My name is Ichiro Lambe, and I'm the President of Dejobaan Games, LLC. This is like saying you're the Grand High Emperor of Monaco. It's awesome, but to put things into perspective, big studios such as Electronic Arts spend as much money throwing a cocktail party as we do developing an entire game. I'm going to tell you a bit about the life of our studio during the development of our 13th title, AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! - A Reckless Disregard for Gravity (Aaaaa! for short). If you haven't played it yet, give it a try: www.dejobaan.com/aaaaa. Its available on our site as well as on Steam etc... We launched it on September 3rd.
Dejobaan Games is tiny and lightning fast. A half dozen people worked on Aaaaa! Total dev time will come to somewhere between 3,000 and 6,000 man-hours -- we like to compare that to a larger studio, which might hit upwards of a million man-hours for a single title. There's a balance here: their games are huge and gorgeous, but ours are quirky, and only need to sell a quarter million dollars worth for us to be able to pay for food.
- 1.5MHz single core CPU
- Windows XP
- 2GB RAM
- 512MB 3D card
- Dual displays
- Probably a mouse
Based on those stats, you likely have enough processing power on your desktop to start two indie game studios.
Our core team comprises three people (a company/dev lead, a pr/marketing guy, and a gameplay architect). It's one of the best teams I've had the pleasure of working with since my first exposure to the industry in '92. By the end of any given day, we'll typically a) do one extraordinary great thing, and b) avert one crisis. For example, the day we wrote this, we had just finished a massive promo on Steam that managed to double sales in 2 days! We file that under "great." We also managed not to get arrested for necrophilia. We file that under "crisis averted."
We get our inspiration from things we see in everyday life. The whole concept of Aaaaa! came when our creative guy, Dan Brainerd sent around BASE jumping videos. Here's a picture of Dan in a hospital, with a hole the size of a #2 pencil in his left leg. He claims that the idea for the game's "Flip-It" Glove (which allows you to flip off protesters for points) came from the hand in the foreground.
Again, our indie studio is like Monaco to the AAA's European Union. Monaco has a GDP of about $976 million. The EU's GDP is twenty thousand times as large. Crazy! To keep costs down, we'll often snag our friends for bit parts. The singer at the center of the photo is Alicia F, whose voice is so expressive that we asked her to do the game's opening monologue, and so lovely that we couldn't resist asking her to sing some of the songs. I hope she's reading this now. Similarly, we have offered summer internships as a cost-effective way to get talented undergrads in exchange for industry experience.
We tend to wear many hats, in contrast to the specialized roles you find in larger studios. The same guy who does voice-overs also builds levels and writes back-story. Our Business Development guy writes press releases, but he also helps design algorithms for procedural content generation. Generalization is fun, but it has its tricky bits. For example...
...there are probably thousands of people in the world who are more familiar with mixers than I am. The reason that most of the knobs are dusty is because I don't actually know what they all do. What does PFL mean? I could slog through a manual, but I'd have to stop writing this article to make time for that.
A healthy handful of indies make good out there. I'll always scan the aisles of gaming stores for their titles -- these are generally priced below larger ones, but the development overhead's smaller, making them profitable. Here's one from PomPom games, based in the UK. Do you know what else they have in the UK? They have Vindaloo, which is great, and will put hair on your chest. Other people's hair.
Boston has a vibrant game development community, with companies like Harmonix (Guitar Hero), Turbine (Lord of the Rings Online), and ATI (now part of AMD) within two miles of us. Every month, industry members get together at the Boston Post Mortem to drink and talk at each other. This is a good place to network, and we learn lessons from other studios. What's the best way to tune gameplay for a hardcore audience? How do you keep it accessible to casual gamers? What was your last big screw-up, and how do we avoid screwing up too?
I just noticed that the two people towards the center of the photo are wearing matching sweaters. Isn't that adorable? The game development industry is sometimes style-conscious. To wit:
- Sport coat. This says: "I am totally probably a real businessman."
- Casual dress shirt. I'm ridiculously skinny, so I like to wear fitted shirts. Otherwise, I look like I'm wearing a sack.
- Designer jeans. We could wear slacks, but we'd look like we were trying too hard.
- Good shoes. My BizDev guy says that you can wear the rattiest jeans, and if you have a well-polished, stylish shoe, you'll look fabuloso. Since he goes around with a petite blonde who's also a scientist, I trust him. But come to think of it, he's almost obnoxious about shoes. You know what? Go ask him about fashion advice for geeks: ljaitley-at-dejobaan-dot-com. I've threatened to fill up his inbox for a long time, and it's time I followed through.
- Thousand-yard stare with half-grin. People don't know what it means, so they are often inclined to think you know something they don't. With that kind of expression, you could be armed. I am not armed.
The dress code is actually important here. Publishers will take you seriously if you're not wearing a black gaming T and Vans. Go figure.
As with everything good in life, the first half of Aaaaa!'s development ended with a party. The pre-order launch event was a way to try the game out on people who weren't familiar with it. Alcohol Alcohol Alcohol. We tested whether they could navigate the new menuing interface; whether the gameplay tutorials made sense; whether they could hit the landing platform on the first try; and so forth. The earlier levels turned out to be accessible to non-gamers and gamers-alike, which meant: success! (The black bars are to protect the testers' identities. Also, one of them them is a lawyer.)
So, what's next? Many, many late nights. Lots of mucking around, trying to hammer game mechanics from our prototypes into something unique and fun for the next game. There really is lots of work, but I'm happy to say that come Sunday night, we're always excited to go back to it. And when we're done, we enjoy the euphoria of launching our 14th title. Check out some prototype videos now.