Clever Beans are the development team behind Playstation-exclusive indie, When Vikings Attack. I spoke to Martin Turton about how When Vikings Attack came about, how he entered the gaming industry and how he would advice you to get into development as well.
Q) How did you get into game development?
A) Clever Beans was set up by myself (Martin Turton) and Andrew Newton. I think for both of us the story is fairly similar, and traditional – we both got into computers and programming when we were young, then went to University to study. In my case, at that time there were no specific “game development” courses in existence, so I studied Computer Science. Following that, I worked at several large game studios. That’s where I really learned about game development.
I think what appealed to us both is probably the idea of building something interactive that provides some sort of immediate feedback, whether that’s graphics or some sort of game. That’s the sort of thing that is just fun to make.
Q) Where would you advise people who want to become game developers to start?
A) I would advise them to try to make a game, by whatever means possible. I don’t think we’re in a position to give careers advice, but I would say that having some sort of finished game project, no matter how small, under your belt, is a good starting point (and learning experience) for an aspiring indie, and also a great thing to have if you want to interview at a bigger studio.
Q) What is the most essential skill to a game developer?
A) You’re going to need a lot of patience, because you will never know everything there is to know, and you will never stop learning. And you are going to make a lot of mistakes.
Q) What engine would you recommend someone starting out to use?
A) I think you should find people who have done something similar to what you want to achieve, and find out what they have used. It also depends on your skill-set; if you are not a programmer, there are tools out there that can still help you, but the choice might be different if you are already a programming expert.
Q) How did you come up with the basic idea for When Vikings Attack?
A) We started with the idea of a “100 person beat-em-up”. We wanted to have something like a big bar brawl. It quickly became apparent that, if the player is fighting one other enemy, that leaves 98 characters standing around waiting to fight the player, looking rather bored. Many attempts at large-scale beat-em-ups simply have those enemies doing silly idle animations in the background, “looking busy”. We tried many iterations of our prototype, getting enemies to fight amongst themselves, follow (mimic) the player, and so on. After a while, we arrived at something like our game.
We also try to make our games as simple as possible to pick up and play (but hopefully with hidden depths!), so we go through a constant process of stripping out, for example, unnecessary controls. One example is that there used to be a button to collect “civilians” to add them to your team. Testing of prototypes eventually convinced us that, even though we had originally thought this would add to the game, it was actually better without it.
Q) What engine did you use for When Vikings Attack, what were the key skills need to use the engine and how did you combat any limitations you found?
A) Apart from the FMOD sound library and RakNet low-level networking library, we don’t use any engine, we make everything (rendering, physics, higher-level networking etc) from scratch. It’s just a personal preference, since we have been doing this for a long time and we understand how all of those systems work. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this approach to a beginner, though. The situation is also a bit different for us as console developers; if you are developing on PC, there are a lot more engines out there that you can use. I couldn’t recommend one, though, I’m afraid, as we’ve never used one. I don’t think we could have made this game as it is with an existing engine, because they all impose some sort of limitations (as well as having their own strengths); though I’m sure some people would argue otherwise.
Q) How long did it take you to make When Vikings Attack?
A) One year of full production, with a team size varying between about 5 and 8. Before that, a little over a year of prototyping and hawking the game around publishers, and so on. During that time there was either just me, or me and Andrew, working on the game.
Q) Where can the industry go in the future?
A) That’s a big question! I think if we knew where the industry was going, we would be there already. Probably more of everything. More mobile, more interconnected, more online. More Vikings?