Eurogamer: What about what the community has given back to you. All your games have Mod-support, but this was added to DEFCON post-release, yes? How has that gone?
Chris Delay: The Mod system was introduced in our second free DEFCON patch and enabled people to make new maps, new graphical themes etc, and play them easily over the internet. You can see some really good ones on our site. One guy was so pissed we didn't allow Australia to play a part in DEFCON that he made the entire map out of that one continent. Other users have translated the game into space with planets and stations orbitting each other. One particularly evil person made a Christmas mod in which you have to deliver boxes of presents to all the major cities of the world - you hear christmas elevator music playing and the messages say things like "Presents delivered to New York - 5.4 million children happy!" We love this kind of thing.
Eurogamer: I remember that you pictured this as being a quicker project, but I know you faced larger challenges than you expected. Care to elaborate on the biggest sticking points?
Chris Delay: DEFCON was a quicker project - we made the entire game in under a year, and that included all the multiplayer networking stuff (which was new to us) as well as five months of beta testing. In fact, looking back, it was astonishingly quick. I've spent longer than that on emails sometimes. We did face some serious technical challenges making the internet play work reliably, but creatively speaking everything was pretty much sorted in the first prototype (which took just 7 days). DEFCON is probably the least creatively ambitious of our games, but we knew from the start it was going to be a smaller project - it almost ended up as a "b-side" freebie on the Darwinia disks, and that would definitely have been a mistake because absolutely nobody would have played it.
Eurogamer: You've revealed your next major project being Subversion, and have been showing off your work in process on your blog. Why have you decided to do a development blog this time?
Chris Delay: There are two primary motivations. The first is that we normally operate under complete secrecy, and that was getting pretty boring, for us and for the fans. We'd do all kinds of cool stuff that nobody would ever see - during Darwinia we experimented with all kinds of cool stuff for months on end behind closed doors, and in hindsight it would have been great to share that with people while it was happening. The second reason is that I always wanted to read a developer diary from any major game. There have been a few along the way - such as the diary of Bullfrog's never-released game Creation in PC Gamer, but they are very rare and rarely include any juicy details. But the process of game development is absolutely fascinating to me, and I want others to see it. Movies like Lord of the Rings come with "making of" documentaries that are often longer than the movie itself, diving into every technical detail of how they shot every scene and how they curled every hair in Gimli's beard, but somehow games are released, they get their two pages, and that's the last you hear of them. Our blog is an attempt to make the process more interesting, internally and externally.
Eurogamer: Of course, despite you doing this developing in public... you haven't actually revealed what the game's going to be about. We're seeing technology, graphic experiments, everything... but we have no idea what it is. I can't help but wonder if you're being a bit meta with the title "Subversion". By showing exactly what you're up to, without revealing what you're doing, are you trying to play games with people's expectations?
Chris Delay: There's no attempt at manipulation or "playing games" in any of our blog postings - I'm just writing about the stuff we're prototyping on a day to day basis. It's true that I haven't yet cleared up the mystery and written anything like "this is exactly what the game will be", but that's mostly because we're not sure ourselves yet. We really are experimenting - as much with technology as gameplay. We've learnt from Darwinia that a game design can undergo seismic shifts during development, and we don't want to do a Molyneux and end up disappointing everyone when our game doesn't solve the world's energy problems.
Eurogamer: I see that entirely. But you must have expected speculation. For example, I found myself with a group of my peers, watching you generate a city in the latest video. It immediately prompted a rambling conversation with us trying to work out what on earth it could be (and citing a load of games we had half-forgot had existed).
Chris Delay: We've read similar discussions on our forums. We can understand that everyone wants to know what it is, but we just can't say. If someone had access to all the source code and all the design documents for Subversion, and had listened in on the last month's telephone conversations between the directors, they still wouldn't know what the game was going to be about.
It's experimentation. I think part of the problem is that people can't quite believe it still exists in the games industry, and no longer recognise it when they see it.