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Friday, May 1, 2009

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Introversion's Disastrous Year
6:00 AM | Cord Kruse | Comment on this story

Introversion Software's Chris Delay has revealed in a series of posts on the company's forums that 2008 was a disastrous year for the company, nearly resulting in closing its doors forever. Trouble with the XBOX 360 version of Darwinia, production delays, Multiwinia's low sales, and a slumping world economy were some of the factors creating difficulty for the independent developer.

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. Wed 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 didnt 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 didnt 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.

...Another massive redesign followed. Ultimately we solved the interface problems (and Multiwinia) was made immeasurably better because of it. To be clear, we are hugely grateful to those guys at PC Gamer for being so honest with us. We told all the journalists to hold off on reviewing the game, and that wed supply a new build a month later than planned. Vicky Arundel was clearly annoyed by this shed done an amazing job at arranging big online reviews in exchange for great coverage, and now we were ruining that plan. In addition, print magazines need months of lead-time before your review is published. So we were effectively ensuring that the print reviews would all be coming out at least a whole month late after the game launched. On top of this, our first ever Magazine Cover featuring a massive Red Darwinian (carefully arranged by Vic) fell through, and another print mag told us they werent interested in reviewing the game.

The game finally shipped on PC (on sale on our website, on Steam, and in the UK high-street through Pinnacle) and we celebrated with a launch party at our house. Tom had always fantasised about building a sales counter that would sit in the corner of the office and tick up whenever we sold a copy of a game. This time around he actually did it, building the device out of second hand parts bought from Ebay and writing custom driver software for it that linked directly to our Multiwinia sales counter. During our launch party dinner and celebrations that evening, what was truly amazing about this counter was how little it was actually going up. Im not kidding when I say that we actually checked the connections and the software several times to make sure it was actually working, only to find out it was. Even then that very night we knew it was bad, that our whole future was in doubt.

Darwinia+ (for XBO 360) still needs all my attention and Darwinia+ is the only project that can see us through right now but I can see the route forward this year. One person is currently working fulltime on Subversion (not me - but i'm saving that story for the next Subversion blog), Gary will be starting a day or two a week on it soon, i'll be getting back onto it soon as well, and Leander will be following after Darwinia+ is done. Assuming Darwinia+ does ok there will be be four people working on Subversion including myself, and there will be a momentum behind it such that it can't be stopped again. This is not a situation we would ever deliberately put ourselves in all eggs in one Microsoft shaped basket, but thats where we are, and for the first time in a long while, Im feeling confident.
Check out the links below to learn more about Introversion's woes.

Introversion Blog: 2008 In Hindsight
Ambrosia Software
Introversion Software

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