Q&A with Clever Beans

by on November 22, 2012

Clever Beans is an independent development studio based in the North West of England, headed by Martin Turton and Andrew Newton. They are both experienced developers who left behind the “big studio” titles in order to focus on original titles with the emphasis firmly on the fun. The recently released 4 player action-brawler When Vikings Attack! is the first independent cross-play, cross-save title for the PlayStation 3 and Vita.

You guys have quite an extensive list of titles you’ve worked on in the past, why the decision to dive into creating smaller titles?

In the last few years we had both spent quite a bit of time working as developers for a large publisher, and we had seen project after project canned (cancelled) after putting loads of work into them. Also, working for perhaps three years on a project (which we have done in the past) can get pretty boring. We both felt that shorter projects (about a year), and having more control of the project ourselves, was what we wanted to do, so we decided to take the risk and set up on our own. As it happens, the studio where we were working has since been shut down, so that move doesn’t seem like such a risk any more, with hindsight.

What is the story behind the name “Clever Beans?”

It doesn’t really mean very much, to be honest!

When Vikings Attack! appears to be quite the accomplishment for a team that consist of two developers, how did the concept come to exist?

Actually it wasn’t just two of us. The core game was built by just us two, originally with “programmer” graphics of boxes and stick-men. We spent some time developing this prototype using a largely trial-and-error process, discarding anything that wasn’t fun and exploring any elements that (sometimes accidentally) turned out to be entertaining to play with. We have since used a team of contractors (between 5 and 9 people at various stages) to do artwork, animation, sounds and music, and additional programming, with almost all being talented people that we have worked with in the past.

How long was “When Vikings Attack” in development? Why go with the decision on using cel-shaded graphics?

It took over a year to build the first prototype and pre-production (though we were not both working full-time on the project during this phase). After that it has taken a year to build the levels and scripting, and to create all the graphics and sound. The cel-shaded graphical style was chosen partly because this cartoony, fun style suits the gameplay, but also partly because this style of artwork can be quicker to author than a more photo-realistic style (as you might have guessed)

Since this is you guys first release, having cross-play compatibility and cross save between the Vita and PS3 seems like a daunting task. Were there any bumps along the way? Was cross compatibility something you guys wanted to implement from the beginning?

We have done cross-platform development before, but this was our first Vita game. The cross-compatibility feature was something that Sony wanted from day one, but we didn’t need much persuading to do this, as it seemed such a good selling point. In the end it wasn’t that difficult – not really much more difficult than any other networked multiplayer game. The most difficult factor was the fact that we were one of the first games to do cross-play, and that meant that all of the PSN libraries to do this were still being written whilst we were developing the game.

It is starting to look as though Sony is allowing smaller developers to flourish on the PSN store with great unique title. Was this the reason why “When Vikings Attack” is an exclusive title? How did you partnership with Sony flourish?

We just got in touch with them and arrange to show our demo. We found that all publishers are much more likely to take you seriously if you show a demo – it’s very difficult for people to visualise what a game will actually be like, without playing it. And yes, there have been quite a few good games published by Sony that are from smaller, more interesting developers, recently – Sound Shapes, Unfinished Swan, Retro City Rampage, to name a few. It seems that Sony are really trying to encourage this sort of thing.

Should we expect any planned DLC?

It’s quite possible that there will be some DLC, yes.

What is next for Clever Beans? – besides a well deserved vacation.

We are currently working hard on the Japanese version of the game, as well as some research for a future project. No time to relax!

What upcoming releases are you guys looking forward to playing?

I wish we had time to play more other games… I’m afraid we’re still too busy, even now!

Click here to read our review of When Vikings Attack!

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