Zynga gets its hands dirty with Clay Jam, a 'handmade' mobile indie game

Clay Jam
Clay Jam

When you think of Zynga, some of the last words that come to mind are handmade and indie. (No offense.) Over the past year, the FarmVille maker has been trying to change that image, and its latest attempt may be the most interesting yet. Developed by UK-based indie studio Fat Pebble, this is Clay Jam, a gorgeous iOS and Android game with handmade--literally--claymation-style visuals.

In the freemium Clay Jam, players guide a single rolling pebble down a blue hill, squishing smaller Bully Beasts (the bad guys that have terrorized the land of Clay Jam and sucked away its clay) and avoiding larger ones. It sounds, and arguably looks, like a claymation Katamari Damacy, but with one interesting play difference. Players never directly control the tiny pebble rolling down the hill, but guide its path through gouging divots into the clay with their fingers. Touch gaming at its finest, no?
One question that the fine fellows of Fat Pebble surely have answered several times is: "How exactly is a game 'handmade?" Video games are the product of code and digital animation, not physical, malleable work. "So [art director] Chris [Roe] sat in his garage and made everything you see in the game out of actual clay, and animated it all, even down to the fonts," Fat Pebble creative director Michael Movel tells us. "The fonts are made out of clay as well. And [he] took pictures instead of making 3D models, and animated it in true stop motion style."

"Basically, when I was a lot younger, I used to do a lot of claymation and use a lot of Plasticine to make little films and things like that. So, now we had our own company, and we had our own game idea, I really wanted to basically have enough time as I could have on my own making this thing,' Roe adds. "So, we went for claymation. That gave it this really nice tactile feel. It had these little imperfections everywhere. So hopefully, it's got that quirky, handmade, crafty feel to it, and it might be inspirational.

Clay Jam screens
Clay Jam screens

Even the sound design in Clay Jam is handmade, so to speak. According to Movel, Fat Pebble enlisted an old colleague to produce all of the sound effects himself, using everyday household objects and his own voice. Talk about grass roots game design. "It's all real, kind of earthy sounds," Movel throws in." "And we also got a couple of local musicians to do the music for our game."

Clay Jam is Fat Pebble's first game as an indie studio, though the three-person team has about 40 years of design and development experience between them mostly on big time console games. After getting a look at--and hearing all about--its first game, it's clear that the folks at Fat Pebble wanted to go as indie as possible with Clay Jam. But if that was the case, why sign on with Zynga as a publisher? It all boils down to skills and resources that Fat Pebble simply doesn't have, especially as far as promotion and monetization are concerned. With Zynga at the wheel in those departments, Fat Pebble has time to do what it does best.

Movel says that, without Zynga, Clay Jam would not have come out as well as it had. And even with a big time publisher like Zynga involved, we're told that players can enjoy all of Clay Jam without spending a dime. (Though, the option is always there.) Before Clay Jam, we've seldom heard of a handmade video game, much less from Zynga, but now, we're crossing our fingers that this approach catches on.

Click here to download Clay Jam for Free on iOS and here on Android Now >

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