When one of the monsters you’re up against is a living hamburger made out of clay called Bung-it-in-Billy — with rotund biceps and dark, nefarious-looking eyebrows — you know you’re in for something special.
Developed by Fat Pebble and set for release some time later this year, Clay Jam is a free-to-play “monster action game” for mobile devices. You guide a smiling blue pebble as it rolls downhill, carving a path with your finger as it squashes small creatures, while avoiding objects bigger than the pebble. The more monsters you squash, the larger your pebble grows.
Eventually, you can run over a level’s houses or bigger creatures until you reach the Bully Beast — a gargantuan foe that awaits you at the bottom of each hill. To defeat it, you swipe the screen as fast as you can, building up the pebble’s speed until it launches into the air, flinging the creature as far away as possible.
Oh, and a avalanche happens to be chasing you the entire time, so you’ll want to get to the bottom as fast as you can. If Michael Bay directed a stop-motion animated film based on Gumby, Clay Jam would probably be the result.
Sliding my finger tip on the iPad’s glass screen felt like I was actually digging into the hill’s surface. It’s almost as if you can reach out and touch the clay models.
“It was a big learning process [to make the game],” said Michael Movel, the creative director at Fat Pebble, in an interview with GamesBeat. “We did it in various different ways. To be honest, when we first started, we were thinking we might have to have some things in there that made it 3D…. [But art director Chris Roe] just got better and better at it. So by the end, he could make a creature in an hour and animate it properly in a day or two.”
Except for the pebble, which is a 3D model, everything in Clay Jam’s world comes from real clay. Some models are dirtier than others, with different pieces of clay attached to them; but it’s all part of the team’s effort to make the game look a little bit rough around the edges, giving it that homemade authenticity.
And in keeping with Clay Jam’s theme of hands-on creativity, the developers held a monster design contest earlier this year, where winning entries became actual creatures in the game. This includes 6-year-old Rory Chumbley’s design of Bung-it-in-Billy, which sits alongside Fat Pebble’s own bizarre cast of enemies.
The U.K.-based Fat Pebble is just one of the 24 third-party developers under the Zynga Platform, in which the mobile gaming giant handles marketing, distribution, and technical support for its partners’ games. One of the key factors of this partnership is exposure to Zynga’s 306 million monthly active users across all areas of its network — mobile, Facebook, and Zynga.com.
For a small three-man studio like Fat Pebble, joining forces with Zynga was an obvious choice, even if publishers in general were not a part of its original plans. For Clay Jam, it wanted to self-publish the game and learn from the experience. But the offer from Zynga was too good to pass up.
“We are a small start-up and we really want to stand out,” said Movel. “I think it worked because Zynga saw the [concept] video and then they rang us up…. Compared to other publishers I’ve worked with in the past, they kind of say to you, ‘Go make a game. You’re good at making games. Just make it as best as you can.’ They give you advice, [and] you can follow it or you can’t. It’s up to you.”