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PC Gamer UK interview, June 2004
 
 
 

Tim Edwards conducted an interview with Chris Delay for the June 2004 issue of PC Gamer UK. This interview was used for the two page scoop that made it into that issue. The full interview text is reprinted here with kind permission from PC Gamer.

PCG: Can you explain some of the concepts behind Darwinia. What are you doing? Why are you fighting? Who are you fighting? What units are under your control? And who is this mad Dr Sepulveda?

Chris: The back story to the game concerns an electronics pioneer called Dr Sepulveda who ran a very successfully computer games hardware company in the 80s. Unfortunately his company went bankrupt when he released a defective product called the Protologic 68000 onto the market, and for the past 20 years he's been working away in an abandoned factory with around fifty thousand returned Protologic units, trying to make something useful out of them. Eventually he discovered he could wire them all together into a huge grid, giving him massive computer power, and inside this grid he has begun a simulation of an incredibly detailed virtual world called Darwinia.

Its a very surreal and retro place that he's built, since he's been locked away for 20 years and the underlying hardware is all from the 80s eight-bit era. Its populated by a race of computer entities called the Darwinians, who are in a constant state of growth and expansion. Each generation gets more intelligent than the last. Unfortunately the latest generation has mutated out of control into a destructive viral force, and the world of Darwinia has erupted into warfare.

Against the backdrop of this war, the player is brought in to help. Dr Sepulveda is desperate to save decades of work and research into digital life, and he has written a number of weapons programs designed to help you regain control of the world. At the start of the game you can take control of small insertion squads that can be sent into Darwinia to accomplish specific tasks - sabotage buildings, recapture areas, save a group of Darwinian hostages etc. You're also trying to regain all of Sepulveda's research so he can write more useful programs for you to use. As you do this the range of weapons and systems available to you increases, until you are in tactical control of the whole Darwinian war effort.

PCG: The way you're generating sound is really interesting. Can you explain to our readers exactly what you're doing, and what it adds to the game?

Chris: We are very lucky to have an industry veteren by the name of Alistair Lindsay working with us on the audio system and authoring our audio for us. I asked him to answer that question for you. This stuff is very much still in development, so some of the stuff we said in the promo doc is out of date - the pokey chip for example isn't being used anymore because we've since found something better.

Alistiar Lindsay: My first reaction was to suggest using software emulations of the original sound chips from some of the classic games machines (such as the POKEY chip, or the SID chip), but then I changed my mind. I wanted a system that would allow me to use sample banks, just like a modern game, but also an engine that would function like a synthesiser, taking the raw sfx samples and mangling and warping them interactively at run time.

The engine allows us to take a game event and link it to a given aspect of the audio engine. For example, we can take the proximity of an engineer to the camera, and link this to one of the realtime dsp parameters available, say echo delay time. The result is kind of freaky, slightly trippy, but very very arcade, and the interactive morphing of sounds gives a dimension to the gameplay that no retro game ever did!

PCG: Have we seen any sign of "difficult second album syndrome" after Uplink?

Chris: Definately. By the time Darwinia hits the shelves it will have been 3 years since Uplink was released. It took us a long time to really focus on what we were trying to do with the game. For pretty much the entire first year of development we tried stuff, threw it away, then tried more stuff, on and on, without really stopping and zooming in on specific ideas. It was very experimental which is great, but it was also very uncontrolled. The game we're working towards now is very different from our original plan...originally it was called Future War, was multiplayer only, and had huge armies that you controlled by waving your mouse around. Since then we've been through a lot of different ideas and styles and it took us a long time to settle down on what we have now.

And there are some people within Introversion that believe Darwinia is an inner reaction against Uplink from our company, since Uplink was so minimalist and cerebral and Darwinia is so visceral and beautiful. I think we got tired of people's impressions that Introversion Software could only do 2d teletext style graphics. And there was a fear that we would just fall into the easy groove - maybe make Uplink 2 or some other game that's based around interfaces and gui's and emails and stuff, and that would be all that Introversion ever did for the next decade. There was a very strong desire to get as far away as possible from Uplink and make something totally different again.

All in all, Darwinia has been considerably harder to pull together than Uplink ever was.

PCG: Do you feel you have anything to live up to after your last game?

Right now I think people's impressions of Introversion are very closely linked to Uplink, since that's the only product we've released. Everyone we talk to thinks we make low budget hacking games, which just isn't the case...that just happened to be the first game we released. I think a lot of that will go out the window when people see Darwinia.

Having said that, we have a lot of people on our forums that are really holding their breaths. We worry quite a lot about this because they're interested in Introversion because they're interested in hacking, and Darwinia is something totally different. But I think people are also hoping for something original...a breath of fresh air from the corporate games world, since Introversion has remained totally independent and we're still trying to make very experimental games. And I don't think they'll be disapointed on that front.

PCG: Also: I quite fancy starting a running joke about you guys fixing the Readers Top 100 a couple of years ago. Fancy copping up to such a heinous crime?

Chris: Well, its a funny thing. Opinion is divided within Introversion about our responsibility for that little anomily. It's certainly true that we requested our fans vote for us in the PC Gamer Top 100, but there's no law against that. It's just that we have a particularly fanatical following, and it has been suggested that this might have swayed the votes a little. Certainly we are in a position where we can ask fans to help us and they do, and I don't think larger developers or publishers would be able to raise that kind of underground support.

In any case, it's guerilla marketing at its most effective...a lot of people noticed Uplink from that Readers Top 100, and it's all down to building a loyal fan base and then asking them to help spread the word about what you are trying to do. When you're as tiny as Introversion you have to find ways to publicise yourself that don't cost too much and don't put you head to head with the latest mega-publisher movie tie-in advertising campaign. We're just glad that Gamer has a sense of humour about it - here at Introversion Software we really didn't stop laughing about it for a very long time.

 

 

 

     
 
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