Malcolm Owen On March 30, 2005 at 9:33 am

What exactly is art? According to, it has a few meanings, the most immediate of them being the “Human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature” and the “High quality of conception or execution, as found in works of beauty; aesthetic value”. With this as a guide, it’s safe to say that Darwinia is art.

For a start, I suggest you just look at the screenshots. I really mean that. Look at the images taken from within the game. The glowing fractal trees, the Tron landscape, the constantly moving digital sky. All of these make Darwinia a fantastic game to look at. What’s even better than looking at the screenshots is to see the images actually moving. Proof of this being when I lost 10 minutes of my life just looking at the sky doing it’s thing.or graphical wonderment continues. The ability to swoop around the levels and seek a photo

Once the fairly simple camera controls are worked out, the ability for graphical wonderment continues. The ability to swoop around the levels and seek a photographic gem of a Darwinian against a mountainous backdrop with the sky rolling above makes for a good waste of time, if only to try and find something far better than before to marvel at. Indeed, trying to get the perfect shot of a Darwinian can seem like wildlife photography at times, waiting patiently for a good pose or position from the two dimensional sprite.

The style can be easily described as “Retro-Chic”, although it could be better defined as a mixture of 8-bit gaming, solid filled wireframe models, pixelated 3D and angular sprites. If you think of them individually then it’s a horrible thought, but in Darwinia it isn’t. It is actually quite the opposite. The virii appear as long chains of flat ground-based arrow snakes, which after seeing for the first time, are almost instantly recognisable for what they are. Other items around the place have a look and feel of what they should be. Everything from the Tron-based engineers to the Centipedes inspired from the game of the same name. Even the Darwinians themselves, despite being tiny, simple images, have a charm of their own, which you can only look and wonder how they managed to be so basic yet so (excuse the word) cute.

If the graphical feast that is assaulting your eyes isn’t enough, there’s the audible texturing to start falling in love with. A mish-mash of wildlife sounds crossed with the musical stylings of retro games is brought kicking and screaming into the modern day and sounds as if it’s the perfect background music to a digital dreamscape for you to stare and wonder at.

Just breathtaking, and I haven’t even mentioned the actual game bit yet.

Darwinia is the story of an AI experiment gone wrong. A race of basic creatures called Darwinians got created after many years of research by one Dr Sepulveda, and in an attempt to show off his creation, he tried to create what can only be described as a weird virtual Jurassic Park. Just like the film, something went wrong, and the server got hammered by assorted viral beings. Cue you being the saviour of their world.

From this description, you would think it’s a God game, but it’s not. There are elements of it in there, but it isn’t strictly that type of game. The same could be said about it being an RTS game, because it isn’t. Instead, it’s more of a collection of inspiration from various games all over the place.

You can start programs or units to destroy viruses in a similar way to how Cannon Fodder works, but instead of having a limit to the number of units you can create for the entire level, you have a limit based on the amount of programs you can have running simultaneously, making basic units essentially free to create. This makes the gameplay more arcade in feel, especially without the need to preserve any fighting forces during the game.

Engineers can be created at times to enable buildings to your cause for specific tasks, and to gather the Darwinian or enemy Souls, since they can be regenerated into more Darwinians whom are needed in high numbers in order to complete a level. The simple AI of the Darwinians requires gentle pointers from promoted Officers; just like giving commands to Lemmings else they may die.

All whilst this is going on, you can give orders to the good Doctor to concentrate his time on specific upgrades to your programs, giving you more decisions to make. For example, is it’s better to get the Engineer to hold more souls when collecting to make more Darwinians in a shorter time, or to increase the numbers available in the squad to make it easier when taking on large viral infestations? Since upgrades get done on a timescale rather than on a level-by-level basis, if you wait long enough you can get both, along with many other options.

The menu for selecting all of these different options is available by the Alt key, with other familiar key combinations such as Alt Tab and Ctrl C making their appearances for other functions central to the gameplay. This same menu screen allows you to choose which upgrade path to take, the missions you have to complete, and a gesture control system similar in many ways to Black and White’s casting system.

Of course, playing the game is a love-hate relationship. Some people will feel that the gameplay is too alien to warrant enough attention. Others may scoff at the idea of sending units into battle then having to do the actual work for them. These people should give the game time, and soon it becomes a love-love situation. Having to do the dirty work makes you care more about doing things properly, instead of the order and forget nature of Command and Conquer. If you miss an enemy and suddenly find half your Darwinians wiped out forcing you to restart the level, it’s your own fault, and so the elation of completing the level is high. The AI was designed to be simple, because that’s what Darwinians are: Simple. Pathfinding is simplified into mostly going in a straight line, because they don’t know any better. Waypoint usage becomes a necessity, and from this over-attention, you start to actually care about these basic life forms. You’ll soon want to go further into the game because you want the best for those you saved and now love, and you need to protect them in the future in case anything bad happens to them. You start parenting.

It’s probably safe to say that I have found Darwinia to be a fantastic game, with very little in the way of actual problems. Sure, the green box could be a bit darker for my liking, but this is just one small thing, and even then the box colour tells us even more about the game without having to even play it. That Darwinia is trying to buck the trend of mass produced sequels of generic mediocrity, of similar games in similar boxes by similar companies. That thinking different can be great for everyone. And that to me, is art in itself.


A reminder that sometimes the most original ideas come from the creations of others. And that sometimes complexity doesn’t always mean enjoyable.


If you haven’t seen the screenshots by now and fail to appreciate


The past haunts us with a new flavour. And it its good.


Underground is still great. Small is still beautiful. Darwinia is art. That is all.

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