Case Study: Dejobaan’s Ichiro Lambe on Indie Startup Success and Making Awesome Games
After getting nerdy about procedural content generation and his awesome Gamasutra article, I asked Ichiro Lambe about how Dejobaan got started. He talks making games at the intersection of “games we want to create” and “everything we think folks will love”, how they funded their first games and any advice he has for folks going indie now.
So, obviously when we go indie, there’s so many games we want to make – how did you guys know “Aaaaa!” was “the one”?
It was the most awesome of things I love about indie game development:my creative guy, Dan, and I were passing around BASE jumping YouTube videos, and we said, “Hey, let’s try to model that!” We said that, simultaneously…In stereo. So, we took Dejobaan’s 2004 first-person shooter, Inago Rage, and tweaked it a little into a BASE jumper. Add flight. Lateral controls. Scoring plates? Simple, simple prototype. It was tons of fun, so we spent a few weeks refining, until we got to a proper one.
Exciting tidbit: Inago Rage is also the basis for our upcoming Drunken Robot Pornography as well as the base for Aaaaa!’s prototype. We’re getting a lot of unexpected mileage out of that game! I think lots of indies actually end up creating a game that they later pick apart to create bigger, better, sexier things. But when we’re creating that first game we don’t know we’ll end up doing so, and we sometimes focus on “perfecting” that first experience. Just ship it, and move on.
What kind of pre-production did you guys do before getting stuck into development?
Just the prototyping. For better or worse, our entire development process was an iterative, meandering thing. You know — the way you’re not supposed to develop a game ever.
[Editor’s note: According to AAA commercial dev anyways. Hard to develop iteratively when you’ve blown your budget hiring too many people and locked yourself into a mammoth GDD too early!]
How did you fund production and keep the lights on?
Dejobaan’s a bootstrapped company. It started as a “hobby business” in 1999, and slowly ramped up to full-time thing during the early ’00s. By Aaaaa!’s development, we had The Wonderful End of the World up on Steam, and that did reasonably well for us. I wasn’t eating foie gras every day, but I wasn’t subsisting on ramen.
What kind of games would you guys love to make?
More of what we’re making! It’s another thing I love about leading a small team. We take the intersection of a) all games we want to create and b) everything we think folks will love, and then we build that. For example, right now:
- Drunken Robot Pornography (the cleanest game on the Net) is about flying around with a jetpack, shooting GIANT robots apart, piece-by-piece, and then creating your own to toss at your friends. I loved Tribes, back in the day, so I have an affinity towards jetpack FPSes. Also: building giant robots.
- Drop That Beat Like an Ugly Baby (no babies harmed, probably) takes your music library and uses that to create floating worlds for you to fly and fight through. That uses a great deal of procedural content generation, which is a favorite area of mine, as you know from the Gamasutra article.
- And Monster Loves You! (it does not) is a sort-of Grimm’s Fairy Tales take on the virtual pet. You eat human children as part it, so it has that going for it. But beyond that, Monster’s my first exploration into a narrative-heavy game since the late ’90s. I miss telling stories. Except now, since I once again get to tell stories.
What advice to you have for folks going indie now?
I recently jotted some thoughts down here. Much of it is geared towards hobbyists who want to enter the industry as indies, but it applies to people looking to break out of AAA as well. Broadly:
- Read up, searching for articles, blogs, videos, and so forth.
- Talk to people. Talk to them in person. Talk to them on the Internets. Beg, borrow, or steal a car, and make your way to group events. If you do nothing else, this step will best get you to indie developerhood, because you will be so energized that you won’t be able to stop yourself from making games.
- Just dive in — write a quick game in the simplest game development tool you can find. If you haven’t created a viable game from start to finish, there’s your first step. Scope it down to a week or a month, rather than a year, so you can learn from the entire process.
- (Bonus step: Talk to Epona. I bet she’ll steer you in the right direction.) [Editor’s Note: *blush*]
Ichiro is Founder and President of Dejobaan Games, LLC, an independent Boston-area game development studio. He has worked in the industry since 1993, co-founding Worlds Apart Productions (later Sony Online Entertainment Denver) in 1995 and Dejobaan Games (still Dejobaan Games) in 1999. Since Dejobaan’s founding, he’s led development on the studio’s 16 titles, including the award-winning “AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! — A Reckless Disregard for Gravity” and the now-in-progress “Drop That Beat Like an Ugly Baby” and “Drunken Robot Pornography.” Follow them on Twitter, like them on Facebook and play their games!