Behind the scenes with Rob Wass, the developer creating the retro-inspired 3D platformer Clive 'N' Wrench
Hey there, my name is Rob Wass. I'm an indie developer and graphic artist based in Cambridgeshire England. I currently have full time employment in graphics to make ends meet, but every spare waking moment is reserved for game development! For me game development has gone from an interest, to a passion and now an obsession!
MWU: Can you tell us about yourself and how you started working on Clive ‘N’ Wrench?
The origin of Clive ‘N’ Wrench is a little odd! I started my foray into game development in the modding scene. Back in the day I released several maps for Unreal Tournament ‘99, eventually ending up leading a small team for a “total conversion” mod for GTA San Andreas. Still, after all that I still wasn’t creatively satisfied; so I moved into experimenting with several game engines, eventually settling on Unity.
A few years later I’d been toying with the idea of a platformer; at the time you had what I now deem “proto-Clive” running around an admittedly poorly constructed world with a jetpack! Moving onwards about 4 years and I came across the “Physics Platformer Kit” in the Unity Asset Store. Upon seeing that, playing with it and realising it’s potential as a base for a full game, something clicked.
A year later, Clive is now far more professional looking than I’d ever imagined, and even after several pretty heavy knocks on the way things are starting to turn around! The team remains fairly small, but I do have the help of a few talented people. Namely Brandon Mitchell (besus) a gameplay programmer whom I met through the Unity forum, Luigi Lucarelli the character artist behind our main cast, Wyshwood Studio providing our dynamically changing soundtrack and lastly but not least...ly Blake Swift (ShadyVox) proving many of the voices for numerous characters including both Clive and Wrench! The rest however is still solely in my hands!
Trying to create a game with ten different worlds that also spans several eras must be pretty challenging. What frames of reference did you have for the current levels you’ve been creating and which is your favorite so far?
It is indeed challenging, but it also allows for a very wide creative net to be cast! I draw inspiration from a variety of different sources; creatively I’m like a sponge. I tend to absorb whatever I’m watching, reading etc. For example in the latest level set in Ancient Egypt, I started by watching films like The Mummy, The Prince of Egypt and a whole host of documentaries. I have also been playing games like Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy and Tomb Raider’s Temple of Osiris. Throughout this process, I’m constantly taking notes of thematic and gameplay elements that could be adapted or built upon for Clive.
Typically my favourite level is the one I’m working on. I think this is mostly because I’m always so deeply absorbed into it! So at the moment it’s Tempus Tombs. The scope of characters and architecture that Ancient Egyptian culture allows for is simply awesome, and so very fun to draw from.
How has your character and environment design changed over your last year of development? What have been the biggest improvements you’ve made?
I think the biggest leap over the last year has been character design, I had struggled alone with Clive and Wrench’s looks for a long time. They always ended up looking more like Five Nights at Freddy’s characters than that of a colourful action game. So around June last year I approached a character artist that I had followed and admired for a long time; Luigi Lucarelli.
We discussed how best to approach our starring duo for a while, eventually settling on direction. The first sketch he sent of the two blew me away, he had managed to take the very rough facsimiles I had been chipping at for years and make them look like something from a Disney film!
Since then he has worked on several other key characters, helping to shape the new art direction of the game.
After interpreting their new 2D designs to 3D and getting them working in the game, it was quickly quite obvious I needed to also step up my game in terms of environment art. So I hit the drawing board once again, and started figuring out how to make the levels fit the characters new much clearer style. I think we’re finally getting to the stage now, where Clive ‘n’ Wrench look like they belong in the environment they’ve travelled too!
We’ve seen quite a resurgence in the development of N64 and PS1 styled indie games over the last year. What kind of classic games inspired Clive ‘N’ Wrench?
That is true, It’s great to see so many new games in my favourite genre! It’s funny that Clive started to be conceptualised around 5 years ago and since then so many great characters have also started popping up!
You can pretty much pick up any 3D platformer from Banjo-Kazooie to Jak and Daxter all the way up to games like Mario Galaxy and see their influence. In particular I love the humor in Banjo, the level design in Mario Sunshine and the animation in Jak and Daxter.
I’m sure it’s pretty clear that Clive ‘n’ Wrench wears it’s influences on it’s sleeve, but I like to think that more and more we’re starting to carve out our own little niche. Most 3D platformers take place in a single time period, with varying environments within that. When I first started taking Clive seriously, time travel made perfect sense as a way to have incredibly varied environments and plenty of referential humor.
One of the first things we noticed watching your video update for Clive ‘N’ Wrench were your animations which looked pretty fluid. What’s the process been like developing and refining your animations up to this point?
It’s really nice to hear you ask that! Animation is definitely one of my favourite aspects of game development. My animation experience started way back when, as a kid I would spend hours animating clay figures and Lego using stop motion. Once I acquired a PC I started to experiment with 2D animation, and eventually 3D.
During what I will henceforth refer to as the “Wrenchaissance” I realised how important animation was to making a character feel fluid and weighty. Since then I’ve been on several animation courses and spent hours reading up on all facets of animation from 2D and 3D. In particular for Clive and Wrench’s characters it’s all about trying to achieve the cartoony stretch and squash that are prominent in Tex Avery or Chuck Jones cartoons.
Their animations rely heavily on secondary and in some cases tertiary animation. By which I mean that when something moves whatever is attached to it will move a frame or two after. As a general rule Clive has floppy toes, so whenever he moves his foot his toe will be bent in the opposite direction as he makes the movement and then flop back into position as he stops.
Most of these start life as a video clip of myself performing each move, as animating without a reference is like driving without an engine! These however will never go public!
You cannot underestimate how important your character animations are. In a film you generally only see an animation once and from a single angle, so any minor discrepancies are not a major deal; however in games your main characters animation will play thousands of time per play session, and can in most cases be seen from any angle. It is therefore super important that everything works as it should. This is especially true in a character action game, the focus on platforming means communicating exactly what the character is doing, can make or break you. For example if you aren’t sure whether your player is starting his jump or tweening into a fall, you may miss a ledge. So in many respects the animation is equally as important as the actual programming behind the movement!
What are you working on now and what are your next few milestones for Clive ‘N’ Wrench?
Currently I’m concepting ideas for the next level. This process usually takes a while as I will gather many inspiring pieces of media and start crudely sketching level layouts and landmarks. I tend to hop around from one level to the next as inspiration strikes; this allows me to keep ideas flowing and stops the dreaded “dev block”! As the sole environment artist staring at the same level for months on end can tend to numb you after a while!
As for milestones, I would love to nail down our first boss battle. I have so many of the things scripted out, but not a huge amount working correctly yet! I have also started storyboarding our intro and outro cutscenes too, so animating those will be quite the feat as well!
Make sure to check out Clive 'N' Wrench's Made with Unity Profile, and Facebook Page to stay up to date on the game's progress.