March 26, 2014 12:45 AM | Staff
"We've fought off the wolf. Now we're onto the next thing." Ollie Clarke, coming away from the success of last year's Typing of the Dead: Overkill, reveals his two newest projects -- including the next game from his independent studio, Modern Dream.
When I last touched base with Ollie Clarke in October of 2013, he was just coming off an exhausting four-month marathon. The studio at which he had worked as a manager, Blitz Games, had entered liquidation that June, threatening to take Clarke's team and their in-progress title -- an update on the cult classic Sega game Typing of the Dead -- along with it.
Rather than go down with the ship, Clarke and his small development team rallied. They organized under Clarke's indie company, Modern Dream, drew up a new contract with Sega, occupied development space wherever they could find it, and went back to work. They even shipped in time to meet the game's original release date -- showing up as a dark horse entrant on Steam's store page just ahead of Halloween.
It's an inspiring story; the kind you hope to read about in game development from time to time. It's also a story that I, as a journalist, could not ever have gone in expecting to hear. I had gotten in touch with Clarke intending, at best, to gather material for a short piece about updating a cult classic. What I got instead was an amazing tale of a UK development community banding together in the spirit of professional stick-to-itiveness and a belief in the work, rising from the ashes to deliver a game at least as scrappy and tenacious as its developers.
Since the game's certification, most of the team behind Typing of the Dead: Overkill have gone their separate ways. Clarke, however, is still around. When last we spoke, he told me that he'd "gotten the taste" for leading his own studio and had decided to stick with it. And, this week, he's ready to announce not one but two new projects, one of which is designed to give back to the developer community which supported his team in Overkill's final months.
L.A. CopsWhile Clarke notes that Modern Dream will continue to work with Sega to provide future DLC for Overkill, the first of Clarke's new endeavors is L.A. Cops, an isometric action game drawing upon the 1993 classic Syndicate -- and in particular referencing Clarke's recollections of American crime dramas from the 1960s and 1970s.
"Like many British kids, I grew up watching American television," says Clarke. "American shows always had that positive, 'can-do' attitude, and rightly or wrongly, it gave us a certain perspective of how America was. And there is something in particular about that early 70s period -- in television, in culture, in architecture -- where the optimism of the 60s met the social conflict of a later era that was very captivating to me. So this is, in a way, kind of a tribute to that."
Working with Tom Weston, who previously helped Clarke secure his team's contract with Sega following the dissolution of Blitz, Modern Dream has settled into a more permanent office arrangement and is already shoring up the new staff. In development since January, the new team of Modern Dream is releasing regular milestone videos for L.A. Cops' progress.
"Games are a bit like bonsai trees. When you plant them you have an idea of how they will grow but you can't entirely predict what shape they'll take," Clarke explains. "[For that reason] I don't really agree with crowdfunding. It can lock you into a concept much earlier than makes sense for the project."
While the pre-alpha build footage seen in the milestone videos is still rough, it goes a long way in establishing a look and feel for the game, which draws upon the bright color palettes of period artists Ed Ruscha and David Hockney (below). As profiled in Gamasutra's sibling publication IndieGames, gun combat is expected to have a tight focus, with rotating isometric camera and tactical controls allowing for synchronized fire from a dynamic duo of (of course, hardboiled and mustachioed) buddy cops. The game is currently bound for iOS and Android devices as well as PC through Steam.
"We want to make something for the hardcore set, but with an art style reminiscent of our previous Modern Dream game, The Button Affair," says Clarke. "Evoking the architecture of the period, especially Ed Ruscha's 'Standard Station', was important. We'll also be paying a visit to Los Angeles soon, to study some of the buildings still around from that era."
Ed Ruscha's "Standard Station" (1966) was one of several aesthetic touchstones Modern Dream used to establish L.A. Cops' look and tone.
Arch CreativesAlso on the horizon for Clarke is a new support hub and office space for Leamington Spa area developers, Arch Creatives.
"It has all of the benefits of an incubator program with none of the downsides," Clarke tells me. "It's not there as a business in its own right; we're not here to drive people into debt. The idea is to create a free, open creator space where developers can come and work on projects, find work with other developers, and get the support and mentorship they need."
Organized as a non-profit and financed with the support of the local county council and companies including Autodesk, Arch Creatives has already played host to a PlayStation Open Day this past February 26th. It is expected to officially open it doors to its first cohort of developers this April.
"We want to build something sustainable," Clarke explains. "In the face of all that's happened, with Blitz going under, we thought, 'well, can we make something like this work?' And importantly, we want a space that can adapt to the changes that have been happening [in our industry]. We don't want to be caught out by any surprises. We want a space that can change to whatever happens next."
For the immediate future, Clarke has plans to take L.A. Cops Stateside -- eventually to Los Angeles, of course, but only after a stop in San Francisco. The game will be on display at the UKIE booth during next week's Game Developers Conference. It's an opportunity for Clarke not just to show off the progress of his new title, but to share what's been happening in the Leamington development scene.
"We've come a long way since Blitz's closure," Clarke says. "We've fought off the wolf and we've survived to fight another day. Now we're onto the next thing."
[Kris Ligman wrote this article for sister site Gamasutra]