The UK-based Dinosaur Bytes, an independent game developer of the upcoming Clive and the Stone of the Ancient Bunnies, has recently received a Steam Greenlight on December 24, 2014. The one-man project primarily made by Rob Wass–aside from the music composer (Wyshwood Studio), voice actor (Blake Swift), and some freelance programmers for coding–has been engineered within Unity to become an attractive single-player 3D platformer over time! Interested in this industrious creator and the 90’s inspired game, the Gamer Headlines used this rare chance to ask some questions to Mr. Wass, the Lead Developer, in an exclusive interview.
First, please introduce yourself (like explaining your background history with video games, naming some past-time favorites, and stating your position).
Hey, I’m Rob Wass. Lead developer on Clive! Before working on the game, I had grown up playing and modding games. The first game I can ever remember playing was Lego Racers; the game involved most of the standard karting tropes, but it allowed the player to create their own characters and cars. This seems pretty tame by today’s standards, with games like ModNation and LBP Karting. But at the time, this was a huge deal to me, and I think that’s what sparked my interest in more than just simply “playing” a game.
Around 2006-2007, my first foray into actually making changes to a game was with Unreal Tournament ’99. Even then, the game was outdated, but it came with a full set of tools for the Unreal engine and so caught my interest. Moving forward a few years and I was also modding GTA. First helping out with texture work on the GTA New New York (Futurama Mod). Then after teaching myself 3D modelling, animation and a small amount of programming, moved onto creating what is called a total conversion mod. Carcer City was an ambitious project that replaced the whole of the GTA San Andreas map. I worked with a small team and got a feel for what it was like metaphorically steering the ship!
It was at this point that I realised I needed something that allowed greater freedom. And so after a few months of tinkering with the Unity engine, I started Clive. At the time I wasn’t really serious about the project, and I never expected it to go anywhere. But after posting a few screenshots and some very rough looking gameplay, I gained a modest following. Then in early 2014, I decided it was time to take Clive seriously, so I scrapped 90% of what I’d done and started over.
Now here we are a year later, and things are looking up! I feel the game now has a very focused direction and a clear end goal. I refuse to give up until it’s done! My favorite games of all time would have to be Banjo-Kazooie, Jak & Daxter and MediEvil. All three of these are huge influences and sources of inspiration for my work on Clive.
Because new video game companies are inspired by previous titles, name at least 5 best-designed games of the last few years and justify why one choice, so that readers can identify your principles, how articulate are your design choices, and in-game experiences.
Super Mario Galaxy 2
Grand Theft Auto 5
Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time
Ratchet & Clank Into The Nexus
The last few years has been a little difficult as it’s been pretty lacking for the kind of games that I’m inspired by (Banjo-Kazooie, Spyro etc). But, I’ll talk a little about Mario Galaxy as it’s probably the best recent example.
The Mario Galaxy series has been a breath of fresh air for me. Really showing that the 3D platforming genre is still very much relevant. I think the most important aspect of this sort of game is how fun the character is to move around. And as per all of the 3D Mario games; Galaxy 2 it is spot on. It’s the kind of character control that even if you were to be dropped into an empty room would still be fun to just mess about with. The stages in the game are very well suited to the gameplay too, everything is open enough to allow exploration, and correctly rewards the player for it, but at the same time gives you just enough direction to not feel lost. These are two key aspects that I always try to keep in mind when developing Clive.
Because folks haven’t played Clive and the Stones of the Ancient Bunnies yet, describe the dynamic and heroic duo and explain why the lead characters are animals instead of humans?
Clive is a rabbit, he’s an upbeat curious kind of guy. Not the sharpest tool in the box, but fortunately his best friend Professor Nancy Merricarp makes up for that! Wrench is a chimp that Clive and Nancy stumbled upon whilst trying to fix their time machine. He has a somewhat unhealthy obsession with metal spanners, and an immediate attachment to Clive upon meeting him.
The game’s art direction is very cartoony, and so naturally the characters are too. The characters in the game are all anthropomorphic animals simply because they are much more interesting (to me) than humans! They also give greater scope for interesting mechanics. Plus as the game is very much a love letter to the 3D platforming genre; as such it only felt right that they followed that tradition.
We’re at a critical time when the gaming community wants to know more about how developers treat and handle women. What do you personally think about this particular matter, and how do you guys perceive women when creating these characters in Clive or future games?
As far as I’m concerned it’s important for both genders to be represented where it makes sense. To clarify, if the narrative calls for an only male, or only female cast then fair enough. I think it’s also important that we don’t just treat all female characters as “genderless”, by which I mean completely ignore that they are of a different sex. Having said that, I also don’t have a problem with the typical Princess Peach type character. As long as the game isn’t derogatory towards any gender, sexuality etc, without narrative justification, I have no issues.
Writers for pretty much anything will tell you to write what you know, and in a still mostly male dominated industry that translates to males writing male characters.
For Clive our main characters are mostly male with the exception of Professor M. She’s a headstrong scientist, interested in how things work but not so good with people. Clive’s narrative is quite far down the list when it comes to priority, but I do like the idea that we have a female character who doesn’t fall into the “damsel” trope.
Is there a reason or possibly motives for why it’s necessary for a Clive and Wrench participate in a world tour that involves visiting vast but distinct locations like the Corsair’s Cove?
The main antagonist for Clive is Dr Daucus. He’s an evil genius of sorts, hell bent on taking his “rightful” place as ruler of the world.
There’s an old rabbit folktale that speaks of Ancient Stones. Which when placed into a large granite wall, will grant the possessor immortality. The stones have been lost to time and only a few in the present day have known locations. However, Dr Daucus hatches a plan.
His right hand man, Boris Chestycough, steals Professor Merricarp’s time-machine blueprints before she has time to finish the device, and uses the result to travel from time period to time-period in a bid to track each one down. In order to avoid any resistance he constructs his own portable machine that will infect the atmosphere with nano-engineered spores. These spores will infect any intelligent species (besides rabbits) with a mutagen that removes free will. Effectively turning anyone who breathes them, into Dr D’s slaves!
When Professor M realises what’s going on she enlists her childhood friend, Clive, to help. She must stay in the present day to manually stabilise the wormholes her machine creates. Reluctant at first, Clive realises what’s at stake and agrees. After discovering Wrench playing with a spanner inside panel of the machine, Nancy pinpoints the location of the first set of Stones, and so the duo of Clive and Wrench are on their way!
Describe your technical process and the duration when designing the most complicated level so far?
My process for a level generally starts with a “mood board”, by which I mean I gather all manner of photo’s, video clips etc of things related to the levels theme. After I have enough to get a feel for what I’m going for I start sketching out ideas for specific “set pieces” and landmarks. Finally when that’s all done I will do an overhead concept art of the whole level, normally labeled with a bunch of arrows, and notes to aid my level design.
The next step is bringing it into 3D. I use the concept art as a basis and start blocking everything out, using very simple geometry at first. Then I pull the finished “blockout” into the game engine to make sure distances between objects are correct and get a feel for where the player can and can’t see. Once that’s figured out, and the “blockout” has been adjusted accordingly (typically through several iterations) I start adding detail.
After the level is modelled fully I will begin texturing it. Each material in the game I paint by hand. I strive for something similar to the beautiful look that games like LoZ Wind Waker and WoW have. This really helps sell the cartoon aesthetic.
Finally, after all that’s done, the whole thing gets brought into the Unity engine and I start adding things like scripted events, collectables, trigger zones and collision (making sure Clive’s footsteps sound different on specific surfaces.)
The biggest near-finished level is Iceceratops. It took roughly a month and a half to create. But the one I am currently working on is Corsair’s Cove, which has already beaten that record!
For how long has the team sacrificed and managed personal expense, time, and motivation? How did this massive project continued throughout the years?
I’m working mostly alone on the project at the moment, I like it that way because I can work at my own pace, and keep full creative control. However I do have a composer (Wyshwood Studio) who works very closely with me to make sure the music matches the levels, and that the audio all works as it should. I do also sometimes employ the help of freelance programmers (because I suck at coding!). And have recently started working with a voice actor by the name of Blake Swift (ShadyVox), who is really helping to add life to Clive and Wrench.
Personally I still hold down a day job (gotta pay the bills somehow!). But I typically work every day when I get home, well into the evening on weekdays. And pretty much all day every day on weekends and holidays. It’s quite often at the sacrifice of a social life, but I’m an introvert anyway!
We’re pretty much working on a zero budget at the moment, sometimes I will purchase the odd asset (something pre-build such as particle effects etc) to save time. But as I do 90% of the work myself, time is the only real cost so far!
As for motivation, making games has gone beyond a hobby for me now. It’s more akin to a hunger, a void I have to fill. I’m sure my family or friends would tell you that if I go more than a few hours without doing something on the game I start zone out a little!
What is the current progress for this anticipated game, and should fans expect the release to be near?
The game’s just gone into alpha, as we have all of the main mechanics down now. The levels are mostly decided upon and we have a clear end goal. Completion wise I’d say it’s about 35% of the way there.
The release date depends on a few factors really. Unfortunately due to the realities of life, I can’t work on the game nearly as often as I like. I am working towards a Kickstarter campaign soon, in the hopes of funding several aspects of development. For instance a programmer on a more permanent basis, the purchase of development kits etc, and allowing myself to work on the game full time.
Given that campaign was a success we’d probably be looking at a release in the first or second quarter of 2016. If not, it’s very difficult to know, but I’d estimate more like 2017 (blimey, that does sound like a way off!)
After coming so far, what would you have done differently? (Did you make any past mistakes, learn new techniques, etc.)
Naturally as time progresses, my skill has improved and so I look back at old assets and ask “what was I thinking?”. But I’m glad of most of my mistakes, as without them I wouldn’t be where I am today!
If I could do one thing differently, it would be to have taken more time before launching our first Kickstarter. Early last year, after only a few months of development I launched a campaign, but it become apparent very early on that the game wasn’t polished enough, and the end-goal hadn’t been made clear enough. So I made the decision to cancel it.
Finally, what should fans expect from the company or its products in the near future (like what are the next upcoming games)?
Beyond Clive is a little hard to know at the moment, given people responded well and enjoyed the game, maybe a sequel! I’ve had many ideas for other games that are all filed away, so I suppose one of those may or may not be used. But as for now my targets firmly set on our rabbit-monkey duo!
Again, thank you for spending some time with us and sharing your thoughts! As a quick reminder for readers, this indie game will be available for the PC (Windows & Linux) and Wii-U. For more information, please visit the official website or Facebook.
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