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The Making Of Worms

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Worms is one of the biggest gaming franchises around and has turned Team 17 into a household name. It’s been constantly updated over the past 19 years, sometimes successfully, over times, not so much, but it remains one of the most addictive team-based strategy games you can play. Retro Gamer looks back at how it all began.

The story of Worms is a ‘rags to riches’ tale that was common in the Eighties but had become a true rarity with the advent of the 16-bit era. So when Worms became a worldwide phenomenon, sellling over five million copies, many gamers were surprised to find it had almost single-handedly been created by one man and his Amiga.

Unaware of what the future held for him, Andy Davidson began work on Worms for his own amusement in 1990, some five years before the game’s commercial release. “It started life as a version of the old simple tank games that had been around since the 8-bit days”, explains Andy. “It was called Artillery then and ran on the cutting-edge hardware that was a Casio graph-plotting calculator! It was just an experiment to see if I could get it to do something a bit more interesting than drawing a graph.” Moving Artillery onto the Amiga meant that Andy was able to expand on the concept. “Giving the player the freedom to move around the landscape, and adding teams, changed the gameplay quite substantially and introduced new levels of strategy to it. That set me thinking about what other elements I could introduce, and the game just snowballed from there.”

Worms_Disk1of3_019There are plenty of ways to get the drop on opponants.

With the core gameplay in place Artillery needed a graphical style that would set it apart from its spiritual ancestors. “I wanted to try and get the same quality of animation and humour into the characters as had been managed in Lemmings. It had always impressed me what could be done with so few pixels. I’m a bit of a pixel-art junkie!” After a few experiments in Deluxe Paint, Andy settled on worms as the characters for the game. “Back then they were just about the only type of creature that hadn’t been in a game. This was pre-Earthworm Jim of course. I wanted something more interesting than tanks or soldiers and they also suited the small size required as I was going to have up to 16 of them in play.  The public also had a right to know about the more violent side of a worm’s nature, which had so far gone unreported by the media in general.”

With the introduction of invertebrates into the game, Andy renamed it Total Wormage and kept adding new gameplay elements whilst sharing the work-in-progress version with his college friends. “The aim was to create something where every game was different. Hence the importance of the random landscape generator. I think this is one of the factors that set it apart from most commercial games; it was never intended to have an end. I also tried to make it more of a social game than most. I wanted to actively encourage people to take the piss out of each other, and to wind-up their opponents. It was when my form teacher banned it, because people were skipping lessons to play it, that I actually thought about trying to get it published, which was my dream. Once something gets banned you know you might be onto something.”

Worms_Disk1of3_013Worms is at its most fun when playing against friends.

As Total Wormage became increasingly popular with Amiga owners in Bournemouth, Andy realised it had commercial potential and posted a disk to Amiga Format, who were running a game design competition. The judges at Amiga Format failed to acknowledge Total Wormage. The ambitious young coder must have been devastated. “It was a bit gutting at the time”, recalls Andy, “Not because Total Wormage didn’t win, but mainly because it seemed to have gone unnoticed. Although the side effect of this was it made me go up to the ECTS tradeshow in London in September 1994 as one last attempt at getting it noticed. I really wasn’t expecting anything to come of it though, especially after what had happened with the competition. I booted it up on Team 17’s stand saying ‘You’re probably not going to like this, it’s a bit weird’”.

Having already made a game featuring a Lucozade-drinking frog, Team 17 were comfortable with weird concepts and loved Total Wormage so much that it signed it up on the spot. Studio founder, Martyn Brown, originally envisaged Worms as a budget title but this idea was soon scrapped once the team realised the game’s potential. “Total Wormage was complete enough already that it was played to death in-house, and was taken round the different magazines straight away. It was their reaction to it, which included not turning the power off in the building so the Amiga could be left on after Alan and Steve took the disks back to Team 17, that decided it was worth a full-price release.”

Worms_Disk1of3_008The range of weapons only increased with later games.

Andy soon relocated to Team 17’s Wakefield HQ and began refining Total Wormage. “It was about 75% done when I showed it to Team 17. There was still a list of things I had left to add to it, such as airstrikes and cluster bombs, but the game was pretty much there. Even down to the speech. I was left to do what I wanted with the Amiga version while Team 17 handled the ports, so I developed it still further, introducing new things such as the sheep and custom levels.” With the help of Team 17, Andy was able to add improvements that would not have been possible alone. We asked him which he found most invaluable. “Proper background graphics for a start. Rico Holmes’ trees were a damn sight better than mine! The ambient background and title music that Bjorn Lynne did was also exactly what I’d wanted, but not something I could have done myself. Paul Kilburn’s superior worm names were also greatly respected.” With a team assembled, the Worms began to notch up a gear…

You can read the rest of our Making Of Worms in issue 23. Buy it now from GreatDigitalMags.com or the Imagineshop.

Retro Gamer magazine and bookazines are available in print from Imagineshop

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