Clover: A Curious Tale

Originally Published: 3 March 2010

Back in the summer of 2009, the Indie Games section of the Xbox Live Marketplace gave birth to a little title by the name of Clover. Described in the dashboard blurb as a platformer in the style of Maniac Mansion and Fantastic Dizzy, Clover is so much more than that. The story places you in the role of Sam, trying to unravel the truth behind an act of foreign aggression and sees you collecting items and solving puzzles to get the bottom of what really happened.

I first downloaded Clover a few weeks ago and set to playing it as “research”. I think I played it for about two minutes, taking a note of the beautiful watercolour graphics, the mesmerising piano score and the familiar, old-school puzzle structure, before all thoughts of research had gone out of the window. My notebook, in which I planned to jot down my observations, lay discarded at my side as I held onto the controller and continued to play.

The beauty of the game is all around – from the moment you load the game and the delicate piano notes begin to drift out of your TV you know you’re onto a good thing. When you’re playing, you’ll notice a myriad of objects scattered around – just crying out for you to collect them, although you can only carry one at a time until a series of initial puzzles lead to you getting your hands on a bigger bag. Each object has a purpose; it’s the solution (or part of the solution) to one of the myriad of puzzles presented in the game. A man with a stubborn and hungry horse, for example, asks if you can find a way to feed his horse. Give him a carrot and he’ll ask you to find a way to dangle the carrot in front of the horse and the search begins for a fishing rod. What about the door in the castle that’s been boarded up?  And why would you need a pair of thick curtains?

As an Indie Game, Clover has picked up a series of excellent reviews – scoring highly and receiving compliments aplenty on a wide-range of different gaming websites. Now, with the help of the Blitz 1Up arm of Blitz Games Studios, Daniel “Deejay” Jones of Binary Tweed has been able to bring a new, revamped and improved gaming experience to PC users. Clover has regenerated, and in its place sits Clover: A Curious Tale. Everything from the original version has been tweaked and improved – you now have more puzzles, more endings and a much larger script complete with voice acting.

With the game available now, and me being stuck trying to get  the cat off the church organ – Clover’s “rubber chicken with a pulley in,” according to Deejay,I took some time to talk about the game with the man himself.

How long did the original Clover take to produce? How long from drawing board to publishing on the Indie Games Marketplace?

Longer than I thought it would! Originally my involvement in games development was a bit of a flight of fancy, and I wasn’t sure how far down the rabbit hole I’d go. As such, the start of the project wasn’t exactly full-on. I think it was about 8 months from start to finish, but the first couple of months were very slow as I was learning the tech and trying to decompress after just leaving a very stressful job!

Were you pleased with the feedback Clover received when it was first published?

We had some really good reviews (EuroGamer’s 8/10 springs to mind) which were quite gratifying. By the end of a project I start to get a bit sick of working on it, and that’s also the time you get all that lovely criticism. The XBLIG original had some flaws that I was well aware of, but it was nice that quite a few reviewers saw beyond those to what the experience offered. If the game had got panned as well as not selling very many, I would’ve been doubly disappointed!

How long did the re-vamped version take?

Strangely enough, almost the exact amount of time as the original. We started work on Clover: A Curious Tale in July, but we couldn’t do the Blitz 1UP announcement for months, as we couldn’t think of a subtitle! Trying to think of something that was “Ronseal” enough to give people an idea of what the game was about, not clichéd, and Google-able was quite a challenge.

What inspired the story of Clover? (I know from your website this is potentially quite a long answer…)

You’re right, this is quite a long answer! I’d direct your readers to the long post about it for the full story, but suffice to say it’s a more personal game than a lot of people realise. It’s also a game about itself; one of the themes is really about the process of creating the game

Clover seems to get compared to the Dizzy games an awful lot – was it that style of game that influenced you the most?

Absolutely. I was back at my parents’ house a few months ago, and digging through cupboards I found a load of maps I’d drawn for Dizzy games I was designing as an 8-year-old. I was utterly obsessed with Dizzy as a child, and I think it’s a genre that really should see a resurgence. Anyone interested in Dizzy should really check out, thanks to the DizzyAGE engine there’s a ton of great fan-made games out there.

The original release had one ending, this one has four. How did that come about?

Anyone that’s completed the original will probably understand why! I don’t really want to go into the realms of spoilers, but let’s just say a few people felt a bit short-changed by the ending. There was no way on Earth that I was going to change the conclusion of the story, but in a meeting with Blitz we came up with the idea of a playable epilogue. That fitted really well with the new side quests, didn’t change the message of the game, and if anything gave us more of an opportunity to explore some of the more poignant parts of the story. One of the endings requires some lateral thinking though… I’m really looking forward to seeing how long it takes someone to figure it out!

How did you get involved with Blitz 1UP?

I’d gotten in touch with games marketing magnate Bruce Everiss to discuss Dizzy, and to ask if he thought the Olivers might be interested in seeing Clover. He pointed me in the right direction, and I got in touch via the Blitz 1UP website. After an NDA was signed Clover went through an internal approvals process at Blitz, and everyone there thought it had further potential.

What did being involved with Blitz 1Up allow you to do that you couldn’t before?

Loads of stuff! Being a one-man-army makes it hard to achieve decent production values across the board, so being able to tap into a wide variety of disciplines was really helpful. As a programmer I suck mightily at trying to make things look pretty, so it was especially good to have professional designers on hand. There’s also the big, expensive tasks like voice acting and translations – something I could never have afforded to do solo.

Your slogan is “New games that are a bit like old games, but better”, so what’s next for Binary Tweed?

Good question! I’m looking at a couple of opportunities at the moment, although none of which are things I was expecting to be doing post-Clover. Sadly, I think in order to be able to pay my rent I’m going to have to do something more conventional for the next title, but it’d be nice to get a balance of profit-making conventional games and risky artsy games. I’ve got some crazy ideas that’d be epic amounts of fun, but unfortunately those are the ones that are the riskiest.

Clover: A Curious Tale is available now, via the Blitz 1Up website. The original version is available on the Xbox Live Indie Marketplace.