Introversion Software's Chris Delay

Introversion Software makes games for Mac, PC, and Linux. Not only that but they are an independent company that doesn't have deals with publishers or console proprietors. This makes them a rarity, and in Mstation's view, something to cherish. It also means that they can have difficulty getting onto shop shelves. We find out about this and other things from Chris Delay.

screenshots from the newly released DEFCON

Introversion is one of a group of companies that are serving as inspiration for would be games creators that don't want to go down the straightjacketed fully corporate road. Is the key thing staying away from publishers? And franchises?

We think the key thing is maintaining your creative control which generally means not excepting funding from publishers. The problem of going with publishers before a game is completed is that they maintain creative control because they're paying you and we have always wanted to keep our own creative control. This is not to say we have a problem working with publishers, and we have a lot of deals with existing publishers but our games are always finished before we sign a deal with them, so effectively they're acting in advertising and distribution roles.

Console games are choking on franchises. Do you think a day of reckoning approaches where the low common denominator market gets saturated?

The mainstream market is always going to be the mainstream market: that's not going to go away. But there may come a day, we hope, when there's a more accessible independent games market, currently the independents are drowned out by the big blockbusters.

Is it possible to be an indy developer for consoles?

Yes, ever since Xbox live arcade it's been possible for an indie to release on console. As far as we're aware this is the first time ever in history that a console maker has opened up the market for indies and we're very excited about that.

You say that you had a fairly rough time financially getting Darwinia out the door. Did you get through on confidence alone or were there events along the way that just kept the thing going?

I must admit things did look pretty bleak for us during the development period of Darwinia. Its development process took way longer than initially expected - 3 years! During this time we had no cash flow and were forced to sign up for unemployment benefits just to keep us going. It was a horrible experience and I think if we'd known how long Darwinia was going to take to complete we probably would never have undertaken it. That said, I'm really glad we did - we got some fantastic reviews, a deal with Valve and the ultimate accolade for us, three awards at IGF. After that, the entire trauma we experienced with Darwinia seemed worth it.

Getting on to Valve's Steam delivery system must have been a big plus for you. How did that come about?

Yes, Steam completely turned around everything for us - it's opened up new prospects and significantly brightened our future potential. We'd approached Valve when we first launched Darwinia but it wasn't until we launched our second Darwinia demo that they got in touch with us. As far as game sales go, Steam is in a completely different league, giving us access to a much wider range of gamers. We sold more copies of Darwinia on Steam in three weeks than we'd managed to sell ourselves via UK retail and the Introversion store during the whole launch period!

Did you develop your own AI systems or are you using an engine?

We develop all of our own stuff in-house, we don't use any engines. We've got a massive library of code and tools that we've written over the years, some of it dating back to pre-Uplink times. It allows us to get programs up and running on Windows, Linux or Mac with minimum of effort. Every time we create another game we add new stuff to this library and modify and improve older modules until they're up to date, so for example with Darwinia we added a whole sound system module to the library. It's incredibly useful to us and a lot better for us to use than engines, especially when we're not sure of what it is exactly we're aiming for.

Your games are available for Windows and Linux. Any plans for Mac OS X ports, or will the Linux version run under X11?

Our first two games, Uplink and Darwinia are already available to buy on Linux and the Mac. You can buy the Mac version from our publisher, Ambrosia from their website

When you're putting together a new idea, how does that process go at Introversion?

Ideas just occur randomly really, although we do get a lot of inspiration from movies. We allow those ideas to mill around in our heads, letting them develop for a while before writing anything down. Months can often pass before we do actually get round to writing anything down, primarily because if you do this too quickly the idea can stabilize without having given it a chance to expand. With Uplink and Darwinia, the design process was on-going; we didn't have a big design plan from the start.

What are you working on now? Any screenshots?

We're currently getting ready to launch our third title, DEFCON. It's an online competitive multiplayer game based around the real world scenario of global thermonuclear war. We were primarily inspired by critical moments in twentieth-century world history when the threat of nuclear war seemed imminent, and we wanted to relay the tense psychological gameplay, paranoia and suspicion of the Cold War era into a game.

Thanks Chris.

Tip of the beanie to Tony Coles

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