The ultimate battle game is back: find out how a small team in Yorkshire's stayed on top for decades by reinventing itself.
Time flies. “Looking back five years, it was only in July 2008 that the iPhone App Store launched. Look how that has changed the lives of so many developers and publishers, for good and for bad,” says Debbie Bestwick, managing director of Team17.
She’s not wrong: the rise of mobile gaming has changed the industry for ever, and not every studio or company mascot’s been able to keep up.
Bestwick’s Team17’s had no such problem though: the independent developer has managed to stay on the bleeding edge of gaming and tech for twenty years. Not bad for a small team based in Wakefield, whose main claim to fame is a turn-based 2D game about invertebrates beating each other to a pulp.
It’s hard to believe, but Worms, the iconic strategy series, is now of legal age. The strategy game, which pits your team of worms against rivals in an OTT battle royale of cartoon violence and first debuted 18 years ago on the PC and Sega Mega Drive, has somehow survived, grown and adapted as gaming has changed, jumping from platform to platform. All the while, it’s kept the absurd gameplay and multiplayer carnage intact, and the bazookas, holy hand grenades, banana bombs and falling donkeys coming.
Now, it’s back once more, with a remake of Worms 2: Armageddon for Android smartphones and tablets set to launch on the Google Play store this spring. It’s the classic 1997 game, remade for today’s sharper screens, and it promises all the same evil gameplay as before (Expert players for instance can humiliate rivals by “poking” them off a cliff instead of using a weapon).
If anything, it should play even better. Bestwick says that Worms, which was first released as a mobile game ten whole years ago, has always been as suited to touchscreen play as with a keyboard and mouse. That players take turns, so they can play whenever they have a few spare minutes, doesn’t hurt either.
“The format of Worms lends itself well to mobile devices. Last year we introduced asynchronous play to the iOS version of Worms 2: Armageddon, and the turn-by-turn play is extremely well suited to the gameplay of Worms, however we are always trying to improve the way it’s played on touchscreen devices - it’s an on-going process.”
Though consoles and entire platforms have come on gone, the series has survived (and grown - it’s topped the Turn Based charts on the App Store in more than 135 countries) for a simple reason: smacking your friends into the digital ocean with a baseball bat is pure fun.
Worms has come a long way since the days of the Mega Drive, but the core concept hasn't changed.
“Worms is simply a great game that works on most screen sizes, it has such a strong following and genuine connection with the fans who have grown up with it and who have introduced their children to it via mobile, tablets, consoles, and PC. Worms has always been a very social game and combined with its strategy, wacky weapons, humour and easy to pick-up approach,” says Bestwick.
That pick-up and play approach means the core concept has stayed the same from the very beginning, right through to last year’s Worms Revolution for PC and consoles, but the 70 strong team does occasionally apply a twist to the tried and tested formula. 2011’s Worm Crazy Golf added silly putting into the mix: it’s the perfect fit when you think about it, but Bestwick says not to expect any more spin-offs though - at least not yet.
“We have hundreds of ideas that come from within the company and also the Worms fan-base, however we’re very selective about the brand and what we do. So it’s rare we do a spin off, I think it tends to be around one every five years.”
What you can expect: more platforms and another injection of originality into the series. Last year, Bestwick rehired Andy Davidson, the original creator of Worms, and the Facebook version of the game is nearing a full release.
“Worms on Facebook is now is open beta and it still has a way to go but this will bring in a different audience for us,” says Bestwick. “It’s an introduction in a light way to the Worms universe and hopefully they will take the next steps towards mobile/tablets and to the main PC and console gaming experiences.”
There’s even a version for Sony’s next-gen PS Vita handheld in the pipeline for 2013, Bestwick reveals.
“One big Worms game we can mention is a game for the PS Vita that we are working closely with Sony on, this will be the ultimate handheld console version releasing later this year,” she says.
Alien Breed has been remade in HD for PS3 - and PS Vita.
Team17 is more than just Worms though. The studio, founded in 1990, has a large back catalogue of titles, and it’s starting to explore them once again, hosting game jams where its developers can get together, try out new ideas and see what sticks.
“Right now this year is about non-Worms games as much as Worms games,” says Bestwick. “We have a catalogue of around 30 IPs [intellectual properties] from the 90s that haven’t been looked at for a long time.”
Last month, it released Alien Breed its top-down sci-fi shooter on Sony PS3 and PS Vita, revamped in HD - it’s one of the first games to make use of Sony’s cross-play tech, letting you play the game on the go, save, and carry on on your console when you get home. Later this year, it’s also giving retro platformer Superfrog the same treatment (“It’s no secret there are one or two more we’d love to bring through” too, she hints).
Superfrog is next up for the HD makeover treatment.
Xbox owners shouldn’t get too worried though: Bestwick says the burgeoning partnership with Sony is more coincidence than anything else. “We tend to think about the game first and foremost and then look at platform options,” she explains.
“We look at what’s unique about each, it’s not a case of game X on platform Y, a lot of research goes into platform choice. Alien Breed was a good example: we wanted to bring the original game back and mobile offered a good, low-risk solution to test the brand out.”
“During development we felt it would work really well on a large screen with cross platform co-op play. So we approached Sony, had a discussion and hence you have the all singing, all dancing version on PlayStation 3 and PS Vita...Our core focus is still producing high-quality digital download titles, whether they’re destined for mobile or Steam, PlayStation Network or the Xbox Live.”
If this year is about revisiting cult franchises, next year’s going to be about the next-generation, says Bestwick.
“Next year is hopefully about next-gen consoles: we’ve already been announced as one of the studios working with the PlayStation 4 and that’s super exciting for us.”
“We are a fan and the guys have supplied us with [developer] kits so we’re playing around with it, not for Worms specifically but for a number of possibilities,” she says.
Team17 has a track record for getting in on the ground floor, so expect something soon. What those possibilities are though, Bestwick won’t confirm: as they say, that’s another can of worms entirely.
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