Introversion Software has made a name for itself as the independent development house that all others look up to. With the successful Uplink and the award winning Darwinia behind them, we spoke with Chris Delay, lead developer at Introversion, about the company's forthcoming release, DEFCON.
Pro-G: Could you tell us who works on DEFCON and what their job entails?
Chris Delay: DEFCON was made by myself, Chris Delay, lead developer here at Introversion, and Gary Chambers. Gary was one of the first members of the Introversion community, initially an Uplink fan and a prominent poster on our forums. He came to work with us on Darwinia and is also co-producer of DEFCON.
We also have an outstanding sound team, comprised of two guys, Alistair Lindsay and Michael Maidment who also worked on Darwinia before helping us with DEFCON. The music is perhaps the most serious content in DEFCON - it's incredibly eerie and atmospheric and really adds a macabre element to the whole game.
DEFCON would not have been possible had it not been for the sterling work done by a troop of dedicated beta testers - all members of the Introversion online community. They have been steadily testing DEFCON now for many months to ensure that all's functioning as it should.
Pro-G: DEFCON is a complete break from your previous title Darwinia and more akin to Uplink in terms of game design. Was there a particular reason for taking a step back from the Darwinia universe and if so, could you explain?
CD: It's certainly fair to say that DEFCON's look and feel is not dissimilar to Uplink; both games take huge inspiration from the film Wargames but in different ways. Uplink takes its inspiration from the hacking elements of Wargames - the war-dialing, password breaking, school record changing etc., whilst DEFCON takes its inspiration from the cold war Armageddon theme and the scenes in the NORAD bunker with the US Generals watching the world end in wireframe. Meanwhile Darwinia, stands out on a limb in some ways with its references to the gems of halcyon gaming, such as Cannon Fodder and Tron.
To be honest we don't have a conscious game-plan when it comes to themes or future game ideas, but certainly after making such an incredibly complex game like Darwinia, there was a desire to return to a simpler and purer kind of game. The immense amount of custom content in Darwinia was a very ambitious and time-consuming project for such a small dev team. Almost every level had something special on it and the second demo alone took us four months to make - all for just one hour's worth of gameplay! DEFCON was a wonderful project because it is almost entirely 'content free' - the world map continent data is publicly available, the world's major cities are all well known, the icons are simple, there's no custom level designs or cut-scenes or dialog or anything - it's just a pure game.
Pro-G: If Darwinia redefined a classic genre, what do you hope to achieve with DEFCON?
CD: As with all of our games, perhaps the thing we most consciously strive for is to make something that really stands out, that's wholly unique and innovative. We wanted people to play DEFCON and find it addictive, enjoyable and above all a breath of fresh air in an industry that feels increasingly stagnant and choked with the inevitable onslaught of first-person shooters.
Pro-G: What are the main goals in terms of gameplay for DEFCON?
CD: In DEFCON you play a general hidden deep within an underground bunker. Your mission is to successfully exterminate your enemy's civilian population whilst disabling their ability to retaliate against you, thus in effect saving your own civilians from destruction. This is actually a lot more difficult than it would appear, because launching an attack on an enemy exposes the positions of your own ground silos leaving them vulnerable and open to attack.
DEFCON is a fascinating game to watch - every day we watch people coming up with new strategies to win this game. It is a relatively easy game to pick up, but very difficult to win convincingly, and everybody loses, you just have to make sure you lose the least!
Pro-G: It's unique selling point time! Exactly what makes DEFCON different from anything else out there and why so?
CD: Perhaps the two most obvious things that make DEFCON unique are its treatment of the whole nuclear war theme and also its look. Warfare games tend to be too heavily strategic (e.g. turn-base and stat heavy) and DEFCON was created as a departure from that - we hope that people will agree it's an entirely novel look at nuclear war.
Meanwhile, we didn't try to do anything crazy with the interface - it's a mouse driven strategy game and players will be immediately familiar with it. Instead with DEFCON we've tried really hard to create a mood - a feeling of deep detachment, of being hidden underground in a bunker, slowly bringing the world to an end. The abstract simplicity of DEFCON adds to this mood - it's a cruel, wholly detached take on nuclear war.
In many ways DEFCON's simplicity is born out of need - the current game industry's obsession with real-life graphics is not a viable route for a small dev team like us to undertake. Introversion has a very small dev team so we've had to learn to use our weaknesses as strengths - we only have a handful of people which means we can't spend ages trying to make things look realistic, but it does mean we can experiment with off the wall concepts and ideas that the bigger companies wouldn't be able to go near.
Making games with unique art styles like DEFCON has another big advantage: your game instantly stands out from the crowd and can be recognised from a single screenshot. Nobody ever confused Darwinia, our second game, for any other game; its stylised graphics became its trademark. Some companies spend millions of dollars trying to get that exact effect by making their games extremely realistic - but there's only so far you can go with that. DEFCON will contain the kind of information we think it needs to make it an immersive and addictive experience, but it won't be swamped with extraneous information that detracts from the main experience. We don't need real time physics or bump mapping or any of that stuff to make it enjoyable.
Pro-G: What can players expect from DEFCON's multiplayer game modes?
CD: DEFCON is an online competitive multiplayer game primarily although there is a single player mode where you can play against computer bots. In a multiplayer game you can play with up to five other players and we hope that DEFCON will become a real communal game, with lots of friends and strangers getting together and joining in the thermonuclear fun!
It was essentially this concept which brought about the Office Player Mode, a variation on a normal multiplayer game which allows you to ease the boredom of the working day by firing up a game of DEFCON with up to 5 other colleagues. The great thing about this is that the game takes place in real-time, so a full office game takes about 8 hours, and there are lots of little features which make it work-friendly; so, for example, you can hit the panic button (double ESC) to immediately remove the game from the screen, placing a discreet icon in the system tray. This icon will change when important things happen so you don't miss them. For example, if you detect some nuclear launches the icon will flash the Nuclear launch symbol for a few seconds and because everything's taking place in real-time, you've got at least 30 minutes to respond before a nuke lands on your territory, allowing you time to finish work before you retaliate.
The alliances system was also designed specifically to enliven the multiplayer games and also because if six players fight each other it tends to end up a bit of a shambles. With alliances each individual player is still playing to win - their score is independent of their allies' progress, and players can betray their alliances and switch to the opponent's team if they chose to and are able to convince the enemy to permit it (this is determined by a vote of all the players in the destination alliance). Things can get pretty ugly, with players attempting to line up the perfect attack on a teammate before betraying them and striking at a key moment. There's certainly going to be a lot of paranoia in alliance games - we've got in-game irc between players (public and private) and we've noticed lots of 'wheeling and dealing' in the games we've played, with players desperately trying to secure their alliances. We've seen alliance members shooting overhead friendly planes down because they believed the planes were scouting the area for targets in preparation for a strike. This results in arguments in the chat channels, followed by skirmishes at sea, followed by retaliation, before finally the whole alliance collapses and everyone starts nuking the hell out of each other. It's awesome.
Pro-G: Xbox Live Arcade seems perfect for Uplink, and possibly DEFCON. Would you ever think of bringing any titles to Microsoft's download service?
CD: Sure - we're definitely keeping our minds and options open to new projects like these. We will have to wait and see what offers come knocking!
Pro-G: Finally, what are you hoping to achieve with Defcon in terms of success. If it sells 10,000 copies, are you ok, or are you hoping for a multi-million seller to line the pockets?
CD: We would be lying if we said we weren't hoping for a big success with DEFCON - who wouldn't! Of course one has to be realistic, but it would be nice to think that Introversion was safe for another few years yet. In fact this is probably the way we'd rate our achievement - if DEFCON gave us the financial security to come back further on down the line with a new game and had saved us from having to sell all our stuff on E-Bay (again)!
DEFCON will be available later this month via Steam and the game's official website.