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Midlife Gamer Meets: Mark Morris Of Introversion

August 11th, 2010 by

Being flat is what I would love to be. How one little constanant could change my life persepective and indeed what benefits I would be entitled to. I would save a fortune on travelling costs by posting my little minimalist body through the post. For some their dreams came true when sleeping under a poorly screwed in notice board. For others they turn to Introversion Software to give them all their flat needs and more.

So I took some time out to speak to Mark Morris and found out what it is like to hack, destroy and create a world of flat!

M: First of all can you tell us who you are and what you do at Introversion software?

MM: My name is Mark Morris and I’m the managing Director of Introversion. It sounds very grandiose, but basically I end up doing all the little jobs that slip through the net (like making the tea). I have responsibility for making sure that our game projects complete on time and ultimately I decide on which platforms we’ll work on. It’s a highly collaborative environment so I tend to only have to make firm decisions if there are major disagreements on the way forward.

M: We ask the same question to everyone one we speak to here at Midlife Gamer, what your favourite biscuit (cookie) and beverage?

MM: I’m a big Tea fan – I like coffee, but if I had to go for a favourite then a decent cup of builder’s Tea is my drink of choice. Biscuit wise it’s tough – not a big fan – probably one of those giant chocolate cookies they sell in Starbucks.

M: Tell us a little more about Introversion. When and how did you start out and what was the main idea behind beginning the company?

MM: In my final year of University there was a competition to write the best business plan – winner takes £10k. Chris had been working on a game (Uplink) for the last 18 months, and another friend of mine (Tom) had shown an real interest in being an entrepreneur and he knew about stocks and shares and things like that. I suggested to the guys that the three of us should write a business plan to start a games company. We didn’t win the prize, but we did start Introversion. We invested £200 each at the time, and the other day I realised that we have generated about £1m now. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not rich – we’ve spent it all on staff and offices and stuff, but I’m just proud of that achievement. When we started we didn’t really have much of a plan post-Uplink. Chris was very clear that he didn’t want to work on a sequel and when he started work on Darwinia we just let him get on with it. Then, three years later we realised that Darwinia was a masterpiece, we won a lot of awards for that game and I think we have a lot to thank it for.

M: You once labelled yourselves as the “last of the bedroom programmers” is this statement still true for yourselves as a company and the game creation landscape in general?

MM: Nah. When we were growing up games were massively creative – different ideas were regularly explored and there was a huge diversity of titles. As production values increased the risk associated with making something new increased and the landscape got a bit bleak – multiple sequels, 400 WWII shooters etc. We wanted to go back to the old creative days and so we coined the term “last of the bedroom programmers”. We dropped that a few years back when we realised that we were part of a hugely creative (and growing) community of small teams making great, creative games. I think the creative outlook for the industry is much brighter now then it was back then.

M: Games like Uplink and Darwinia share themes of control and networking. Looking specifically at Uplink was this based on real experiences?

MM: Chris and I were both studying computer science at Uni so we immersed in a world of 1s and 0s and of course networking was a big part of that. If you’re asking if we did any hacking then of course we did. We were young and rebellious and we were testing the limits of our knowledge. We only ever poked around the Imperial network and we never actually got anywhere (primarily because real hacking is incredibly boring) . Uplink is designed to be realistic, and if you are hacker you’ll recognise a lot of the stuff in that game. The difference is that it’s abstracted away from reality to make it fun. I think that’s why Uplink is so popular. Taking realistic techniques and pimping them to make them faster and more tense.

M: It was once reported that Introversion started, like many Indie companies, with money troubles and you were once on the edge of bankruptcy. What was the feeling within the company at the time and how did you get to be the success that you are today?

MM: Once! Ha! Try once a year. Running a games company is incredibly challenging, you have to invest a lot in a game before you sell it, and even then you may miss the mark and not see a return. You have to be very flexible, very nimble and very aware of all the additional sources of income that are available. There’s a lot of “verys” in there, but it is a real skill required in a running a game developer. We’re not rich at the moment, but we do have enough to get through to the launch of Subversion, and that’s all we need – enough to get to the next game then we’ll take it from there!

M: Is it easier now for studios to make a name for themselves now that the indie scene has become more mainstream?

MM: Personally I think it’s harder. When we started we were a story in ourselves. The fact that three guys from Uni were making a splash in the business got us tonnes of coverage and probably encouraged a lot of fans to try our games. Now the games were also good, we would have been ignored if they had been rubbish, but the novelty of our approach really helped to get the awareness out. The indie community is so large now that you’re not going to make a splash by being another two man team making a game. It’s all down to the quality of the product again.

M: Darwinia is probably your most successfull title, where players grow and evolve the world around them. Where did the idea come from in Multiwinia to essentially let players destroy a world they had helped create previously?

MM: Multiwinia was a strange beast. When Chris originally conceived of Darwinia it was a multiplayer game, but that idea was eventually abandoned. Later during our negotiation with Microsoft to get Darwinia onto Xbox Live Arcade they said that we needed to do multiplayer.

“No problem” I said, we’ve got most of the code under the bonnet. That wasn’t quite true and it took Chris and the team about 18 months to conceive of and deliver multiwinia. It was started as an add-on to Darwinia and we wanted to do something irreverent and fun. Darwinia was quite serious, but we had a lot of fun mowing down Darwinians. We wanted to turn that up to 100 and hence Multiwinia was born.

M: Multiwinia is quite an unflinchingly violent title. Is the violence in your game gratuitous or do you think it serves a valid purpose?

MM: Yeah it’s totally gratuitous. The whole point of Multiwinia is that it is a complete, vacuous, gratuitous visual feat of destruction. If I wanted to BS you I’d say that it was our commentary on the futility of war (the idea for assault mode came from Saving Private Ryan), but the reality is that we just wanted it to be fun. I think we achieved that goal with Multiwinia, but it’s our worst selling game. One of the words that I like to use to describe our games is “cerebral”. That’s not applicable to Multiwinia which is why I think fans of other IV games were turned away.

M: Multiwinia also has its own forum based around the gameplay, strategies and even the future of the title. Is this something that grew organically or that you had an eye to developing while creating the game?

MM: Our fans are really important to us (although I accept that we did neglect them for a while during the creation of Darwinia+) and we try to ensure that there is plenty of opportunity for them to get involved. We’ve made the source code for Uplink, Darwinia and Multiwinia available for modding, and we run discussion forums where we try to engage with the fan base. When we wrote Multiwinia we didn’t necessarily envisage strategic discussion amongst the player base, but we did know that the key to giving the game longevity is to balance a game so that multiple strategies can be used and no single strategy wins all the time. I think it was our commitment to engaging with the fans and good game design that resulted in the phenomenon you mention.

M: Is digital delivery the future of games and is porting any more of your titles to console something you’re interested in?

MM: Yes – digital delivery is the future of games. We launched Darwinia+ (Darwinia and Multiwinia) on Xbox Live Arcade in February of this year and we are currently in talks with Sony about bringing DEFCON to the PSN.

M: Your new title Subversion is now in development, can you talk to us about the game, what players can expect and why they should be getting excited for the game?

MM: We’re being pretty tight lipped at the moment. You can find the latest information from our blog at introversion.co.uk/subversion. But for the completely uninitiated Subversion is going to be set in a modern High Tech environment, with you taking “mission control” over a team of skilled operatives in a hostile High Security building. You will be using Sabotage, Social Engineering and Grifting, custom Electrical and Mechanical devices, Distractions, Hacking, Stealth, Acrobatics, Precision demolitions, Trickery, whatever gets the job done. In the best case scenarios your enemies will never know you were even there. When things go wrong, a well prepared escape plan and well timed precision violence will get you out of a tight spot – or maybe not.

For more information on Introversion and their range of titles, check out their website

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