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Subversion Unveiled

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.

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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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Jim Rossignol