RPS Exclusive: Multiwinia Hands-on

By Kieron Gillen on June 19th, 2008 at 6:15 pm.

There as so many screenshots under the cut, I'll be damned if I'm going to capture them all. Pull the other one.

I’ve been in the possession of Multiwinia preview code for the last month or so. It’s a slice of the game, playable against bots, and is the first anyone outside of the Beta have really had a chance to play. Which means I’m going to yabber on at length as I Know Things You Don’t Know. It’s fundamentally multiplayer Darwinia, returning to the Future War idea which set Introversion along the road to what remains their award-winning opus. And I thought the best way to introduce the world to it would be to take a casual stroll through a game I’ve just played, introducing features as they appear and talking about what sort of tactical gubbins are firing through my noggin at every step. And writing a straight preview is boring.

So that and a load of grabs – including big’uns – beneath the cut.

The map I’m going to play is called the Holy Tree, and it’s a four way scrap around a – er – Holy Tree. Like, obv. Here it is, displaying its obvious holiness.

I’m green. The computer is taking up red, yellow and blue. Four teams! It’s as if it’s made for RPS. Let’s pretend that Alec is controlling the blue, Jim the yellow and Walker the red, just to make it a little more human. The aim of King of the Hill is to capture various zones in the map, with you earning points for each second you possess a zone. You can change the rules of King of the Hill to a number of other types – like, say, you gain a point for each Darwinian you have in a zone each second, which changes the strategic demands considerably.

Anyway – this map has five main zones. There’s one in each corner of the map, and a larger one in the centre around the aforementioned Holy Tree. The computer’s also pointing out the second strategic consideration – the Darwinian generators. There’s one in each corner, plus two more in the center. Capture these, and they generate more Darwinians to throw forwards in a Haigian manner.

(In the preview mode, there’s also a Statue capture mode, which involves getting your Darwinians to grab the big fellas in a CTF way. The non-preview-code modes are Domination, Assault, Rocket Riot and Blitzkrieg. The first is wipe out everyone. The second is piling into a defended structure, and then swapping to defend when you succeed – presumably with comparisons between the time to decide the victor. Thirdly, you have to protect solar arrays to refuel your rocket, and whoever launches first, wins. The fourth is a territorial control based around grabbing areas around maps. The fifth doesn’t exist – you fail list reading class. All the mode have the little tweaky things.)

Anyway. 10 minutes. King of the Hill. Against four hard AI. Go!

First things first – where to send men? I’m decide to go left as it’s Red. Clearly, thinking it’s Walker, thus weakest. You’ll note one Darwinian near my generator holding a flag. He’s directing any of my Darwinians who approach to head off in THAT direction, to a set waypoint. You’ll note Red has one too, and it looks as if they’re heading to grab the zone first. I’m not even trying. I’m going to secure the generator. Sure, I’m giving up initial points, but I figure I can overwhelm him in a minute and get the score ticking.

And it plays out like that – you can see that my Darwinians take up their positions around the base, and start to generate reinforcements. Meanwhile, in the background, there’s the red’s secure and earning points. Note the top left, which lists the current scores – as well as the predicted scores at the final time if the current territorial control stays the same. Yellow will win with over 2000 points, followed by Blue, Red and finally yours truly, who’ll have earned zero points. This isn’t going to happen, obv, because I’m going to annihilate them with the power of my mighty strategic brain. And clicking.

Darwinians close in from both sides, and we take them out with superior numbers. I choose to set up another general, sending the troops straight into the battlezone, while readjusting my other commander back at the original base to march to the capture point. I could do this manually – by holding down LMB, a selection area expands out to manually order en masse, but this is neater and means I can pay attention to other things, like, say noticing if Red is going to bomb me or something.

SHIT! RED IS BOMBING ME.

The basts.

Yeah, I wasn’t expecting that. Your armies are primarily Darwinians, shooting, but you’re able to supplement them with heavy-hardware via to drops. Parcels fall from the heavens sporadically. If you grab hold of one, you get a random gift. He got bombers, which is an ideal way to send people running. It’s in this way which the other iconic characters of Darwinia make their appearance. Such semi-random elements bring Multiwinia a few inches closer to its arcade-cousins than most RTS – this is, basically, how Bomberman treats its power-ups.

Did I mention Jim and I once lost a game of bomberman to a man who was passed out? Another time.

I haven’t been ignoring these boxes though. I’ve actually picked up one – as well as this attack on my left, a parcel dropped on my lap, which I diverted some troops to secure. Oh – and I did another quick thrust to the right, where I repeated my grab-production-unit-then-engage tactic. It’s not going as well as the battle on the left, as they don’t have the support from my centre, but I’m still edging a victory and all-important points.

My power up is the armoued transport unit. It’s able to move a group of Darwinians from one area of the map to the other. A Glance to the centre shows that while the yellows have taken control of the tree, they haven’t grabbed the nearest production centre yet. A mob pile on to the truck and drive off…

And disembark to grab everything, including another bonus…

Which turns out to be an engineer, which – if you remember from the original game – gather the fallen souls of the combatants, and allow you to recycle them into fresh Darwinians. So I need a properly aged battlefield to deploy them. Luckily…

I’m dominating the left of the battlefield, and there’s plenty of computer-guy-corpses to recycle. You’ll note the Darwinians aren’t in the mob which you’ve seen so far. Blame the commander, who’s getting all militaristic. As well as being able to set a destination, they’re alternatively able to organise Darwinians in a regimented fashion. While you lose speed – they can’t move as quick – you gain a considerable combat punch. Out of formation, Darwinians are cowards, running away as soon as fight, in a skirmishing manner. Lined up, they’re vicious, as those mass of red souls show.

Terribly vulnerable to area effect weapons, of course, but you can’t have everything.

But I need more everything than I’ve currently got. Note the scores. We’re reaching the half-way mark, and I’m going to top out at 1600 at the final bell while Yellow’s going to hit a heftier 2700. Need to do something sharpish.

I see that the yellow are mainly attacking the blue from their central generator – meaning there’s not many Darwinians there to defend both the tree and their production unit. Loading up my tank again, I send a group to capture it. It works, and suddenly I’ve got two generators churning out cannon-fodder, allowing me to send waves of Darwinians – arranged into armed-ranks – towards the tree. Now, I’m playing a little risky here – there’s something you can do (I haven’t worked out exactly what yet) which can ignite the holy relic, which sets fire to everyone in the are as it burns down. Which creates the somewhat disturbing image of Darwinians running around screaming as they suffer the AI-equivalent of being napalmed alive.

But at the moment it’s working – Yellow is countering, but I’ll now win as long as everything else stays constant. And I’m doing as much as I can to make that true. For a start, I’m grabbing another box, and I’m…

Well, I’m locking down the areas of movement across the map with ranks of Darwinians. Reds can’t really get sufficient numbers through the choke-points. And, handily, there’s plenty of more souls for my Engineer to collect in the carnage. You’ll notice the explosions here – Darwinians lob the occasional grenade on their lonesome. Which is pretty neat, but to get really vicious you’ll need to get a Squad pick-up, and I haven’t been that lucky.

Fuck and, indeed, yeah.

You’ll note the sixty second limitation. That’s because, if they’re manually controlled, they’re a game winner. If your attention wanders away, they’ll get mown down like every other Darwinian troop. However, if you’re nursing them, you can alternate dashes forward and back with right clicks to send a grenade to shatter rank after rank.

Now, with claiming the centre-ground, I’ve already won. Winning isn’t enough. I want to suitably humiliate the opposition. I look for an opportunity…

On the right, the Yellows have been dragged down to a single generator. But for the audacity of actually winning earlier in the game, I’m going to mash them up a little more. My transporter moves a mass of troops to try and snatch a pick-up right on his digital doorstep. However, if that Captain in the background has anything to say about it, they’re all going to die in the progress.

So I spawn my squad, send it forward and start throwing grenades in the manner of an early twentieth-century anarchist at a bourgeois ball. And things get messy.

Well, not as messy as the 1000 kills suggests. That’s the total in the match rather than a single mentalist grenade attack.

The counter ticks down and…

Well, it’s easy enough to beat against the AI in the preview build, once you’ve got a hand of the basics. The real question is what it’ll be against human opposition, which I’m looking forward to trying. Worth nothing that Red got a pathetic score, and since Walker was red for the purposes of my thinking, it’s a fairly accurate simulation of his tactical abilities.

What’s it like? I’ve enjoyed it enough to be playing these three skirmish maps across the last few weeks. It’s an RTS cut back to its core essentials – you can file it next to World in Conflict, but even pacier. The very precise nature of the score certainly adds a tension to the game – you play the maths as hard as you can, working out how long you can afford to build forces without actually gaining points. And despite being quite brutal, it’s still got a lot of Darwinia’s retro-charm. Problems? The control system, while really elegant, isn’t an RTS-standard one, so there’s going to be a learning curve. Also, in the preview version, the code for the Darwinians bringing your statue back home is completely haywire. There’s a question of depth, but the variety of modes and modifers to each of those games will shake it up a little – you suspect it’ll end up being a sister game to Defcon in this manner.

We’ll have more on Multiwinia: Survival of the Flattest as we get closer to its September release. Until then, here’s some pretty extra screenshots which you can click to increase biggitude.





Predictions? It’s going to get an extra 5-10% for the “Survival of the Flattest” subtitle alone.

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28 Comments »

  1. Al3xand3r says:

    I’ve been in the beta so na na na na na nah! :P

    I’m not sure I like this yet, it’s a pretty radical departure from the original Darwinia aside from the obvious theme… It is perhaps a bit too much like a standard real time strategy game.

  2. Kieron Gillen says:

    One line I deleted from the preview, as it broke the thread of something I was saying, was that it’s Introversion’s most conventional game so far. Which is true, but not necessarily a bad thing.

    KG

  3. runningwthszzors says:

    When I played the original Darwinia, it was somewhat choppy on the computer I was using in a PC Cafe. Mind you this is a computer that can run FPSs quite nicely. How’s the performance in the beta?

  4. Ginger Yellow says:

    Souls aside, it doesn’t sound very Darwinian. Which is a shame. I’m not sure how you could retain Darwinia’s distinctive brand of strategy in a multiplayer context, but it doesn’t sound like they tried very hard.

  5. Theory says:

    I’m jealous. I’m in the beta but only have assault to play with, and it isn’t as much fun as king of the hill looks like at all. :-/

    Souls aside, it doesn’t sound very Darwinian. Which is a shame. I’m not sure how you could retain Darwinia’s distinctive brand of strategy in a multiplayer context, but it doesn’t sound like they tried very hard.

    As a matter of fact it is still very much Darwinia, but even if it weren’t: so?

  6. Al3xand3r says:

    Well, I’m not a RTS fan since the only one I REALLY enjoyed was Warhammer: Dark Omen (I tried the newer Warhammer & 40K games, not my thing and/or not well executed) but I still managed to enjoy Darwinia quite a bit.

    Sadly, it doesn’t seem that I’ll be enjoying Multiwinia much judging from what I’ve played so far. It’s a very different game, just using the same theme and similar assets.

    It is probably going to be pretty good for RTS fans, but I’m not one to judge that…

  7. Red Penguin says:

    But…who does Tim play as? ;_;

    Game looks ace by the way, this from someone who thought Darwinia was interesting, but not actually very good.

  8. Pod says:

    I, too, am on the beta. On thing that impressed me was how well it worked with an xbox gamepad. It’s almost like it was designed to be on an xbox….

    so… will it? WILL IT?!

  9. RabidZombie says:

    Gravatar Ginger Yellow says:
    Souls aside, it doesn’t sound very Darwinian. Which is a shame. I’m not sure how you could retain Darwinia’s distinctive brand of strategy in a multiplayer context, but it doesn’t sound like they tried very hard.

    You obviously never played Future War, aka Pre-Darwinia Darwinia.

  10. Kast says:

    Multiwinia (from a non-beta perspective) seems to be a logical progression of the Darwinian story. The virus incursion and subsequent victory brought the concept of violence and war to the Darwinians. A lack of space or resources (like the pixal mines) could lead to war between them, could be religious war or simply variations in programming leading to warring factions.

    I think Darwinia’s nature is in it’s beauty and in the soundscapes not its gameplay.

  11. Pod says:

    [continued from my last comment]
    However, I thought that the domination mode was a bit unbalanced. Basically, whoever got to the generators first tended to win. Now imagine that there are 3 teams and 3 generators…. Obviously, you could each go for one. But that’s not what happens. Usually you’ll send your blokes to one the enemy sent his to. Meaning the THIRD enemy gets his uncontested and then wipes you out.

    Obviously if you get there uncontested you wipe them out, etc. I don’t think domination is a winner.

    Bliz mode is pretty good though. It’s basically a big tug of war, both sides trying to push the other back until you get them back into their base and pwn them.

    Unforuntely my test group isn’t in the multiplayer group, so I’m stuck playing bots! Whilst challenging, they tend to be a bit samey or do silly things like stand big groups around, etc…

  12. Rook says:

    which sets fire to everyone in the are as it burns down
    area?
    Worth nothing that Red got a pathetic score
    noting?

    Looks brill though, I never really got into Defcon outside of a frenzied day not figuring out what I was doing but I could enjoy this a lot.

  13. Mo says:

    so… will it? WILL IT?!

    Yes, yes it will be. :) Introversion announced Darwinia+ for XBLA a couple of months ago, it’s Darwinia+Multiwinia in one easy-to-download package.

    Multiwinia sounds pretty awesome. Can’t wait to get my hands on it. I’m a bit iffy on the packages though … I love luck in a game and all, but it seems like that’s the only way to get advanced units, which seems a bit “wrong”. A bit of luck is fine, but when the whole game depends on luck, I get a bit worried.

    Still can’t wait though! :)

  14. Ginger Yellow says:

    “As a matter of fact it is still very much Darwinia, but even if it weren’t: so?”

    Well, even beyond the awesome art style and sounds, which is de rigeur for Introversion, I really liked how the gameplay mechanics of Darwinia were like no other game. What worries me about this is that it sounds like it will ultimately play fairly similarly to a lot of other multiplayer strategy and/or squad based games, while retaining some of Darwinia’s quirks.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it will be very fun. I was just hoping for some completely new game modes to match Darwinia’s unique take on strategy.

  15. Five says:

    It’s one beautiful game. Played the Darwinia demo quite a lot.

  16. Rosti says:

    Very much looking forward to this, even if I didn’t always enjoy DEFCON against randomers (it’s a fantastic game in the same room as the other players, mind). I take it this exclusive is a result of being The Herald of Introversion? I vaguely recall a Gillen piece on Uplink peaking my interest back in the misty days before digital distribution.

  17. The_B says:

    I’m sorry. but this game has already won me over.

    It’s got the Companion Cube.

    Fuck and, indeed, yeah.

  18. Noc says:

    Red Penguin: Tim is the squaddies.

    But yeah. I’m liking what I’m seeing, and I suspect that the multiplayer aspect is going to be tremendous: from the looks of it, it’s very High Strategy, and the game’ll likely hinge on your ability to properly outhink your opponent. As opposed to hinging on having more tanks. Though tanks never hurt.

  19. MasterBoo says:

    I loved Darwinia and Defcon. I hope this will turn out to be good. I wonder if it’ll be fun on small LAN parties.

    Offtopic: Kieron, are you going to attend the WWI at Paris next week? Any chance for special coverage? (*cough*Diablo 3 announcement*cough*).

  20. Kieron Gillen says:

    MasterBoo: I’m not. I think someone from RPS is though.

    KG

  21. Andy says:

    ZOMG WANT!!!

    OK, now that I’ve dispensed with the Internet formalities, I have to say that I’m a little concerned about Introversion’s desire to simplify the RTS. When it was released (well, we “borrowed” the leaked review build and then immediately went legit as soon as it was put up on Steam… waited overnight for it even) my friends and I put hours into DEFCON. Probably something on the order of 30 hours individually (there were four of us). Even whilst playing online, the game wore thin relatively quickly. The fact that you were “forced” into a “tech tree” (really, it was the DEFCON levels dictating what you could do) was a great advantage, but ultimately it was strategically weak. Europe would come out on top if it had good placement of its missile silos, or last if placement was poor.

    I’m saying this because, even with everything that made it cool, it just lacked that special *something* to make it great.

    However, if you ever want to have a great game of DEFCON, and don’t mind losing the fog of war, have a spectator system hooked up to a projector, with creepy music as a background.

  22. phelanpt says:

    If you are on the beta, should you be talking about all that stuff? Didn’t you have to sign a non-disclosure agreement?

  23. Cooper says:

    I generally hate RTS games in multiplayer (also mostly in singleplayer) but DEFCON won me over big-time.

    It seemed much, much more strategic and tactical than I’ve ever felt any RTS be. Like some global game of chess…

    I think, by taking the alternative fork and heading down the arcade route a la worms and bomberman, Introversion may win me over again.

    Not only are their games purty, fun and clever. They made me like RTS games. Nothing since the first C&C and RA has done that.

  24. Radiant says:

    Great write up.
    When is it out?

    Also conversely I’ve /won/ a game of Super Puzzle Fighter whilst passed out.
    Bomberman on the Sega Saturn with 10 players is BITCH HARD.

  25. Kieron Gillen says:

    September.

    KG

  26. phuzz says:

    It doesn’t really matter to me what this game is like, I’ve bought everything Introversion have put out, and enjoyed all of them for varying amounts of time, so I’m sure I’ll enjoy this one too, plus Darwinia is such a beautiful place to be. And kill things.

  27. Deuteronomy says:

    Alexander,

    Dark Omen. Yes that was an awesome game. I can’t get into traditional resource gathering RTS games either, but I love MTW2 and the close combat series. I really wish they came out with a new CC.

  28. Al3xand3r says:

    It really was… Why don’t they make any RTS like it anymore… Medieval II would be right up my alley if it didn’t have the turn based affair (I clocked countless hours in Civilization II, I just don’t want it in my RTS) and you acquired units through the storyline and then had to decide which to put in each battle etc like in Dark Omen… It was deceptively simple and fun stuff that still allowed for the (also realistic for its time I think) strategy to be the main part of the game…