Show Your Working

Introversion is outing everything about Darwinia+. Emails, design docs, the lot. Chris Delay explains.

You could never criticise the guys at Introversion for not sharing their views of the world. From swearing at the mainstream industry during their Independent Games Festival acceptance speech, to Chris Delay's detailed and heartrending posts about exactly how bad their 2008 turned out to be, they have always been impressively open about what they've been thinking while making their chain of splendid independent games.

But as they work on Darwinia+, the Xbox Live Arcade version of that IGF Grand Prize winner (also incorporating last year's Multiwinia), they've gone a step further, and taken to open development. They've posted everything from emails to design documents to Microsoft feedback reports and, well, just go and look at the treasure trove. For anyone with the slightest interest in how games are made, it's invaluable.

What provoked them to do this? It's an oblique form of marketing for an ever-oblique game. "Anything Darwinia-related is incredibly difficult trying to promote," Delay tells Eurogamer. "It's incredibly strange-looking. It's never done well in adverts or screenshots. They don't really work. With Multiwinia, we spent more than we ever did before and did a whole load of videos which tried to simplify and explain the game. We tried to do a portal style video. Because Portal's not an immediately graspable idea when you just look at pictures. We tried to take a leaf out of Valve's book and do that... and weren't really that successful or garnered any attention.

"Coming around to Darwinia+, the question came up. 'What on earth are we going to do?' Darwinia's already out. Multiwinia's already out. The game's already released. How is this not just 'those games again on Xbox'? How are we going to get people interested?" How indeed. "We thought, 'How about we publish every email we ever did with Microsoft, right back to the start?'" This rapidly grew to become the whole open development concept.

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Darwinian Wicker Man cosplay is always popular, except with the people who get burnt alive.

"Xbox development is really closed," says Delay. "You can't get anyone to say anything about anything. Let's turn that around and open it up. Publish all the emails, publish our reports and design documents, publish what it's like to work with a company that's four orders or magnitude larger than ours. Sometimes, there were issues dealing with a big company like Microsoft. You only tend to hear about it... well, you either get stony silence or every now and then a developer will be let loose from the asylum and will suddenly rant. And that's all you get."

In other words, when a developer breaks silence, they've done so because they're at their most furiously bitter. This isn't an accurate portrait. "And it's not a rational opinion," says Delay. "They'd probably look back on that and think that it doesn't reflect their opinion at all - it reflects how they felt on the day. But that's on the record now. So forever 'Jeff Minter hates Microsoft' or whatever. He said that once, and was very bitter because the game hadn't sold that well. But when Multiwinia hadn't sold that well, we did all kinds of things, many of which remained within the walls of Introversion. Some of it leaked out, because you can't help it. It's not a sterile, purely business business, making games."

Since it could be so revealing, it does beg the question of what Microsoft would make of one of their developers wanting to do a kiss and tell even when they're still kissing. "We thought we'd ask them, and we'd ask different people at Microsoft, to compare all the negative responses we got. To see who was the least negative and start work on them..." says Delay, "but they liked the idea."

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