New Introversion Project, Subversion Delayed

By Adam Smith on October 17th, 2011 at 5:24 pm.

The city sleeps for now

It has been five years since Introversion last entered the Independent Games Festival, with Darwinia, and the studio have just announced that they have entered their latest game into IGF 2012. However, the submitted game is not Subversion, the stylish, procedurally generated urban heist sim that the team have been working on, which is now on indefinite hiatus. Instead, there is to be an entirely new game, of which we know nothing, apart from the fact that it isn’t a sequel to a previous game. Chris Delay was candid as ever in explaining the decision and his words and more of mine are here to enlighten you.

First of all, Chris is keen to point out that this does not necessarily mean the end of Subversion, but Introversion simply aren’t big enough to handle multiple projects simultaneously. They’ve made the decision to concentrate on their most promising project and hopefully we’ll know more about that soon.

Subversion has not been cancelled, but I would certainly forget about it for now. We will be going back to that project eventually, but the first thing I plan to do is gut the thing from top to bottom of all the tech fluff that we forced in over the years. Without a core game it’s all a worthless distraction, and I will NEVER again spend so long making tech for a game without having a solid core game in place first. Subversion needs a total rethink from top to bottom, and some long standing sacred cows need slaughtering.

Today is Day Zero of our new plan!

I’ve seen little of Subversion, although I’ve read more than enough about it since it was first announced. In a strange way, the news of its vanishing reveals more about it than all the speculation and wobbly-cam footage that’s out there. The key point that Chris makes is that Subversion had become a triumph of technology over design.

Around June last year, we pushed ourselves as hard as we could and made a playable slice of the game, and demonstrated it publicly at the World Of Love conference in London. The demo went well, but was heavily scripted. Internally we had come to realise that somewhere along the 6 years of part-time development, we had lost our way. We couldn’t even remember what sort of game it was supposed to be anymore. We’d ended up with a game that looked and sounded brilliant, classic Introversion with its blue wireframe and sinister faceless characters. But there was a massive gaping hole where you would normally see a “core game”. We’d tried and tried to fill that hole with ambitious tech and experimental systems, but you couldn’t escape it.

In the end, after all that development and years of work, you still completed the bank heist by walking up to the first door, cracking it with a pin cracker tool, then walking into the vault and stealing the money. There was no other way to complete that level. And this would be the essential method by which you would complete every level after that. Technology 1, Gameplay 0 – we’ve made the fatal mistake of having more fun making the game than gamers would ever have playing it.

The full announcement is worth reading, with some detail on what Subversion had become and, more pertinent, what it was failing to become. It’s useful to hear honest appraisals of the development process, not only for us as fans and commentators, but no doubt for other developers as well. And it’s good to know that with Subversion pushed onto the back-burner, there’s already something else to look forward to. To the future!

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70 Comments »

  1. Sp4rkR4t says:

    I hope we get some news on what the new project is and hopefully they can re-imagine Subversion soon, loved the concept of that game but well done to them for realising there failings with the project instead of just pushing it out the door regardless.

  2. Inigo says:

    It would be nice to at least have the city generator to play with.

  3. bookwormat says:

    They should name the next project git.

  4. Premium User Badge RaveTurned says:

    What a shame.

    Seriously, some parts of Subversion were looking lovely but I was always a little sketchy about the thrust of the overriding game. Perhaps with the release of the visually similar Frozen Synapse with its super-tight gameplay, along with the development of other heist-style games like Monaco they felt like Subversion wouldn’t stand out in the way that previous Introversion games have. I hope we see it resurface and that the tech elements that don’t quite fit can be reused in other games, but I agree that gameplay should come first.

  5. TillEulenspiegel says:

    The explanation makes a lot of sense. It’s easy to get carried away with the technology and forget a little about the user’s experience.

    I’ve caught myself doing this several times, working on some fun bit of code, then thinking “Wait, how is this going to affect the gameplay? Don’t I have much higher priorities?” So it gets shelved, and I re-focus on the important stuff.

    I’m a little surprised that they weren’t able to figure out how to make a good game from it at all, though. Sad. I was really looking forward to Subversion. I might just bring back my “Thieves’ Guild Tycoon” design sketches and see if I can make the heist planning bits work…

  6. airtekh says:

    That’s very honest of them, regarding Subversion.

    Really looking forward to see what this new game is about.

  7. simonh says:

    I wonder if Chris has ever heard any jokes about his surname. Someone should probably come up with one, I think he’d find it very funny.

    • Coins says:

      Nah, all the jokes are held up.

    • Premium User Badge Stellar Duck says:

      Damn it! I’m late.

    • Dozer says:

      It’s safe to assume that EVERYONE has heard ALL POSSIBLE jokes about their names at length and will hate you forever for repeating any of them.

    • Donkeydeathtasticelastic says:

      It only gets worse when your teachers do it too.

      Oh, how I hated my teachers.

  8. Demiath says:

    It worries me that they seem to have been taken by surprise by the fact that it proved tremendously difficult to make a game out of this tech. Anyone who read one or two of the developer’s blog posts about Subversion’s development could have told them that they had crafted a marvellous tech demo and had absolutely no discernable gameplay to show for it.

    More than anything else, indie game designers need to be able to step back and gain a minimum of perspective. As a company Introversion have been perilously close to the edge before, and these expensive forays into the unknown are best left to research departments, John Carmack or anyone else that can actually afford to not make money for a long period of time.

  9. kwyjibo says:

    I think they saw Frozen Synapse, and thought that we can only handle so many blue games in one year.

    How the hell do these guys manage to stay in business without having released anything for years?

    • mangrove says:

      Well they’re a small team and their games sold well AFAIK.

      I was just hoping for a cyberpunky Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, to be honest. Someone make this game for me, please!

    • Xocrates says:

      They’re reduced to about 3 or 4 people by now (essentially the founders) and Steam sales of their back catalog have been successful enough to keep them afloat.

      Besides, their last release was Darwinia+ for XBLA last year. I believe it wasn’t particularly successful, but it does mean it hasn’t been “years” since their last release.

    • Matt says:

      They were on the brink of collapse but adding Steam achievements to DEFCON and the subsequent Steam sale saved them.

      http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2010/08/23/how-a-steam-promotion-saved-introversion/

    • dadioflex says:

      Didn’t they downsize massively? Back to just a couple of guys?

    • kyrieee says:

      When multiwinia came out I think they did a big “please buy our game, we’re going out of business” type announcement. They weren’t outright begging for donations but it felt like it.

  10. Danorz says:

    i can’t fault the reasoning at all but god fucking dammit.

    • Tatourmi says:

      Exactly, I have been waiting for this game to come out for years and all my hopes just got destroyed. Oh how I am frustrated right now, and the worst? I can’t even blame anyone! SOMEONE BE RESPONSIBLE!

    • FRIENDLYUNIT says:

      Yes.

      Fuck.

    • crbrsd says:

      Well I’m glad I’m not the only one who responded to this news with a long string of expletives.

  11. Premium User Badge Hodge says:

    It’s like Delay woke up one morning, had a look in the mirror and realised he was turning into Peter Molyneux.

    I’m sorely disappointed by this as I was really looking forward to it, to the point where I think I would have enjoyed it regardless of the gaping flaws. Sounds like it’s for the best, though.

    And +1 to releasing the city generator as a standalone toy. If they put it up somewhere with the option of donating for it they’d probably do alright out of it.

  12. heker_88 says:

    Did anyone else look back at the city building video and instantly think of dwarf fortress.. speaking of which I wonder what improvements they’ve made since I last played.

  13. Yargh says:

    A brave move to recognise the faults in his baby there.

    But still, I need my team based heist planning simulation.

    • Icarus says:

      Speaking of that, where -is- Monaco?

    • terry says:

      Eternally being developed. I think its due next year sometime.

    • AndySchatz says:

      Still here! Getting fairly close to done. Started on the game in October 2009, honestly two year (+) development isn’t particularly long or weird for a game of its size!

    • Frank says:

      Yeah, Monaco’s been moving along since its IGF win, as can be seen on it’s Facebook page

    • Bishop says:

      It scares me when developers jack-in-the-box to anyone mentioning their name. I don’t think it’s bad or anything, but it makes me worry that to every time I said “jeez, this game’s story is awful” a developer is regretful of paying a writer and a writer is upset no one gets him.

  14. .backslash says:

    ‘Sequel to an existing game’, eh? Darwinia already had a semi-sequel in the form of Multivinia, so I don’t think they’ll be doing that again, DEFCON was brilliant, but I don’t think there’s much that can be added to the formula, and that leaves us with Uplink. And the concept of more Uplink makes vary, very happy.

    • Inigo says:

      isn’t a sequel”.

    • .backslash says:

      Gah, I just /headdesk’d so hard. Then I realized maybe I shouldn’t do that anymore since that may have brain damaged me into failing like that in the first place. Anyway, thanks for setting me straight, I would have been really confused in a few months when new details about this game surfaced.

    • weteor says:

      It wouldn’t have taken that long.
      IV submitted the new game to the IGF 2012. Deadline is 17/18th October. So we should get a nice picture/video and a game description in the next / two week(s) ;)

  15. Urthman says:

    Do you know how many AAA developers would have barreled ahead, polished up the pretty engine, maybe added more shooting, and basically tried to sell us the “pick the lock, walk in, and take the money” game for $60?

    All of them.

    (Except Valve. They did this same, “Wait, our game sucks, let’s start over,” thing with the first Half-Life, and look how that went.)

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      If you’re taking a publisher’s money, you really have no choice. You have a contract. You either release a product, or you’re absolutely fucked.

      It’s the nature of the typical developer/publisher relationship. So, yay indies. Or at least indies who have the cash reserves to be able to do this without collapsing.

    • cliffski says:

      popcap are the same, they don’t release stuff they aren’t happy with. The same is true to some extent of lionhead, from my experience.
      Plus most indies :D

    • Starky says:

      It is also true of 3D realms and duke nukem forever, of course their problem is they were never happy with the game, so never released it at all.

    • FunkyBadger3 says:

      cliffski: I’d presume there are consequences for the teams that manage to not get Popcap’s stuff ready/up to snuff on time?

  16. BurningPet says:

    I love introversion, i loved subversion concept and i hope the new game will be as innovative and as fun as their other games.

  17. MythArcana says:

    I’ve been keeping an eye out on this project and was just on their site last week drooling again. It is certainly a clear advantage to stick close to your game design documents instead of chasing golden chickens around for months at a time. I believe that the scope of this project was probably a bit much for the size of the team and funds to support it, but I have hope it will surface again some day.

  18. Coins says:

    Past experiences learned that I love everything Introversion makes, so I’m happy either way.

  19. terry says:

    Perhaps they should’ve made it an FPS.

  20. Nameless1 says:

    Wow, congratz.
    SIX f* years and you realise It’s more a tech demo than a game.
    Just wow.

  21. Muzman says:

    Obviously they really had their laptops stolen and no recent backups.
    See, this is how you show years of industry experience in explaining it.

  22. Stompywitch says:

    Pity, Subversion was my most-awaited game, especially after the WoL video.

    I wonder if they could adapt it into an urban tactics game, a kinda XCom-y direction?

    .Oh well, guess I’ll have to move on to waiting eagerly for their next game. :)

  23. JM says:

    Although they’re an enthusiastic bunch, these guys have to be one of the worst teams when it comes to project management. Jesus.

  24. Prime says:

    This feels very much like being told Christmas is cancelled. :(

  25. FunkyBadger3 says:

    Subversion = DNF

    Hope the company survives this.

  26. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    “New Introversion Project, Subversion Delayed

    Was that a wordplay on Chris Delay’s name and work habit (making terrible judgments that put his company on the edge)? If so, bravo! Pun overload.

    OT: It’s really inspiring and saddening at the same time to see them shelving six year’s worth of work because it didn’t measure up to their standards. Hope yet another genuinely awesome product comes out of this.

  27. Consumatopia says:

    Sounds like the right decision to me.

    Does anyone think this puts Eskil Steenberg’s open letter to John Carmack in a different light?

  28. staberas says:

    looks at the picture : YAY
    looks at the title : NOOOOOOOOO
    :(

  29. hosndosn says:

    I can’t help but feel that, if they gave the amazing tools and base engine in my hands right now, I could design a game that allows at least Hitman-level amounts of different approaches. I remember excited “omg, once I get my hands on a playable version, I’ll try doing it this way” flashes throughout the demo. Oddly, I found the tech to be brilliantly supportive of some amazing game design ideas but the leveldesign simply not taking advantage of it. Dare I say, the biggest issue I had with Darwina as well, a game that oozes potential but felt awfully linear at times.

    I don’t understand how starting yet another tech approach could help them solve their design holes. It felt more like Half-Life pre-Cabal, a level-design problem.

  30. Kadayi says:

    “Subversion needs a total rethink from top to bottom, and two freeloaders need firing.”

    I think that’s more the truth of things.

  31. Navagon says:

    Well I suppose any new Introversion game is better than seeing the continued endless development of something which was ultimately a pretty impressive tech demo. Hopefully this rethink on Subversion will result in success somewhere down the road as it does sound like a very cool concept.

  32. zbeeblebrox says:

    Sadly, this plannless “come up with x, then shoehorn game into it” attitude is pretty much par for the course in the games industry.

  33. edit says:

    Honestly I felt that lack of a “core game” throughout development (once the blogs etc started anyway). I just about convinced myself that they simply weren’t giving much away, but it did feel a bit like they were developing cool aspects of the game or engine without really defining a clear vision of the game as a whole. It felt like it was starting to come together a bit when we saw the playable heist thing, I hope they can really solidify their vision and incorporate all the cool ideas and features they’ve worked on, rather than reduce the scope of their ambition for it. A heist game is one thing, but one in an open-world procedural city is a lot more appealing!