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Interview with Introversion Software

The CMP Game Group (producer of Game Developer magazine, Gamasutra.com, and the Game Developers Conference) established the Independent Games Festival in 1998 to encourage innovation in game development and to recognize the best independent game developers. They saw how the Sundance Film Festival benefited the independent film community, and wanted to create a similar event for independent game developers as well as the student population of game developers.

Introversion Software, makers of Darwinia, were kind enough to answer a few questions from me after the GDC. Darwinia was the IGF’s Shadows of the Colossus, taking home the awards for Technical Excellence, Innovation in Visual Art, and the Seumas McNally Grand Prize.

Who are you and what was your role on Darwinia?

Chris: My name is Chris Delay and I was the lead designer and developer of Darwinia and all other games at Introversion Software.

Congrats on making it into the IGF finals. Is this your first attempt at entering the competition?

Chris: Yes – first time!

What made you decide to enter Darwinia into the IGF?

Chris: We were encouraged by the fact that it was a games award ceremony for the independents which meant that we weren't trying to compete with hugely successful mainstream titles by big publishers; previous winners has included games like Terminus and Oasis so we thought we stood a pretty good chance becoming a finalist in one of the categories. We decided that if we could win -- even a small prize -- it would add a lot to our credibility in the industry and improve our profile.

Winning IGF was a really big thing for us – our first ever award ceremony and the first industry awards we've ever received. It was a massive boost for us to do so well at the IGF - it made it all seem worthwhile. It also gave us a chance to have an awesome biz trip/holiday to America and visit some of the people that have helped us along the way - like Valve for example.

How do you view this year's competition? Do you think the IGF is heading in the right direction?

Chris: It's a great way for small indie developers like Introversion to get a lot of coverage and exposure. We're in favour of any show that gives indie developers a voice – it can be difficult to make yourself heard over the noise of the major game developers.

How did the idea for Darwinia come about?

Chris: Darwinia was originally inspired by the Indie Game Jam – a group of programmers who get together once a year for just 3 days, and make as many games as they can. The first year they experimented with tens of thousands of units on screen at once using sprites – and we started playing with ideas for a war game involving the biggest armies you've ever seen. This idea eventually (over 18 months or so) morphed into Darwinia.

How much did the game evolve from its original inception? What drove this evolution?

Chris: The story itself evolved over many months of experimentation. Originally there was no story – it was just a simple war game with large groups of stick-men sprites attacking each other. Around a year into the game we redesigned everything around the retro-Tron aesthetic you see in the finished game, and we knew the world was inside a computer in some way at that point. An invading virus is just the perfect type of enemy when you're operating entirely within a computer, and it has interesting properties – for example we could create monsters that were able to multiply out of control.

What's your most enjoyable part of the game and how did that feature come about?

Chris: As a small developer we've had to learn to use our weaknesses as strengths - for example, we only have a hand full of people which means we can't make things look realistic, but it does mean we can experiment with off the wall concepts and ideas that the bigger companies can't go near. This is particularly the case with the retro graphic styling of Darwinia which we spent a ton of time experimenting with, was relatively easy to create with a very small team, and still looks incredible. We were so proud of the look of Darwinia that we wanted to show it off with the minimum of clutter which is how the Darwinia interface came about, allowing an unobstructed view of the gameworld and the opportunity for skilled players to get completely zoned whilst playing Darwinia .

During the development of Darwinia , what were some major issues that caused problems and how were they solved?

Chris: We had a lot of complaints at the beginning of the Darwinia release from players saying the controls were too hard to learn – the gestures etc. In hindsight, the first demo of Darwinia wasn't very inviting – the player was sort of left on their own to figure things out. We learnt from that, made a new demo that was much more accessible, introducing a more friendly control mechanism, and a whole new level for new players to learn and sample the game.

What tools/technology was used for the creation of Darwinia ?

Chris: Darwinia was written in C++ and uses OpenGL for all the graphics. We also made use of Direct Sound for the audio engine. That's pretty much it – we wrote the rest of it in-house.

What's the one thing about the way you develop games that you think helps you do your job best?

Chris: The main thing about creating games at Introversion is that we can do whatever we want! We own our company and all our IP and we don't have any publishers telling us what to make next, which gives us pretty much complete creative control over our games. An enviable position and one that allows us to continue making original and creative games - everything else is secondary.

What's next for Introversion?

Chris: We've got a lot of ideas for upcoming games. One of them is in development, to be released in the next few months - a multiplayer nuclear war game called Defcon , another is well into the design phase, and a couple of others are bouncing around in our heads for possible future projects. None of them are sequels - each one is an original game idea. With each one we're hoping to push ourselves a little bit further than the last. We want to build the name of Introversion Software as a fearless independent developer - and we want each one of our games to be something unique. We want people to play our games simply because they are Introversion games - and they know they will be playing something incredible.

Interview conducted by Drew "Gaiiden" Sikora

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