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Interview with Introversion Software
By Simon Jones (2006-11-22)
Q: DEFCON is your third game and probably your first game since becoming known by mainstream gamers and press. Did that add a new level of pressure that hadn’t existed with Uplink and Darwinia?
To be honest I think we’ve always felt a certain amount of personal pressure and as soon as we gained a following on the Uplink forums that increased, especially because we knew that the next game, Darwinia, was going to be something completely different and we weren’t sure whether people were going to like it. That said, I think winning the IGF awards really introduced a new level of pressure because we knew that the games industry had taken notice of us and would be watching very closely at what we produced next. But I think a certain amount of stress can be a good thing, especially when it makes you strive to achieve.
Q: All of your games have a retro styled appearance, often harking back to the 80s. What is it that draws you to the games, movies and pop culture of that decade?
I guess two reasons mainly; firstly because we think that developers during that era were concerned much more with innovation and creating something unique – they were the first contenders if you like, they had nothing to try to prove or emulate and it wasn’t about making vast profits or endless sequels. There also weren’t these genre stereotypes that developers felt they had to try and make their game conform to and I think games like DEFCON have had some success because they appeal to a certain amount of contemporary nostalgia surrounding the era.
The other reason many of our games look back to the 80s is really a more practical one. There’s a lot pf pressure theses days to make your games look photorealistic, which is fine if you have a dev team 100 strong but not great if you’re like us, and only ever have one, or two max, working on your games at any one time. Games in the 80s had very stylised graphics and focused on the gameplay experience and creating a certain mood, something that we are very keen to create with each of our games. This can certainly have its benefits – it leads to much more stimulating, addictive gameplay and also ensures that your games will always stand out; none of our games could be confused for anything else.
Q: DEFCON is your first multiplayer game. What new challenges did that bring that you hadn’t needed to consider previously?
Well it was the first time any of us have developed any commercial networking code and it's one of those areas of Computer Science that’s very difficult to get right. Everyone out there has a slightly different network configuration - some are behind firewalls, some have NAT routers, some are on college networks, and writing game code that can work over any of these networks is a nightmare. It proved to be a much more complex and difficult task than we originally thought it would be.
We also had to write a lot of web services for the first time - for example the MetaServer system (to allow players to find other games on the Internet and connect in to them) and our new key authentication system. These components bring with them their own complexities - our first iterations of the MetaServer were hacked wide open by some of our more cunning beta testers and all of the beta authentication keys were stolen. Not a problem - we asked our beta testers to do their worst (better to know now than on launch day), we fixed the exploits and we revoked all the stolen keys and issued new ones. But the point is we needed a system that wouldn’t fall over under "real world" pressures and apart from the rather bumpy launch day, on the whole we seemed to have managed that!
The really cool thing is that we now have this technology, and we can use it in our future games. Any Introversion game that involves multiplayer from now on will be considerably easier, and hopefully quicker, to finish.