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games: bedroom programmers
This week, the spirit of the bedroom programmers.The UK was once home to a thriving community of games designers who worked from their bedrooms to create a dizzying library of simple, classic games. These were the programmers of the 8-bit era, working on the Commodore 64, the BBC, the Spectrum and the early Amstrad home computers to bring the first generation of gaming to life. At that time you needed nothing more than a computer and bunch of tapes to make a commercial game. But that era is long gone, and has made way for hyper-technology and multi-million dollar development budgets. Well, almost gone. There are a few solitary flames still burning, such as Chris Delay of Introversion Software.
Introversion are doing rather well for themselves these days, having won awards and earned a place for their work on the Steam online games service. Nevertheless, the independent team still depend on the programming talent of a single person. Chris Delay's work relies on shortcuts and programming smarts to create games that are as atmospheric and as challenging as anything the larger developers are able to imagine. Right now he's talking about “procedural” techniques to generate landscapes and cities – using maths to create his gameworlds, rather than the traditional (and expensive) team of artists.
His first game, Uplink, was a surprise hit – a game based around hacking. Delay's friends aggressively marketed his talents, sending the game to magazines and selling it wherever they could. The second game, the impressive strategy puzzle game Darwinia, was far more ambitious and caught the eye of the press across the world. A simple geometric look and clever gameplay seemed to hark back to the time of those bedroom coders. Delay has been making games as if that time never went away, and Darwinia's theme and ethos seems to embody that ideal.
The latest Introversion game, Defcon, will be oddly familiar to anyone who has watched the 1983 Matthew Broderick movie, War Games. That game of thermonuclear war being played out on the computer screens of the move has been brought to life by Delay, and set to a deeply disturbing soundtrack. It might be awash with 80s visuals, but this is a game with 21st-century gaming compulsion.
I, for one, can't wait to see what Delay does next.
Uplink, Darwinia and Defcon are out now on PC.
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