Fri. Jun 14th, 2024
TinyBuild Interview Robert Clarke Cover

When I went to Gamescom in August 2024, I was lucky enough to meet some really cool industry professionals. I’ve always been more interested in indies than Triple-A titles, so I spent most of my time in the indie section. It was there I met the amazing Robert Clarke from TinyBuild. He very kindly agreed to swap details so we could arrange this TinyBuild interview. We connected instantly in person, and I was relieved that the easy rapport carried over into the video too.

I really love interviewing people as it allows me to gain greater insight into the media I’m passionate about. Previously I’d only interviewed developers, so it was really cool to get the perspective of a publisher for a change. Rob shared loads of amazing stories, and this TinyBuild interview is full of fun anecdotes!

You can watch the whole video on Youtube, or read on for the highlights! I’ve included the time stamps for each section, if you want to watch the full video segment for your favourite questions.

What Was Your Gamescom Experience Like? (01:34)

This interview was actually filmed in September, not long after Gamescom had finished, so I was curious to know what it had been liked from a publisher’s point of view since I was only there as a consumer. Rob used the term ‘validating’ to describe getting to meet so many gamers. He mentions how at TinyBuild they typically work from home (we love a good work-life balance), and so it’s an exciting change of pace for him to get to go to shows.

Rob said that being in that bubble meant “it’s very easy to forget that people enjoy video games”. He doesn’t have much time to play games, which he says is the irony of turning a hobby into a job. I could definitely relate to that seeing as I love gaming, but also write about games for a living, which can get exhausting. Rob spoke about the passion that people have at Gamescom. He clearly loves seeing people interested in gaming, whether or not it was about TinyBuild’s titles or other publishers. He loves the sense of community there.

TinyBuild interview, Gamescom 2023
I initially attended Gamescom as one of the lucky gamers who won early access to the Xbox booth.

What Can People Expect From Critter Cove? (04:11)

Whilst he was there, Rob was promoting an upcoming game, Critter Cove. Currently slated for a March 2024 release, the game looks delightful, and Rob was eager to tell us all about it. He says it’s a cosy game that takes some inspiration from games like Animal Crossing, and Stardew Valley, and Windwaker. According to Rob, the key difference that makes Critter Cove stand out is that there’s a heavy focus on exploration.

He spoke about the emergence of cosy games as a popular trend, and how they’ve really blown up in the last couple of years. He mentions how press and youtubers have “galvanised around this idea of wholesome and cosy games”. Rob says that cosy and farming tend to go hand in hand, but Critter Cove has a different foundation. The game is set in a tropical archipelago so you can sail off and explore. There’s fishing, you can hunt for relics, and so much more. He says that it’s a small hand-crafted open world, and I for one can’t wait to explore it!

Screenshot from Critter Cove, courtesy of their Presskit
An open world 3D cosy game sounds like it’ll be so much fun!

Can You Tell Us More About the Collection Elements? (06:28)

“I’ve always been a collecting person”. Rob assured me there would be plenty of collecting in Critter Cove, which was excellent to hear. Like him, I love hunting for shiny things in games, and it sounds like there will be plenty of that. Rob said that he’s been pushing the Critter Cove devs to add as many collectibles as possible. He says that it “expands the world” and that there’s so much you can do with collection.

As well as the classics like fish collection, he says that there’s a collection for different photographs you take around the world. There’s also relic collection, and he mentions that there will be a museum in the game. I don’t know about you guys, but I personally love donating items to museums. Whenever I play a cosy game, that’s always my first order of business.

TinyBuild interview, colourful scene. Screenshot from Critter Cove, courtesy of their Presskit
I love how colourful it is!

However, the best part of Critter Cove‘s collection elements is that you can collect villagers to bring back to your town! Similar to Animal Crossing: New Horizons, there’s a whole cast of potential NPCs, and it’ll be random which ones appear and when. They have unique personalities, and will be attracted to different aspects of your town. For example, if you build a gym, you’ll attract characters that like working out.

Rob goes on to talk about the town management section of Critter Cove. You have to reopen the businesses and expand the infrastructure of the town. You’ll need to help out the different places with various errands, such as getting ingredients for the cafĂ© or the clothing shop needs different fashions. You’re not confined to the town, though, and you can go off and explore all the different biomes.

Surrounded by NPCs. Screenshot from Critter Cove, courtesy of their Presskit
I can’t wait to meet all the characters!

What Was the Creative Process for Critter Cove Like? (10:33)

Rob is one of the producers for the game, and the three founders are called Eli, Christine, and Jason. They’ve been working on Critter Cove for a long time, and Rob said how with many games, especially indie titles, there’s a lot of separation between the game you started with and the finished product. It was initially called Seeds of Magic before they change the name, and I definitely prefer the new one. Initially it was a 2D game very similar to Stardew Valley, so it’s changed a lot since its conception.

He spoke about the massive change of moving it from 2D to 3D, which is no mean feat. This was 2 or 3 years ago, so at the time having a 3D cosy game would be considered a novelty. The game grew from there, and “there were lots of things that changed, and lots of things that didn’t”. He says that most of the core tenets haven’t changed, though. For example, there’s no combat, which was a deliberate decision as they wanted it to be completely non-violent.

They also kept the idea of crafting things from scrap. He says it’s not an environmental game in the sense of shoving the message of “Recycle!” down people’s throats, but that there’s definitely a theme of “you can remake things with trash”. Most of what you craft is created with things that have been shipwrecked, or detritus, or just “general junk”. He emphasises that it’s not a preachy game, but it has always had that message.

TinyBuild Interview, Critter Cove cover art. Courtesy of their Presskit
Critter Cove has such a fun art style to it.

Can You Tell Us Anything More About the Other Projects You’re Working On? (14:51)

Rob said that he’s the producer for Kill It With Fire, and they’re making a sequel for that. He described it as a “spider-murdering comedy game”, and joked about how it couldn’t be more different from Critter Cove. He said how the concept is just fun and silly. You jump into a world and your whole purpose is just to kill spiders. He says that for the sequel, they’ve taken things up a level and there’s more story to it. There’s a multiverse, you’re jumping around time and space, but you’re still killing spiders. He describes a bunch of insane ways that you can kill spiders, from flamethrowers to drones and tanks. He also confirms that there are collectibles!

Kill It With Fire, burning house
Ughhh, trying to find a screenshot without a spider in it was difficult. Those things are horrrrrrible! (I have terrible arachnophobia so this game definitely isn’t for me).

What Does a Typical Day at TinyBuild Look Like for You? (17:17)

“There isn’t one, at all. Being a producer at a publisher is a little bit different to being a producer at a developer”. He says you have to juggle a little bit more. He mentions that at TinyBuild they do it differently to other publishers, as producers are also responsible for handling marketing. Rob says this is beneficial because you can make decisions faster, and you can point to things that could go wrong with marketing. He talked about thinking about bugs not just from the perspective of people playing, but also from people watching on Twitch. He says that things like an audio bug are normally not that important to fix quickly, but for streaming audiences, would be higher priority.

Rob spoke about how his job as a producer is to support the dev teams with things they don’t have. For example, if they already have someone on the team that’s good at social media, he’d just leave them to it. But if they don’t have that, then they’d assign someone from TinyBuild to help out with it. He finds the gaps in the experience, and helps ensure the game’s development and publishing process runs smoothly. Because of that, his job is different every day, which is one of the reasons he loves it. He likes working at publishers as you get to experience so many different studios and types of development.

What is Your Favourite Game That You Have Ever Worked On? (20:40)

Of all the questions I asked him, this is the one that gave Rob the most trouble to answer. He ummed and ahhed for a while before eventually deciding on the console versions of The Swapper. Apparently it was huge at the time, and it was when he was working for Curve (who used to be a game studio before becoming the publisher that they are today). Indie games weren’t really a thing at the time, and third-party distribution on Steam was very new.

He spoke about the experience of porting The Swapper from PC to the consoles of the time, which were PS3 and PS Vita. He also mentioned the challenge of integrating crossplay, although he was working in marketing rather than production. Rob said that it was “So cool to be a part of something new”. He joked about the difficulty of getting a PC game to work on a Vita, and it’s clear he loves a good challenge. He says that those games (The Swapper and Thomas Was Alone) will always have a close place in his heart as they were the first ones he did. It was really interesting hearing him talk about the differences in marketing back in 2013 compared to nowadays.

TinyBuild Interview, The Swapper
The logo has a really intriguing vibe to it!

Sending a PS Vita into Space (23:40)

Whilst talking about those early days of working on porting games to the PS Vita, Rob gave my favourite anecdote of the entire TinyBuild interview. He explained how, whilst working for Curve, they’d promoted one of their games by sending a PS Vita into space (technically low Earth orbit). He said how they’d gone out in a field, got a guy to help with the roping since apparently that’s really difficult to get right. And then they’d sent it off, and up it went! The Vita was playing a space puzzle game called Nova-111, hence the unique way of promoting it.

He said that when it came back down to Earth, they had to hunt around and figure out where it landed. Rob was particularly invested in its safe recovery since it was his Vita! It ended up landing in a swamp in Norfolk; he hadn’t even realised England had swamps until then. But ‘luckily’ it had landed 30 foot up in a tree within the swamp, and they actually managed to retrieve it by throwing stones at it until it fell out. Remarkably, they managed to recover it in fully working condition! We joked about how he was the proud owner of the only PS Vita to go in orbit around the Earth.

I asked about how he even came up with that idea, and he spoke about how money was a huge factor. At the time they had basically no money, and so they had to think outside the box. Rob has a personal goal of always trying to do “one fun thing”, and for Nova-111, this was that thing. He said that part of the fun of the job is trying to get approval from the boss for all his crazy ideas.

What Do You Think Makes Indie Games So Special? (27:18)

“I just think we have more freedom”. He then followed that up with “The sad answer to what makes indie games so special is that Triple-A just isn’t”. Rob clarified that he’s “not like a hipster” and that he does play and enjoy the bigger titles, but that the nature of the industry now means you can’t really experiment. He says that thematically you can’t experiment, and mechanically it’s becoming even rarer. He talks about the “Ubisoft model of climbing the tower” and that it hasn’t really changed from Farcry 3 to Farcry 6. Rob states that there are millions of similar examples, and that they’re all good games, but “they’re not interesting games”.

He says he’s so glad that games found a way to exist in the space that they did when he was a kid, before Triple-A was even a word. He spoke with passion about how things were experimental back then, and even the larger companies would throw huge sums of money at ridiculous concepts. The kind of thing that shows up on “Youtuber hidden gem videos”. I have to agree with him here, I love when games break free of the standard formula and try something different. He says he’s so glad that aspect didn’t die, and that instead it got transferred to indie games.

Rob also mentioned how indie games can target more specific audiences. It was fascinating hearing him speak about the differences across culture. Apparently the horror games being made in places like Indonesia and Thailand have very different vibes to Western horror. Rob also spoke about how indie games allowed people to tell stories that just wouldn’t work with larger games because of capitalism. Particularly stories revolving around minority communities such as LGBTQ+ games.

What Would Be Your Ideal Concept for a Game? (31:32)

I gave Rob the parameters that practicality and budget didn’t play into it for this, so that his imagination could really roam wild. He says there are two main types of games that appeal to him. The first are the ones he shouldn’t play because otherwise he won’t do his job, addictive games like Factorio and Crusader Kings.

He mentions a game that he describes as “very niche these days” called Star Control. It’s a space game where you travel around on a spaceship talking to aliens to solve a mystery. He says the universe feels very dynamic. Rob would love to take the core of it and remake it for a modern experience. When he’s talking, you can tell there’re so many ideas floating around his mind that don’t quite translate to words. I’m sure if I had telepathy, I’d have been able to hear a buzzing inner world with all sorts of awesome ideas for potential game mechanics and storylines. He says that ultimately it’s an adventure-RPG with a layer of strategy on top, and that’s what makes Star Control so unique. “I always like to see old stuff reimagined with the way that we now design”.

Star Control spaceship design
I can see why the game would be appealing to space fans!

Conclusion

And with that final question, the TinyBuild interview was over! Rob gave some fascinating answers, and I’m still so grateful for his amazing insights. Giving interviews is something I love doing (and hope to do more of in the future, so watch this space), and Rob was an incredible guest.

What was your favourite answer that he gave? Who would you like to see me conduct an interview with next? Join the discussion over in our Facebook community or tweet me over on Twitter (I refuse to call it X). You can also check out some of my other interviews! Here’s my interview with Thunder Lotus who made Spiritfarer. And here’s my interview with Mega Crit Games who made Slay the Spire.

By Screen Hype

Hi! I'm Melika Jeddi, a content writer and aspiring author. I've created Screen Hype to share my unique brand of entertaining articles with the world, and to create a fun space that everyone can feel a part of :)