History Lesson: The story of Worms

In the early 1990s, certain specialist games magazines liked to encourage its readers to try their hands at making games.

Amiga Format in particular contained programming information and ran game development contests for its readers (which at it peaks totalled over 170,000 a month).

Andy Davidson, an A-level student in need of a distraction from his maths homework, spotted one of these competitions and decided to enter his game: Total Wormage.

The game was overlooked by the judges,” recalls Team17 chief Debbie Bestwick. So Andy instead started showing the game to publishers.

He took it to our stand when visiting the 1994 European Computer Trade Show in London. We signed the game on the spot.”

It’s just as well that Davidson did enter the Amiga Format competition, however, because Team17 immediately lost his contact information.

Andy handed his details over to one of the team who then lost them,” laughs Bestwick. We had to get his details from Amiga Format.”

And thus began the creation of what would become one of the most iconic, and ridiculous, British video games ever.

For the handful who have never played the game, Worms is a 2D turn-based strategy title where players control a small team of invertebrates and utilise bizarre weapons to destroy rival teams.

Andy set the tone with the first game,” says Bestwick. Weapons like Banana Bomb and Exploding Sheep gave the game its mad-cap humour, and the cute high pitched voices worked well with the deadly explosions and military hardware. More weapons have been added since. Sometimes they’ve taken the mick out of current affairs [Mad Cows]; sometimes they’ve been inspired by pop culture [Holy Hand Grenade]. It all added up to make Worms unlike anything else, and gives it a distinctly British, irreverent sense of humour.”

It wasn’t easy to make, however. Andy, who was at this point based in Team17’s Wakefield office, had built the game in Blitz Basic, which wasn’t ideal for all platforms.

The game was rewritten in C++ for PC so it could be ported, and we had just six months to re-write and port for the launch platforms – insane for a very small team,” continues Bestwick. Codewise it was just three guys, and what they did to make that happen still stands strong today.”

"Worms was written off as it launched when 3D graphics were becoming standard. It showed that amazing gameplay would always win."

Debbie Bestwick, Team17

During development, Bestwick had no idea the game would go on to become the 70m-plus selling smash hit. However, they all knew they had something special.

When you’re developing games there’s a buzz about what the team is working on,” she explains. Worms just pulled everyone in. People who were working on different projects stopped in to check on the game more and more.

You never know how successful something will be, but we were confident. Others not so much, we had to battle to get it on some formats in certain regions as they disliked the 2D approach.

PlayStation was just launching and I still have the initial forecasts for year one… it was 60,000 copies, but it went on to do many millions.”

Bestwick concludes: It’d been written off before it launched because 3D graphics were becoming standard. But it showed amazing gameplay would always win. Then we were most famous for Amiga games, now we were famous for Worms on a variety of platforms. It let us secure our future.”

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