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IGF Factor 2010: Aaa(Snip!-Ed)

Of all the IGF finalists so far, AAA(Snip!-Ed) is the one which RPS has written most about. We loved it when we reviewed it. We loved it when Dejobaan answered your comment thread questions in a little video. We loved it when we interviewed them. We loved it in our end of year round-up. And we love it now, when they’ve recieved a nomination for excellence in design, taking it as an excuse for yet more coverage. Interview go! Interview go!
RPS: Firstly, a brief intro to those who may not know you. Who are you?

Ichiro Lambe: I’m Ichiro Lambe, Founder and President of Dejobaan Games, LLC. We’re a tiny indie studio right outside of Boston, MA. Being President of Dejobaan Games is like that episode of ST:TNG where they run into that guy who was the captain of a small shuttlecraft. I bet he also cleaned out the toilets.

RPS: What’s your background?

Ichiro Lambe: I’ve worked on and off in the industry since about ’93. My first “real” job involved creating a multiplayer online game that involved a) robots and b) shooting at robots. Looking through my HD, here’s a screenshot in all of its 320×200 glory, aaaaaand here’s a magazine article which I was delighted about, though they left an “e” off of my name.

RPS: Why get into games? Why get into indie games?

Ichiro Lambe: I’ve been in love with game development since I was seven, sitting at a TI 99/4A. Indie games, in particular, are the perfect confluence of engineering, creativity, and business — if I worked for a giant company, I wouldn’t be able to have hands in game design, company strategy, marketing, and development. I’d just be one thing. Phooey!

This is he.

RPS: And… the game. Tell us about it. What was its origins? What are you trying to do with it? What are you most pleased about it?

Ichiro Lambe: It all started with a BASE jumping video, but Aaaaa! doesn’t aim to mimic BASE jumping, per se. The biggest thing we wanted to do with the game (and an area where I think we succeeded) was to just have fun with the damned thing and share that with everyone who played it. For a long time, one of our goals has been to create a game where people walk away thinking, “Holy jumping Jesus on a pogo stick. I can’t believe I just saw that in a game. I have to tell people about it.”

RPS: What nags?

Ichiro Lambe: We really got the demo experience wrong. You find the game. You download it. You install it. At this point, you’ve done nothing I’d consider really “fun.” So: You play the demo. Aaaaaaaaaaand you spend 10 minutes going through a tutorial that’s not much fun either. I totally intercoursed that one up.

RPS: What’s your feelings on the IGF this year. Pleased to be nominated?

Ichiro Lambe: We’re honored to have been nominated. For us, it’s confirmation that, yes, if you put your heart, soul, and a heaping heap of your own character into a game, people will respond well. Game development sometimes seems so sterile. Developers constrain themselves by saying “Here’s the game design. We may add 3 teaspoons of humor at the numbered locations.” To heck with that! We added elevator music to our level selection screen, and people loved it.

RPS: Have particular love, bemusement or hate for any of the other entries? Is there anything you think is missing?

Ichiro Lambe: I love Monaco and Cogs. I really look forward to meeting some of my fellow indies in person at GDC — though Boston has a vibrant game development community, indies just dot the globe, and I haven’t brushed shoulders with many.

RPS: How do you feel about my moustache?

Ichiro Lambe: You don’t wear one.

RPS: How do you feel about the indie scene generally this year? People have been relatively downbeat about 2009, after 2008 being so obviously incendiary.

Ichiro Lambe: Kieron, I must have been living under a rock, because I missed the fireworks in 2008. Most indies I’ve met have been really great guys. There’s a sense of us all being in it together rather than it being a cutthroat competition. I hope that doesn’t change too much — the game development community in Boston is actually pretty friendly. In 2009, I feel a certain energy building — something that points to a Golden Age of independent development.

RPS: What are the themes, in your eyes? What are people missing?

Ichiro Lambe: 2009’s central theme for us was “creativity and crazygonutsheycanwereallygetawaywithputtingthisstuffintoagame?”. There’s more experimentation going on than most gamers realize.

RPS: What’s a day in the development life of Dejobaan Games like?

Ichiro Lambe: I wake up sometime before noon and wonder if I’m the Pied Piper, leading a team of capable individuals on a merry but ultimately futile romp. By lunch, I’ve answered a small handful of e-mails to customers, journalists, publishers, and fellow indies, and have put out one or two fires. I then spend hours hacking away on our latest game, whatever that is at any given time. I muse on all the mistakes I’ve made and all the lessons I’ve learned, and wonder what obvious thing I have yet to learn, and whether my not knowing it will sink the company. If it’s Tuesday, our team will meet en toto, in person and via Skype. Later, around midnight, something like this will happen over IM:

Tamlyn: I came up with a name for levels that Mary, Ryan, and I make.
Ichiro: Yes!
Tamlyn: Tam und Mary und Ryan. TuMuRs. Pronounced “tumor.”

And it’s that point that I know that things are going to be okay.

RPS: Ichiro, why are you screwing with my interview questions?

Ichiro Lambe: Mostly because I think that you either won’t mind it, or will simply ignore the intrusion. I feel that we, as game developers, can sometimes be too rigid in what we do. It’s as though we have a checklist:

Antonia: Gentlemen, where are we on our game design?
William: We have an installer, a title menu, an options menu, over 13 unique enemies, and more than 18 unique levels!
Ralph: The graphics are eye-popping. Add in 8 daringly original music tracks, and 12 jaw-dropping cut scenes.
Antonia: Bingo!
William: Bullshit.
Antonia: No, really. I got unique, eye-popping, jaw-dropping, original, redefine, tour de force, and genre-bending. I win Press Release Bingo!
Ralph: Screw you. You’re imaginary, anyway. There are no women in game development.

Lamentable gender disparity in video game development aside, I think it’s what we do outside of that standard gameplay checklist that makes a game really interesting. Little tidbits — like the sound effects when you keep clicking on Starcraft pieces — that make a game truly awesome.

RPS: And how does the future look for you? What are you working on now and the foreseeable future.

Ichiro Lambe: Game development is notoriously person-hour heavy. It takes how many artists to make a single game? Really? I think future generations will look back and click their tongues at how basic our tools are. What I’m trying to do in 2010 is to make our tiny studio as productive as a much larger one through mathematics and a bit of magic.

RPS: Thanks for your time, you question-manipulating bastard.

Aaa(Snip!-Ed) is still available to buy. Dejobaan are actually working on other stuff right now, despite clearly dodging the question for admirable comic effect. Here’s a little experimental game they showed recently, working on a one-button system…

Bless them and follow their work at their electronic internet site.

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Kieron Gillen

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Kieron Gillen is robo-crazy.

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