Clover is the name of Binary Tweed’s first game, which mixes a unique visual style, a distinctly retro flavour, and a political undercurrent. Curious to know more, we spoke to Daniel ‘Deejay’ Jones about his new project, and the London studio’s plans for the future.
Develop: With Clover, why did you decide to combine political undertones with a game that, visually at least, appears to lean towards the charming and carefree?
Daniel Jones: The truth of the matter is more the other way around; it was a choice to implement cutesy 'blue sky' graphics in a political game. Clover needs to appeal to the older gamer who remembers when games were joyful affairs with blue skies, wizards and the like. The art style supports the ambience required to carry facets of the plot, which is something I might delve into more post-release.
There's something quite powerful about the ambivalence that can be created by taking two seemingly contradictory approaches in the same piece.
Develop: Staying with the game, why have you decided to remove proven mechanics like lives and energy?
Jones: Gaming as a business started by trying to elicit the macho competitive nature of men in bars, all vying for the highest score and best performance. I believe there's always going to be a place for that kind of gameplay, but not everyone wants to challenge their own abilities and limits.
Clover is a game about a story and an experience; we want people to see the whole story, and enjoy the experience of exploring the game world. Allowing players to die and forcing them to start over doesn't help achieve either of those aims. Every player of Clover that doesn't ever get to the end is a failure of our design.
As a tenuously related aside, I remember when I was still working in IT and finance, and came home in the evenings to play Resident Evil 4. Fantastic a game as it was, I distinctly remember thinking to myself “I've spent all day stressing out over team resources and deadlines – why the hell am I subjecting myself to worrying over ammo and health management?” The target market of Clover most likely has enough to worry about already.
Develop: Can you tell me a little about the technology behind Clover’s visual style? Is there a true hand-painted element beyond concept art?
Jones: There is indeed! Our artwork process starts with pencil sketch concept artwork, from which we pick candidates for in-game elements. The piece is then redrawn onto heavy paper in pencil, painted in watercolours, and scanned into the digital realm. From there we do some minor colour correction and outlining, but that's about it.
We tried a variety of approaches in the early stages of the project, including digital colouring. In the end we chose to embrace our limitations and turn them into a feature.
Develop: And you’ve said that the game is about both artwork and plot – can you elaborate on that?
Jones: We chose to compete using our strengths to create something that didn't appear to be prevalent in the Community Game initiative. I do the development at present and come from a background of writing frameworks for distributed financial web systems, so fancy shaders and stunning effects were never going to be something we could achieve from day one.
Other Community Games have tended to be simpler arcade-style games, for instant action with some snazzy effects thrown in for good measure. Until recently, there were no story-driven games at all.
Over the years I've found myself drawn more towards music, film and art that has something meaningful to say. I'm not a great consumer of fiction (Halo universe excepted!) and would rather listen to music discussing real issues than to party tunes. I think the majority of gamers who grew up playing titles like Dizzy are probably in the same boat.
Develop: Why have you chosen to stick to making Xbox Live Community Games? Is that an indefinite aim for now?
Jones: Community Games is a great initiative that greatly reduces the barriers of entry to games development. We didn't start with a massive bundle of cash, and it would take months to develop a demo good enough to get even the slightest attention from publishers or investors. It appeared that our time was better spent getting something to market that could have a quicker return on investment.
Assuming Clover sells well enough for us to continue business, there are several options to pursue. Conversions of Clover would make a great deal of financial sense, and there are limitations on Community Games that would preclude some of the other great ideas I want to get to market: looking at other platforms and distribution systems would seem sensible.
Develop: Why choose London as the home for Binary Tweed?
Jones: Whilst I'd love to provide an answer featuring stunning economic calculations and industry observations, the truth is a little simpler. Firstly I was already working in London previous to founding Binary Tweed, and I have ongoing commitments in central London as a martial arts instructor.
London is arguably the centre of all business in England, and the second stronghold of the games industry in the United Kingdom is Brighton, a place I try to avoid. Far too many people living the metro lifestyle... At least in London you can avoid Shoreditch and Camden!
Develop: Can you elaborate on the mantra of making ‘new games a bit like old games but better’, and your decision to stick to traditional gaming forms?
Jones: Creating something genuinely groundbreaking and novel is a very romantic idea for a designer, but an utterly terrifying one for anyone with an eye on the figures.
There are two kinds of creative breakthrough in my eyes, revolutionary and incremental. The former we've discounted for now because of financial reasons, but the latter is much more easily achievable. Many a great movement in art (be it music, film or static visual) has been borne from taking two unlikely bedfellows and pursuing them together with enough conviction.
For more information, visit Binary Tweed's website.