When three U.K.-based developers got together to start their indie game studio, Fat Pebble, they knew they wanted to do something different. They had more than four decades of combined experience working at studios like Lionhead, Black Rock Studios and Blitz Games where they'd worked on traditional console titles and family adventure games. Now that they were finally independent, they wanted to do something that was unexpected, something that no one had really done on mobile before.
More than 44 pounds of clay, 400 toothpicks and 2040 camera clicks later, Clay Jam was born.
"Since we decided to go out on our own, we figured we might as well go in a different direction — claymation was a different way of doing things," Fat Pebble's art director, Chris Roe told Polygon. "It was messy and it took up a lot of room and you wouldn't be in front of a computer all the time.
"But the main thing is it was really fun and we had lots of fun making it, and I hope that since we had fun making the game it will sort of show through and people will have fun playing it."
"I hope that since we had fun making the game it will sort of show through and people will have fun playing it."
Clay Jam is a full stop-motion claymation game created by Chris Roe, Iain Gilfeather and Michael Movel. The three developers made everything seen in the game from plasticine which was then photographed and brought to life on a computer. By chasing the handmade aesthetic, they also had to accept that the production process would be a bit trickier and a lot messier than traditional digital animation.
Any time the developers wanted to introduce a new character or alter the user interface, they had to model it out of plasticine and photograph it before it could go into the game. Sometimes their little creatures would get squished or go out of shape. Sometimes by the end of the day their models would look nothing like how they started out and need to be remodeled. Some of the models sitting in Fat Pebble's office have started to sweat. "The oil comes out and makes them a bit sweaty and slimy," Roe laughs.
Released earlier today for iOS and Android devices, Clay Jam is a tactile little game where players control a tiny ball of clay that rolls around an obstacle course, crushing the wobbling clay monsters in its path. The more monsters the player squishes, the bigger their ball grows. This ball is then flung at the enemy — the bigger the ball, the further the enemy is knocked away.
"The oil comes out and makes them a bit sweaty and slimy."
Iain Gilfeather says that while the team was confident in their game design ability, they knew that their experience was in making games, not marketing, public relations or pitching, hence why they partnered with Zynga to release it.
"Our main concern — and this is why we took the time to make our own company — was that we wanted to make our own games. We wanted to have creative control of Clay Jam," he says. "And from the beginning Zynga was right behind us, they encouraged us to do what we wanted to do."
Gilfeather says that Zynga first approached the studio after seeing a video preview of Clay Jam (video above) almost a year ago. It then offered to publish the game as part of its Zynga Partnership program, which has published four other games by third party developers this year.
The Fat Pebble developers say that they were aware that Zynga's public image had taken a beating in the past year and it was something they thought about, but after speaking with the social games giant their concerns were alleviated.
"So maybe we were a bit surprised at how human Zynga was."
"We were maybe a little surprised by what Zynga was like," Gilfeather says. "Before you speak to the real humans of a company all you have to go on is the public image, and it wasn't glowing, especially within the games industry press and the games industry. So maybe we were a bit surprised at how human Zynga was and how much they understood good game design and how much we had in common."
The team says that Zynga was very surpportive of them, advising them on their freemium model and helping them market their game. Aside from that, they were mostly hands-off and allowed the developers to have creative control over their game.
With Clay Jam out today, the developers aren't sure what they'll do next. They say they have no shortage of ideas — the problem is deciding which one to start working on, with or without clay. As far as problems go, it's not a bad one to have.