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Postmortem: Dejobaan Games' Aaaaa! -- A Reckless Disregard for Gravity
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Postmortem: Dejobaan Games' Aaaaa! -- A Reckless Disregard for Gravity

September 22, 2010 Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

This is the story about how AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! -- A Reckless Disregard for Gravity (Aaaaa! for short) put Dejobaan Games on the map. We're a small studio that proudly makes its home in Boston, Massachusetts, alongside game dev companies of all sizes, from industry heavyweights Turbine and Harmonix to tiny one-person affairs. Our company is tiny, with a core team of three people and a handful of part-timers.

The team structure at the time we started writing this article.

Aaaaa!, our 13th title, was a finalist in the IGF 2010 and Indie Game Challenge 2010 awards, and was selected to be part of the Penny Arcade Expo Indie Showcase in that convention's first appearance on the East Coast.

The game challenges you to walk off of a perfectly good building, create your own stunts to impress the judges, and flip people off for points. It also teaches you how to debristle a pig.

The question we want to answer with this article is simple: How on earth did this happen?

What Went Right

1. Marketing = Game Design = Marketing

This is it -- if we did nothing else right, we hit this one on the head.

Marketing [n.]: Creating a game so wonderful that people will a) give you their hard-earned money to play it and b) talk to the world about it. Marketing is an integral part of game design, rather than a spare afterthought.

Say "marketing" to many people, and it's an evil, filthy thing that you use to force people to buy something they don't need. But to us, it starts with designing an experience that makes people so passionate about that they actually pick up the game and tell all their friends. To wit, both Dejobaan's design lead, Ichiro, and our marketing and strategy guy, Leo, have hands in both business and game design.

With Aaaaa!, we started by tossing ideas back and forth until we had something that interested us as gamers and businesspeople. It went exactly like this:

Leo (Marketing & Strategy): So, what's this game about?

Ichiro (President): Jumping from buildings and landing without dying.

Leo: That's dry. You know that bit you put into the video about mooning people?

Ichiro: That was a throwaway joke, dude.

Leo: What if that was in the game? You could moon people for points.

Ichiro: I could get fired for suggesting that.

Leo: You own the company.

Ichiro: Fine, we'll put it in.

That evolved into a mechanic where you could give passing fans the thumbs-up and flip protesters off, which is something that journalists and gamers always talk about. Designing the game and thinking about how it would engage our audience were the same thing.

Amusing concept -> Realization that people might like this -> Incorporation into game

This seems like a no-brainer. But countless times, we've heard developers propose something absolutely ridiculous and hilarious. Everyone will laugh until tears start streaming from their eyes, then someone will reign it in. "Come on, guys, let's get serious. What do we really want to put into the game?"

Why do people do this?

Flipping off protesters was a throwaway gag that became one of the game's central mechanics. At PAX East, we told gamers about it in conversation, and they laughed in delight (and then signed up for our fan club to hear more).

Things like "over 80 levels" or "15 music tracks" aren't as noteworthy as "deploy obscene gesture for points" is. We tried to apply this throughout the game -- for example, if you get too keyed up playing, you can unlock a full, 3-minute guided meditation.

We think that this process made Aaaaa! more remarkable and generally more awesome.

2. We secured core gameplay, then spewed awesomeness all around it.

An excellent video game isn't just about presenting interesting rules -- it's about delighting the player with bits of awesomeness all over the place. The best arcades did this well during the '80s.

Big lights and lots of games like these.

In their heyday they were like miniature Las Vegases for kids, filled with interesting details. At the core were the games -- but they weren't just all dumped into a dusty warehouse. Step inside one now -- the decor (tacky, yet awesome) starts with a pitch black room with wavy neon lights and disco balls. The cabinets are densely-packed, with illustrations sprawling over them. Peek around to the front of each one, and you get a glimpse of a ridiculous matrix of lights playing out. Off in one corner of the room is an illuminated glass cube filled with plush toys and a gleaming claw.

While you're picturing the ambient glow, listen to the sounds of a dozen games beckoning with their distinctive sounds. The best arcades were spaces to explore. And like that, our favorite games delight us all over the place -- it's a little like stumbling across little Christmas presents wherever we go.

We tried to do this with Aaaaa!, starting with a solid core of gameplay. If we could then make people grin at something as silly as the options menu -- and then apply that to all the details -- people would want to keep playing the game just to see what'd happen.

So! BASE jumpers must lose a lot of teeth -- why not make teeth the game's currency? Elevator music in the level selection menu? Sure! And we included a guided anti-meditation, in case you lived a life of too much relaxation, and wanted to feel as though bugs were crawling around your body. Each little piece made the game stand out a little more.

Games can always do this, but they often don't, because we fall into a checklist mentality:

Q: How do you make a good game?

A: Here's a recipe:

  • There should be at least 14 enemies, because other games have 14.
  • Better yet, there should be 15 enemies.
  • And over 20 levels.
  • The story should be an epic tale of intergalactic space war.
  • Give it a cool name like Space Fighters: The Extinction.

Okay, that's a game. Ship it!

One of Dejobaan's development tenets is to create games that make people scream "That's so awesome -- I can't believe I just played that! I have to tell all my friends!" One thing we did with success was to add details that the players keyed in on and talked about.

Are you still listening to the above MP3 (which may or may not have taken you back to a time when parachute pants were fantastic)? In the spirit of giving you, the reader, something extra, we're going to give you a bonus photo of some alpaca:

A bonus picture of alpaca.

Read their Wikipedia entry to become unbelievably well-versed in alpacas! This is value, my friend -- all for the price of reading our article.

Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

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Todd Boyd
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A very informative article. Thank you for the post!

Daniel Zeligman
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That was awesome.

Luis Levy
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One of the very best postmortems ever to grace Gamasutra. Go Dejobaan!!!

Maurício Gomes
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The good: I learned more things, about how to have sucess as indie.

The bad: They needed 11 years, some employees (I am alone), and previous smaller success.

The ugly: I REALLY don't have 11 years :( I need money to flee my country ASAP :/

Luis Levy
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Oh come on. You survived Lula, you can survive Dilma.

(yes, I'm Brazilian too but I live in Santa Monica, CA)


Maurício Gomes
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Aaah, I already saw guns too much, in person. Firefights too. Although I do dislike the idea of Dilma as president, what I fear is the people that broke in my house 5 times, the 2 firefights I saw from 2 different bedroom windows in 2 different cities that I lived, and the 2 times I got robbed at gunpoint while going to work.

THIS is why I am fleeing, although in Brazil we are not refugees (so we have to take normal routes to change country, and Canada for example the older you are, the less they are willing to take you, reason I want to do it fast), since 2009 we have death by gunfire in some cities MORE than Iraq (and that is absolute numbers, a CITY has more people dieing than entire Iraq in wartime...).

Alan Jack
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Not to continually derail discussion - and I apologize if this seems insensitive - but its things like this that I'd love to see game designers tackle. Would love to see a blog entry exploring how you could represent the feelings and emotions you've gone through in an interactive environment.

eyal erez
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Great article.

I actually played the demo a while back and really didn't get into it. I don't think I ever finished the tutorial before I quit the game.

I'm glad I've read this article, now I'm excited to get the full game cause it's sounds awesome! the press release got me convinced :)

Thanks for a very educating postmortem.

Ichiro Lambe
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Thanks guys; it was a fun and cathartic write. :)

@Luis: Thanks! Long time no see.

Mark Venturelli
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Best postmortem ever.

When I open my dictionary and look at where "awesome" should be, I see a big dejobaan alien-octopus thing-something.

Matt Hackett
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Slightly too playful for my taste but I loved the point about the importance of marketing and pretty much all of the "what went wrong" points. Congratulations on your success!

Rob Allegretti
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This is the best postmortem I have ever read.

It kept me laughing hard, and it was insanely informative for a soon-finished Game Dev student like myself. It's very fun to read and easy to relate to.

Having read over your site and history, Dejobaan might just be my new favorite studio.

Erik Yuzwa
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Great stuff and definitely inspiring! Grats!

Alec Shobin
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Awesome post mortem. Thanks for the Fire Hose Games shout out! You guys rock.

Gareth Mensah
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Great post mortem. Love the honesty. Sex sells. Honesty too.

Corey Sharpe
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I must concur. Great post mortem! I love the style of voice you used. It was formal, yet informal enough to allow the readers to laugh.

Alan Jack
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I always love reading about young guys going out and making it happen. Maybe some day I'll get to write something like this! Thanks for the inspiration & advice.

Eric Leslie
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What a great article. Very straightforward and open, and retains the humor and self-awareness that clearly drives your work. Bravo on your success with A:RDFG (seems as good an acronym as any); I'm really looking forward to seeing what you guys do next!

James Walton
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A fantastic read, always a thrill to read about Indie Developers with a passion to create fun, new and plenty of WOW moment games. I especially enjoyed your correlation between flavours of cake and game demos, very insightful. Thanks Guys!