Irish Developer Week
Interviewee Ben Clavin
Studio Pewter Games
Seeing as you’re new to the Bone-Idle Community, can you tell us more about the studio and how it started out?
Pewter Games Studios was formed my myself Ben Clavin and Christopher Conlan. We met during the MSc in Digital Games in DIT and teamed up to make our final project together. Since then we went on to officially form the company and have grown to a team of five. Kate and Lucy head up the animation and Edward works on all the backgrounds. We got ourselves onto the inaugural GamePad program down in the NDRC, which gave us access to funding, business expertise and office space. We recently also received the competitive start fund from Enterprise Ireland. All this hard work on the business side of things means we’re now in full on production mode for our next game “The Little Acre”.
“Galactic Tactics” won both “Best New Game” and “Ready to Ship” awards in the Windows Game Jam in 2013. Had the team participated in a game jam before, or have you attended different ones individually?
We absolutely love entering game jams and we managed to win three last year. It’s just a beautifully condensed snapshot of what a full game production feels like. From highs to lows, game jams are almost imperative in becoming a better game designer and project manager.
The studio’s most recent game, “The Little Acre”, has been Greenlit on Steam – Congratulations! How did it feel to open that email from Valve?
Getting greenlit on Steam was obviously huge for us. Over 10,000 people voted us through in 30 days and the feedback and inspiration you get from that sort of exposure is really encouraging. We actually found out well before Valve actually got in touch, probably because we all got addicted to hitting “refresh” on the stats page. It’s a wonderful thing to know that once the game is ready, it’ll be available to such a huge audience.
“The Little Acre” follows the story of Lily and her father Aidan, who find themselves transported to a mysterious world. Where did the idea for the game stem from?
It’s hard to pin point the source of the inspiration for The Little Acre. I’ve always loved the fantasy films of the 80’s like Neverending Story, Labyrinth, Return to Oz. I always liked how the discovery of the other dimension always seemed to come at a time where the characters needed a reason to escape their current situation. I guess video games in general have often provided escapism so why not make a game that captures that very idea. That’s definitely something we’re hoping to create with this story but to point to one specific inspiration would be pretty hard at this stage.
Lush art and charming animations are but a few of the features of this game, along with voice acting and a very atmospheric soundtrack. How has the design process of the game changed the original idea to what it is currently?
There has been so many changes since it began as a humble college project (without an artist I might add). We knew the tone and gameplay style we always wanted to achieve but until this year we just did not have the team to pull it off. This meant the game was feeling hollow at points and never hitting the crucial emotional beats we were hoping to achieve. Luckily since we’ve gotten this team together, production has been flying along and we’re finally able to create in-game what we had always pictured in our heads. I think the trailer is a good example of that and it seemed to resonate with certain groups of people if the success of our Steam campaign is anything to judge by.
A multitude of praise has been hailed for “The Little Acre”, especially the likes of Greg Rice and Lee Petty from Double Fine Games, along with Indie Retro News and Indie Gaming Mag. With all this good encouragement behind it, when can we expect to see “The Little Acre” closer to completion, or have a demo?
That praise is just terrifying. Especially from the people at Double Fine who we would look up to so much in this industry. It’s so exciting and rewarding (and scary) when people seem to just “get it”. I’d say we’re about 40% of the way through production at the moment, but I do believe that first chunk is often the hardest to get through. We’re entering the stage where there is far less mystery involved, and far more straight production ahead of us. There will definitely be a playable chunk of the game out over the next few months.
You all have your specific job titles for a game, like programming, art, music, character design, etc., but do other skill sets you’ve acquired give you any advantages in your current roles?
This is a hard one to answer for the team but I can at least answer for myself. My undergraduate was in Philosophy, which is kind of a crazy thing to study for four years. I think the lack of strongly defined answers and uncontested truths in Philosophy actually drove me towards programming as a sort of respite from thinking that hard. If this, do this, if not, don’t. Beautiful. Doing a thesis on logical relativism was probably not a great idea for someone like me but I like to think I did pick up some skills during that course that help with running a project and keeping the big picture in mind.
In the past, you’ve made for Windows Phone and now are breaking into the PC, Mac and Linux stomping grounds. Are there any plans for crossing the divide to consoles like Nintendo, Sony, Xbox, etc. with any future projects?
We are 100% coming to console. We were the first Irish games company to be on the ID@Xbox program. This means we’re free to publish our games to the Xbox One as soon as we’re finished with them. We have a similar deal with Nintendo and are currently working towards something with Sony. As much as we all play and love PC, you can’t ignore the dedicated console players, especially if sales of this latest generation are anything to go by. Hopefully you’ll see something of ours in the next ID@Xbox show reel.
So a recent bug in the game that was posted on your Facebook page was amusing! However, hilarious as some may be, bugs can be quite time consuming to find and fix – what was one of the most frustrating moments in the development of “The Little Acre”?
Oh god where to start. I guess for me, it was getting in a system of intelligent pathfinding for the characters that felt natural. It still needs a little bit of work but it’s finally getting there. Point and Click games are quite passive interactive experiences so the getting those key moments of interaction right is obviously pretty important. Naturally, when these interactions go wrong, it tends to create that strange combination of hilarity and a mild sadness that your system isn’t working.
It’s fantastic to be able to play and support home grown games like “Galactic Tactics” and “The Little Acre” in future. Where can we find you hanging out on the interwebs most often?
We’ve been a little radio silent this last while since our big Steam push. This is mainly because we’re so busy actually finishing the game. But if we are talking, then our facebook and twitter is where it’s at!
Bonus Question for each member – all-time favourite game?
We all play far too many games to pick a favourite I’m afraid!