Subversion Unveiled

By Jim Rossignol on February 20th, 2010 at 12:38 pm.


Last night at BAFTA in London the handsome men of Introversion sat on stage to chat about their more recent launch, that of Darwinia+ on XBLA. It’s Darwinia and Multiwinia combined for console-dude fun-times. What was a little more interesting, however, was that they did a demo of their next game, Subversion. Chris admits cheerfully that it’s probably a year until they should be doing a demo… but they did it anyway.

We don’t have any new assets, so you’re going to have to rely on my word science to convey the game to you. Delay started off with the procedural city generation systems that we’ve already seen a fair bit of, but he admitted that while this was useful and pretty, it says little about how the game will actually feel to play. For this the process needed to be turned on its head, and the development work done from the bottom up. For a demonstration of this – a year too early to be a proper indicator of final quality, says Delay – we get to see a single-floor of an office building. It’s cut away from above, an isometric angle, but we can’t see much of what resides inside. From the outside we can only seem a few glimpses of office furniture and interior walls from the outer windows.

Delay spawns two pacman-shaped characters (placeholders, it seems, though you should expect something similarly iconic rather than realistic in the final game. This is introversion, after all.) and sends one into the building. As the character progresses (picking up a keycard to bypass the first locked door) we get to see more of the building. The target, we’re told, is a secure server room, which must be destroyed. Having explored a couple of rooms, and passed some non-hostile workers, our first agent stumbles into security guards, and is tasered. What this has demonstrated so far, however, is that this is a game about infiltration. Before the tasering our character uses a wall-scanner to see through into a section of the building. It’s just the toilets, but that’s useful in terms of knowing that it’s not the target area.

At this point Delay cheats to turn on all the cameras in the building. A normal game of Subversion would make this one of the many options for information-war and espionage you’d have available, and in this particular case we can now see where the server room is. The second agent enters the room and – not being able to elegantly bypass the locked door – shoots the lock off with an AK-47 (or a wireframe cone and a spray of lines, as we see it in the game.) The alarm is raised, workers flee, guards are on their way, of course, and so the agent lobs a bomb into the server room and completes the objective. Delay is at pains to point out that this kind of action will be kept to a minimum, and is really only included at all for demonstration purposes. Stealth, hacking, and hi-tech trickery is much more the nature of the game.

Right now Subversion is austere and skeletal. I don’t expect that will change too much, because it’s in the nature of what Introversion are trying to do. Nevertheless the core of things, says, Delay, need to be hand-crafted. The wider world, the noisy background of an entire city, will be left to procedural creation. It reminds us – like all of Delay’s work – of an earlier time in gaming. Delay is carrying on the procedural angle that began its work with Elite and Midwinter. But he’s bringing in a lot of other influences too: games of infiltration and covert behaviour from years passed are all making their influence known. This is, in some ways, the sequel to Uplink: technology versus information versus infrastructure, only this time graduating to the physical, urban level. On a wider, genre basis, it sits roughly in the Commandos area of careful execution of planned procedures. Or perhaps it is to Syndicate as Thief was to the shooter tradition… We need to see more. And we’re keen to see more, clearly, but another glimpse might be some time away. If there was one thing Introversion were sure they were unsure about, it’s how long it takes to make stuff.

[Good to meet a few RPS readers at the gathering last night, by the way, and good to see Kieron giving that microphone a good kicking. It had it coming. A video of the full event will be forthcoming.]

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76 Comments »

  1. the wiseass says:

    >> Nevertheless the core of things, says, Delay, need to be hand-crafted. The wider world, the noisy background of an entire city, will be left to procedural creation. <<

    I don't know, but this sounds a little bit disappointing to me, if the procedural City will only be used as "filler background". I assume you won't be able to explore this part of the city and will be mostly forced to play on the "hand-crafted" parts of the city? If so, I was kind of expecting more :(

    • Mr Peckerston says:

      That quote was from the Q&A session last night, in reply to a question about dynamically changing the rules of a game to create a customised game for each player. The way I interpreted it was that the core rules of the game and the mission structure would be hand-crafted (like Uplink etc) but the building/city layouts would be completely generated. I can’t remember exactly what he said though, so maybe it’ll be more clear if and when they release recordings of the interview :)

    • Dominic White says:

      Edit: Gah, beaten!

      I think you’re misreading it – they’re carefully hand-crafting all the gameplay mechanics – the actual core of the game – but all the environments and mission scenarios will be procedurally generated to keep things fresh and interesting. Keep in mind that even building interiors are going to be randomly generated, according to earleir previews.

    • the wiseass says:

      That’s good to hear. Thanks for the rectification guys, my interest has been rekindled. I’m a big fan of Darwinia (Multiwinia not so much), so I really hope Introversion can pull this off.

  2. bookwormat says:

    Bah, they should have called this Git.

  3. bbr says:

    Maybe if you assume you WILL be able to explore the city, you’ll be less disappointed.

    • PHeMoX says:

      What makes you think you won’t be able to explore the city? One could assume that’s the infiltration / exploration part of the main game, right?

      I really hope they will add a pretty serious Uplink edge or similar atmosphere to this game. That would be incredibly cool.

  4. TheBlackBandit says:

    Sounds pretty darn good. Always wanted to see Introversion turn their hand to some infiltration/stealth since Uplink. (Which was basically just that.)

  5. Premium User Badge

    Lambchops says:

    “This is, in some ways, the sequel to Uplink: technology versus information versus infrastructure, only this time graduating to the physical, urban level.”

    That gets some tentative approval from me. Obviously it’s too early to tell whether this will be the kind of game I’ll enjoy but whether or not that’s the case I’m sure that whatever Introversion come up with, it will be at worst very interesting.

  6. RiptoR says:

    Hmmm, I was looking for info about this game just a couple of hours ago, weird coincidence :)

  7. Sp4rkR4t says:

    Ok Thief like infiltration game with a bit more of an objective than simple theft in a universe that seems massively like Syndicate. Sometimes I think Introversion are mining gaming ideas from the file in my head marked too good to ever be made.

  8. EBass says:

    I hate Darwinia. Its a boring and flat RTS, the fact its got a pretty unique environment and are was made by indie devs doesen’t therefore equal good. That said I liked Uplink so I’ll be keeping an eye on this.

    • Auspex says:

      Something is either unique or it is not unique. It cannot be “pretty unique”.

    • Dominic White says:

      “I hate Darwinia. Its a boring and flat RTS”

      Given that the game is a hybrid of Cannon Fodder and Lemmings set in a pseudo-8-bit world full of space invaders and centipedes, and plays nothing like any RTS in existance, that’s a rather bizarre statement.

    • bill says:

      Darwinia isn’t an RTS.

    • Urthman says:

      Auspex, what word or phrase would you prefer to “pretty unique” for something that either has a lot of unique elements mixed with non-unique stuff or something that is one of only a small handful of things that are, collectively, unlike anything else?

      (I’m not sure in which of those senses EBass meant the phrase, but enough people use phrases like “pretty unique” or “mostly unique” to mean these things that it’s probably on it’s way to being standard English usage, if not already there.)

    • Auspex says:

      Urthman: How about innovative, an original(or even unique) blend of ideas” or a novel approach.

      Just because many people are wrong about something does not mean we should accept said wrongdoing. There has been enough damage done to the English language in so called “grey areas” without informed people putting up with things that are definitely wrong.

      Incidentally it is worth remembering that something or someone can be almost or nearly unique and even totally unique (though “totally unique” is tautologous but that is merely poor rhetoric rather than technically incorrect).

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      drewski says:

      Who left the door open and let the language Nazi in?

      Dude, language changes. Deal with it. (But don’t cope with it. Definitely not that.)

    • Doug F says:

      Oddly, “Unique” is one of the few cases where I find myself siding with the language nazis. Normally I’m all for the evolution of language, but diluting “unique” to include things that are merely incredibly rare means we no longer have a term to differentiate between the rare and the truly one-of-a-kind. We’ve already got plenty of terms for things that are almost but not quite unique.

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      drewski says:

      I’m sure we’ll think of something. Or we won’t, and the world won’t end.

      Besides, the use of the qualifier “pretty” adds the necessary meaning to differentiate the two.

    • Doug F says:

      Sure, if “pretty fiery” means the same thing as “hot”.

      Not sure where I implied armageddon as a consequence though. I think it’s a fair statement to feel that it would be a detrimental evolution of the language in this case.

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      drewski says:

      It would be a fair statement if something like language could be modified positively or negatively. It can’t. It just changes. Only your interpretations give words value. Therefore, you can believe the language is lessened, but it isn’t, it’s just different.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    Holy highpants this looks good.

  10. mrrobsa says:

    I gave a ‘whoop’ at the mention of you lovely RPS lads last night at the Q&A to help big you up to all the BAFTA bods. I hope any eventual video of the event includes the fantastic Darwinian ‘farewell’ video the Introversion guys made because it was hilarious.
    So chuffed to finally see this game in action, loved Uplink, so some corporate esionage hi-jinks in a massive working city sounds tops. Can’t wait.

  11. Turin Turambar says:

    A tactical stealth-adventure with action in a procedural city, where every mission in every buidling will be different, with different plans to enter/escape, etc???

    YEAAAAHHHH!!

    Being honest, i hoped for something like this. It was known the procedural city feature of this game, and it made me think, it’s a lot of work to just put it in an action game or something like that, where in the end you don’t care if the city is fixed or procedural, the focus is in the action. And then i remembered Uplink, with the theme of (virtual) infiltration, sabotage, espionage, etc. For that type of game, a espionage/infiltration game, the layout of of the level makes the game, as you can’t memorize the patrols with a random system and in general, the focus goes to thinking and preparind and improvising.

  12. nabeel says:

    Cool to finally find out what the game actually is. I look forward to actual screens and footage. It’s been three years since we first heard the name Subversion!

  13. Batolemaeus says:

    News from introversion always fill me with a nostalgic feeling. I’m tempted to fire up Uplink again.

  14. Lizardman says:

    I’m hoping this game will be incredible, because I think it has the potential. The premise really appeals to me, it looks good, and introversion make good games. They’ve promoted it as their magnum opus… I think it could well be!

    I just wish they’d post some new subversion dev journals on the IV site…

  15. CreativeShadows says:

    So was any of this filmed. I would love to see this a group of us met up with the introversion guy at the PC Gamer showdown he was reealy cool and down to earth, ansl i think i have enjoyed all of their games so far.

  16. Frank says:

    It’s nice to see RPS scoop a story every once in a while. I can’t find any other news of Subversion on the Internets.

    I’m also glad to see that Introversion didn’t go out of business: this sounds cool.

    P.S. Seems that the captcha image doesn’t match the sound, and the sound always matches what I should enter…?

  17. Snall says:

    I’ve been waiting for this game for years now…still waiting, hopefully only a couple more years..

  18. Cynic says:

    So excited for this and Frozen Synapse (if only the FS guys would concentrate more on letting out dribbles of information to attract people rather than trying to be a PR people harvester)

    Waiting a year for more of this should be more than worth it

  19. Coded One says:

    With Subversion and Monaco on the way, my wallet is in danger…

  20. unaco says:

    Looks and sounds very interesting. I’ve been watching alot of ‘Burn Notice’ recently… the situation described here sort of reminds me of it… an objective, with various avenues of ‘attack’ – subterfuge, surveillance, manipulation, violence etc. Very promising concept, and describing it as – Subversion : Syndicate :: Thief : FPS – is kinda making me hot.

    Always been a fan of Introversion since I picked up Uplink and Defcon a few years ago… Never actually played Darwinia though, although I may try and rectify that.

    • user@example.com says:

      Seems a bit more Leverage to me.

      Man, Leverage with Bruce Campbell would be awesome…

    • JuJuCam says:

      Leverage without the con element is a slightly different beast but yes, I got that feeling too.

  21. Joinn says:

    Ah, finally I can version control my code inside a game!

    Hmm, wonder if it replaces Toirtoise SVN as well?

  22. kwyjibo says:

    Where’s all the effort and cash into the development going? Into the procedural generation tool? Is it something they’re going to license?

    Surely, just to use it as a background, would be a waste.

    • Dominic White says:

      It’s not just a ‘background’ – it’s the entire game environment. It sounds like a new city is generated for each campaign, and the interior of each building is generated whenever you begin a mission.

      So long as there’s enough variance/random elements at play in the core action, it pretty much garuntees the game has infinite replayability.

    • Premium User Badge

      Lambchops says:

      See Spelunky.

      I got to the final boss for the first time yesterday. Then it killed me. Completely flattened I was. When I finally win this game it will probably be one of my proudest gaming achievements.

    • Premium User Badge

      Lambchops says:

      Also consider me proud – just beat the damn thing on my 299th attempt!

    • Dominic White says:

      Well done, you got the regular ending! Now do it again, and this time find the lost city of gold.

    • kwyjibo says:

      “Nevertheless the core of things, says, Delay, need to be hand-crafted. The wider world, the noisy background of an entire city, will be left to procedural creation.”

      The core of the game is scripted. The city is a backdrop. So what does it matter if the city is different on each level? I’m not against randomly generated-ness, you have your Hellgates and your Diablos and whatever – but from what I’ve seen on the Introversion blog – the whole time has been spent on creating this pretty awesome city generator – and yet it’s not particularly central.

    • Xocrates says:

      I believe it was stated some time ago that Subversion would be a sort of sandbox game similar to Uplink.
      That quote by Chris could mean nearly anything, from “missions will be fully scripted, but set in a procedurally generated city” to “game mechanics need to be coded separately, while missions and their environment will be randomized”

    • JuJuCam says:

      There’s a lot that remains to be seen about how the player interacts with the city. In particular, the scale of escapes. I’m imagining a high level infiltration that raises an alarm leading you up to the rooftops for a Mirror’s Edge-like chase sequence across various different buildings. In which case you want to make sure your procedurally generated city makes such an escape even possible.

      Also it seems to me the sort of game where the players action can guide the generation of the city. If you take a lot of missions that cripple one given corporation, perhaps they may have to sell off assets, their security weakens or they move to new buildings entirely.

      Of course this is all speculation, but I for one am willing to get excited about the possibilities.

    • Dan says:

      @JuJuCam
      The demo was point and click, so I wouldn’t count on too many action sequences. They did cite Oceans 11 though, so I’m thinking there could be somthing involving multiple targets in a single mission (one team takes out the power, another infiltrates).

      I’m also visualising uplink’s market of potential missions, but spread out across the entire city, maybe with particular factions involved.

  23. Bobsy says:

    *bounces up and down with joy*

    Perfect. Utterly, utterly lovely.

  24. Premium User Badge

    Spork says:

    If they manage to give this the same feeling as Uplink I’m sold.

    Laser grids, sewers, social engineering and air-ducts would probably make my brain melt from the sheer awesomeness.

  25. col says:

    YES!!! *ahem* Excuse me. Sorry.

    That’s pretty much exactly what I’ve been expecting, and indeed hoping, to hear. More excelentness inbound from Introversion. Magic.

  26. CMaster says:

    Feeling somewhat smug that I guessed pretty accurately what the game was about 2 years ago.

    I said as much to the introversion guys at some point last year, and they were non-committal until I mentioned Neuromancer, which they said was a pretty key influence.

  27. Torgen says:

    Anyone remember Sid Meir’s “Covert Action”? I hope this plays like a fleshed out version of that.

    • terry says:

      I still have my red glossy manual for that with all the terrorist artist’s impressions in it :-) Weirdly, I had the cracked version for the Amiga and some plum had gone through editing all the mission text, so the chief would say stuff like “We’ve received information that a terrorist op is planned at the Olympic Games. Boy George is known to be involved.” Later in the game it would degenerate into random curses and gibberish. Mildly amusing, but not all that playable.

      I still play the PC version a lot (handy hint – the abandonware version appears to crash when breaking and entering for the first time, but if you just wait it will start after about 30 secs) and it’s in my all-time top 10, for sure. Aside from the driving part which is pants.

  28. Metalfish says:

    Uplink was brilliant. Defcon was simplistic brilliance. Both felt slightly like a secondary part of a bigger game, for some reason. Like the metagames of an MMO or something. I can’t really explain it. I think if I was a millionaire eccentric games dev I’d get these guys to plug an uplink style net into a something a bit like EVE….

  29. pfox says:

    wrong audience! video game nerds != programmers… just had to jump in with a ‘ME TOO!’, tho

    • Cynic says:

      @ pfox For one thing, Introversion’s fans play Introversion’s games. Be they programmers, gamers or horse dentists.
      For another, this is clearly a strategy game and not a programmer’s IDE, so why are video game nerds the wrong audience?

    • Ed says:

      @Cynic: I believe pfox was referring to the plethora of gags playing on the fact that this game has the same name as a version control system. Games nerds are possibly (but not always) the wrong audience for that gag.

  30. tKe says:

    @pfox, video game nerds != programmers is far too strong a statement. video game nerds =/=> programmers would make more sense.

    Anyway, the Introversion talk was thoroughly entertaining. I’m just sad I didn’t manage to get my hands on my own darwinian – damn you Rei.

    As detail as Jim’s writing is I have to say seeing Subversion first hand, even if it was not of “demoable” quality, was truly impressive and for a game I previously had only an interest in seeing how it develops before making a decision, I can now safely say “I Want.”.

    I’d also like to say, Keiron’s constant lack of spatial awareness with regards to his mic did make me smile throughout.

  31. HarbourMaster says:

    I bought my ticket but was too ill to turn up. Curses!!!! I can’t bloody believe I missed this!

  32. fulis says:

    Are they going to write a blog begging people do buy this one when it too doesn’t sell?

    • Heliocentric says:

      I want my multiplayer experiences to be well balanced. But a single player can be a bit of a mess and still be wonderful (ref: morrowind, deus ex) but if a multiplayer game isn’t carefully weighted its screwed.

      I own multiwinia but only because it was on a “next to nothing” sale. And while defcon was the most incredible screen saver in the world (especially for a 50 wall mounted lcd) it was not a well balanced game.

      When darwinia and uplink had broken crap, i could milk it or reload and evade the issue. But if that same brokeness was in multiplayer the game would be a chore to play. So yes, subversion will be great, just like uplink and darwinia, but if it has multiplayer (other than coop) it will be a turd, because they don’t know how/have the resources to balance.

      Edit:dropped the point of my reply

      Point: by not being an rts that rts players can see the flaws in instantly, or a interface only hacking game people might be able to get excited about this.

      I remember reading that when they made multiwinia that they said they didn’t play modern rts. That stupid, i don’t want a car made by someone who has never driven or a watch by someone who can’t read time.

      I keep hearing profession developers boasting that they don’t play the competition. What are they proud of ignorance for?

  33. Gap Gen says:

    I’d love to see this modded to hell, with the city engine used as a backdrop for all sorts of things. For example: Arma engine + Subversion city, perhaps even with a kind of “bring peace to this part of Iraq-alike-istan” free-form thing going on.

  34. somedude says:

    Looking at the picture for the article, I was suddenly hoping for some kind of new city-building game… honestly, you could strip away all the espionage stuff and just give me a program that randomly generates cool-looking cities to manipulate, explore and drive/fly around in, and I’d be happy.

  35. PHeMoX says:

    I agree with ‘we need to see more’.

    I was disappointed about Multiwinia and their focus on Darwinia++ so to speak, but I am a lot more confident about and interested in their Subversion game.

    If they manage to give it the right ‘Up-link’ angle, that will be one hell of a nice game to play.

    Also, I say ‘YES!!’ to infiltration themed games, this sounds good and fits nicely.

  36. JimmyJames says:

    @ Torgen,

    Yes! Covert Action was the first thing that came to mind when I read this. Here’s hoping.

  37. ManaTree says:

    Veeeeerrrrrry interesting. This and Monaco have made jumps on my lists.

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    drewski says:

    This will only be of interest to me if it contains a robust single player experience.

  39. terry says:

    Every time I watch that Subversion video (and it has been many times, in lieu of any other footage), some part of my brain starts to scream “MINIGUN”, and “UZI” and “PERSUADERTRON” in capital letters.
    Never has an engine been screaming more for idiots with rocket launchers mowing down innocents.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the game that emerges will be compelling in a different way, but goddamn do I want my procedural Syndicate :-)

  40. terry says:

    No, really?

    Do tell!

    Oh wait, you did.

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    Lambchops says:

    Wrong target audience methinks.

    HANDBAG!

  42. Kadayi says:

    Heh I had a hunch that this was the direction the game was taking, so glad to see I was on the right path. Looking forward to purchasing this when it eventually comes out.

  43. nabeel says:

    Chris Delay posted on the Introversion blog about the launch party, and there are pics of the Subversion demo there. It certainly looks earlyish, but still very cool.

  44. Stompywitch says:

    Wow. This doesn’t quite sound like it’s the Sense/Net run game I’ve always wanted, but it’s so very, very close!

  45. CdrJameson says:

    Aces! Another game in the good, cyberpunk tradition.

    It’s Max Headroom meets Neuromancer meets Syndicate meets Interphase… on Disprin!

    I’m glad to see they found something to do with their city generator other than, um, generate cities.

  46. geldonyetich says:

    “That’s a very nice city.”
    “Thank you.”
    “What does it do?”
    “Do?”

  47. Josh says:

    Oh I’m so glad this turned out to be heading in the direction I hoped for! The thing about “plan an attack” games is that they cannot be played in the same way twice, because the unknown is not there. You can contrast this with the multiplayer FPSs, with their attempts in pathing, weapon choices etc to make the moment of actually meeting the enemy end up unpredictable. I’ve played modern warfare for weeks now with freinds and rarely encountered the same specific combat situation. This seems amazing to me considering how limited the pallet we are using is.

    If introversion can pull the same off here; if like in multiplayer balancing they avoid simple best strategies that overrule large swathes of the possibilities of your opponent (in this case the fictional security designer of the installations), and have the right information/risk gradient to create a compelling mix of preparation and improvisation, then I’m there!

    This is the kind of game I’ve been looking for for ages! Ideally I’d like to see faction politics etc, but quite honestly I don’t expect that to appear, which doesn’t bother me, because I’m hoping for a substantial enough expression of the set-mission-objective unknown-terrain paradigm to feel complete and satisfying, and if they release the code like with uplink people I might learn to code myself and put it in! This seems like the closest route to my “procedural x-com apocalypse+4x” I’m going to get in the near future.