Worms Retrospective

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The year is 1995 and PC gamers were waging all out war with RTS titles Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness and Command & Conquer. Chrono Trigger and Earthbound satiated the RPG need of gamers on the Super Nintendo, while at the same time  America got its hands on both the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation. During all this time a small game by Andy Davidson was created and entered into the Blitz BASIC competition run by Amiga Format magazine. Although the game, initially titled Total Wormage, failed to win the programming competition, Davidson pressed on sending out copies of the game to various publishers.

 

After multiple publishers passed on the project, Davidson took the game himself to the European Computer Trade Show, where he would come across a booth that would change things forever. The booth in question was run by Team17, a British video game company, that would take that initial game idea and grow it into a franchise that is still alive and strong today. Total Wormage would quickly change and evolve into a full-fledged commercial game available as an exclusive on the Commodore Amiga computer and subsequently earn a name change to the the now iconic Worms.

 

Worms-win-coverWorms was initially billed by the various Amiga outlets as a cross between two other Amiga classics, Cannon Fodder and Lemmings. The gameplay is what helped set Worms apart from other titles at the time. The player would be tasked with controlling a team of worms, in a turn-based setting, to eliminate another group of worms, either controlled by the computer or another player. This turn-based style of gameplay had been done before with games such as Scorched Earth in 1991 and Artillery Duel back in 1983, but Worms would expand greatly on the initial idea and scope.

 

The player could move his or her worms across the battlefield, strategically positioning each unit for maximum effect. Each worm, once moved or adjusted, could then use any tool or weapon within the players toolbox to eradicate the worms of the opposing team. Movement was handled in a few different ways within the game. The player could instruct his or her unit to move (worm wiggle) or jump across the available terrain. They could also make use of some of the available tools such as the now famous “Ninja Rope” to reach areas of the map that would be impossible to access otherwise.

 

The game sported over fifty various weapons and tools and the player could create and save his or her own custom loadout for future matches. With such an abundance of weapons it would only be right that a few of them would be comical or even inside studio jokes. The “MB bomb” that floats down from the sky exploding on impact is a cartoon like caricature of Team17’s studio head, Martyn Brown. Even original designer, Andy Davidson got into the mix with the weapon known as “Concrete Donkey” being modeled after a lawn ornament that sat in his yard at home.

 

This being a turn-based affair, the game required you to think on your toes as you only had a limited amount of time per turn to make your moves. This made the game move more smoothly so no one player could hold up a game. Whether you were moving or waiting for your turn, you were always engaged with the game, either moving your forces during your turn or figuring out and adjusting your strategy during your opponent’s. Death to you or your opponent’s worms came in a few different ways. Any worm would suffer death if they fell in water, whether this be from falling off the stage, through a hole created by one of the various weapons, or if the accumulated water reached above the head or your worm. Likewise any worm would suffer death if thrown from the stage past either edge of the screen or if any units health dropped to zero.

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Worms was a hit for Team17 and with that success would of course come a sequel titled simply, Worms 2 in 1997. Many changes were made with the creation and release of Worms 2, most notably it being rebuilt using DirectX technology from Microsoft. From a design point much of the darker elements and serious nature of the original Worms were dropped in favor of a more cartoon like style that was made possible thanks in-part to the DirectX technology. While Worms was a success on the Amiga, Worms 2 is where the series really saw its emergence with the public as a whole thanks in no small part because of its release on the much more popular and now predominant Windows platform.

 

Worms 2 was a much bigger game running on a much more powerful platform. This showed not only in the games level size, but also with the expansion of the total number of tools and weapons in the game. Customization really came into play with Worms 2 as it sported a robust set of toggles for game settings as well as option editors for the games weapons, and because of this is still considered today as one of, if not the, most customizable game the series has ever released. Couple that with the games visuals and use of sound, not only for music but also for the now memorable lines of speech for the various actions, Worms 2 was a big hit.

 

Worms2-coverThe next game in the series started out initially as an expansion pack for Worms 2 but would later be turned into a full standalone sequel known as, Worms Armageddon in 1999. Armageddon would implement a series of game missions, 33 in total, in a full campaign as well as a number of training levels. Most notably Worms Armageddon included a strong focus on the multiplayer, a fairly new idea for many games at the time, with the use of its very own internet play service, know comically as “WormNET”. This service offered such options as league play and rankings among other players using the service and the ability to play “Deathmatch” against other players. While the games level of customization was trimmed down due to fear of clutter, the games focus on multiplayer lead it to become another success for Team17. Unlike prior versions of the game, Worms Armageddon is still receiving updates, with the last update being released in March of 2013. The game would also go on to appear on various home and portable platforms such as the Sony Playstation, Nintendo 64, Game Boy Color, Dreamcast and most recently on Steam.

 

Wa-win-coverTeam17 would once again follow up on their success with the next core game in the series, Worms World Party in 2001. This would mark the last time the series used a 2D engine before making the jump into the 3rd dimension. World Party was initially designed for the Sega Dreamcast because of the built in online capabilities of the system. The game would eventually end up being ported to the Sony Playstation and the PC with some additional content thrown in. World Party would also later find its way onto the ill fated Nokia N-Gage phone/portable console. This entry into the series received mostly positive reviews from critics at the time garnering a 75 out of 100 for the PC version on Metacritic. Many people and reviewers alike placed a majority of the issues with World Party on the fact that it felt much more like an expansion to Armageddon than a full stand-alone sequel. The critics saying that it simply felt that there wasn’t enough new features and/or content to justify this as a full release and thus scores for World Party were much lower than previous installments, especially when compared to Armageddon. Rumors have circulated on the internet that the PC version of World Party, being built on the same engine, would become cross compatible with Armageddon, but those rumors have so far been unsubstantiated.

 

Worms_3D_coverIt had been seven years since the Worms series had hit shelves and allowed players to wage war with their slimy little friends. Team17, perhaps seeing the response from World Party, felt it was time to step into a new generation by having the game go 3D. So, in 2003 they would unleash Worms 3D to the masses, making its way onto all the major platforms of the day. Worms 3D from a gameplay standpoint remains for the most part unchanged from the other entries in the series. The big change came from three-dimensional view  that allowed the player more freedom when dealing with enemies and movement. Gameplay remained the same with matches primarily laid out with the only objective being the elimination of the opposing team. Campaign mode also makes its return giving players a number of missions with set objectives that must be completed in order to move on. A system of award medals was implemented with Gold medals earning special unlocks that could include new maps, missions or voice banks. Worms 3D featured a number of nods to famous films with subtle and not so subtle references through out. The name ORCA can be seen on the back of a boat referencing the same boat from the film Jaws and there is even an in-game weapon modeled after the Holy Hand Grenade from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Scores for Worms 3 were favorable with most of the criticism being leveled with the camera system as many times it would obstruct the players view.

 

Wfus-win-coverCapitalizing on the success of their first 3D game in the series, Team17 quickly released a follow-up title in 2004 titled Worms Forts: Under Siege. Perhaps the game that most deviates from the standard Worms formula, Worms Forts can almost be seen as a spin-off and not a full sequel. Players had the ability to build “fort” structures with the objective of the game now shifting to allow winning a game by destroying the opposing players fort. These new buildings changed the gameplay by allowing new strategies to be implemented. Buildings not only could be used as platforms for firing weapons but could be used to heal units via a hospital or upgrade units with science buildings. In this regard, thanks in part to these new gameplay elements, the game was much slower paced than previous installments. Worms Forts ended up getting mixed scores from the various review sites, some praising it for taking chances with new additions, and others lamenting that it veered off from what originally made the series great.

 

Team17 would continue to release the Worms series on a yearly basis and contine to expand the series not only on new consoles but with various gameplay elements and tweaks. These titles varied in scores ranging from great to less than stellar depending on the platform, which had now become primarily consoles and handhelds. We wouldn’t see a true spiritual sequel to the 2D days to the series until 2009 with the release of Worms 2: Armageddon. There was a game titled Worms that released in 2007, but that was more or less an HD remake of the original with many features missing that were standard with more modern Worms games. Scores for Worms 2: Armageddon holds an 84% on Metacritic and was well received by players and review sites alike. Essentially a sequel to the 2007 remake, Worms 2: Armageddon went back to its 2D roots adding additional features and modes, while bringing back many many famous weapons from the various games in its long history.

 

Worms-Revolution-logoWe would continue to see a number of releases in the portable markets for the next several years with varied gameplay and success until 2012 when the series would once again reinvent itself with Worms Revolution. Revolution would mix things up by using a 2.5D perspective with its gameplay. The environment and characters were modeled in 3D but the gameplay was kept on a 2D plane. A larger focus than ever before was placed on dynamic physics and the addition of water elements within the game from pipes and objects could be used strategically to drown or wash away opponents. Another big change was the class system implemented by Team17 for the game; Scout, Soldier, Scientist and Heavy all had different traits and abilities. Scouts could move farther distances while Scientists could create better weapons and equipment. You had the opportunity to play single player, local multiplayer or online multiplayer with various options for not only match customization, but even for changing the appearances of your worms. All of this required the team to build an entirely new engine for the game, something not seen since the game went 3D some nine years prior.

 

The Worms series has seen its share of ups and downs even at one point earning a spot on IGN’s game franchises that have jumped the shark, but there is no denying that the series has had a major impact on players and has achieved much in recent years to re-emerge back into the spotlight. The Worms series of games have brought home numerous awards over the years and it’s classic incarnations are still to this day being played both competitively and among friends. How many other game franchises can boast that not only are people actively playing a game released fourteen years ago (Worms: Armageddon) but are also releasing updates for it today?

 

With Worms: Clan Wars, released on PC in September of 2013, Team17 have stated that there will be no new titles in the series for a few years while they focus on bringing new IP’s to market. We can only hope that the time off will help breathe some new life into the franchise when they eventually return to another installment. Until then Team17 have left us with a number of stellar games in the series that will no doubt keep us busy.

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