We recently had the chance to talk with Daniel Jones, Managing Director of Binary Tweed about their upcoming title Clover.
TheGameReviews: Tell us a little about Binary Tweed. How’d you get started and what did you do before Clover?
Daniel Jones: I was manager of a multi-discipline, trans-continental team of around 16 people working on web solutions for an IT/Finance company. Before moving into management, I was a J2EE developer and worked on frameworks for use by my team and our Australian counter-parts.
TGR: Are you doing this for a living? How are you funding yourself through the game’s production?
DJ: That’s the plan! At the moment I’m living from savings, and spending as little as possible. For instance, during a recent cold snap in London I’ve been sat under blankets with a hot water bottle in order to save on heating bills. Don’t let anyone ever tell you games development is glamorous!
TGR: How long have you been working on Clover?
DJ: Since September, although I couldn’t devote 100% of my time to it initially. Jeanette Abrahamsen only came on board to create artwork in November, and this has been by far the most resource-hungry aspect of the project.
TGR: Why did Binary Tweed decide to bypass the official XBLA channels and release Clover this way? Have you had any experience with the Xbox Live Arcade submission process?
DJ: Making titles available on XBLA is a much more complicated and expensive process than releasing something through Community Games. To go down the XBLA route would have required us to develop a nearly-complete demo to attract publisher interest, and by the time we’d done that we might as well have developed something that could make an immediate return on investment. It’s also of note that XBLA certification is a very stringent process, as Jeff Minter would certainly have you know. There are some ’completed’ XNA-based titles selected for release on XBLA that are still to pass certification a year on.
TGR: Are you worried about being overlooked on the Community Games channel? There are so many different titles that come out during the week that there’s a chance Clover could be buried underneath a mound of garbage rip-off titles.
DJ: It’s certainly a concern, but I hope that Clover will stand out and demand attention. The press response we’ve had so far has been very positive, and as far as I’m aware we’ve got more coverage than any other XBLCG title.
One of the reasons for choosing Clover as our debut title was that it was something that wasn’t being done in XBLCG at that time. There are a mountain of puzzle games and twin-stick shooters, but until recently there was nothing that could describe itself has plot-based.
TGR: Clover has a very striking art style. What were your reasons/influences for going this route?
DJ: There are specific design decisions regarding the art style that reinforce things we’re trying to convey with the plot. Additionally I grew up playing games with blue skies, green fields and were pleasant to play, rather than oppressive grey cityscapes. If I want to immerse myself in gang violence and urban decay, I’ll take a trip down to Elephant & Castle shopping centre!
TGR: We’ve noticed a few in-game items in the screen shots of the game. Is finding and using various objects to make progress a large part of the gameplay? Do the puzzles become very complex? How many unique items can we expect to see?
DJ: The puzzles don’t get overly complex, but you’re correct – using items is the primary focus of the game. We used the various Dizzy adventure games as a template to get a feel for how big the game should be and how many puzzles it should contain, so expect something the size and length of say Magicland Dizzy.
TGR: Is NPC interaction very important if players hope to be successful in Clover?
DJ: Very much so. In fact, you won’t be able to complete the story without talking to characters in the game. There are some NPCs who aren’t strictly vital to the plot, but they’ll give you hints and background information that will aid Sam in his quest.
Background plot is also exposed by reading newspapers littered around the game world. Whilst none of this is vital, players looking for depth will find a great many references within these texts.
TGR: The plot is quite interesting. Is there anything you aim to communicate with the game’s storyline?
DJ: Rather than communicate a specific message, I want to present a story and have people make up their own minds about what’s going on. It’s not for me to tell the world what to think, but I can hope to prompt people into questioning things.
TGR: You said you plan on including modern gameplay design "by having unique and forgiving alternatives to player ’health’ and ’death’." Why did you make that decision? What are these alternatives, and how do they improve the game?
DJ: Anyone that’s played Treasure Island Dizzy will know how frustrating games can be! Lives are a mechanism in games to falsely extend longevity and challenge, and punish people for having an inadequate level of skill. Clover aims to give an experience and present a story, and forcing people to start the game from the beginning for the 50th time because they mis-timed a jump doesn’t help to achieve either of these goals.
I’m still toying with a few ideas on how to keep tension and challenge in the game, and won’t be able to come to a conclusion until we’ve got the rest of the game complete so we can see how it affects the experience. One in particular brings out more of Sam’s character, but I’m not sure whether it will turn out to be more frustrating than starting the game over!
TGR: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
DJ: When Clover launches, I’d urge all your readers to download the trial. If you can’t stand it, fair enough – it won’t be for everyone – but how will you know if you never try it? Also, if you thought a watercolour political platform puzzler was a bit of an unusual idea, if enough people buy Clover then you will eventually get to see something at least ten times more off-the-wall!