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Interview: Dejobaan Games' Lambe, Jaitley On Doing Things A Little Different

Indie studio Dejobaan received accolades for last year's base jumper Aaaaa!. As the team plugs away on its upcoming ooo! ooO! oOO! OOO!, founders Ichiro Lambe and Leo Jaitley discuss their history and future.

Mike Rose, Blogger

July 27, 2010

8 Min Read

Founded in 1999, Dejobaan Games spent the first half of the 00's developing games for PalmOS PDAs, but in 2005, the team's profile began to heighten as it switched its efforts to PC gaming, developing shareware titles for Windows. In 2008, Dejobaan released The Wonderful End of the World, a Katamari Damacy-like game that earned positive reviews and was eventually published on Valve's Steam service. Riding on this confidence boost, the team released its next game in 2009. Ostentatiously named AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! – A Reckless Disregard for Gravity, the game is Dejobaan's best-received title yet, and has thrust the small studio into the spotlight. Since then, the Dejobaan crew has branched out into many parts of indie gaming, interviewing other developers and creating a fan club for its followers. We sat down with co-founders Ichiro Lambe and Leo Jaitley to talk about their rise to indie fame, the Dejobaan fan club, and what the future holds for them. Who makes up the Dejobaan Games team, and what do you each do? Ichiro Lambe: The core team comprises three people -- Dan Brainerd, Leo Jaitley, and me. By "core," I mean, "If any of us die, we stop being substantially the same company, and possibly go out of business." Dan's our narrative and gameplay guy. He breaks into team meetings and says things like, "Hey, how about a player feedback button in our game that, after you enter your text and hit 'send,' it does one of those 'sending e-mail' animations, where it packages the text up, brings it across the screen, crumples it up, and throws it into the trash?" Then the whole room laughs. Video games need more of that. Life needs more of that. Leo's on marketing and strategy. He has an especially good handle on how design and marketing are two sides of the same coin. The "M" word isn't evil. When applied properly, it helps us become more creative: "How is this game so remarkable and different that people will talk to their friends about it? What was that? No, '15 distinct musical tracks' doesn't cut it. Yes, 'mooning people for food' is awesome." Leo is also my downstairs neighbor, with whom I co-own the Dejobaan House of Excitement. We have the garden out back, where we grow eight different types of lettuce, swiss chard, five varieties of tomato, and so forth. When we need to center ourselves, we'll go out into the garden and gape as the beans grow. Leo and I ask many of the same questions of gardening that we do of game development. "What do we want to grow next year?" "What's our goal here?" "What's more awesome -- yellow watermelon or a huge plantation of Scotch Bonnet peppers?" If you ever end up in Boston during the summer, you are welcome to walk the garden with us. I am the handsome one. As with anyone in a small studio, I do the "many hats wearing" thing. During the week, I'll plan the team's goals and tasks, wrangle legal agreements, and stay up until 3am trying to implement quaternions correctly. You've been conducting interviews with various indie developers and even created your own site, indiesuperstar.com, to keep them all together. What's it all about? Leo Jaitley: It occurred to us that we are uniquely placed to share some behind-the-scenes info on indie devs because we know so many devs through various secret societies. You know, the usual stuff. We then figured that some gamers might actually be dying to learn these secrets, possibly for money. By the time somebody mentioned subliminal messages, and millions of dollars, we were sold on the idea. Right now we are working on softPIRATEware tDEJOBAANhat inGAMESSserts subliminal messages into text so that we can write articles about being indie that will sell games. Until we perfect it -- did that work? -- we will just interview our fellow indies and attempt to build credibility and a vibrant community around our collective indie brother- (and sister-) hood. You've recently started a Dejobaan fan club, releasing short, free version of Aaaaa! to those who sign up. What made you decide to start doing this? LJ: Again, subliminal messages in gameplay are known to make people fork over cash, or at least buy you a beer. dejobaan2.jpgMore seriously, we wanted a way to connect with our fans so we could get their help with beta testing and prototype selection. Right now, when someone buys a game on Steam or Direct2Drive, we don't really have an opportunity to engage with them, unless they choose to use forums. With the fan club, we hope to offer people free but awesome games from Dejobaan, and even other indies, in exchange for an opportunity to pick their brains and see which games are worth turning into larger projects. If we give them games they enjoy, they will help get the word out and hopefully increase gamer awareness of us and other Indies. One point worth noting -- we see Indie Superstar and the fan club as mechanisms through which many indies can benefit. We are starting through humble projects, but hope that these mechanisms will grow such that multiple indies can benefit from them in the same way that small farmers benefit from a cooperative. An iPad edition of Aaaaa! was originally on the cards early this year. Is it still in development? IL: That's something we're still working on. I can tell that it'll take longer than we'd expected. Everything always takes longer than we expect. Someday, we'll internalize this lesson. There was talk of procedural level generation for Aaaaa!, allowing players to basejump through different objects each time. Is that still going to happen? IL: Yes! 2010 is the year of algorithmic content generation for Dejobaan -- in fact, we're betting the company on it. And for us, it's more than just a way to generate endless forests or city layouts. I want our content designers to be able to tweak knobs and wave their hands, and weave these fascinating, beautiful worlds rather than having to create everything piece by piece. If we do it right, our tools should help them become mind-bogglingly creative and inhumanly powerful. Here's a bunch of media surrounding our work: Gallery 1, gallery 2, gallery 3, gallery 4, gallery 5. While this is primarily for our next project, some of it has already made its way back into our dev build of Aaaaa!. From the stylings of your games and your website, your team appears to have great laughs making games together. Is it important for you to enjoy what you do? IL: It's like crack, Mike. Game development is a nearly spiritual experience for me. If you found yourselves not enjoying development on your next game, what steps would you take to change that? dejobaan3.jpgIL: ...and, yet, what you say here does happen at least once in every sizable project. Our upcoming title, ooo! ooO! oOO! OOO! (Ooo! for short) is something that really inspires me, because it shows how beautiful math can be. But earlier this year, after four months of hacking away at it, I lost sight of it. What could possibly be fun about this damned thing? When is it going to be a game? Why are we even doing this? They say that time (away from a project) heals all wounds, so my 3-step plan was: 1. Switch to another project. 2. Complete that project. 3. Take a week off. By the end of that process, I couldn't help myself "sneaking" in time to think about Ooo!. It was exciting again. The ideas flowed like ice wine from a Canadian vintner. The tough thing for me is identifying when I've burned out on something and need to recharge. It's been a long road for Dejobaan Games, launching in 1999 with MarbleZone, a shareware game for Windows 95, and now more than ten years later you've been nominated for an IGF award. What has been the highlight of the last decade? IL: We've found our voice. The past ten years have seen Dejobaan go from a hobby business to (mostly) a genuine one. During that time, we've tried creating games all sorts of ways, and what's resonated with gamers most is adding character around a solid core. Aaaaa!'s core mechanic is straightforward -- creating stunts and flipping people off for points -- but we've added things like an honest-to-goodness guided meditation and an anti-meditation to make players smile. We want Dejobaan to be about clever gems of games that ooze personality to the point where you are compelled to climb Mount Everest, take a lungful of rarefied air, and scream our name. What's next for Dejobaan Games? Can you give us any details about your next big release? IL: Yes! Ooo!, or ooo! ooO! oOO! OOO! for long, is an anti-sequel to Aaaaa!, where you fly through dangerous worlds, then tweak that world's genomes to organically grow new ones. We're ironing out the elevator pitch for that, but our latest fan club freebie game points in this direction -- it all fits into algorithmic content generation. The fan club freebie, for example, was mostly generated using piles of trigonometry. Right now, we have an intern using Conway's Game of Life expressed in three dimensions to create a level. I love this stuff. We're also trying to finish off an Aaaaa! postmortem, which I have owed Gamasutra for about six months. Please don't hate us.

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