Interview: Bertil Hörberg Jumps Back Into the Saddle With Gunman Clive 2
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
"I felt I needed a bit more colour this time"
When it arrived with relatively little fanfare in December 2012, Gunman Clive appeared to be a cheap and cheerful Holiday title. Then we played it. What had seemed like a modest download game transpired to be a short slice of finely crafted fun with a charming aesthetic, which combined with a budget price and undoubted references to classic franchise such as Mega Man to spread serious word of mouth. It was all the more extraordinary as it was all the work of Bertil Hörberg on his own, with his brother Arne producing the music.
The action platformer would make more headlines, however, courtesy of its 3DS sales success in comparison to the larger markets of iOS and Android. The success story of the title, which had shifted a quarter of a million units by December 2013 with the "vast majority" on 3DS, has been held up as a triumph for the developer and the portable's eShop as a platform, even if a realistic and broader picture has the smart device and dedicated gaming handheld's markets in entirely different positions.
Though Hörberg had been working on a top-down adventure, Nintendo's pre-E3 trailer blowout surprised us with Gunman Clive 2, with some sequences that show the series taking on some more ambitious mechanics. We've caught up with the developer to learn more about this title, potential future platforms and to clarify reports that the adventure title briefly shown in 2013 has been shelved.
First of all, can you introduce yourself for those that are unfamiliar with your work? We suspect most will know you, but it's a good place to start!
I'm Bertil Hörberg, a solo indie dev from Sweden. I made Gunman Clive for 3DS eShop and now I'm doing Gunman Clive 2. Before I set out on my own I worked as a gameplay programmer for several years at various studios on games like Bionic Commando Rearmed, the other Bionic Commando game, and Pid.
When you released Gunman Clive on 3DS in December 2012, were you surprised by the success it enjoyed?
I wasn't so surprised initially when the 3DS version launched. The response and the early sales were somewhat in line with the other versions, but I've been surprised ever since by the continued success on the platform. Unlike other platforms where it was forgotten about and the sales died down after a couple of months, people are still talking about it on 3DS and it's having consistently strong sales after 18 months. That's just surreal and I certainly didn't expect that.
You highlighted at the time that the eShop version outsold the iOS and Android iterations. What, in your view, were the core reasons for that?
It's definitely a much less crowded market which gives me much better exposure, and the game is very well suited for the platform.
In a sense you became a positive example cited when plugging the virtues of the eShop. Do you agree that was the case and, if so, what was your reaction to that?
It's a weird mix of feelings. On one hand I love the eShop and have no problem plugging it, plus it's also given me a ton of good exposure, but every now and then I see some reference to my sales numbers in an internet console war argument and I'm not sure how I feel about that.
Before we move onto Gunman Clive 2, you'd previously released conceptual animations of a top-down adventure project. What's the current status of that project?
Unfortunately that game just didn't work out. I lost motivation and couldn't get any work done and I wasn't very happy with how it was turning out. It still had lot of unsolved technical issues as well as a lot of game design choices left undecided well into the project. I eventually decided to cancel it and started working on Gunman Clive 2 instead as I felt I needed to do something that I knew I would actually be able to finish.
When did you begin work on Gunman Clive 2, and at what point was it decided that it'd be included in Nintendo's E3 YouTube coverage?
I started working on it in November last year. The E3 thing was kind of last moment and out of the blue. I got an email from Nintendo sometime in May inviting me to be a part of the press kit, and the deadline for the trailer was like two weeks later. I hadn't even shown anything to them before that, and I hadn't really planned when I would announce the game. But an E3 announcement from Nintendo wasn't something I wanted to pass up so I just went for it and rushed together a trailer as soon as I could.
Can you outline the core differences, evolutions and improvements that you've tried to include in this sequel?
It is a fairly straight forward sequel, I can't pretend otherwise. The first one was so short and a lot of people were asking for more levels so I figured that I could do at least one more game without too much change.
The most immediately recognisable change is probably the colour palette. I'm honestly not quite sure if that's an improvement or not but it got a bit depressing looking at a beige and brown screen for months on end when I was developing the first game, so I felt I needed a bit more colour this time. There's also a bit more going on visually in general. The controls are a bit little bit faster and the collision system has been revamped completely to allow more dynamic platforms. But overall it's the same core gameplay, and I'm just trying to add as much new cool stuff as possible and make a little bit more dramatic. I also tried to focus a bit more on the bosses.
The trailer clearly highlights some shifts in perspective and gameplay. Can you tell us more about new mechanics in the 2D stages and how other elements (such as the horse riding segment) will fit into the adventure?
I think one of the things people really liked in the first game was the diversity in the levels and gameplay mechanics, so I've tried to expand on that. In the first game there was the minecart and the rocket levels that stood out from the rest of the game. So my goal was to surpass those with the panda level and the 3D levels. A cowboy riding onto the sunset is such an iconic image that I just needed have it somewhere; but it doesn't really work very well from a sidescrolling perspective. Then I got the idea to do a level with sort of Outrun-style graphics and it worked really well together. There are some more levels with a 3D perspective that I haven't showed yet as well.
The first title was relatively short, albeit with replay value; will this be of an equivalent length? If it's longer, will that influence its pricing, especially as the original perhaps thrived on that budget price-point?
It will be in the same ballpark, but hopefully a little bit longer. I don't have the patience or the stamina to make hundreds of levels. I try to squeeze as much different stuff as possible into every level so it takes a long time to make. I haven't decided the final price yet, but it will also be within the same range.
Which platforms will Gunman Clive 2 be released upon, and in what order?
The 3DS version will be released first, then I'll try do do all the platforms the first one was on, and then look into bringing it to more platforms. I want to do Wii U and maybe Vita, and possibly the other consoles as well. But we'll see how many versions I'll be able to do before I want to move on, so I'm not promising anything for now.
Gunman Clive was loved by some for its retro nods and references, will there be more of that in this sequel?
I'm not sure it's so much references as it is blatantly stealing game design ideas, but yes there will be more of that.
Is this still a small scale project, with you producing the game and another on the music, or has your team expanded?
Yes it's still just me, with music by my brother Arne.
What release window is currently in mind for this?
I promised a fall release in the trailer, so hopefully I'll be able to stick to that but I'm not the best at following schedules or keeping my deadlines.
Are you working on or preparing any other projects, or is 100% of your focus currently on Gunman Clive 2? Do you have any plans for Wii U?
I'm only working on GC2 for now and don't really have any solid plans for my next game yet. I think I'll spend some more time working on prototypes this time around to avoid the problems I ran into with my previous project. But it'll probably be primarily for 3DS as well.
In general, how well — or otherwise — do you feel the 3DS eShop has progressed since you released the first game?
I love the eShop and there's some really good content on there, but there is still surprisingly few good indie games coming to the 3DS. At the same time I have to admit I'm very thankful that the marketspace isn't more crowded.
We'd like to thank Bertil Hörberg for his time.