Introversion's Mark Morris and Chris Delay told the Eurogamer Expo this week that Darwinia+ will be submitted to Xbox Live Arcade certification in "the next few weeks", with a likely release "the next side of Christmas".
The pair, speaking yesterday afternoon, told a tale of adaptation and frustration, and specifically the stark contrast between Introversion in 2009 and Introversion on stage at the Independent Games Festival in 2006, when they took the star prize for the original Darwinia.
Confident IGF outbursts like, "We didn't want any publishers f***ing up our game", have turned into admissions like, "At the end of the day we're a business and we need to sell as many copies as we can." Not to mention: "We're sick to f***ing death of Darwinia+". But there's a good reason for that. "We first started talking about it in 2006, and it's 2009 now and it hasn't come out yet," said Morris. Worse, Introversion had to answer to someone else: Microsoft.
Microsoft asked for better graphics and multiplayer. The former was easy, the latter excruciatingly hard. "We had a lot of difficulty injecting any excitement into the game," said Chris Delay of the early multiplayer prototypes. "We were trying to satisfy Microsoft. That's the most awful motivation in the world for making a videogame."
Eventually, Introversion decided to separate the single-player and multiplayer and create Multiwinia. This took two years, and the game - released last September - scored well, earning 8/10 on Eurogamer. "Multiwinia for us was the best game with the highest production values we'd put out," explained Mark Morris. "That's what we believed." By this time, Introversion was done with Darwinia - it was an old game.
"We were trying to convince Microsoft to kill the Darwinia idea and launch Multiwinia instead. All the time, Microsoft were saying to us, no no guys, we want Darwinia - we signed Darwinia," said Morris. "Alright, Microsoft, you're idiots, but we'll go with you."
The result was a redesign for Darwinia, hence the 'plus'. New menus, tutorials, controls and visuals were introduced, to make Darwinia+ understandable and accessible. Morris quipped that there was a "contrite modern expression" that summed up how unfriendly the original Darwinia was: "WTF".
Iterating on usability took ages: a "thankless task", said Chris, "because not a single sod notices". "It just works - the moment when you've got it right, people stop complaining and they just play the game," he added. Morris and Delay showed discarded designs on slides during the presentation. Some, they admitted, were "cringeworthy".
Introversion's desire to get a profitable version of Darwinia on the market persisted and features like trials, upsell screens, Avatar items, Achievements, leaderboards and gamer pictures were all integrated. Darwinia+ even has two sets of menus; one each for the Darwinia+ and Multiwinia sides of the game.
As a package, Darwinia+ looks impressive. Delay walked the Eurogamer Expo Leeds audience through an on-stage demonstration of the Darwinia+ tutorial level while Morris talked. Graphics were crisp, goals clear and controls obvious.
Nearly five years after its original launch, however, the question of whether it's too late for Darwinia remains to be answered. We shall find out for sure the other side of Christmas, by the sound of it!