Chris Delay, Introversion Software
Introversion Software are an independent software company in the UK. Chris Delay, one of Introversion's key figures, was kind enough to answer a few questions on Introversion Software, game development, and modding.
Chris Delay, Creative Director
at Introversion Software
First of all, who are you? What do you do, and what is this Introversion Software thingy? Since we're beginning with the tough questions, why “Introversion”?
Hi, my name’s Chris Delay and I am the Creative Director at Introversion Software. My background is in Software Engineering which I studied at Imperial College, London. I’d had some jobs within the games industry but was pretty disillusioned with the direction the industry was taking, the countless sequel cash-ins and monopoly of the publishers was stifling any creativity left. I’d been working on some of my own game ideas during uni and approached some mates to see if they’d be interested in helping me sell them. To my surprise they were, and Introversion was founded – that was all the way back in 2001!
To date we’ve released 4 games, Uplink, Darwinia, DEFCON and Multiwinia and we’re currently working on our first console release with Darwinia+, a package containing Darwinia and Multiwinia that will be out on XBLA this Summer. As for the name, well originally I was going to call the demo of Uplink the IntroVersion - which I thought was an interesting play on words, given the introverted nature of many hackers. But I think the name Introversion also suits the personality of the team and the style of games we make - they are internal, cerebral, thinking man’s games i.e. games for the introverted.
Most of Introversion's work seems to defy genre definitions and traditional “styles” of game. Was this always the intention, or was it thrust upon you by the nature of the market?
I’d say some of it was born out of consciously wanting to create games that are unique and wholly different to anything else currently out there, but there is also an element of it being born out of necessity. As a small, independent, and therefore self-funded developer, we just don’t have access to the money and resources that would enable us to follow certain paths. Take for example, the industry’s current obsession with photorealistic graphics...it’s a great look (although arguably often takes precedence over gameplay) but even if we wanted to go down the route and create something highly photorealistic we’d really struggle. Much of the uniqueness of games like Darwinia and DEFCON, the look-and-feel that has become associated with Introversion games, came from the need to make the most of our strengths and downplay the weaknesses.
We might not have access to a 100-man art team, but we realised we could create great games that immersed the gamer in other ways than through graphics, through factors such as gameplay or well considered use of audio. Creating new genres is I believe the only true way to grow and evolve the games industry – at the moment we’re seeing a lot of rehashing of old ground; reworkings of essentially identical games and genres. Every now and then you find a game that really pushes the boundaries, that does something entirely new and that in some way changes the landscape of the industry. I would love to think that Introversion was part of creating these shifts.
Introversion often describes itself as “the last of the bedroom programmers”. How does this affect your development of games?
It’s interesting because we’ve been keen to move away from this tagline in recent years. To many people it now sounds arrogant and out of place in an industry where we have lots of fantastic indie developers pushing great games out, such as World of Goo or Aquaria. When I have heard these sorts of criticisms I try to urge people to understand the context in which this tagline was originally made.
Introversion was founded in 2001 – it was a particularly dismal period for creativity within the games industry. The top 10 videogame charts were almost always without exception a list of sequels and franchises. The whole industry was stagnating – all of that passion and creative growth we had seen in the 80s with developers working out of the garages was gone – indie development was virtually dead, and awards such as the IGF were still very much in their infancy. So although we hoped we weren’t the last of the bedroom programmers, at the time it certainly felt like we could be. Compare that with now however, and things are looking significantly rosier for the games industry – indie game development has gone from strength to strength in recent years, which is fantastic.
What made you decide upon game development as a career in the first place, and why start up on your own? Isn't that a little... destined for disaster?
First and foremost, I’m a gamer, and I love playing games. I’ve loved playing games ever since my Spectrum 128 when I was just a kid, right through the Amiga and onto PC. I try to play as many games as I can and I’m fascinated and hugely entertained by the medium in general. Coupled with that, I always loved to write programs (originally on the Spectrum in Basic) and some of the first programs I made were very simple games that emulated the commercial games I was buying. I think I decided pretty young that I wanted to go on and make those games when I grew up.
After University I made my way into the UK games development world, and worked at a couple of studios. But it wasn’t the place I’d imagined when I was a kid – you didn’t get to make your own games, and that’s what I wanted to do the most. I thought I’d be happy working on any games, but fundamentally some games are more interesting than others, and I’d ended up working on some distinctly uninteresting games (which have now sunk without trace). All along I’d been working on my own games in my spare time – culminating in Uplink, the first game we released commercially. So together with a few friends we founded Introversion, quit our jobs and struck out alone.
Your software seems to be designed with modding in mind, in a way that is a little unusual in the industry at present. Do you feel that modding will prove an asset to the industry in the long run, or simply something that adds to the fun for the player? Do modders have much to offer the industry? Or are they simply p-p-pathetic creatures of m-meat and bone?
I think modding is a great way to expand the life of a game. You always get some seriously hardcore fans who love the game and want more, and they are the guys that will often make it for you. I think it’s probably a small fraction of players that actually create something with modding tools, but everyone likes to play new content, and modding facilities give that small fraction the ability to create something that everyone likes to play. So with Defcon, we got quite a few mods including visual styles, new maps (nuclear war on Mars?) and new sounds etc. And all players love to see that kind of thing.
Some games have had their lives hugely extended by mods – like Doom. And it’s worth remembering that some really great games – like Counterstrike – came from mods.
On the other hand, what are you reservations about modders and modding, if any? Do you feel that legal issues are a major problem?
We’ve never run into any problems like that, but it obviously is a big worry. If you open up the modding facilities in your game, then someone creates something that infringes the copyright of a big company, and that big company come after you the game maker, that’s obviously very worrying. I think all of the recent games that allow user-generated content have had this problem to varying degrees.
Speaking of legality, this brings us to Uplink, the game with which you launched, which is primarily concerned with hacking; your most recent releases, DEFCON and Multiwinia with war, and Darwinia seems to a large extent to revolve around extinction. Why so serious?
Yes, this was something that came up quite a bit after DEFCON’s launch – a lot of people thought we had a more serious agenda, that we were trying to make some sort of political stand. In reality, it’s a lot less controversial than that! Our main aim is to create games that are interesting and great fun to play – the seriousness factor is not really something I consciously seek to explore although I guess it just happens that our inspirations for game ideas contain some more serious elements. Usually I just watch a film or read a book and I start thinking, wouldn’t that make a great game idea. This is exactly what happened with a film like Wargames that became the main inspiration for DEFCON.
Another feature of your games to date has been personal detachment; none seem to contain much, if any, direct involvement with people: in Uplink, you are contacted by email from corporations anonymously, for example. Is this part of your design philosophy, or simply resultant from the nature of the games you've made so far?
I like the concept of total immersion fiction – you don’t play a character or avatar, you play yourself in the game world. In Uplink, you are you, not a character. The NPCs in the game contact you and give you jobs. At no point does Uplink admit to you that it’s a game, and I think that kind of atmosphere is very powerful and engrossing.
We also like to stay away from serious technical challenges like faces, people, facial animation etc, because they are huge time sinks and huge money sinks, and don’t add very much to the game. Those kinds of technology are for bigger and richer games companies to mess with – we like to pick our fights carefully.
Your current project – Subversion. Could you tell us a little about that? How would you sell it to us in a haiku?
Don’t normally do haiku’s, but I can say it’s one of our oldest projects – it was originally started as our second game, way back in 2002, and has started and stopped many times since. It’s certainly our biggest project to date and our most ambitious, and I’ve been slowly experimenting with different ideas and prototypes. For the first time ever we’ve opened up the process we go though, and I’ve been writing publicly about Subversion for a couple of years now. You can read about it on our blog at www.introversion.co.uk/blog.
On behalf of StarWarsKnights.com, I'd like to thank Introversion and Chris Delay for agreeing to this interview and taking the time to answer these questions.