[Ichiro Lambe speaks to Gamasutra on Dejobaan Games' latest game, 1...2...3...Kick it! Drop That Beat Like an Ugly Baby, following in the footsteps of last year’s AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! — A Reckless Disregard for Gravity, talking about new business models, how indies stay nimble, and how to manage the expectations of gamers.]
Kick It! [YouTube trailer] is a spiritual sequel of sorts to Aaaa!. In a recent talk with the Boston Indies, Ichiro remarked: “if a game is doing well for you, and people are clamoring for more, don’t tell them no, tell them yes!”
Clearly, Kick It! is a product of this philosophy. It has a lot in common with Aaaaa!, while still trying out new things.
But it's also an experiment in emergent gameplay, random generation, and is Dejobaan's first game with an open Alpha version that comes with the currently available pre-order, putting their fate and trust in the hands of their fans.
Kick It!’s core mechanic is, like Aaaaa!, getting chains of “kisses”, a bonus awarded for getting very close to an object without touching it. You’ve also got a gun and metallic, vaguely insectoid enemies to use it against.
In the tightly constrained tunnel of Kick It!, this comes to feel a lot like bullet hell games like the Touhou Project series, where you get points for bullets that just barely miss you.
“We didn’t want to just remake Aaaaa,” he says. In playtests with his interns, Lambe found that they started competing for high scores almost immediately, cementing for him that he had a hardcore game on his hands.
Kick It! has quite a few other changes from Aaaaa!, but the most significant is that its levels are generated through MP3s, in the style of games like Beat Hazard and Audiosurf. Kick It! also lets players edit the parameters the game uses for this algorithmic generation, resulting in a game that's both controllable and random.
The algorithms are unpredictible—more than once I flew past objects Lambe had never seen the game spit out before. But linking gameplay and music is a big promise. It's one thing to have visuals that follow the beat, but it's another thing entirely to have gameplay that does the same.
Beat Hazard and Audiosurf have both suffered criticisms to that effect, despite their other successes, so it's this aspect of the game that Ichiro Lambe is most concerned with getting down.
This is one of the reasons that Dejobaan is going the way of games like Mount and Blade and Minecraft and releasing a downloadable PC alpha version for Kick It!, which is shipping as a work in progress with pre-orders. Lambe feels this increasingly popular model is the right move for Kick It!.
“With Aaaaa, with many games, you release the game and that’s your first touch," says Lambe. "Whereas with the Google model they put out the beta, hopefully [the customers] realize it’s a beta, and then they get to do metrics on it. I think better games will be made that way.”
There’s a trace of concern in voice, though. Dejobaan hasn’t released a game in this manner before, and there are risks that come with it. Will the customers not realize it’s an alpha and give up on it?
On the other hand, open models have worked for everything from big budget MMOs to little indie games like Minecraft. Lambe is well aware of what a big, ambiguous promise an audio game is, and games are often sunk on their unfulfilled promises in today's market. Understanding player expectations can't happen without playtesting.
When he says better games will be made, though, Ichiro Lambe says it with conviction. Playtesting is something that Lambe feels all game designers, indie or not, do entirely too little of. “How do bad games get made? It’s not that people aren’t intelligent, it’s in the editing process,” he says.
“Ideally what I want is a friend or colleague—someone who’s intelligent—to come in here and sit them down and play the game. Alternatively, I send a build off to someone who I know is going to completely trash the game." In retrospect, Ichiro wishes that he had asked for feedback sooner. That's another area in which gamers can be more helpful, since they don't feel like they have to be nice.
And that brutal honesty is, at the editing stage, exactly what Lambe wants to hear. "In the Boston community, we’re all very nice to each other, very supportive," he says, "but you actually want to get rid of some of that supportiveness later on. You know, tough love time: what do I need to do to take the game where it needs to be?”