Indie gaming hit Darwinia+ invades Xbox Live

It's been almost four years to the day since UK developer Introversion fired their shot across the bow -- a rallying call that I count as the first defining moment of the indie games movement as it stands today. On stage at the Independent Games Festival to accept the grand prize for their sophomore PC game Darwinia, the devs minced no words (and spurred wild applause) in saying that throughout development, they stayed true to their independence and didn't seek outside funds "because we didn't want publishers to fuck with our game." It's with no small amount of irony, then (and I can't have been the first) to note the semi-public, somewhat-contentious ensuing two year long uphill battle with Microsoft to bring that same game to Xbox Live Arcade, just released to the service as Darwinia+.
darwiniamoai.jpg Granted, it hasn't been the only thing on Introversion's plate: since their IGF win, the studio's also produced a multiplayer follow-up to Darwinia (handily titled Multiwinia, and also included in the Live Arcade package as its titular '+'), the quietly horrifying mutually-assured global thermonuclear war game DEFCON (alongside a reportedly finished portable DS version), gone deep into development on their fifth game Subversion, and, like a small consolation prize, revamped the original Darwinia with assorted extra levels as a Vista-exclusive MSN release. And so now, holdups aside, it's delightful to find that the biggest surprise with its console release is just how well the game holds up. Its deliberately aged retro-future wireframe aesthetics mean the game's only as dated as it wants to look, and its mashup of light real-time strategy and arcade shooting (and that's meant literally, Darwinia's viral foes taking the form and function of Atari's Centipede, and your airstrikes floating into its digital landscape as M.O.A.B.-toting Invaders) has gone basically un-imitated for the rest of the last decade. Darwinia feels original because it was and is a true original, and, you know, had that luxury of never being fucked with by a publisher -- never was watered down to something more marketable to a broader PC gaming audience. darwiniacentipede.jpg Essentially, very little has changed other than some subtle surgery in making the console transition, primarily being updated to give you more immediate control of your squad -- the brute force battalion that you'll spend the majority of your time with -- by locking the camera to their backs and letting you play out fights like the twin stick shooters that thrive amongst the Xbox 360's audience. And in a sense, the waiting game (for however potentially disastrous it nearly was to the studio) and the tweaks they've been forced to adopt along the way to meet Microsoft's approval have perfectly positioned it for the "director's cut" tagline they've adopted. With five long years since its original PC and Mac release, and with its newly enhanced mode of play, it's not only the new best way to experience Darwinia for the first time, but the new best way to take a return trip through its laser-light world. Darwinia+ has been added to Boing Boing's ongoing list of Games To Get, covering the best in independent and retail games.


  1. I believe the phrase is “shot across the bow”.

    And I disapprove of this article solely based on the fact that you neglected to mention Uplink, which I think is one of the most interested and innovative games I’ve ever played.

    1. To be clear, Introversion developed the game, but Ambrosia published the Mac port. I think they might have been involved in coding the port, too, but the game design and content were all Introversion.

  2. @Erzatsen No, its by Introversion, same as Uplink And Defcon and a few others in the “Games you may like section” on that website.

  3. Look, I can appreciate the constant hating on big, bad enterprises and how the poor and virgin underdog independent game developers are fighting the good fight a la Goliath.
    WHat I don’t understand are the constant swipes and, quite frankly, childish remarks against Xbox here. Especially since the goal of all these developers seems to be to get their warez on this platform.
    What is it? the most hated company ever or the platform that every independent developer wants to be on?

    1. I think it’s because the platform is controlled by someone – it’s pretty much the same reason why people are down on the iPad.

      If you control the distribution platform, then you have the power. Why else have the music companies been going berserk over downloading, or the publishers over the Kindle? Because they are losing their control over the distribution platform (in one case to a wider world, in the other to a narrower one.)

      If Microsoft or Apple are the only people able to “approve” your product, then that means that someone somewhere (and perhaps an unknown someone) is making a decision, rather than the market.

      p.s. Glad to see the love for Uplink. Still one of the greatest games I have ever played.

    2. Microsoft is notorious for meddling with XBLA developers and screwing the “little guys” with only small cuts of the profits. Any criticism of them is more than justified. That said, Microsoft has the most popular online console gaming service, and one of the top digital distribution platforms in gaming. So, yes: It is both hated and coveted.

  4. I’m glad several people have mentioned Uplink, the Introversion game prior to Darwinia (which also anticipates Alternate Reality Gaming).

    Uplink is kinda like playing ‘The Beast’ with virtual Cloudmakers, but it’s still cool for that.

  5. Wanted to point out that these guys are also well known to free software denizens, since they’ve supported Linux from day one.. respect to the developers who recognise that there is a market out there for commercial Linux games and put in an effort to help expand and sustain it.

  6. “…ensuing two year long uphill battle with Microsoft…
    …tweaks they’ve been forced to adopt along the way to meet Microsoft’s approval…”

    Your article has a detectable editorial tone, Brandon. I do feel similarly towards Microsoft as you do, but I pride myself in attempting to be objective with my scorn, and I feel obligated to note that the tyranny you imply wasn’t there. Introversion guys were very vocal at every opportunity in pointing out how the only pressure from Microsoft was to publish the best possible game, and MS was relentless in pushing the team to the height of quality. Introversion started off not taking the port at all seriously, but extensive QA and massive improvements of what was by all accounts a very bad original interface (because the game was originally just a straight port) took a very long time, and resulted in an excellent experience. It’s not just PR talk either; the team published on their site a bunch of papers documenting their work with Microsoft.

  7. Well I don’t know about any game called Darwinia but the novel DARWINIA by Robert Charles Wilson is down right awesome! Published in 1998 – having never played the game and reading what the game is about – they have nothing to do with each other.

    READ DARWINIA by Robert Charles Wilson. Burn your computer. I’m burning mine tonight at midnight.

  8. Does anyone have the link to the zombie webgame bb featured last summer.

    It was a great and addictive little game that should really be ont eh games to get list. I had a craving and can’t find the link.

    Also, I got darwinia. Fun gameplay, other than the tendancy to blow yourself up.

    I just can’t figure out how you would ever lose.

      1. no, It was just like a 4 bit atari game. you were a little dot guy that shot little dots and you could only see the zombies in your field of view. You had to find the exit to each level to get to the next level.

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