Introversion: “To Our Credit, We Survived”

By Kieron Gillen on June 15th, 2009 at 8:52 am.

Homeless Darwinians have to set fire to trees to stay warm. Poor Darwinians.

I didn’t notice my Eurogamer interview with Chris Delay at Introversion had been published, until the weekend. It is, strictly speaking, 360-related, in talking about their open-development process with Darwinia+ for Live Arcade. They’re basically showing a load of internal documents and papers from interactions with Microsoft. To quote Chris: “They suggested a few guidelines and we went ahead and pretty quickly stepped way over them and started publishing confidential reports with classified ‘Do Not Publish Outside Microsoft’ written on them”. There’s a lot about Introversion more generally as a company too. The interview was done the day after Chris had posted the 2008 in hindsight piece noting how close Introversion had come to closing and we talk a lot about that and the possibility of a “zombie Introversion”. Which would be sad, in many ways. Go read.

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41 Comments »

  1. Monchberter says:

    I want to pinch their cheeks and ruffle their hair, the cheeky rapscallions. I think everyone on RPS has their opinion on Introversion as they’ve been posted about ad infinitum.

    Nonetheless, an interesting read. The Introversion story could be the core behind gaming industry history book much in the manner Peter Biskind did for Seventies cinema with ‘Easy Riders, Raging Bulls’.

  2. minipixel says:

    Treason!! ;p

  3. Jim says:

    I saw their talk at the URBIS in Manchester last Sunday, was very very interesting. The exhibition there is also great, loads of old and new games and some very nice cabinets with old consoles, computers etc. £3 entry unless you have a ticket to one of the Games Nation shows.

    http://www.urbis.org.uk/page.asp?id=3296

  4. Kieron Gillen says:

    Monchberter: Christ, that’s an interesting idea.

    KG

  5. Monchberter says:

    @ KG

    Can i just put a potential bagsy on that one. ;)

  6. AlexW says:

    I always feel bad about not getting Defcon or Multiwinia, but I just don’t have anyone that would want to play them over other games. Here’s hoping Subversion has interesting single-player. (And that there are actual sodding Options this time, like maybe a volume slider? Would that be possible at all? Just one little volume slider?)

  7. EBass says:

    What I don’t understand about all this is why it seems to be Darwinia that is looked upon as their all around greatest game.

    For me at least, Uplink and Defcon had fairly unique gameplay ideas and were good to play. Darwinia was at heart a very stale and boring RTS with some cutesy boop enviroment design glitter on it.

  8. Dominic White says:

    I feel really sorry for Introversion. They’ve produced a wide variety of games for a wide variety of audiences. This – in a reasonable and well-adjusted world – endear them to a wide variety of customers.

    But no, it just seems to have managed to alienate and irritate, and when I look at comments on Introversion-related articles elsewhere, the prevailing vibe seems to be that they should have gone out of business long ago.

    This is really sad, as they haven’t produced a bad game yet. Merely attacted the wrong audience.

  9. Dominic White says:

    I feel really sorry for Introversion. They’ve produced a wide variety of games for a wide variety of audiences. This – in a reasonable and well-adjusted world – endear them to a wide variety of customers.

    But no, it just seems to have managed to alienate and irritate, and when I look at comments on Introversion-related articles elsewhere, the prevailing vibe seems to be that they should have gone out of business long ago.

    This is really sad, as they haven’t produced a bad game yet. Merely attacted the wrong audience.
    P.S. – Sorry, forgot to tell you great post!

  10. MrBejeebus says:

    Theres something about introversion that makes me feel bad about not buying their games, its the feeling of “i would, i could, i should” i noticed their games a little late though, and ive always felt like something newer is there.

    also, i just got my bank statement – not good – need to cut down on impulse buys D:

  11. MrBejeebus says:

    damn edit function, i forgot to mention that i blame RPS for £80 of expenditures on random indie games and the like…

  12. Premium User Badge

    Stense says:

    Very interesting set of articles, and refreshingly candid.

  13. Meat Circus says:

    I still fail to see any real evidence that Introversion have (a) grasped what went wrong, and (b) have taken steps to fix it.

    Okay, so Multiwinia bombed. Could delay explain in a single sentence why? I’m not sure he could.

  14. Rei Onryou says:

    Horace-bless Introversion. The little scamps that they are. I do hope Darwinia+ works out for them so they can make Subversion what they want it to be.

  15. Carra says:

    So now all their eggs are in the Darwinia+ basket. So if console gamers do not enjoy that game, it’s over.

    Too bad, I had some fun with their Defcon game.

  16. Crispy says:

    ‘I’m sorry. You’ve taken your PC game and you’ve ported your mouse and keyboard to your joypad and it doesn’t really work. And we want you to do it all again.’

    If only someone could be more protective about PC titles we wouldn’t have to live with the horrific ports that plague the PC shelves and online stores such as Steam. Front Ends with keyboard-only support, menus where the mouse and keyboard buttons are both functional and wrestle against eachother for control of the output. I would love even an unofficial, yet public set of PC guidelines to give some designers some understanding of how PC games play before they go for ignorant crude ports.

  17. Monchberter says:

    @ Crispy

    God yes, not even Games for Windows Live (shudder) works properly in my copy of Fallout 3. Having to click a cm below any button to get it to register is just bad programming. I use Windows peripherals, run Windows 7 and i use Windows Live and still the don’t bloody work proper. Sigh.

    If only Broken Steel for Fallout 3 had been put through Steam i’d have saved myself the anguish.

  18. Monchberter says:

    Edit: MS peripherals!

  19. teo says:

    I can’t bring myself to care about introversion. It’s like they try their hardest to come up with stuff that very few people would like and they’re not that small of a company anymore. When they went out and said “buy our game so we don’t go under” was when I started actively disliking them. They a commercial company. As one you don’t go out asking people to fix your mistakes with their own money

  20. Optimaximal says:

    @Monchberter
    The dodgy Live offset thing is Bethesda’s fault – the sparse few other GFW:L titles out there (DoW2 springs to mind) don’t have the problem.

  21. El Stevo says:

    Introversion just seems huge considering their output. I mean, they have two full-time members of staff doing marketing. Even when they started they had two business guys to one coder. Maybe they wouldn’t be in such a difficult situation if they didn’t have a gargantuan wage bill every month.

    Have Mark Morris and Thomas Arundel ever played an active part in the coding? Don’t they have the same degree as Chris Delay (comp sci, from one of the top comp sci departments in the world)? Small indies have traditionally got by on team members taking on multiple roles.

    It would be a shame if Introversion went down before Subversion was finished. It looks like a really interesting take on the hacking game. Even if they do go down, I can’t see Chris Delay stopping making games.

  22. frymaster says:

    “I would love even an unofficial, yet public set of PC guidelines to give some designers some understanding of how PC games play before they go for ignorant crude ports”

    Maybe this could be a PCGA thing? Although I think they’d rather concentrate on pc-only or pc-unique things…

    This also explains why the console version is done first – the console manufacturers will moan if you don’t do things in a console-friendly way, but no-one moans if you don’t do the PC version in a pc-friendly way :(

    2 others things:

    1. I’m impressed with how much support MS are providing in the form of usability reports etc.

    2. “People at Microsoft aren’t wed to the idea that it has to be a closed system – they just don’t have any way of opening it up.” – this is the key reason why bad companies are so bad at communication. The person with the info doesn’t think he has the authority to communicate it, and he either doesn’t know who [b]does[/b], or the procedure to go through either is or is perceived to be not worth the effort

  23. frymaster says:

    er, that should have been “big” not “bad”… freudian slip? :E

  24. teo says:

    What’s up with the edit button being gone again?

  25. Jim Rossignol says:

    Software conflicts. We update one part of the site, it breaks another. It’s a fun time.

  26. Radiant says:

    apropos of a tenuous mention in the article but does anyone else’s business use Google Docs?
    I find it absolutely invaluable for work. Thanks Google!

  27. Radiant says:

    In regards to the actual subject matter at hand.
    I always get the impression with Introversion that, as brilliant as they are, they seem to be too much in their own headspace.
    I guess the name explains a lot.
    But wouldn’t it be great if they did one game that was purely an exercise in accessibility?
    Just a game that was simple as a tennis ball.

  28. Wilson says:

    I imagine modern tennis balls are probably very complex and involved to create.

    I tried Darwinia, found it just not very exciting. Quite cool, but irritating and boring at times as well. Uplink was good, and Defcon seemed cool but I don’t have anyone to play with. The more unusual games companies out there the better I figure, even though I don’t especially love their output so far. I’m glad they’re still around.

  29. Blather Blob says:

    @EBass: For me, Darwinia was a Cannon Fodder clone (it even had a Sensible Software intro sometimes!) with awesome graphics, sound, and atmosphere. Which meant I enjoyed Multiwinia not so much, as they seemed to suddenly be trying to make it into an RTS based around the clunkiest part of Darwinia, with none of the action.

    But I’m still looking forward to any further games they make, as they’re always at least very stylish.

  30. Radiant says:

    @wilson that was sort of my point.

  31. Darth says:

    @El Stevo: After reading all three parts of that blog I find it strange you think their big problem is the ratio of business types to creative types.

    Most of it seems to stem from lack of business experience, and all the issues with project/time management, quality control etc. These are hard lessons to learn, and I hope they’ve not picked them up too late.

  32. redrain85 says:

    @Crispy

    If only someone could be more protective about PC titles we wouldn’t have to live with the horrific ports that plague the PC shelves and online stores such as Steam.

    God, yes. We really, really need this. I mean, what is going on with Games for Windows branded titles? They were supposed to set – and force developrs to adhere to – certain standards. And yet, we’re seeing titles like FEAR 2 where the devs still haven’t had the decency to enable proper mouse button support. And what about the initial 16:10 aspect ratio debacle? Microsoft clearly just doesn’t give a crap about enforcing their rules on GfW titles, unlike Xbox titles.

    And, I’m sorry . . . but I still can’t feel a lot of sympathy for Introversion. They, as a small independent developer, bet the farm on working with a partner like Microsoft. Microsoft! Did they really think they weren’t going to be pushed around? Now they’re living with the fallout from that decision, which nearly killed them.

  33. Crispy says:

    I’m not sure if marketing is solely to blame, but here are a few things I noticed while browsing the Introversion website:
    - There is very little immediately viewable video content; most is downloadable videos which is okay for die-hard fans but not vaguely curious people on their lunch breaks, or just people with a short attention span and loose wallets. If IV were to compare the number of clicks on the downloadable video content versus the streamable content, I’m sure the most immediate format would win out.
    - http://storefront.steampowered.com/video/darwinia-steam.wmv seems not to do anything for me
    - The only streamable video I found for Multiwinia was very obtuse, had no live gameplay footage, made no mention of what the core gameplay was. It was as if I was expected to know the game already. As a piece of advertising it fails on the most basic of levels: tell and/or show the target audience what the product does. In this case it doesn’t tell us what it does, it shows us what it is. It’s almost the equivalent of showing me the box art. Why use video to show me paused in-game footage?

    In the age of the Internet you can show immediate gameplay footage to tell me what the game is like. But here the Multiwinia streamed video has no gameplay footage, only frozen 3D stills with some artsy piano music. It’s okay for a teaser, but not to sell a game that is out and has finished gameplay to show footage of. So I go to the Darwinia section to see what that’s like and the only streamed video is to Steam, and (perhaps since I have VLC as my default media player) the link doesn’t give me anything.

    All I really want here is a short video showing me what it is these iconic little men do and how the game plays. A link to a YouTube video would suffice, but after searching and not finding anything, my lunchbreak is over and my attention turns to other things, perhaps never to return to the Introversion website again.

    Okay, the last part is just elaboration, I probably will be back to see what IV is doing, but the average person who doesn’t know who IV is will not. For someone to spend £10 on a game they really don’t need to see a lot of footage or detail, but the basics need to be explained and not in an abstract way. Simply tell people what your game is, show people in-game footage of the gameplay as you describe it and they should have enough information to part with £10. The streamable videos on the site don’t do this.

  34. Serondal says:

    I played Darwina for a bit, I didn’t like it and i’m not afraid to say so. Thought it was extremly boring I’d rather just play Dwarf Fortress.

    The idea of Dwarinias is cool, little single polygon AI beings evolving over thousands of generations ect but that has very little to do with the gameplay which I found to be very slow paced and tedious. Dwarf Fortress gives you little beings with even less polygons (0) and they REALLY have AI that is rather advanced and they really do grow and learn and have life experieces which can scar them for the rest of the game (say they’re horde of cats gets caught in a lava flood, that dwarf will never be the same again!)

    IF they made an AI simulation based around Dawinia where you really could have a world that allows them to grow and live ect I would buy that right up.

    I did REALLY like up-link though. Let me live out of my fantasy of being a haxor.

  35. Fat Zombie says:

    On a slightly related note; whilst talking to a colleague about the news today (more middle-east strife) I got onto the subject of Defcon. He probably wasn’t too impressed, but I got the urge to play it again.

    Long story short, after browsing various wikis I ended up reading a big document detailing the effects of a hypothetical nuclear exchange in the late Eighties, and now will probably have problems getting to sleep tonight. DAMN YOU INTROVERSION, FOR SOME REASON!

    *twitches*

  36. Geoff says:

    @ Meat Circus:
    “Okay, so Multiwinia bombed. Could delay explain in a single sentence why? I’m not sure he could.”

    See article:
    “It’s a Venn diagram where the crosshatch between people who love retro graphics, people who love indie games, people who love Darwinia and people who love online, competitive multiplayer is… no people at all. It’s like 100 people.”

    That’s the single sentence, and I agree with it. I really like Introversion, in principle. I loved Uplink, and I really liked Darwinia; I would have been happy to give them more money to get a neat new game from them. But they put out Defcon, a multiplayer only game. I don’t really like multiplayer, and I don’t have a big group of friends who all bought Defcon. So I skipped that one, hoping their next game would be back to stuff I loved. Instead, it’s a multiplayer-only remix of Darwinia. Sigh.

    That ethos of “we don’t worry about marketing and customer demand, we just make the great games we want to make” is endearing in an underdog indie company, but as an actual paying customer, you need a company to understand what you want and, well, make that.

  37. Guhndahb says:

    I really loved Uplink but haven’t bought anything from IV since. I should have given Darwinia a try but it looked a little RTS-ey and I’m not a RTS-er. Defcon and Multiwinia were multiplayer games, so that tended to rule them out with me as I enjoy very few MP games, pretty much just FPS or the rare coop. So all I do is root for them from the sidelines when I know they’d rather have my dollar-vote than my rahs.

    If they come back to single-player games of the non-RTS variety, they’ll get my dough again and with a big smile.

  38. Dominic White says:

    It’s sad to see how misunderstood Darwinia here is. It’s not an RTS, and complaints about poor AI are completely missing the point. It’s a Cannon Fodder clone with a dash of Lemmings, and a retro 8-bit artstyle. It’s also very good at what it does.

    Unfortunately, this seems to be Introversions curse. They could make the best game in the world, but it would go over 90% of their audiences heads. They’ve not made a bad – or even average – game yet, but it seems that they earn a little more ire from an increasingly ornery userbase with each release.

  39. Phil Armstrong says:

    Yeah, Darwinia is definitely not an RTS.

    I had a lot of fun with it, but have mostly gone cold on the rest of the Introversion output. I picked up Defcon, but it just didn’t work for me.

  40. Tonic says:

    Breaks yet fuggin heart it does