Development of the game, Aaaaa, A Reckless Disregard for GravityPosted on April 28th, 2010 1 comment
Ichiro from Dejobaan Games talks about Aaaaa, A Reckless Disregard for Gravity
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Interviewer: I’m here at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco at the IGF Main Competition and with me today is a special guest. How about you introduce yourself?
Ichiro: Hi, my name is Ichiro Lambe. I run Dejobaan Games, a Boston area indie company.
Interviewer: And what game do you have in the IGF?
Ichiro: Oh, well, this one is called “Aaaaa, A Reckless Disregard for Gravity”.
Interviewer: Awesome. And then what inspired the game idea?
Ichiro: Well, it’s a base jumping game. So, our game player architect, Dan, once e-mailed me a bunch of YouTube videos about base jumping. You see these guys screaming down the sides of mountains, you know, inches away from death, and we said, you know, we’ve got to prototype this stuff. And so, we prototyped it over the course of a weekend. We said, “This is actually pretty fun but we’ve got to do more” because base jumping, you know, jumping off of a building or something like that–you’ve got the wind in your face. You’ve got certain death feet away from you, and you don’t have that in a computer game. So, we tweaked it to add a little bit more, and you see the final game.
Interview: In the prototype phase what were you doing? How did you play around with things? What were some of the challenges you ran into when you initially tried to come up with, you know, finding something that was fun?
Ichiro: The biggest challenge in prototyping is always simplifying. We had these complex mechanics. We knew that we wanted you to be able to wind and weave around buildings and, you know, go here and there, steel skyscraper inches away from your face. How do you turn that into a game mechanic? Well, we had a function that was about a page long which described the logic for this, and we said, “OK, well, nobody’s going to get this.”
We’ve got to simplify this, and so the base game mechanic finally became two phased: kisses which is when you get within 10 meters of a building, you get 1000 points, and hugs is when you’re within 10 meters of anything you get, I think, 100 points for second. And that entire page of code became two lines, and the biggest challenge was in that reduction process.
Interviewer: That process of actually coming up with something more detailed and then reducing it, that is necessary. It’s not just coming up with something similar. Do you think you could have just saved all that time by just–you’d have been able to come up with that reduction idea if you weren’t looking totally at the original concept?
Ichiro: Well, I think you’re right. You know, you have to go through. You add, and you add, and you add and you say, well, I want to be able to weave through buildings, and I want to be able to do this and you want to be able to do that. And then you play test it a little bit, and then if people get confused, then what does the scoring work like? How come I got 27 points and 200 here? You know, once you get something that sort of feels good, then you just have to say, “OK, let’s strip away everything else that doesn’t matter and just get this core mechanic.”
Interviewer: So, once you reduced it, then you started play testing it. How did that go?
Ichiro: Well, I mean, the play testing ideally and just between you and me and the audience, we don’t always do it as much as we should. Play testing is ongoing, so we prototype. We play test. We go to Alpha. We play test. We go to Beta. We play test. And that’s a process that you continue.
Interviewer: What are some of the advices that comes out of play testing? I’m interested in the idea of you using building as a theme rather than mountains or something else or something like nature. What inspired those decisions?
Ichiro: Well, you know, buildings are sort of interesting to jump from, floating buildings especially. We wanted a cityscape, and we wanted people to be able to say, “Here’s a municipal area” that you wouldn’t normally be able to base jump from. You can’t even really do that in the real world unless you get permission or if you sneak up to the top of the Empire State and base jump.
You know, we basically took all of that and grew it organically. What looks good? What feels interesting? And you just iterate on it, and eventually you get the final game that’s hopefully what play testing was a fun one.
Interviewer: Were there are other challenges as you were developing this game? Any surprises that happened?
Ichiro: Oh, there were plenty. There’s always the danger of making the game too difficult or too esoteric because day in day out you’re playing and building this game. So, you end up with something that you’re really good at. And you say, “Oh, these levels are easy. These levels are fun” and then you go out there and you expose it to the public and they say, “I can’t do this. What is going on?”
You’re like, “No, it’s obvious. You’re supposed to put the red key into the green door, and then you’re supposed to elevate the tower over to the… You know, so surprises–I wouldn’t say there was anything that was like, oh my God, we’ve got to redo this entire game, but certainly simplifying the game mechanic was a big one.
Interviewer: Based on what you learned in this game, how are you going to approach future games differently, and how are you going to design and feature games differently?
Ichiro: Well, actually after a project we do a post mortem and I like to learn good lessons as well as bad. So, let me give you one of each. One of the mistakes we made was disorganization, you know. We’re a small studio. We have four teams of three people and four other contractors or students at any given time. So, that’s actually larger than a team that I’m usually used to working with. We had to make sure that everybody knows what he or she is doing and such that we don’t have to say, “Oh, well you just worked on this for two weeks. Now, we’re going in this other direction” which does sometimes happen.
So, I think in the future from that lesson, that mistake, we learned to basically step back every now and then and say, “Here’s the 30,000 foot view. Here’s what we need to do going forward so that we can all make intelligent decisions.”
Now the flip side of that, a really good thing that we did and I think we’ll continue doing, is to keep character into the game. As an indie studio, we can do whatever we want. Now, people might not like it, or people won’t publish it. But I won’t get fired at the end of the day, so we can view the game with the studio’s character. From the name, which is 25 with the letter A in a row to the game mechanics where you spray paint a building and for coins you flip people off.
As far as I know, this is the only game in the world that has a meditation track so three minutes, if you get too keyed up playing the game, it runs you through a guided medication, you know, no screamers, no jokes there. And then an anti-meditation so if you’re too relaxed it will key you up again. So, we just have fun and I think we’ll continue to do that.
Interviewer: You know, while you’re developing your game, were you just trying to focus on having fun while you were developing it? I mean, I’m trying to figure out. I’ve been asking other developers this. Do they just take it as a serious track when they’re developing or just trying to have as much fun and laughter while they’re working together? How does that work?
Ichiro: Well, here’s the big secret.
Interviewer: Or strike a balance here.
Ichiro: Well, the big secret of game development, indie game development is you’ll talk to a lot of game developers in the industry, and they’ll say, well, no, game development is work. It’s work. It’s not supposed to be fun. It’s just like acting. I love what I do. This is just the most amazing job that I could ever imagine, so it’s sometimes very difficult.
Oftentimes, I’ll be up until 3 a.m. but it’s because I love working on this and tweaking it. And we get together and we have all these ideas that we talk about, and it’s a shame to have to throw away 99 percent of them. But the one percent, we talk about and we drink a beer and we say, you know, I want to be able to moon people. It’s just a lot of fun followed by a lot of work.
Interviewer: Thinking back to the titles you’ve done, would you say that the games that you’ve had the most fun working on have produced the best results, or is there even any correlation?
Ichiro: Wow. I think you hit the nail on the head. You can’t really create a game that other people love or, at least, I haven’t unless you love the game yourself. If you love the development process, then that joy not only shows through the product and the humor but in the quality of the game because you’re going to want to spend that extra time to lavish that care and to polish here and to add these little features there. And it’s because of that, that we added the character to the game that we did.
Interviewer: Any other suggestions then for indie game developers out there who want to make their own game?
Ichiro: Wow, man, that’s a long list. I’d say, you know, the indies here today along with us are leading by example. They do what they love. Something I say often and I hear often is start small. Don’t try to create World of Warcraft if you have a team of one and a half people. Create something unbelievable and weird and wonderful and terrific, and people–if you love it and if you’re passionate about it, other people will be passionate about it, too.
Interviewer: And where can folks find out more information about your game?
Ichiro: Well, you can go online to our website at Dejobaan.com. That’s D-E-J-O-B-A-A-N. The game is also up on Steam, Direct Drive Impulse, GamersGate and Wild Tangent.
Interviewer: Thank you very much.
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