A year later at the end of 2008 at the Introversion Christmas dinner, and Mr Morris again silenced the room and gave his annual speech: “See last year’s speech”. This time nobody laughed, and there was no applause.
By all accounts, 2008 was a disastrous year for Introversion, characterised by an incredibly positive start and a noticeable increase in ambition, but not a single genuine success throughout the whole year. There was only one bit of good news – that we survived the whole year without laying anybody off or closing the company. This blog is a summary of 2008 – in three increasingly depressing parts.
At the start of the year we had a whole raft of projects to keep us busy. We had our Xbox 360 project Darwinia+, which was Darwinia and Multiwinia combined. The Multiwinia component was still in active development, and we were hard at work getting the whole package running well on the Xbox dev kits. We planned a simultaneous launch of Darwinia+ on Xbox, and Multiwinia on PC, Mac and Steam, all on the same day – our fourth major game launch, and our biggest yet.
While that project was ongoing, myself and Mark had been pursuing a fascinating opportunity to develop a big budget Introversion game for Channel 4, based on a long standing Introversion idea called Chronometer. After numerous meetings with lovely people at the TV company’s London headquarters, they’d agreed to fund a pre-production concept phase, which would last three months and would involve us hiring a fulltime professional writer and a team of concept artists. This was a serious project whose final budget would be over £1,000,000 if we got what we wanted, by far our most ambitious game design yet.
(Chronometer concept art)
On top of all of that, our long standing friends at Pinnacle Software (responsible for our boxed shop distribution in the UK) were looking to get into publishing, and we’d signed a deal to license Defcon for the Nintendo DS, to be developed by a third party and overseen by us.
And of course, in between all of this, the project that really excited me, there was Subversion. I worked on this whenever I could. At the start of the year I was in full swing, working fast on major systems for the game, blogging regularly, enjoying the process of working on a brand new game, and a brand new code base. Being brutally honest, while I agreed 100% with the business strategy of taking on the other projects, my real interest was with Subversion, and everything else was a means to that end.
The first major problem was Microsoft. I want to be clear that in hindsight, we believe Microsoft were absolutely correct in the calls they made, and we were wrong. But at the time, oh my god they were pissing us off. We’d done a massive treatment of the in-game menus for Darwinia and Multiwinia, and the end result is exactly what you see in the PC/Mac versions of Multiwinia now. We were very happy with that and considered the game ready to go through their certification process, but Microsoft did not agree. They requested we go into an extensive period of redesign and polish on the game, covering everything from the menus to the squaddie control method in Darwinia, to the game modes in Multiwinia. It was the first time a massive company had effectively told Introversion what to do, and we didn’t like that at all. It was also months of work, and the concept of open-ended polish and iteration with a company several orders of magnitude larger than our own didn’t hugely appeal. We finally resolved this situation in the only way we could – we separated the PC and Xbox versions of the game, pushed ahead with a PC only version of Multiwinia, and put the Xbox project on a back burner.
It's pretty obvious in Hindsight that Microsoft had the right idea all along for Darwinia+, and we were too absorbed with Multiwinia to see that. We wanted the focus to be the new game Multiwinia, they wanted the IGF winning game Darwinia.
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