Have a Life? Stay out of Darwinia?!

Darwinia screenshot Introversion Software (“The last of the bedroom programmers”) released a hit software game, Darwinia, a few years back. Oh sure, it won a few awards at the International Game Festival, such as for Technical Excellence, or Innovation in Visual Art. And yes, it’s a PC Gamer Magazine “Must Buy”, PC Zone rated it “Essential,” and IGN.com gave it an Editor’s Choice award. Trust me, if you need to go to a job, if you have people who count on you, or if you can’t stand having too much fun, stay out of Darwinia!! And whatever you do, don’t even think about viewing the dazzling two-minute game-play demo movie–you’ll be irrevocably hooked! PC, Mac, Linux, whatever your favorite flavor, you are in danger of spending many pleasurable hours addicted to this game!!!

All silliness aside…

All silliness aside, I loved this game, which is saying a lot. Friends know that I spent a lot of the 80s writing video games for some of the larger game publishers. After 10 years of overexposure, I lost all interest in playing them. I’ve tried a few, but they never held my interest for more than five minutes. One of the publisher’s slogans for the game is, “Darwinia will remind you why you loved playing games so much.” They aren’t kidding!

Here’s my story. After seeing continued blurbs about the game in the Mac online press, I checked out their web page. I saw the free demo download, and figured, what the heck. I played a little. I failed the objective of the first level. I went back online, and found the Darwinia forums. There are a lot of people who are seriously into this game! Helpful people, too. I found out I just needed a little practice, to learn a bit of strategy, and I was off and running. It was a blast! Wooo hooo! I finished, Level One, Level Two, Level….

Uh oh.

The game said, “Thanks for playing the demo!” and wouldn’t proceed. I checked the documentation. It’s supposed to work for 30 hours, then stop! Well, the latest versions allow you to play two levels and that’s all. But I was enjoying myself! Argh. How much money? $29? Yeah, forget it.

I put the game out of my mind, and went off to find something else to do. Within 30 minutes I was back at the Mac, credit card in hand. Registration was immediate, as was my gratification. I played for 17 hours the first day, on my laptop. It wasn’t until taking a shower the next day I noticed I’d lightly toasted my lap with the overheating Aluminum PowerBook that was gasping to keep up with a computationally-intensive game. So, I switched to my desktop and finished the game after two more day-long sessions. I’m supposed to be looking for a job! So, I played it again.

Yes, I got quite hooked on this game. There are lots of reasons why. Initially, many people seem to feel an emotional bond with the little green Darwinians you can see in the picture. They need you to save them. I felt guilty if I left any of them stranded at the end of a level, so I’d keep playing, even though it had no effect on the outcome of the game. Then, there’s the sense of increasing strength, aptitude, and success, as the game progresses and my skills improved, plus I was awarded with more and improved abilities. I could use some feelings of success, being unemployed! And of course, the game play mechanics, animation, stereo sound, the soundtrack, the story, the puzzles to solve, the character one plays, the imaginative way the various levels interact, all these things create a wonderful world to visit.

I’ve played the game five times or so. I’m trying to finish it all in one day at some point. No hurry. I’m no longer (as) hooked–I haven’t touched it in a week or so, and have no plans. However, Darwinia can be re-scripted and re-designed by customers, to create “mods.” All True Gamers know about mods, but I’d never tried one before. There’s a whole web site dedicated to Darwinia mods. I tried a few, and then I tried Insurrection. Wow! This mod has more levels than the original game, and some superbly designed maps and objectives. Although the game engine is written for Darwinia, Insurrection makes maximal use of all the available features, and may be even more fun than the original game!

So, one more time: Unless you like endless hours of enjoyment (and have the time to spare), stay out of Darwinia!

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