Darwinia+ is finished, approved, certified, cocked, locked and ready to rock. It's coming out THIS Wednesday, the 10th of February 2010, for 1200 Microsoft Points, and you probably can't imagine what it feels like to be able to write that. Joy, happiness, relief, pride, and hope, all at once. If you haven't seen our launch trailer, check it out now - it's the best trailer we've ever made.
"Success in 2009 is survival" - Mark wrote that way back in July last year, when it became clear just how difficult a task it was going to be. On the scale of bad years, 2009 doesn't hold a candle to 2008 - in which Introversion not only tripped over itself and landed face first in the mud, but decided to stay there for a few months as well. 2009 was the year we worked our way out of it - with long months spent finishing Darwinia+ against a looming cashflow deadline that would end our company for good.
And we made it. Success in 2009 is survival, and I call success on that. And I kid you not, we received the Certification PASS message from Microsoft on Christmas Eve, 2009 - what a way to end the year. I haven't felt that kind of clear victory for a long while.
On Friday 19th February myself and Mark will be giving a talk at Bafta titled "Darwinia on Xbox - was it worth it?". After our talk Kieron Gillen will be asking us some tough questions (we'd hope), and then we'll be starting on what will almost certainly be our third major launch celebration. Writing this blog just two days before launch, the answer to our question is still largely unknown - we genuinely wouldn't want to try and call it, and if it goes strongly either way our talk will be radically different. So attendees might expect us to arrive by helicopter rapid descent through the roof, dressed in silk suits and gold medallions - or they may arrive to see us on the stage nursing hangovers and hipflasks, asking for donations into an empty coffee cup at the end. Could go either way. Of course, neither extreme is that likely, and so long as Darwinia+ does ok we will be ok. We've come to think of this as the life of a small games developer - fraught with risk and hard work, never "safe", in many ways a lifestyle choice, but with the single biggest benefit of all - we get to make our own games.
I do sometimes wonder though - if I could go back to 2006, bump into Introversion as they came off the stage at the IGF, and give them one single bit of vital information - what would I say? Would I say "Don't go near Microsoft, they will consume three years of your life on a game you've already finished"? I just don't think so, because Darwinia+ is an incredibly well made game that i'm very proud to see finished, and our aim was always to get the company on the xbox, not just Darwinia. Would I say "Stick to PC games?" Absolutely no way, the economics just don't make sense, Introversion has to play on the consoles as well as the PC. Having given it some thought, I might say "Don't spend so damn long on the Multiplayer bit", but I don't think the 2006 me would listen anyway.
We've spent much of January 2010 getting ready for launch, promoting the game through all means available to us. Those of you following our Twitter feed will know that Mark and myself spent about four days driving around San Francisco in a Mini Cooper, talking to every journalist we could get time with. In that time we demo'd to Official Xbox Magazine, IGN, Team Xbox, Game Revolution, Giant Bomb, Destructoid, Gamespot, Joystiq, 1Up, and NBC local news.
(Continuing the long standing tradition of excellent hire car rental while in the USA)
Amazingly, all those places are within the San Francisco Bay area - it's the equivelent of Bath in the UK. The content these journalists are looking for has changed in the last year or two - almost everyone wanted to record some sort of live media like a podcast or video, rather than just produce a written article. Some places recorded the video from the xbox while I was demoing the game, they mic'd us both up and one of their staff writers simultaniously and recorded us chatting during the demo, and a camera man recorded digital video of the event, all simultaneously, all streaming to Hard Disk. This is a great way to demo any game for a website, because the resulting video has the developers themselves explaining and showing off the concepts, while being guided and directed by the interviewer.
Here's a great example of the work we did in San Francisco, courtesy of Giant Bomb. This is gonna be of interest to existing Introversion/Darwinia fans as well as total Darwinia newbies, because for the first time there's 20 minutes or so uninterupted Darwinia+ playing, showing all the new menus, controls, head up display, and tutorials. And you can see the game running at a solid 60fps, which Johnny spent a lot of time making possible.
http://www.giantbomb.com/quick-look-ex- ... s/17-1954/
We also produced a fantastic promotional booklet and had it printed at high quality and mailed out to all the journalists on our list. Darwinia+ is only available online over Xbox LIVE, so there's nothing tangible - nothing physical for journalists to get their hands on. We wanted to make sure we fixed that, and these books have gone down very well. You can take a look at the PDF here.
We experienced one pretty major technical hitch - despite bringing TWO Xbox test kits over to the States for demoing purposes, neither worked initially because they require 220 volts. This is the first time i've ever seen hardware that didn't just work between UK and USA - most gear just converts the voltage if it needs to. So our first day of demos had us frantically navigating to a massive "Fry's Electronics" store where we found just what we needed : a 110v - 220v Voltage Converter, rated at 300W - sufficient to drive the test kit on American power.
We've also continued our campaign to place a 6 inch foam Darwinian into every single journalist office in the world - they're seriously getting around now.
Over the course of the three years it's taken us to finish this epic project, we've had many discussions about what on earth we're supposed to be doing. What is our company aim, what exactly is Introversion, that sort of thing. I think we may have lost sight of the bigger picture for a little while, during Multiwinia's run up and launch, but our aim has never changed - we want to make original video games, and everything else is secondary. In order to achieve that aim, we have to have enough cash to pay all our salaries and office expenses for the long gaps between game launches, and there are various methods of achieving this. Our 2006 aim wasn't just to port Darwinia onto the Xbox - that's much too short sighted. Our 2006 aim was to expand Introversion as a company onto the Xbox, establishing the contacts and relationships and working methods that would enable us to ship all our future games on platforms other than just PC. It's taken us a lot longer than we expected - and we've learnt the hard way that professional console game development is a very different beast to the PC. But we've done it now, and our next Xbox game will be easier, as well as our next PS3 game, our next Wii game, whatever. We're already redesigning our SystemIV support library to make it easier next time around. Our first Mac port of Uplink was a total nightmare project, fraught with all kinds of technical problems, and now many years later Subversion already compiles and runs beautifully on my Macbook Pro, with hardly any effort on my part. The only way to get good at these hard problems is to do them, learn from the mistakes, and get better at doing them.
So in answer to the title question "Was it worth it?", the answer is a most definite YES, even though we don't know sales figures yet - because the prize wasn't Darwinia on Xbox, the prize was always Introversion on Xbox. And even though it's not even out yet, work is already well underway on the next projects. I'm now running the Subversion project with Gary and Leander all fulltime, and Johnny is working on Playstation 3 stuff. I've actually been working on Subversion pretty much fulltime for many months, but i've been so busy working on D+ as well that I haven't had any time to blog about it. Much has changed, I can't wait to resume those blogs once D+ is out the door.
Thanks for reading, and please check out the trial of Darwinia+ on Xbox this Wednesday. Darwinia and Multiwinia were meant to go together, and they complement each other very well. This is the best version of Darwinia we have ever made - the Directors cut, and we're hugely proud of it.
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