In recent years, it seems the 3D platformer genre has seen a major revival. Thanks to Kickstarter projects like Yooka-Laylee and A Hat in Time and major console titles like Super Mario Odyssey and the Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy, the genre has gone from being completely forgotten about to a major force in the gaming landscape, selling millions of copies to fans old and new alike.
However, it’s not just the big names or million dollar Kickstarter projects pushing the genre forward. No, it’s also seen a huge revival in the indie world too, with projects like FreezeMe, Lobodestroyo and Regina and Mac all hoping to put their own spin on this familiar genre.
So today, we’re gonna talk to the developers of one of these projects. Namely, Dinosaur Bytes, the creators of Banjo-Kazooie esque platformer Clive ’N’ Wrench.
It’s a 3D platformer about time travel starring Clive (a rabbit) and Wrench ( a monkey) as they travel between various worlds in a 50s style refrigerator in hopes of fixing their cousin’s mistakes and stopping the evil Dr Daucus and his nefarious plans.
And it’s quite the ambitious game too. With a development history dating back to 2011, a Kickstarter campaign that didn’t quite hit its target and multiple redesigns along the way, it’s a clear labour of love from its development team, and a learning experience that’s likely taught them tons about the genre as a whole too.
Let’s see what they have to say about it all!
Starting with a bit of personal background on the devs themselves. So, who are you? Who are the team behind Dinosaur Bytes?
Hello, I am Rob Wass, lead developer of Clive ‘N’ Wrench! The team on a day-to-day basis is just myself, but with somewhat frequent collaboration from Wyshwood Studio composing music and Luigi Lucarelli on our key character art/design. Aside from that I enlist the help of a couple of select programmers and talented voice actors from time to time too (notably Blake ‘ShadyVox’ Swift who lends his vocals to most of Clive’s key characters)!.
Where did that name come from?
It’s a bit of a play on words really, the “Dinosaur” part pertaining to the old school game design that I aim to ape, and the “Bytes” part being both related to Dinosaur’s biting and the computer term. I like to think I’m more clever than I really am…
How did you get into game development in the first place? What inspired you to make your own games?
Mainly through modding as a teenager. I used to make maps for Unreal Tournament and Grand Theft Auto, but after a few years felt like I’d hit the ceiling on what was possible. The final push was the dawning realisation that nobody had made 3D platformers for a long time, and likely weren’t going to for a while yet (at least at the time this was true)! Rather than let my favourite genre die, I opted instead to give it a go myself, after all how hard could it be? (Spoiler alert, very!)
What about a 3D platformer specifically? Were you a massive fan of Rare’s games in the N64 days?
It was the genre I played most as a kid, unlike many in this space however, I was more of a PlayStation kid. My inspiration comes more from games like ‘Spyro’, ‘Jak & Daxter’ or the little known ‘Muppet Monster Adventure’!
And how did you come up with Clive ’N’ Wrench as characters? Why a monkey and a rabbit specifically?
Clive came first, and for the first few years was a solo adventurer. To be honest, I can’t quite remember why I chose a rabbit, perhaps for their natural ability to jump? Wrench however came later, as a fun way to introduce additional moves to Clive without having to resort to random pieces of technology. His inclusion also later evolved into even more ways to explore.
Where did their names come from? The main characters in both Banjo-Kazooie and Yooka-Laylee are named after musical instruments and Hat Kid in A Hat in Time is pretty obvious, but why Clive and Wrench?
Clive unfortunately, I also cannot remember, it was nearly a decade ago so that piece of history is lost to time! Wrench however was introduced as a solve-all tool, so fairly naturally the ‘Monkey Wrench’ moniker sprang to mind quite quickly!
Onto the game’s concept now. Where did the idea to use time travel as a theme come from?
Time travel felt like a good fit very early as it meant that my options for locations that make sense in context were fairly limitless. Want a level set in a hot desert? No worries, Ancient Egypt it is. Want to explore a snowy alp? Cool, to the prehistoric ice age we go! I’m also a massive fan of Back to the Future and Doctor Who, the idea of time travel itself has always been fascinating to me.
How about the 1950s style fridge they use as their main vehicle?
As I mentioned before, I’m a big BTTF fan. One of the many pieces of useless knowledge I’ve picked up about it through the years was that before they settled on a DeLorean for a time machine, they were going to use a fridge instead! That, mixed with the amusing idea of the two protagonists trying to squeeze into the small spaces sealed the deal for me.
What about the ‘world of funny animals’ aspect? What made you decide to use different species for different historical civilisations?
Once I’d settled on Clive and Wrench as animal protagonists, and started to draw inspiration from Looney Tunes for the exaggerated humour and animation style, it only made sense to populate the world with similarly outlandish animals. The specific animals tend to be chosen because they come from, or are famous in the area the world takes place in. For example, Tempus Tombs’ warrior cats or Cajun Mob Bog’s alligator gangsters.
Either way, it seems your levels are a bit more interesting than the themes might make them out to be. So how did you design them, or come up with ideas for areas to include in the game overall?
Most of the levels are a mashup of ideas, and usually divided into specific sections with their own distinct feel. I wanted to make sure that even the slightly more genre cliche locales had something unique about them. For example, in ‘The Great Wen’ there’s a sewer section, but it’s also an underground Victorian factory, and ‘Cajun Mob Bog’ starts out as a swamp level, but evolves into a small Italian/Cajun fusion town complete with some rather dodgy inhabitants!
Music’s another really important part of any 3D collectathon game, and it’s one area where Rare’s games really shined back in the day. Who’s composing the soundtrack for Clive ’n’ Wrench? Asked anyone like Grant Kirkhope or David Wise?
Wyshwood Studio is composing all the music, he’s also coincidentally my Dad! From the start I wanted to stick with him entirely if possible, so that the game kept a unique and cohesive feeling. There are also an awful lot of areas that feature dynamic music, that can sometimes blend up to 11 different versions of the same tune; so having access to someone I could collaborate with on a frequent basis was a must. I love the work of both Kirkhope and Wise, and although I would love the opportunity to work with them one day, I’d fear the needs CnW has would be a little too close to those of, say, Banjo. Although I want to pay homage to those wonderful titles, I also want Clive ‘N’ Wrench to be able to carve its own niche too.
Still, the 3D platformer market is a crowded one, especially now stuff like A Hat in Time and Yooka-Laylee have been released and series like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon have made comebacks. What makes Clive ’N’ Wrench stand out here?
I don’t know if I’d call it crowded personally, at least it’s still far too sparse for my tastes! I do however think CnW stands out. It’s focus on over the top cartoony animation and humour, mix of small sandbox locations with more linear sections and wide cast of villains help establish a world that I hope people will be interested to explore. A world that I should also add is choc full of environmental storytelling for those with a keen eye!
Interestingly, the game has been in development a while now, and even got a Kickstarter back in 2015. Have you learnt a lot more about game design and development since then? The game certainly looks and feels a lot better now than it did in its original campaign…
Indeed it has! Today’s Clive ‘N’ Wrench is effectively the 3rd iteration, largely because of that Kickstarter’s less than successful conclusion! I have learnt an awful lot since then.
Upon that campaign ending, I realised that the biggest (of many) flaws the game had was it’s art direction. It was at that point I made the decision I wanted to start fresh, and the most important part of that was finding a character designer/artist that could reimagine my characters. I had been following the work of Luigi Lucarelli for a while, and approached him with my proposed collaboration, not expecting it to go anywhere. As it turns out, not only was he up for it, but his new interpretations and design work would go on to shape how the art style evolved into where the game is today!
And what are the chances you’ll create a new Kickstarter campaign for the game?
Very low, the game is nearing completion now, and with the help of a modestly successful Patreon campaign I am fortunate enough to be able to self fund it!
Do you think Clive ’N’ Wrench would do better on the platform now?
Perhaps, yes, but then again I am an unproven developer and people are far less trusting of crowdfunding in general these days; once bitten, twice shy!
Why do you think it failed to reach its funding goal back then?
Frankly, it was very rough around the edges, and I was an unproven entity with little proof I could actually deliver on my promises!
Still, enough about the past, let’s get back to what matters now. What platforms is Clive ’N’ Wrench going to be released on?
CnW is planned to release on both PC and Switch!
How about a release date? Do you have any idea when the game will actually be released?
It’s scheduled for a Winter 2020 release.
Regardless, you’re gonna need quite a bit of marketing for this game. What are you planning to do on that front? Looked into working with influencers, fan sites, etc that covered Rare’s games and 3D platformers?
I have recently signed a publishing deal with Numskull Games, so thankfully I don’t have to focus too much on that side of things right now. Of course though, I am also very eager to explore whatever avenues I can to get the word out about the game, including all of the above!
And what’s the situation been press wise? Have you seen many video game news sites covering the project?
It’s been fairly quiet thus far, at least until the recent Numskull/Switch announcement; since then it’s been encouragingly busy! I’m hoping that’s a trend that continues the closer we get to release.
If the game does well, do you think it’ll likely get sequels? Or perhaps even a whole franchise?
I’m definitely open to the idea, I have a lot of ideas for the worlds and characters of CnW… But I’m also not the kind of guy to count my chickens before they hatch!
What other games are you planning to work on at Dinosaur Bytes? Do you have any other interesting game ideas in the pipeline?
Too many ideas to count! It’s very hard to think that far into the future right now though, working solo most days means that I have to give the present my full attention!
How about ideas for games in existing franchises? Given you seem to really like Conker’s Twelve Tales, would you ever consider asking Rare to work on a new Conker game? Or a Banjo-Kazooie one?
It’d have to be the right project, though I do indeed love the original Twelve Tales and BK games, I’d be concerned that my vision and what the fans want wouldn’t align. However, if Disney offered me the chance to work on Muppet Monster Adventure Remastered, it’d be a no-brainer!
Finally, what advice would you give anyone wanting to make their own video games, or get started in the gaming industry?
Start smaller than I did! Or at least get used to the idea that your social life will have to take a back-seat for the foreseeable future. I’d also add that impostor syndrome is real, and it’s real regardless of experience. Since starting this project I’ve spoken to some very seasoned veteran devs who still feel the same way nobodies like me do!
Yeah, isn’t that the truth? Game development is a slow process, especially when your projects are overly ambitious or you don’t have much help when working on them. There’s a reason most games (whether fan made, indie or triple A) take years to develop, and why many of them never see the light of day at all.
Just look at Tobias and the Dark Sceptres, which spent 13 years in development:
Or perhaps Mushroom Kingdom Fusion, whose long and turbulent development history came about due to its overwhelmingly high level of ambition.
The larger the game and the smaller the team, the more of your free time you’re gonna have to spend working on it.
But the time spent may well be worth it. Many great games have come out of lengthy development cycles, and many amazing indie titles were created by a single person or small team over the course of years, like Cave Story or Dwarf Fortress.
So do whatever you think is right here. Just remember, whatever you choose has trade offs.
Either way, that’s it for the interview. So what did you think of it? Are you excited for Clive ‘n’ Wrench now you know who’s behind Dinosaur Bytes and what their ambitions for the game are? How do you think it’ll stack up to other 3D platformers when it releases on PC and Nintendo Switch this winter?
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