When the thousands of video game enthusiasts spilled into this year's E3, they came in search of awe, passion, and creativity. Most honed into their favourite attractions: VR, the MOBA space, or even waiting patiently in line for a taste of unreleased games. But some ventured down a less travelled path - a path which links the present to a relic of the past. A quirky looking chameleon and purple bat duo curiously gazed up from the screen, igniting a retro-tinted flame within the hearts of whoever gazed back. Indeed, Playtonic's Yooka-Laylee seems to possess an irrepressible impetus that reminds us why the 3D platformer was once such a loved genre. And much like Yooka and Laylee, Clive 'N' Wrench is the next anthropomorphic duo seeking that special brand of 90's collectathon magic. DinosaurBytes' lead developer Rob Wass reveals how Clive 'N' Wrench began as a project to revive 3D platform adventure games and has since then evolved into an epic journey spanning across time itself.
KeenGamer: Clive N Wrench development began all the way back in 2011; could you tell us about how it began?
Rob Wass: Clive 'N' Wrench began life as the needlessly long-titled "Clive and the Stones of the Ancient Bunnies" game. I'm glad that a friend convinced me to change that one! At the time, we weren't in the middle of this 3D platforming renaissance; nobody seemed to be making them. This has always been my favourite genre, and after growing tired of constantly complaining about the lack of "jump and runs", I decided that the only way it'd happen was if I did it myself.
KeenGamer: What made you choose the 3D platformer genre?
Wass: I had spent years working on maps for Unreal Tournament, mods for games like GTA etc. Whilst these were fun, they slowly became less fulfilling as I realised the limitations. This genre was an obvious choice for me, as it's my favourite (seemingly dead at the time) genre.
KeenGamer: Clive 'N' Wrench is inspired by the likes of Banjo-Kazooie, Jak and Daxter and Spyro the Dragon. In what ways do these games influence Clive 'N' Wrench?
Wass: The games you list and many others helped shape my formative years; they are largely what got me interested in gaming initially. I am always referring to these games throughout development, be it for solving technical issues, studying level design or even animations. In my experience, the best way to learn is to pull apart that which you aspire to. Of course, Clive has become a unique beast now, but its influences I'm sure are obvious.
KeenGamer: The background story for Clive 'N' Wrench involves carrot cake and a dastardly villain. Can you shed more light on the narrative?
Wass: The plot centres around 5 main characters: Dr. Daucus - a genius inventor, but lacking humanity, with a deluded sense of importance and a plan to give control of the world to rabbits alone. Olga Chestycough - a military minded, stern-faced mountain of a woman. She is always by Daucus's side to do the heavy lifting, both physically and metaphorically. Nancy Merricarp is an engineering wizard, and very intelligent (if a little shy). She invents the time machine that both causes all of the world's problems, and hopefully solves them.
Clive is one of our two playable characters; he's a silent type with good morals but a bit of apprehension when it comes to saving the world. Wrench is a bit of a mystery; he appears around the time Nancy's time machine plans are stolen by Olga, offering help. Not much is known about him, but his heart's in the right place. The fact that he's happy to be swung around like a flail comes in handy too! In short, the story sees Daucus and Olga steal Nancy's time machine blueprints, build their own time machine and travel around time trying to retrieve the Ancient Stones. Doing so would grant immortality and therefore power. Nancy, blaming herself, enlists Clive and Wrench to help her save the world and undo her mistake.
KeenGamer: Can you describe the structure of the game in terms of level organisation, collectibles, enemies, bosses, and objectives? What is the process for how the levels are designed and named?
Wass: Each level contains many watches (required to open time doors in the hub), 10 Ancient stones (required to fight each era's boss and allow access to time doors). There's also keys to unlock Stone-containing safes. Each level is full of characters, both friend and foe, either asking for help (in return for a Stone) or trying to stop Clive 'N' Wrench. At the end of each era's level is a boss, and Daucus has entrusted each one with a relic from an era further back in time (in order to keep the time wormhole open). Clive and Wrench must defeat them to take back the relic, and thus allowing access to an older time's door. As for level names, they are usually just the best pun/metaphor I can come up with. Names like "Middle Age Crisis" don't write themselves!
KeenGamer: How did you decide upon the duo of rabbit and monkey for Clive 'N' Wrench? What was appealing about those two animals, and have you tried incorporating special in-game moves based on their natural abilities?
Wass: In the beginning, Clive was solo; a rabbit made sense due to their natural jumping abilities - not much thought then that I'm afraid! However, it eventually became apparent that he needed more moves, and things like "power gloves" felt a little forced. So, much like Kazooie and Daxter before us, Wrench was born. He's a monkey due to their acrobatic and "stretchy" qualities (not to mention the literal monkey on Clive's back).
KeenGamer: Making a good 3D platform game isn't as easy as it looks. What are your secrets to making the world feel alive and believable?
Wass: You are very right there. I still fear I haven't achieved that goal - but in many ways that helps push the improvements. A lot of the "secrets" come from studying levels from the games that influenced me. I think it's a number of things. Firstly that level design should at its core be simple, it should find a balance between guiding the player and allowing freedom.
Level design should at its core be simple
Making things believable, especially when it's largely based on history, seems to require reference; each level I work on has a library of hundreds of reference images. I also immerse myself in the era of each world when I'm working on it. For example, at the moment, I'm working on a western level. As such, I've been binging on the works of Clint Eastwood as of late!
KeenGamer: The aesthetics of the game have undergone quite a cosmetic transformation. Why the change in art style and how has it been received?
Wass: After two Kickstarters falling below the mark and hundreds of comments, it became obvious that something wasn't working. It seemed, at the start, to be just the titular characters themselves. It was then I decided to enlist the help of the very talented Luigi Lucarelli to redesign Clive and Wrench. His new direction blew me away but also made me realise that the levels would have to match this high bar. So, I then started the "reboot" phase of the game, the reaction to which has almost fully been positive. Existing fans have largely embraced this new direction, to which I am very thankful. But new fans have been made too, and most everyone seems to prefer this new look.
KeenGamer: From memory, Clive 'N' Wrench is being made through Unity. Do you think this engine accurately captures the classic 3D style? What main differences exist between the two?
Wass: That is correct, Unity is great to use and certainly serves its purpose. However, I strongly believe that the engine doesn't matter; I've seen awesome games made in Game Maker, and terrible ones made in Unreal. It's not the tool, but what you do with it.
KeenGamer: What kind of music style will be used in the final game? Are there any inspirations it draws upon?
Wass: All of our music is composed by Wyshwood Studio; it's a balance between the fun bouncy music you'd hear in a typical platformer and a more serious tone closer to that of the time period it represents. Whilst each piece of music is unique to its level, they all feel part of the same world. As for inspiration, you can pretty much take any film, TV show or game relevant to the time period that the music is written for! Although you'd probably get a far more fleshed out answer from Wyshwood.
KeenGamer: In one of your YouTube videos in the series "How Did They Do That" you talk about adaptive music in Banjo-Kazooie. Is that something you'll be considering for Clive 'N' Wrench?
Wass: Oh yes, absolutely. Each level has a land and water variant of the same tune, plus most have several pieces of music for side areas, such as interiors. Plus the hub world has one piece of music with a different era themed variant as you get close to a specific era's portal (10 layers in all).
KeenGamer: Clive and Wrench have featured before on Super Indie Karts. What was it like being involved in that project? Will Clive and Wrench feature in any other projects prior to their debut adventure?
Wass: They have indeed! It's been fantastic! I know Paul (the lead developer) personally, and he's been fantastic help bouncing ideas and discussing gaming in general. I can't wait to see Clive's updated appearance in the game too! Clive and Wrench are both also appearing in Indie Game Battle, a game somewhat like Smash Brothers; so expect to see them pop up fighting together soon.
KeenGamer: You've launched a couple of Kickstarter campaigns For Clive 'N' Wrench in the past. What have you learned from those experiences and what will you take with you going forward?
Wass: If you had asked this question immediately after each one ended, my answer would have been weighed down with disappointment and self-doubt. However, after some time I realise just how important they were. Neither of the Kickstarter's reached their goal, but now I believe I understand why. Without them ending the way they did, I don't think Clive 'N' Wrench would have been anywhere near as improved as it is today, and they have grown Clive's fan base too.
People won't take a risk on something they can't believe in
The whole experience has taught me that people won't take a risk on something they can't believe in, so I strive now more than ever to make Clive 'N' Wrench the best game I can make it.
KeenGamer: What are your thoughts on the current state of the 3D platformers? What kind of gamers will Clive 'N' Wrench appeal to today?
Wass: Back when I started the game, the genre was all but dead. My initial goal was to bring the genre back. Nowadays we appear to be on the brink of a renaissance. It's great to see so many games in my favourite genre appear. And despite that they may be "competition", I'm just happy to see the goal achieved, whether it was by my hand or not. Thankfully the appearance of these games, especially Yooka-Laylee, has forced CnW to become a far more unique entity. Initially, it relied on nostalgia for appeal, but now I like to think that a cast of unique characters, a time travelling plot and a much-improved gameplay experience will help Clive 'N' Wrench stand out. I hope the game will appeal to fans of the genre, fans of colourful, cartoony games and even newcomers alike!
KeenGamer: Is there a rough release date planned? What are the expected platforms?
Wass: I am aiming for some time at the end of this year or the beginning of next, but I can't make any promises! As for platforms, it will initially be released on PC with plans for Linux, Mac and eventually a Wii U release (if funds allow).
KeenGamer: What has been the most enjoyable thing about working on Clive 'N' Wrench? What advice would you give to anyone interested in making a 3D platformer today?
Wass: I think the most enjoyable thing is just seeing the improvement of the last 5 years, both in the quality of the game and also my own skills. As for advice, I would say be prepared to abandon social lives and free time! I won't lie, making a 3D platformer can be a pain in the rear sometimes. There are highs and lows, but if you are truly passionate, it's all worth it. I can honestly say, even if upon Clive 'N' Wrench's release it completely bombed, the journey would still have been worth it.
Keengamer thanks Rob Wass for his time and making this interview possible. For more on Clive 'N' Wrench, follow the game on Twitter and Facebook. Clive 'N' Wrench is expected for release in Q4 2016 on PC, Mac, Linux and Wii U.