This article originally appeared in Dev.Mag Issue 26, released in October 2008.
After playing the preview code of Multiwinia, Dev.Mag went to have with a chat with Mark Morris, MD of Introversion.
Q. Why did you decide to take Darwinia into multiplayer?
MM. Just after we won the 2006 IGF award for Darwinia we were talking with Microsoft about getting Darwinia onto XBox Live Arcade. They were keen, but wanted us to include a multiplayer mode within the package. At first we thought this would be a quick job, but over time we realised we were really onto something. Multiwinia was really great fun to play and we decided to turn it into the next major release from Introversion. We had to work really hard to get such a variety of maps and different modes, but we are really pleased with the results!
Q. How did the design process for the game modes work?
MM. Design at introversion is really iterative. Some of the modes were really obvious – like King of the Hill, but the more complex modes like Assault, Rocket Riot and Blitzkreig took us a long time to get right. Basically we would try something, see if it was fun or not and develop it. Multiwinia is all about fun and action and if we weren’t having fun with a particular mode we would try for a while and then scrap it if we couldn’t get it right.
Q. How much did DEFCON help with creating Multiwinia (from a design and coding perspective)?
MM. Multiwinia and DEFCON are very different games so from a design perspective DEFCON didn’t influence Multiwinia (other than a rather unsubtle nod to DEFCON included as a crate power-up). That said we had learnt a lot about networking and game stability from our work on DEFCON. The problem was that we had to go back to the original Darwinia code which wasn’t as robust as our latter work – the result was that much of the code that we had written for DEFCON needed to be re-written for Multiwinia.
Q. What was it like working with the Xbox360?
MM. The 360 is a really great platform to work with. The console itself is basically a PC, but they do some clever stuff to get as much out of the hardware as possible, this meant that we were able to get a basic port up and running quickly, but the real challenge is getting the performance up. Of course we are still a little bit off the Live Arcade launch, so you’ll need to ask me the question again in a few months!
Q. Was it difficult to adapt the controls?
MM. Multiwinia was designed with the X360 controller in mind, but it was Darwinia that has (is) giving us the most trouble. We are nearly there, but we did think it was going to be a much easier job than it actually turned out to be. I think we have gone through about four or five control revisions and I’m still not sure we are there yet!
Q. What hurdles did you encounter with the development of Multiwinia?
MM. The biggest challlenge with Multiwinia was making sure that there was enough variation in the maps and the different game modes. We spent most of 2007 coming up with, testing and rejecting lots of game modes before settling on the final six. We’re really pleased with the end results and I’m sure that everyone will have their own favorite modes and maps (I LOVE attacking in Assault).
Q. You’ve been going for quite some time, do you foresee a shiny future ahead for you guys?
MM. We’re in a very strong position now. We’re pretty well known in the industry and our back catalogue of games still sells in reasonable numbers. We have a few ports in the pipeline which should help to support the main effort – developing great new games. As always we will live or die by our next title and in this case it’s Multiwinia. Keep your fingers crossed for us!
Q. First you rattle our collective gaming minds with Subversion and then we hear about Chronometer. When are we going to get some info on this? When do you plan to release it?
Q. How does your design process work in general? How do you get your wild ideas onto paper and into a solid game?
MM. We have a very relaxed and free flowing design process. Chris has most of the big ideas and then he’ll go away and jam for a few months. It probably takes him about six months (working part time) for him to come up with a core of a game. At that point we bring in Gary – he is our Chris Multiplier – Gary is great at seeing the themes that Chris has created and jamming around them. Show Gary a map, and he’ll come back a week later with six. During this time the other members of the team will be adding new features or extending ideas as directed by Chris. Once we start to run out of money we all get scared and we work like mad for a few months to get the game bug free. Sound simple?
Q. Do you plan on releasing Darwinia merchandise? Those Darwinians are a hot commodity.
MM. We already have a store full of cool Darwinia stuff – check [it] out
Q. The entry point for great indie games are getting higher and higher? Don’t you think it is discouraging for beginners?
MM. Indie games are getting bigger and better and there are more and more tools out there to support the development effort (I’m talking about the likes of XNA). This does make it a lot harder for new people to get set up and producing games, but I don’t think that is a bad thing. It is very, very hard to make a great video game, but if you want it enough you’ll get there!
Q. After working on the Xbox, do you still see the PC as your main platform?
MM. Yeah we will always be principally a PC developer. The PC is an open platform and that means that nobody pushes us around or tells us what to do. We are fiercely independent and whilst I’d love to see our stuff on other platforms, the big boys need to understand that they can’t have a hand in the design process. That said, Microsoft have been really helpful and have given us loads of feedback on how to improve Multiwinia.
Q. Peanuts or Raisins?
Diablo 3 or Starcraft 2?
DRM or No-DRM?
MM. Listening to DRM free MP3s whilst eating peanuts and playing Starcraft 2.