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Video Game / Darwinia

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Darwinia is an award-winning Action-Adventure / Real-Time Strategy game developed by Introversion Software. The game centers ont a Magical Computer that runs a simulated world, the titular Darwinia. The inhabitants of the world, called Darwinians, are docile green stick figures that each have their own unique digital soul. This is all part of a research project on artificial intelligence.

When the player connects to the Darwinia server, the world has been hit by an infection of a very nasty computer virus and Dr Sepulveda, the scientist responsible for creating Darwinia, is at his wit's end and starting to seriously consider wiping out the whole project, and two decades of research just to stop the virus. The player showing up gives him hope that his digital world can be saved.

Over the course of the game, the player visits a number of unique locations, with Dr Sepulveda giving pieces of history for Darwinia in most of them. Towards the end of the game, some very nasty forms of the virus are encountered, one of which can actually destroy the souls of Darwinians.

The game was praised for its retro-inspired graphics and unique-but-intuitive control scheme, but sold terribly due to its retro-inspired graphics and unique-but-intuitive control scheme.

Introversion Software has since made a multi-player sequel called Multiwinia. It has also been released on Xbox Live Arcade as Darwinia+, combining the basic game, the rocket level that served as the second game demo (now considered an epilogue), and Multiwinia. In April 2022, Introversion released Darwinia 10,000th Anniversary Edition, a remastering update for PC that improves compatibility on modern systems with support for newer graphics and audio API's, improved UI scaling, support for graphical features such as anti-aliasing and resolution scaling, and more.

This game provides examples of:

  • After the End: The game is effectively this for Darwinia. The viral outbreak has wreaked havoc on the virtual world, all of the key facilities are completely infested and the Darwinians are close to extinction before you showup.
  • All There in the Manual: The official website for the game has a collection of fictional articles "written" by people from Dr. Sepulveda's universe. They explain the Backstory in greater detail and also explore various ramifications Darwinia could have on society.
  • Anthropomorphic Typography: Darwinians in Darwinia are frequently referred to as "glyphs".
  • Arbitrary Headcount Limit: You can only control 3 programs (controllable units) at the start of the game, and can upgrade it to a maximum of 5.
  • Artificial Stupidity: Programs only attempt to move in straight lines. They will happily run up an unclimbable slope (and stay there forever), or right into a wall of instant death. Justified by the fact that you're supposed to treat your programs like action game protagonists, not like RTS units.
    • Darwinians can climb slopes, no matter how steep, but will often get stuck on bodies of water and occasionally get stuck on buildings.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Rockets are somewhere between this and Difficult, but Awesome. They explode much faster than grenades and airstrikes, but travel in a straight line, so you either have to be on flat terrain or have the definite high ground. They also start out with absolutely pitiful range, almost exploding right in your face, meaning until you increase the range you have to be extremely careful of where your squad is moving when you're firing it. All in all, it's a very situational weapon (far more than grenades) and you have to be super careful or else you're far more likely to just blow up your own squad than you are to actually hit what you want to hit.
  • Badass Normal: The Darwinians themselves, once they get weapons, can hold their ground with quite ease and blow minor viruses out of the system. That is, until the computer starts rolling in jumping spiders.
  • Beat Them at Their Own Game: Infected Darwinians can take over Armor (in battle cannon mode) the player has set up for the regular Darwinians.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: Most of The Virus could count as a digital version. Do not zoom in if you're arachnophobic.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Though the player and Sepulveda are able to fight off the virus and save Darwinia, Sepulveda muses that having to fight and kill their own Brainwashed and Crazy kin and experience true death for the first time at the hands of the Soul Destroyers has resulted in a loss of innocence for the Darwinians. Multiwinia takes this even further by revealing that since then, the Darwinians have since divided themselves into tribes and begin fighting each other.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Infected Darwinians.
  • Bug War: The plot can basically be seen as this in a computer. Played straight to the point where you can't feel any sympathy for The Virus.
  • The Cameo: The nuclear submarines from DEFCON appear in Multiwinia.
  • Cannon Fodder: In the Biosphere, you need to use the Darwinians to punch through the enemy waves of infected Darwinians.
  • Copy Protection: Referenced as an in-work example, with the cracker intro having credit claimed by DMA Crew, along with the fancy Amiga-style background. As such the player won't have to worry about said protection the developers put in.
  • Crapsack World: In Multiwinia especially. Four tribes of mutated Darwinians are in a constant state of war. No side really knows why the fight even started. Meteor showers and nuclear strikes are commonly used, to the point where "WMD" refers to something other than nukes. To top it all off, Death is Cheap and souls come back all the time to just keep fighting, unless of course the dark forests get to them, in which case they haunt the ruins of battlefields for all of eternity.
  • Death is Cheap: Because Darwinians get reincarnated soon after death.
  • Death Is a Slap on the Wrist: Programs can simply be rerun for free, and getting back to where you were before is usually just an inconvenience, since any building you've reprogrammed can be used as a starting point. Dead Darwinians can be reconstituted at an incubator as long as the souls can be collected in time.
  • The Dreaded: The Soul Destroyers are this to the Darwinians, being the only thing in Darwinia that can...well, destroy souls, breaking the cycle of reincarnation and either rendering its victims Deader than Dead or subjecting them to a Fate Worse than Death depending on how you interpret Sepulveda's words.
  • Due to the Dead: If you see a bunch of Darwinians get killed, chances are pretty good that you'll see a bunch of kites launched as the souls drift upwards off the playing field.
  • Dug Too Deep: Not quite mining, but The Virus came to Darwinia when the Darwinians rigged a trunk port to access Dr. Sepulveda's computer in an attempt to communicate with him. Among the files they downloaded were some of his research data...and some infected spam mail.
  • Enemy Summoner: Spiders jumping and laying eggs.
    • Flower-like egg cannons called Triffids can fire long distances, and they can miss your attention because they don't have the same color or pixelation effect as the other viruses.
  • Fan Sequel: You're encouraged to make your own once you finish the game, and some fans have made some pretty big ones.
  • The Fundamentalist: One of the fictional articles on the game's official website is "written" by "Jeremiah Rove", addressed to his congregation. In his passionate rant, he declares Dr. Sepulveda to be a blasphemer since he created "life" from nothing (and without a married white woman), something he believes only God can do. In retaliation, he proposes that his congregation should use Angry Mob tactics against Dr. Sepulveda and his work.
  • Gameplay Automation: Engineers will automatically perform any task they can do nearby. Manual goto orders issued by players are priority, followed by reprogramming control towers and gathering research, then soul collecting. If the Engineer is idle while holding souls (either at its limit or all the rest have floated away), it'll automatically go to the nearest captured incubator to deposit them for regeneration (whether it's the incubator you want Darwinians coming out of or not), then return to its original location to possibly gather more souls.
  • Geo Effects: Forces move slower when climbing hills, faster when going down them, shorter throws when throwing up slope, and longer throws when going downslope. Thanks, physics!
  • Giant Mook: Soul Destroyers look like massive centipedes, but don't break apart like centipedes do when attacked, are able to fly, and destroy Darwinians and their souls.
  • A God I Am Not: Dr Sepulveda regrets the accident where his face showed up in the sky of Darwinia. Because of this they worship him as their God. Which they are actually quite right in that he did create them and their entire world.
  • The Goomba: Virii, which are present in large numbers.
  • Darwinian Resources: The Virus is using the souls of the Darwinians to upgrade itself. Fridge Horror for Uplink as it's heavily implied to be the Revelation Virus and that the upgrades for it in Uplink come from their souls.
  • Instant-Win Condition: As long as you complete the objectives, regions can remain as infected as you want.
  • It Runs on Nonsensoleum: The justification for the retraux visuals is that the Darwinian world is the result of a bunch of old, notably crappy computers running in tandem as a parallel processor. Sepulveda didn't anticipate the Darwinians that eventually showed up, and was instead doing research on creating a new type of video game.
  • Killed Off for Real: The fate of any Darwinian killed by the Soul Destroyers.
  • Late to the Punchline: One of the intros in the game features a parody of an intro to a cracked Amiga game. It looked so genuine that Valve thought it was real. As a result, the game's Steam release got delayed an hour until Introversion said they put that there deliberately.
  • Living Program: The Darwinians and viruses definitely fit the mold. The semi-autonomous squaddies and engineers might be considered an edge case.
  • Minimalist Cast: Not counting the nameless Darwinians and The Virus, Dr. Sepulveda is the only named character in the game.
  • Miracle-Gro Monster: Viruses can "evolve" into more complex forms if left alone for too long. In addition, some viruses can consume souls and lay eggs, which spawn more viruses.
  • Mook Maker: Eggs are laid by Spiders and Spore Generators. Triffids are more dangerous, because they launch larger eggs from a distance if it detects any enemy.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The Soul Destroyers.
  • One-Word Title: Also The Place because Darwinia is where the game takes place.
  • Our Souls Are Different: Digital souls. The manual explains what a digital soul is, though the game itself says little. Suffice to say, they're as important to a Darwinian as our souls are to us.
    • Digital souls are basically Darwinian AI, encoded as a form of computerised DNA. The glowing, physical object is just the way the game represents that chunk of code. It mentions how the most successful souls reincarnate pretty much as-is while the less successful start fresh as a template based on the most successful, leading to a continued evolution of the Darwinian race. One level has you recapturing this template, the Pattern Buffer, from the virus.
    • Also, one type of virus can destroy the Darwinians' souls, leaving behind ghosts in the world.
  • Paper People: Darwinians.
  • Physical God: In an odd way Dr Sepulveda is this to the Darwinians. He did create them and he does have a physical body. However he doesn't have any Godly powers outside of the program.
  • Pixellation: A non-censorship example. 3D programs and enemies have pixellation filter to either make it look more retro, or to indicate damage.
    • It could have been also done to show that the programs and enemies are foreign to the Darwinians' world, as it and the Darwinians themselves are rendered without pixelization.
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Have a Darwinian repeatedly bonking its head against a body of water or the side of a building or something? Promote it to an Officer. Then terminate the program. Then collect the soul with an Engineer and hope they're not quite so stupid in the next life.
  • Randomized Title Screen: There are multiple opening sequences, playing a different one each time the game is loaded. These include things like a faux-ZX Spectrum Loading Screen and one that passes the game off as a cracked Useful Notes/Amiga game.
  • Retraux: Its presentation.
  • Sequel: to Uplink. Various news stories in the first game hint towards the plot of the second, and you're implied to be a hacker, much like the ones featured in Uplink, at the beginning of Darwinia.
    • Also it serves as a Prequel as well. The Virus that infects Darwinia? Heavily implied to be the Revelation virus from Uplink. So the Virus was upgraded using Darwinians' souls.
  • Shout-Out: Damn near everything in the game is a shout out to something or other; Cannon Fodder, TRON, Centipede, Space Invaders and the ZX Spectrum to name but a few. Hell, Dr Sepulveda even looks like Clive Sinclair.
  • Some Dexterity Required: Earlier versions of the game had a complex gesture system which was replaced with a simpler menu by default.
  • Thank the Maker: The Darwinians consider Dr Sepulveda to be a God. They've even made statues of him after he accidentally sent his webcam video data to the Darwinia sky rendering system.
  • The Lifestream: The Soul Repository, which also acts as the world's power source (it provides solar energy).
  • The Virus: Darwinia, being a computer, has been infected by a particularly nasty one, which is responsible for all the enemies you face.
    • Futurwinians from Multiwinia, too. Opening a box will occasionally call in a Flying Saucer (theorized by fans to be an Uplink hacker's connection) that will abduct any Darwinians nearby and convert them into a new, silver-colored faction on the game board. These Futuwinians are created with the Mind Control Ray Mk. 2, which converts their opponents into new Futurwinians...who thanks to the mechanics of the game, also possess Mind Control Ray Mk. 2. Not fun. Curiously, the actual remnants of the Virus, while annoying if you trigger it, are just a little more powerful than beginning players.
  • Video Game Caring Potential: Darwinians act very eerily human-like. They explore when they're bored, they jump in the air when they're excited, they run away and scream when they're scared, and they even have funerals (specifically, if they see a soul ascending because you didn't collect it, they'll release a kite to guard it on its way to heaven, as Dr. Sepulveda explains). It's really hard not to become attached to them.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: On the other hand, you can send them marching into a large cluster of The Virus, your squads can throw grenades at them, you can promote every single one into an Officer and then execute them, or you could make them walk a really long way to get to their destination.
  • You Require More Vespene Gas: Notably (for an RTS) averted. Digital souls act as a kind of resource, but they're only useful for creating more Darwinians. Beyond that, the only real resource is program space.
  • Zerg Rush: Possible, once the Darwinians have weapons and your officers have the 'follow me' order. Get enough together and you can overwhelm most enemies through sheer weight of numbers.