Good afternoon, one and all, and welcome to this week’s Sunday Sidebar. We reach something of a milestone this week, with this interview marking the quarter-way point of the Indie Megabooth Mega Interview series. Our fair ship continues to push forward, sparking inspiration and education within the hearts and minds of everyone who sails in her. Perhaps. This week I spent a whirlwind afternoon in the company of Ichiro Lambe, the self-appointed Lead Person and hyperactive mastermind behind Dejobaan Games. Ichiro bursts at the seams with ideas. Our conversation follows almost verbatim:
Good afternoon, Ichiro!
Hello, Christopher! So, what brings you here?
Let’s start with the basics. Just who exactly are you guys?
Who wants to know?
Alright! We’re Dejobaan Games, Limited Liability Company, right out of Boston, Massachusetts. We’ve been in business since 1999 in one form or another. Dejobaan’s a small studio – our last project had, like, 8 people on it – but we’re growing. We’re best known for our award-winning, most sensual AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! – A Reckless Disregard for Gravity, and for our part in the Portal 2 Alternate Reality Game.
What led you to come up with the name ‘Dejobaan’?
It’s a middle finger to the Dotcom Era, I tells ‘ya! Dejobaan was originally a nonsense word from a tabletop roleplaying campaign, circa 1991. When I founded my company in ’99, it was at a time when groups of people were getting millions in funding, and then going away on weekend retreats in the woods to figure out what their domain names should be. I said to myself, “Fie! I bet I could name my company anything, and if I make stuff that’s fun to play, it’ll be a success.” They all went out of business. On the other hand, I’m still jealous of their weekend retreats.
How did you personally get into game design, and when? Is your background more in programming, or storytelling?
When I was seven, my father sat me down in front of a TI-99/4A and solemnly decreed, “Thou shalt not know how to play sports.” I was hooked, Christopher. Soon enough, I was creating things like this:
What is not to love, here? So, over the years, we got hardware sprites; player missiles; 16k of memory; 4 voice music; cassette tapes; floppy disks; 16-bit CPUs; math coprocessors; 1200 baud; joysticks; bit blitting; sampled audio; 320x240x256 graphics; 1MB of memory; hard drives; mouse input; 9600 baud; SVGA graphics; gamepads; 3D accelerators; broadband; and, Jesus, now we have ten-core CPUs with 16 terabytes of RAM and holographic displays with haptic feedback. Or something.
“If you get enough like-minded people into an area, good things seem to just happen.”
What is it about Boston that makes it such a hub of independent development?
The independent game developers! They rock. And are friendly. They all seem to want you to succeed. If you get enough like-minded people into an area, good things seem to just happen. For example, when the Dejobaan and Fire Hose teams get together and have screaming matches to see how quietly an entire team of game developers can scream at each other. Or when Alec (business development at Subatomic) and I will get together for drinks, and we’ll have arm wrestling competitions with other people’s arms. People actually don’t mind that.
But the crux of all of this is that devs get together and talk about running small studios, or creating games, or whatnot. And it’s not just the indies that mingle: one of the Irrational Games’ [BioShock developers] staffers is throwing a BBQ today, and a bunch of us will talk about how lovely the a) weather and b) video game industry are, in general. Game dev love abounds.
“The bar has been raised a great deal.”
How was the Indie Megabooth experience for you?
The Indie Megabooth was grand. Mind you, getting 16 strong-willed studio heads to agree on things (like what shade of lavender the bloody logo would be) was like herding cats at times, but that’s fun too. I took a whole ream of photos over the weekend that speak for themselves. Talking with fans was great. Talking with the press was great. Doing this here thing with other indies was immeasurably fun. Being indies, our versions of the much-maligned ‘booth babes’ were the women who actively work on games as part of our teams. Take that, AAA!
Great! So you think now is an exciting time to be an indie developer?
That’s a softball question! I love being an indie developer now. We have amazing tools at our fingertips, great communities that push us to constantly improve, with gamers and publishers and journalists that truly value what we do. Of course, this great global community we’re in can also be a downside – the bar has been raised a great deal. What might have made a few hundred thousand dollars in 2002 just isn’t going to cut it in 2012. You need more art. More content. More interesting gameplay. In many ways, game development has become tougher as direct result.
Your team’s manifesto is composed of four simple words: Dejobaan Creates Amazing Games. How seriously do you take that?
I actually think that this will be the key difference between a successful Dejobaan and an out-of-business Dejobaan:
‘a·maze (verb): to overwhelm with surprise or sudden wonder; astonish greatly.’
We probably do this best when we include instructions on time travel or when AaaaAAaaa… had a guided meditation section. Our internal mantra is, actually, Joyous Unique Interactive Entertainment. We love it when people laugh at a name, such asAaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!, or…
I see where we’re going here! Yeah, so your upcoming release is ‘Drunken Robot Pornography’, right? That’s a bold name. Are you hoping to run with that as the final-draft title?
…yeah, that. Drunken Robot Pornography started out as an April Fool’s joke, then became a song in another game, and finally became a proper PAX East prototype. It took us a while to come up with the name, and we’re sticking with it. It’s descriptive:
- Drunken: Your enemies are fueled by isopropanol, methanol, and ethanol, which determines their powers and dispositions.
- Robot: Your enemies are robots.
- Pornography: You’re fighting 12 robot centerfolds. They’re sleek and sexy. Can you best Mister December?
Side note: It’s actually the cleanest game on the Internet.
With plans for a turnaround time of under a year, how important is scheduling?
It’s got to be a tight fit. We go for milestones, and often (but not always) hit them. IGF deadline for Aaaaa!, PAX East for our Drunken Robot prototype. But at the opposite end, we launched Drop That Beat Like an Ugly Baby as a playable pre-order on Steam a year ago, and are still working on it, about 50,000 months longer than I’d ever imagined. I screwed that timing up – but we won’t actually launch-launch until it’s great.
What is your prized geek possession? Is there anything you’re still holding onto from way back when?
I think I still have my old Atari 800 and some floppies from my Atari ST coding days. Also, I just unearthed a box filled with old Amiga and Atari game boxes from the ’90s. Which, I suppose is silly to keep. But what the hell. I have a basement.
Thanks for your time, Ichiro.
Awesome! Thanks for chatting.
Dejobaan have released AaaaaAaa… for iOS in conjunction with Owlchemy Labs (who I spoke to here). Development continues on Drunken Robot Pornography, with a planned release before the end of the year.