Dejobaan Games Interview

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Dejobaan Games is an independent game developer that has made some innovative and exciting titles for the PC, PocketPC, and Palm PDA. With hits such as Inago Rage and Epidemic Groove as well as the upcoming FPS Galaxy Rage, there are a lot of exciting things to experience through Dejobaan. Galaxy Rage may still be a few months or more away at this point, but I decided to have a chat with company founder Ichiro Lambe.

*All questions are in bold, while Ichiro’s responses are in normal typeface*

First off, tell us a little about yourself and Dejobaan Games.

I’ve been involved in the game development industry since the late ’80s, working primarily for companies involved in online games. In 1999, I founded Dejobaan Games (www.dejobaan.com) to create titles for handheld and desktop computers. We have 11 titles under our belt, and are now working on our 12th, Galaxy Rage, which is an open-ended first-person shooter centered around interstellar exploration.

In addition to Windows games, you also develop Palm and PocketPC games. How is the development of games for these two platforms different from developing for Windows?

People generally play PDA games while riding the subway or waiting for an oil change, whereas for many PC titles, we expect them to sit down and play for an hour or more. So for PDAs, we need to design gameplay as a bite-sized experience where players can accomplish something interesting within five minutes. Of course, PDAs are also technically modest when compared to desktop PCs (in terms of memory, speed, input controls, audio output, and display), which limits the kinds of content we can produce for them.

What do you feel the future holds for games on mobile devices such as the Palm and PocketPC?

I expect PDAs to merge completely with cell phones before too long, as most people don’t want to carry around two devices. It would be great for gamers if most phones were to run Palm OS or Windows Mobile. Right now, it’s difficult for developers to produce games for cell phones — to reach customers, they need to go through cell service providers. Take away that middleman, and we’ll see all sorts of great titles being created for phones.

Keeping with the mobile theme, could you ever see Dejobaan making any titles for mobile phones?

We might, in which case we’ll create them in conjunction with our PC titles, such as a mobile version of Galaxy Rage that focused on the game’s strategic aspects over the action.

Moving on, the first PC title of yours I had experience with was Inago Rage, an ambitious first person shooter style game that let players build their own arenas. How did the idea for this originally come about?

While creating the Inago Rage prototype, I implemented a simple way to move pieces around from within the game. It turned out that walking around, building cities was a lot of fun; it fulfilled the same need to create that Legos and wooden blocks did when we were kids. There wasn’t a first-person shooter where players could build maps as easily as we’d wanted, so we decided to focus on creating an “arena designer” that was powerful, yet so straightforward that any FPS player could be up and building within seconds.

Have players been embracing the level designer included in the game, and how has Dejobaan as a company been supporting the levels players have been making?

We’ve gotten a positive response on the arena designer, but I’ve found that most players play through the game without getting into building as much as I’d hoped. What I’d like to do in the future is to incorporate arena building into the actual gameplay and also provide an online community where builders can exchange their work.

Your next game was Epidemic Groove, a unique cross between action and real time strategy that had players fighting germs and other epidemics. How hard was it to balance out this mix of gameplay styles?

The strategic and action halves fit together really well from the start (the gameplay equivalent of chocolate and peanut butter). The biggest problems that popped up were exploits in the game rules, such as when players stacked multiple lasers on top of each other, making it impossible for enemy viruses to attack them. There were also rules issues to think about — how much should a particular defensive structure cost? How powerful is this laser? Why are players getting stumped on level 8? Play testing helped us balance all that out.

How has Epidemic Groove been received by players and the media, considering this is such a unique concept?

I’m thrilled with the response we’ve received; its encouraged us to continue with further development for the PC. The game’s biggest draw is the complexity we’ve mixed in with the action. I love hearing about new player strategies for setting up defensive structures; formations that never occurred to us while play testing the game.

One thing that Epidemic Groove had was some very interesting storyboards in between levels. It’s clear that Dejobaan doesn’t take itself overly seriously, but how do you go about coming up with story ideas?

Yeah, Epidemic Groove and Inago Rage were largely tongue-in-cheek, which has worked out well for us. It’s something we’re trying to push further in our next title. My favorite approach to coming up with new ideas is simply to start writing something — anything — then bounce it back and forth with someone else. Back in the early ’90s, I used to work in online game development with a colleague, Dan Brainerd. When it was time to create new content, one of us would open up a blank text file called “IDEERS.TXT” and type up a loose list of ideas. He’d then send it off to the other, who’d augment and refine it before sending it back. After a half-dozen such passes, we’d have a solid plan, and could move forward to implementation. Flash forward 15 years, Dan and I still use that same “ideers” format when we have occasion to work together.

For your next game, Galaxy Rage, you’re returning to the world of first person shooters. Will this be like Inago Rage at all, or will the experiences be completely different?

Your website says that Galaxy Rage will be an open ended first person shooter. What does this mean, and how will the open ended aspects affect the gameplay and replay value?

I might be able to answer these together. Our primary goal with Galaxy Rage is to push the concept of an “intelligent first person shooter.” These days, most FPSes such as Doom and Half Life are linear and action-oriented — “go forth and shoot!” Some, such as Thief and Deus Ex add complexity with a tactical aspect. In these games, players ask themselves, “What path will I take to get through this level? What equipment do I need to purchase to win?” Few shooters go further than that, though I think titles such as GTA and Parkan point in this direction.

In Galaxy Rage, players explore the stars at will and ask themselves if the planet they’ve just set foot on is ripe for terraforming (so they can grow organic technologies they can use), or if they should search it for artifacts (which may include information they can sell). We want them to decide whether it’s worth traveling to Barnard’s Star during the peak trading season, or to stick around Proxima Centauri and participate in the Sky High Vex Brigade tourney for fame and fortune. I think that kind of open-endedness and depth will appeal to many shooter fans and make the game replayable.

The initial screens for Galaxy Rage are extremely impressive. What engine(s) are you using to make the game, or is everything made completely from scratch?

We’re using the 3D Gamestudio by Conitec Datasystems (www.3dgamestudio.com). One of our hopes with Galaxy Rage is to advance the genre’s aesthetics in a non-traditional direction. The larger studios are creating some absolutely gorgeous games. But with the exception of titles like Tron 2.0 and XIII, first-person shooters are almost all focused on photorealism. Why is this? People can appreciate a stylistic painting or illustration as much as a photorealistic one, so I’m hoping gamers feel the same way about graphics in their FPS.

Has Dejobaan ever considered the possibility of putting any of their titles on Xbox Live Arcade?

Sure; we’re writing Galaxy Rage with that possibility in mind, so we’re making sure that elements such as control will fit well with the console. We’ll focus more on investigating a port after we’ve launched for the PC.

How would you like people to remember your games?

We want them to think, “My god, I’ve never played anything like this before. I have to tell my friends.” We want players to remember beautifully designed games with unconventional aesthetics. With our PDA titles, our goal was to entertain people while they passed the time. That’s something we’ve had to pull ourselves away from; and I think we’re just now beginning to do that with Galaxy Rage. Above all, we want players to think of titles that bring them happiness from start to finish. We want them to fall in love with our games.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about Galaxy Rage or Dejobaan Games?

Just that we’re hoping to have Galaxy Rage completed by the end of the year. And if we do it right, you’ll absolutely love it.

Thanks!

For more information on Dejobaan and all of their titles, check out their website athttp://www.dejobaan.com.

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