What started as a distraction from studying A-levels became one of the biggest franchises in gaming. We bring you the story of how Worms came to be

Exploding sheep, holy hand grenades and bloodthirsty invertebrates hurling abuse at each other. If any of these concepts are at all familiar, chances are you’ve played a Worms game.

And you certainly aren’t alone. Since 1995, the war-of-the-worms franchise has entertained more than 70 million players with its zany gladiatorial battles, making it one of the most prolific turn-based artillery games ever made. Worms’ success was also arguably the catalyst for the rise of Team 17, a UK-based publisher and developer that has since become a champion for numerous indie developers.

While indie devs today might have their mind set on a project from the get-go, Worms began life as a distraction. Back in the early 90s, A-level student Andy Davidson was experimenting with programming as an alternative to studying. His aim at the time was simply to create something he could play with friends, rather than one of the most ported strategy games ever.

From schoolrooms to consoles

Speaking in a video interview with GotGame, Davidson spoke of how his game mesmerised his peers but often lead to his teacher’s ire: “I always loves social multiplayer games, like Bomberman and Mario Kart, so I wanted to create a game you could just play and it would never end, never repeat and get people to take the mick out of each other and have a laugh with,” he said.

The original Worms game

The original Worms game

“It ended up getting banned from the school. People were skipping lessons just to come and play it. I sort of took over a whole corner of the art room, and you’d hear things exploding and making strange noises. My form tutor said ‘Andy you are completely disrupting everything – I never want to see that game in school again’.”

His teacher’s dislike of his newfound hobby only fuelled Davidson’s desire to get his game published after he’d finished school. Nevertheless, his original homage to Artillery (1976) had ripped characters directly from popular puzzle games Lemmings (1991), and therefore needed some new branding. While working at an Amiga shop, Andy would spend his nights drawing characters and coding his creation using the Blitz BASIC programming language. He then asked customers in the shop to playtest his newly devised title, christened Total Wormage.

“I wanted to create a game that even people who hated video games would find some enjoyment in,” Davidson said. “So I’d watch how people reacted to it in the shop. A kid would be play-testing it for a couple of hours, and then his dad would sit down, and then his dad would still be there playing it two hours later!”

Around this time Amiga Format, a publication about the Amiga console, began advertising programming competitions. It was to one of these that Davidson submitted Total Wormage, but he didn’t win. Instead of cutting his loses, he took a version of his game on a floppy disk to the 1994 European Computer Trade Show and met Team 17, who liked the idea so much that they told him they would publish the game on the spot.

I wanted to create a game that even people who hated video games would find some enjoyment in

Not only had Andy’s dream of finding a willing publisher for his coding creation had paid off, but the introduction of Worms could not have come at a better time for Team 17. The company had experienced a reasonable degree of success with previous titles such as the Alien Breed series, but had hit a period of uncertainty when console manufacturer Commodore filed for bankruptcy in 1994.

As a result, the console the company had primarily developed, the Amiga, was about to be lost to the annals of history, and Team 17 needed to evolve or die. Despite looking slightly medieval when compared to some of the upcoming games at the time, Worms had the ring of potential, and it was time to capitalise on as many new platforms as possible.

Team 17 signed a distribution agreement with Ocean Software in 1995, under which Ocean would help to sell its games worldwide. With this milestone achieved, Worms was converted into numerous formats, including editions for PC, Playstation and Saturn, and released in 1995.

Standing out from the crowd

Despite looking like a more sadistic version of Lemmings, Worms had its feet firmly in the artillery genre. In the game, players control a team of the creatures tasked with destroying worms from other factions by any means necessary across a variety of 2D environments. Each worm is given a certain amount of time to move and use a weapon or tool, before play is swapped to another worm on the opposing team. The winner is the first team to reduce the health bar of all its enemies to zero, either through attacks or by knocking them off the stage into insta-killing water or lava.

Worms’ turn-based gameplay called back to numerous artillery titles, most prominently Scorched Earth (1991), in which player-controlled tanks battled each other to be the last one standing. Scorched Earth’s particular brand of tank-based combat predated some of Worms’ defining mechanics, such as randomly generated arenas that required players to figure out their lay of the land before they attacked, and customisable game elements. Similarly to Scorched Earth, Worms also challenged players to perfect the trajectory and power of their weapons in order to succeed, as anyone who has ever tried to safely use one of the game’s infamous projectiles can attest.

Worms World Party. Images courtesy of Team 17

Worms World Party. Images courtesy of Team 17

Where Worms really stood out from its predecessors was its zany humour and cartoonish appearance. Critics loved the armed-to-the teeth critters, who quipped sarcastic putdowns at their opponents, as well as the weapons, which stretched from standard issue guns to more esoteric death-dealers, such as fire gloves and exploding sheep. As well as making the game more exciting, every weapon had its own strengths and caveats, adding some depth to their use beyond pointing and shooting. Nevertheless, the game’s inherently random nature would make any match-up entertaining, regardless of skill level.

Worms’ inventive and devious combat was a massive hit with gamers, and won Team 17 numerous awards, including the then coveted BBC ‘Live & Kicking Viewers Award for Best Game’. Once a tool for procrastination, Davidson’s game was suddenly sprung into the limelight: “Even still today in my head it’s the little game that I used to play with my mates just have a laugh with,” he said. “It’s amazing how many people have played it. I like the people who say we played that game so much during college. I’ve had people come up to me and say ‘I loved your game. I failed my degree because of it, but I still loved your game!’.”

Still going strong

With such a breakout hit on their hands, it was only obvious that Team 17 would continue to ride the wave, releasing several more editions of Worms the year after it released. A sequel, Worms 2, was unveiled in 1997, and amplified the cartoon-like nature with a new graphics system. This was swiftly followed by Worms: Armageddon (1997), which offered up new single-player deathmatch and campaign modes, and still has a place on several publications’ lists of the best games of all time.

The Worms saga was born, and it was a rapidly widening one at that; between 1995 and 2010 a total of 16 Worms games were released, with each introducing new additions in a bid to keep the franchise fresh. The series changed tack several times during this period, such as a transition into 3D for the PlayStation 2 era, and a range of spinoffs, such as the mobile exclusive Worms Golf that saw the worms swapping out their killing equipment for nine-irons. The latest title, Worms: WMD, was released earlier in 2016, and added vehicles to the game, together with their own extra layer of strategy.

And yet, despite all its iteration, the series never strayed too far from its original worm-em-up formula. Davidson left the franchise after the release of Worms: Armageddon, citing creative differences, before returning triumphantly to help develop Worms: Revolution (2012), which was praised for blending a new game engine with gameplay that Davidson called ‘true to its roots’.

factor-archive-30With so many games released in such a short time, its unsurprising that Team 17 has made steps to diversify into new franchises, such as its recent hit prison simulation The Escapists (2015). However, the Worms franchise is still managing to go strong, with portable platforms such as the iPad only bolstering the series’ already immense following. As Davidson comments in his interview: “One of the good things now is that Worms suits the digital delivery of games. We haven’t got to worry about boxing things up, so we can pass those savings onto the customer, so it’s nice and affordable. It would be great to have new people discovering it.”

7 Game Awards Announcements Getting Us Excited for the Future of Gaming

The Game Awards were yesterday and, as ever, had a whole lot of fluff to them (the Schick bot was a particular moment of sponsored oddness).  However, amongst all the weird choices were not only some great speeches (shout out to Nolan North) but some pretty darn good trailers.

Below are the seven announcements, reveals and general cinematics that stood out to us.

New Death Stranding trailer

Aside from receiving the well-deserved Industry Icon award, Hideo Kojima was present at the game Awards to continue the teasing of a game that still makes no sense whatsoever. The new trailer for Death Stranding  continues to build the mystery of a project that looks very pretty, chock full of stars (Mads Mikkelsen and Guillermo del Toro having apparently now joined the cast) and utterly mad. I have no idea what is going on but Guillermo del Toro had a baby in a jar and Mads Mikkelsen had some weird tentacles attached to his squad of soldiers. Make of it what you will.

Telltale Guardians of the Galaxy announced

Perhaps the most simultaneously unfulfilling and exciting trailer possible, Telltale announced their latest project to be a 5-part Guardians of the Galaxy game. The trailer reveals approximately nothing, though it’s interesting the cassette is labelled “Rad Mix” as opposed to the film’s “Awesome Mix”, but given Telltale’s past efforts it’s almost undoubtedly set for critical lauding.  Also, it’s definitely possibly the best way to put people in the shoes of the ragtag band of spacefarers without suffering from player-character disconnection.

Breath of the Wild trailers

Nintendo came out strong with two presentations for Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, showing off a brand new cinematic trailer as well as gameplay footage that gave us a look at a whole new area.

Breath of the Wild continues to look astonishing and the addition of a lot of more modern RPG elements is nothing if not exciting. Combat looks great, the world is continually fascinating and beautiful and the new approach looks set to, pardon the pun, breathe new life into the franchise. They might also have gone ahead and teased playable Zelda. You know, no biggie.

Mass Effect trailer

Andromeda continues to hold course for a spring 2017 release date that we can only hope is true as they premiered new gameplay footage. Despite some slightly off facial animations, the game looks exactly like what we want: more Mass Effect. Enticing new alien worlds, that actually look pretty wonderfully open for exploration, revamped combat and a story that doesn’t lean on the previous canon is sure to add to the series in a really promising way. We can only hope the game doesn’t only hit its release date but lives up to the potential it’s currently showing.

Shovel Knight: Spectre of Torment revealed

Shovel Knight is one of the indie darlings of the last few years and, much as it made me want to cry with frustration at times, I have to admit it has well earned its reputation. So the continuing support that the developers are showing the game is much appreciated, particularly when it comes in the form of prequel content that allows you to step into the villainous shoes of members of The Order of No Quarter. The new expansion allows players to take on the role of Spectre Knight, opening up a whole new range of abilities. Plus, in the original he flies but in the expansion you walk so there might be a thrilling tale of fairy dust waiting.

Walking Dead Season 3 trailer

Telltale managed to make another big impact at the show with new footage from the upcoming third season of The Walking Dead. A hit in previous years, the game continues into its third season with a new playable character, Javier. But don’t worry, things aren’t too new. Previous star Clementine will also appear in the game and New Frontiers will continue the grand tradition of The Walking Dead of being exceedingly grim and forcing you into uncomfortable decisions that are sure to haunt you. A jolly one for the holidays.

 New Prey trailer

Not content with winning Best Action/Adventure game with Dishonored 2, Arkane Studios also revealed a new gameplay trailer for Prey. Focusing on combat and abilities, the new trailer certainly has the hallmarks of what you’d expect from Arkane and looks both smooth and intensely weird. Set in an alternate timeline, where JFK was not assassinated and focused more time and money into America’s space program, Prey is slated for a Spring release. Though not a huge amount has been revealed so far, the gameplay in this new trailer certainly looks satisfying in a way that is truly insane.