to produce original video games. Everything we do is either directly or indirectly in support of that aim.
We also believe very strongly that a game should remain “in-house” until it’s finished, or very close to being finished. In other words, whenever possible we want to fund the game ourselves and maintain absolute control over its fate and its design. Once the game is finished we are happy to shop it around and sell it as best we can, but during it’s development, the game design comes before the business decisions. We believe this is very important to ensure our creative freedom isn’t threatened, and we’ve successfully achieved this with Uplink, Darwinia, Defcon and Multiwinia, and hope to continue that track record with Subversion and all our future games.”
Q. Just how much of an affect did Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time have on you?
“I think it’s probably the greatest game ever made.”
Q. Would you be tempted to release titles on the Indie Game format on Xbox Live where I believe the restrictions and costs are more flexible?
“We’d consider it of course, but right now the Xbox Live Arcade channel is a better fit for what we do.”
Q. Is there any truth that a visit to E3 in 2002 saw the team “rinse £10k in a week on speedboats and fast cars” living out a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle?
“That might be a slight exaggeration, but it’s based in reality. We’d released Uplink and the magazines had all given us great reviews, and we’d pushed the game into the high-street as well. It was on sale in shops around the UK, which was a major coup for us in 2002. We mistakenly thought we were already incredibly rich, or at least about to be, and we went on a bit of a spending spree at E3 in 2002, living our our millionaire fantasies a little early. We learnt a valuable lesson from that.”
Q. What does the future have in store for Introversion Software?
“After Darwinia+ is finished and released, Subversion becomes the primary new game project. We won’t be finished next year but the game will certainly take some big leaps during that time. We’re also planning to release Defcon for PS3. After that, who knows?”
Q. Do you prefer playing games or creating them?
“I’m fairly obviously addicted to both, I’d say.”
I’m sure you’ll all agree that in a world where everybody seems to be saying that gaming is becoming much too corporate, it is a huge breath of fresh air to see Introversion Software keeping it real and encapsulating everything that is great about our favourite past-time.