In Memoriam – Clarence Johnson

In Memoriam – Clarence Johnson

This past week the game industry lost a friend, brother, and colleague, Clarence Johnson.  We here at We Are Game Devs wanted to feature Clarence, and in lieu of him telling his own story, we have collected memories and recollections from those who knew him.  He will be dearly missed by us all.


If you would like to donate funds to his family for the of settling his affairs and funeral services, please follow this link.

If you would like to share your own memories of Clarence please submit them here.



Clarence is one of those guys who make me realize how special what we had at Secret Level was. Always ready to pick you up with a smile when you were feeling down. The last time I saw Clarence was about a year ago. I was invited to a shishi event at 25 Lusk by a venture capital firm. I was like “man this is gonna suck, I’m not gonna know anyone and it’s gonna be all stiffs”. I walk around the event for a bit and sure enough it’s 70% old rich white dudes. Then, WTF THERE IS CLARENCE?!?! Dude was absolutely legend for things like this. You’d be at some exclusive video game event, feeling cool for managing to get in. Meanwhile Clarence had already been there behind the velvet rope for an hour before you. It was awesome catching up with him and reminiscing about our years together at Secret Level. I’ll miss you Clarence!

<strong>JEREMY GORDON</strong>
<em>worked with Clarence at Secret Level (many projects over almost a decade)</em>




When I knew Clarence he always wore a full suit which I thought was funny but when asked was very dry and matter of fact about it. He had a witty and sharp sense of humor that would sneak up on you and had a very cool and gentle demeanor. I always invited him to parties that I threw cause he was just fun and pleasant to be around. He almost always had a smile on his face. After Secret Level I’d see him about the city and it was always great to run into him!

<strong>Morgan Hastings</strong>
<em>worked with Clarence at Secret Level on America's Army</em>



He was always full of life and loved to dance.

<em>Clarence was a regular at his club</em>





Clarence and I worked together at Eidos, where he was developing flight sim combat games in our internal development studio. Later, I worked with Secret Level on a project when they were independent, and worked with the studio again when they were acquired by SEGA. Clarence was always kind and thoughtful. He had a smile that would light up the room. He loved his work and enjoyed going out with friends and socializing even more. I have been friends with Clarence for a long time and will miss him very much. He was truly one of a kind.

<strong>Michael McHale</strong>
<em>a long time work colleague</em>



I was thinking about him the other day. Which in itself, interesting. I liked that Clarence walked around in a smoking jacket and men’s leather slippers. He was original. Oh, and a great artist too.

<strong>Karen Chelini</strong>
<em>worked at LucasArts together</em>





Clarence was one of the genuinely good people. He was the guy you wanted to have around.

He brought smiles and laughs to tough projects. Late nights working on a tight deadline were a lot more fun when Clarence was on your team. He was a very talented artist, his work made you want to your work better. He inspired.

He had a great smile and a lot of style, you felt a little bit cooler when he was hanging out with you.

He was a unique guy and it sucks that the cosmos took him so early.

<strong>Jon McBain</strong>
<em>longtime colleague and friend</em>



Humor was nonstop… rolling.

<strong>CJ Colin Jacobs</strong>
<em>brotha..... from another motha</em>





We were on the Starfighter team and Jedi Starfighter, and probably others. He was never serious, always joking. Just a fun guy.

<strong>Karin Nestor</strong>
<em>LucasArts colleague</em>



I first worked with Clarence at Secret Level and afterwards he helped me out on my indie game after I left SL. Just about 2 months ago at GDC I mentioned I was prototyping something new and I could use his help again. I was very happy to be working with him again not only for his talent but also because of his awesome humor and personality.

I really started to connect with Clarence after the Secret Level employee fact book came out and I saw that he listed The Prodigy as music he liked. I loved The Prodigy. So after that we connected on music. I remember him telling me he didnt like house music much because it lacked the climax that most techno songs had. I was like hmmmm, I never looked at it that way.

We would run into each other at conferences and conventions regulary or randomly on the streets of SF. At one point we worked a block away from each other in San Mateo and would meet up to catch up with each other and brainstorm on ideas.

He was one of the coolest people I have every met and wished I could be more like him. I will miss him like a brother.

<strong>Martin Robaszewski</strong>
<em>knows Clarence from Secret Level and beyond</em>





He ALWAYS made a positive impression and elevated the mood. Haven’t hung out in person in years, but will treasure the social media exchanges. Big smiles. Fun drinks. Good times.

<strong>Steven Goebel</strong>
<em>met Clarence 20 years ago at Domark, which (with US Gold) became Eidos</em>



Clarence was one of those warm, wonderful people who just made me happier the moment he appeared. And he appeared often — even when we were out and didn’t have plans to see him, inevitably he’d show up wherever we were, like the best surprise possible. I loved giving him embarrassingly long hugs, usually accompanied by some sort of shrill girl noise, and he always hugged right back as long as I held on.

I’d seen him less often recently — taking care of our newborn son has meant I’m out on the town in SF way less often than I used to be — but in February 2015, on a week when our baby had been really sick and I was at my wits end, my husband kicked me out of the house to go to a gathering at Longitude in Oakland, where he’d recruited a bunch of friends to come out and help me step away from being a Mama for a minute. I remember being so thrilled that Clarence had made it over from SF for the occasion, and that I got to hang out with him for that time. He always said “I won’t cross a bridge for a party,” so I teased him that night about his making it over to Oakland. His eyes got all wide and he looked shocked that I would even say such a thing, and then he broke into that trademark Clarence grin that always came with a low, rumbly chuckle.

And let me say this about that: Though Clarence always said that about crossing bridges, the fact remained that he often showed up in the East Bay when it really counted, whether that was for our wedding, or that gathering at Longitude, or other moments when his absence would have been truly missed.

I’m so grateful for every moment I got to spend with him. I feel luckier to have known and loved him. And indeed, he will be so truly, truly missed, whether that’s in San Francisco, Oakland, or beyond.

<strong>Genie Gratto</strong>
<em>met Clarence through her husband, and spent many, many nights out on the town with him, taking photos and hopping from spot to spot in San Francisco and Oakland.</em>





For my 32nd birthday 10 years ago, my girlfriend (now wife), organized a small gathering of friends. I was glad that Clarence was one of the people there. His attendance validated that my birthday was a cool place to be that night, because anywhere he went was the cool place to be. He will be missed, but his legend will live on.

<strong>Alejandro Diaz</strong>
<em>worked with Clarence at Secret Level the entire time he was there</em>



I was just thinking last week that I hadn’t seen him in awhile… But I definitely wasn’t expecting this.

I didn’t know him well at all, but he was certainly a warm, familiar face in the crowd. I remember when my friend and I first met him. He bought us Jell-O shots and after getting to know each other, started a “this or that” conversation, thus leading to my nickname for him that he never knew about: Smooth Peanut Butter Clarence.

He was a great dancer, and I always enjoyed him takin’ me for a spin on the dance floor whenever we’d bump into each other.

A genuine gentleman and a jovial character with great style, whose presence will certainly be missed.






He was my first friend there which was also my first job in the city. Since then I have run into him at countless parties and social events and random locations in the city.

I’m so thrilled to see his professional community honoring him. My favorite memory is anytime he arrived at an event it was like he was the bell of the ball had arrived. I have fond memories of him talking me into staying and having another drink at various functions. San Francisco will never be the same without his beautiful smile and witty banter. He will be missed by all those who he touched. And nobody could rock a mock turtleneck and jacket like Clarence. We miss you terribly!

<strong>Kelly Haeussler</strong>
<em>worked with him at EIDOS back in 99</em>



I’ve known Clarence for past 4 years. Since I met him I really liked him a lot, he was always nice… smiling… friendly and helped lot of people. If anyone had bad day he know how to make it happy. I always told him we are same color, we are brothers. I miss a great brother.


<strong>Allen Perumal</strong>
<em>acquainted through startup events</em>





Clarence and I took the Golden Gate Transit running the north 101 route toward LEC and were always on the same scheduled bus in the mornings. I met him one day when I sat beside him on the bus and Clarence’s sweet personality, contagious chuckle and always stylish and professional attire immediately left a great impression on me. During our time at LEC, Clarence became the gold standard in how to be a genuine class act and a humble, elegant gentleman in an industry known for quite the opposite; he was truly ahead of his time! I will always smile, remembering his unique touch of charm he always brought with him tucked neatly in his freshly pressed shirts and Sunday best blazer. Somewhere/somehow in the far future beyond space and time, I hope to take that bus ride with you one more time again brother. Thank you for everything, Clarence.

<em>worked together at Lucasarts</em>



The first thing you noticed about Clarence was his smile. He would enter a room with a grin that seem to say “I just did something that I should not have done. But I got away with it.” The only time he wasn’t smiling is when you told him a bad joke. Then he would look at you and give you a “why did you tell me something that wasn’t funny” look. Then bust out laughing.

I would like to nominate Clarence for the honor of being “The Best Dressed Game Developer, Ever” award. While the rest of us were wearing t-shirts and jeans, Clarence was decked out in a suit coat and fine leather shoes. When Eidos was first formed we got together and took a group photo. Clarence was the only person in the photo wearing a suit and tie. The man had style.

I always seemed to run into Clarence at GDC. We would catch up on things and give each other leads on gigs. Often over a few drinks.

Rest well, Clarence. We’ll meet again some day when we’ll share another drink and a bad joke once more.

<strong>Gary LaRochelle</strong>
<em>worked with Clarence at Eidos and friend</em>





I’ve known Clarence for seventeen years, when we hired him onto the “Star Wars: Starfighter” art team. Our small team really bonded and created lasting friendships under the nom de guerre of The Delinquents when we heard a rumour that LucasArts Human Resources had a file on some of us. We were kids early in our careers — we worked hard and played a multiplayer LAN game called Starsiege Tribes together when we weren’t working. We all had our handles in the game: I was Maestro G. We had Big Chief, Hooter, Ayatollah, Orphan_Studplay, Zagnut, and so on. Clarence was Catbutt.

One by one, our engineer friends were leaving the Starfighter team mid-project for this stealth mode startup called There. One day Clarence came into work with a mysterious air about him. Some of his former coworkers were running the art team at There, and wanted to bring him in for an interview! One problem: the office was in Menlo Park, and Clarence didn’t have car. By this time, my curiosity was piqued, so I offered to drive Clarence down for his interview. Once I saw what was being prototyped at There, I had to be a part of it. Clarence and I both interviewed that day, and we were hired together. Eventually, most of the Delinquents ended up at There, where we lived an intense dot-com stealth mode startup lifestyle that was featured in a National Geographic issue on Silicon Valley.

After almost six months of constant crunch mode at There, I was tired of working long hours and sleeping on a futon in my office for days at a time. Artificial deadlines would lead to inevitable changes in direction away from what attracted me to There in the first place. It was hard to say goodbye to Clarence and the rest of my crew when I got the call from some of my LucasArts friends to join Double Fine. But I knew that we’d stay close, and we have.

Clarence was of course there for all the parties, but he has also been a part of many of the milestones in my life in the years after There.

<strong>Gaurav Mathur</strong>
<em>long time friend and colleague</em>






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  1. 2
    Elaine Marie

    Hello everyone ~~~ My name is Elaine Marie, and Clarence was my best friend. I hadn’t heard from him after texting and calling on his birthday, 4/30, although I was surprised I didn’t hear from him shortly thereafter, since he always called me on my birthday.
    I just discovered on this site that he passed away. For any of you who don’t realize the impact of this, be assured, it is completely devastating.
    I met Clarence when he was 23 and living above me in the same apt building. We remained close friends forever (and always will in my mind and heart).
    Clarence was THE nicest, FUNNIEST person in the world, and I’m not joking. He NEVER talked/bragged about himself, but was always there for me and any other friend who needed anything.
    Clarence was extremely smart and well spoken and a hard worker.
    I will always love him closely. Everyone loved him who got to know him. He was a gem—I learned so much from him.
    Elaine Marie
    Please contact me if anyone has additional information about this tragedy. I will also work on trying to contact his friends and family.

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