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Button Mash talks to Dejobaan’s Ichiro Lambe

Dejobaan Games are the incredibly talented guys behind such titles as AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! A Reckless Disregard for Gravity and The Wonderful End of the World. Today, Dejobaan’s intrepid leader Ichiro Lambe talks to us about the life of an indie developer, amongst other things.

Button Mash: I know as indie developers you all work 30 hour days, but on the off-chance you do get some downtime what games do you like to play to unwind?

Ichiro Lambe: Yesterday, my fiancée and I had a small dinner party with a few local game developers. We ate shabu shabu, drank wine, and talked about normal human things briefly, before descending into industry talk. Because that’s what we live for. Always. Forever.

But: I like experimenting with mixing drinks; Leo (my biz guy) and I co-own a garden; and I like to go out dancing. I used to salsa dance, in particular, but I think those days are behind me. Alas!

BM: What’s your all-time favourite game?

IL: Katamari Damacy. It’s joyous. It drips with character. It’s fun alone, or with other people. And you can be a spectator and still enjoy it. Plus, the title song:

I mean, that’s the most joyous song I know. Also, your father starts out saying things like, “We can believe in you for 8 minutes”:

Jesus. Japan is insane.

BM: Your games frequently feature rather offbeat humour, do you have any notable influences or things that inspire your work?

IL: My father once said to me, “Son, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” I have lived by those words for decades.

BM: What was your favourite indie title featured at PAX East?

IL: Och! Our own Drunken Robot Pornography. But if you’re going to twist my arm and make me pick someone else’s, I’ll say that it’s Retro/Grade, in part because of Matt Gilgenbach’s heart-wrenching story behind it. The man is both insane and awesome, and probably spends 80 hours a week on it, working his fingers to nubs, and his nubs to dust. He uses genetic algorithms to optimize the shaders, for God’s sakes. As a developer, I love games as much for what goes into them as what comes out.

BM: What titles that people probably don’t know about should we look out for this year?

IL: Och! Our own Drunken Robot Pornograpwaaaaaaait a second, you’re not going to get me twice, Mister Biggin. Fine. A Valley Without Wind, by Arcen Games (, is juuust now starting to get press. Kotaku said this:

“Well, it’s a platformer. I mean, it’s not, it’s a roguelike. But totally a platformer. Really, it’s a dungeon-crawler. It exists for exploration. Well, no, for upgrades. Actually, it’s kind of an adventure game. Also there’s mining. With magic. And I think I can build a town.”

I mean, seriously? That’s awesome. I also just like the guys I met at Arcen, and would love to see ’em make miiiiiiiiiillions of dollars with this one.

BM: Do you have any advice for aspiring developers starting out in the game industry?

IL: 1. Meet as many other game developers as you can, and talk to them regularly. There’s no force more uplifting than a group of like-minded devs who say, “You can do it. Now, get off your ass and do it.”

2. Actually do something. Tiny. No, smaller than that. Get something done in a week. It can be ugly, but it needs to be finished.

3. Put that tiny thing out there, and get people to beat on it. Then repeat from step 1.

BM: And finally, do you think you could defeat Valve’s Gabe Newell in a game of chess?

IL: Yes, but I would want the rules to allow us to cheat. So, for example, I’d see if another Valvite would be willing to fake a code emergency (“Our pointers are null reffing! We need garbage collection in here, STAT!”), and while Gabe was gone, I would swap out the pieces with live baby mice.

PAX East 2012: Indie Round-up Part 3

There’s an important aspect of PAX I haven’t covered. PAX East played host to the Boston Indie Showcase. There are a number of events and awards aimed at promoting indie development but few are designed to highlight work on mobile devices. All the titles in the Indie Showcase are playable on tablets or smartphones.

First up was Lunar Enigma with Lawnmower Challenge. This game sees you attempt to mow lawns in as few moves as possible whilst also solving a variety of locked door puzzles designed to hinder your progress. It draws on inspiration from old games like Chip’s Challenge and if you liked that you’ll probably like Lawnmower Challenge.

Bad Pilcrow showed us Not Without You, a puzzle game wherein you must help some adorable creatures known as Hesperides Pilcrus escape from a lab. The catch is that they will not leave any of their others behind. They all move in unison, so if you press left they will all move one space left, unless there is an obstacle blocking the way, and the objective being to use this mechanic to navigate them all to different escape points together. It’s not an entirely original puzzle mechanic – I’m certain I’ve played it before (though where, I couldn’t tell you) – but definitely not one that’s ever been explored in depth. The game’s visual style is very basic at this stage, but hopefully some more polish before release will see this resolved.

Vlambeer produced Super Crate Box. I’ll start by saying I hate this game. It’s not a bad game, it’s actually very well made. It’s not an ugly game, it’s got a nice pixel art style going on. It is just singly the most frustrating thing I’ve ever played, though. On a single fixed map, akin to the original Mario Bros game, your objective is to collect crates, as many as possible. For each one you pick up another will appear. Each contains a different weapon ranging from rocket launchers and miniguns to katanas and pistols, and with each one you pick up you’ll immediately discard your previous weapon, like it or not. A continual stream of enemies flows down from the top of the level to thwart your crate-gathering. It’s brutally hard and you need to be able to adapt to whatever new weapons you pick up on the fly. The dev set a simple challenge to players to score 10 points. Most people failed to even manage that. I scored 9. What is a pretty cool simple concept is ruined for me by the fact that it’s not fun to play. I know some people enjoy bashing-your-head-against-a-brick-wall type gameplay, and this game is definitely for them, however I feel they could have reached a wider audience and made more of a success of it if it had been more accessible to the average gamer.

Popcannibal demoed their charming title Girls Like Robots, a romance, adventure, puzzle game about seating arrangements. Every character in the game is a puzzle piece to be placed as tiles on a board in such a way as to make them optimally happy. Girls, as the title suggests, like robots and are happy to be placed next to one. Girls dislike nerds but nerds like girls, robots, and edges. And so forth. Any excuse to arrange people in the name of furthering a story has been found by the devs. It has a beautiful art style, with all the characters being square tiles to place on the board and all assets being hand drawn by their artist, Luigi. It’s a simple, fun, quite novel puzzle game that should be well worth a look.

Kumobius was on hand with their title Bean’s Quest. A typical 2D platform game with a twist (isn’t there always?). The protagonist, Emilio, has been transformed into a jumping bean by an evil wizard. What this means in terms of gameplay is that Emilio will perpetually jump automatically. On paper, it sounds like a reasonably diverting title, but I feel some of the gameplay could stand to be tightened up. Emilio’s motion often feels sloppy and jumps which should be trivial to make often take several attempts. Graphically, the game is sound, with a bright colourful world that has seen a lot of attention. If the same attention to detail were spent on tuning the gameplay so that it flows better this could easily be an excellent title.

Finally Zach Gage’s title SpellTower; a hybrid of Tetris and Scrabble. You are provided with a grid of letters and must connect letters to make words. Tiles will also fall from the top of the screen and if they reach the top, you fail, naturally. It’s a very simple title, put together in 48 hours for a Game Jam, but it doesn’t need to be complex. If you enjoy word games, this is a nice little mobile game that’s just different enough to stand out from a hoard of scrabble clones.

Lawnmower Challenge is available now for iOS and Android. Super Crate Box and SpellTower are available now for iOS. Bean’s Quest is available now on iOS and for Windows/Mac via Desura. Not Without You and Girls Like Robots will be available later this year. They are all excellent titles in their own right and their places at PAX East were well earned. You’d be doing yourself a disservice not to at least have a look.



PAX East 2012: Indie Round-up Part 2

Okay, I’ve talked about the bigger boys at PAX East, but there’s a lot more to talk about. the Indie megabooth alone held 16 developers; some I had heard of, others new to me. I’ll start with the devs I already knew.

Capybara Games, responsible for the recent Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes on XBLA, DS and Steam. The newest title being showcased was Super Time Force. At first glance it looks like a standard side-scrolling shooter, like Metal Slug and so many others before it. The twist is that you’re facing a near insurmountable army. To aid you in your fight, each time you die, your next attempt will be accompanied by ghosts of every previous attempt. In this way you will gradually build up an army of your own to face down the enemy. While this sounds as though it would eventually make your own force overpowered and make finishing the game reasonably trivial, it is definitely an original concept.

Owlchemy Labs (whose Smuggle Truck I reviewed in my last article) appeared dressed in splendid lumberjack shirts to promote their new title, Jack Lumber. The entertaining game concept being that the titular Jack’s grandmother is tragically killed by a falling sapling and so Jack sets out to exact his revenge on all the trees in the forest. This is done by blasting them up into the air and then chopping them up while airborne. The game draws quite obviously from games like Fruit Ninja but is different enough to stand out as something different. The fact that it’s got a good sense of humour is just a nice bonus.

Ska Studios, known for I Made a Game With Zombies In It, showed off Charlie Murder. A game featuring a punk band who go forth to beat up other evil bands in a side scrolling beat-em-up. Yeah, so that sounds kinda familiar. As chance would have it, it’s an unfortunate coincidence, and Ska have been working on this since before Scott Pilgrim was announced. Unfortunately I feel like a lot of people could easily label it a rip-off out of hand and hurt them somewhat, but I think if you like Scott Pilgrim the game, you should have a look at this, too.

Carbon Games had a double booth space set up to show off AirMech. A free-to-play DOTA-like (or MOBA or Action-RTS or whatever we’ve agreed the genre is called these days) that will run in your browser. It’s currently playable in an alpha state in the Chrome web store. A reasonably diverting title, you play a transformer leading your army against the armies of other transformers. In mech form you can walk around on land and shoot everything up, and at the press of a button convert into a jet allowing you to ferry units around and making you immune to damage from most land units but also rendering you unable to fight same land units. The unit transportation brings it much closer to a traditional RTS than many DOTA games. For a game labelled as being in alpha it’s incredibly complete and being free-to-play there’s no reason really to not at least take it for a spin.

Rockin’ Android, a team notable for their work on localising Japanese indie games, while showing off a now respectable library of titles also had on hand Bunny Must Die: Chelsea and the 7 Devils, a cute anime-style Metroidvania title with time manipulation mechanics. While the game is pretty solid it suffers from a poor control scheme. A problem common to a lot of Japanese titles, it stems from the fact that Japanese and Western titles have fundamentally different base control schemes. Western titles typically use WASD to move with Q, E, R and F as common action buttons. Japanese titles tend to use arrow keys to move with ZXCV as actions. This translates equally poorly to a gamepad. After speaking to the developer, he explained that while he hadn’t considered it a problem, he would proceed to add both Japanese and Western control schemes as an option to players from both audiences. I have to say I’m pleased by how receptive he was to player input, something that’s always nice to see in a developer.

Now onto more surreal stuff. 24 Caret Games showed off Retrograde, coming to PSN. The world’s first game played entirely backwards. The game begins at level 10 with you defeating the final boss and the credits roll. However, killing the boss damages the space-time continuum and you must play the game backwards to repair the damage you have wrought. It’s a cross between a scrolling shooter and a rhythm game and is best played on a guitar controller. You stand in the path of bullets coming from enemies (because you already fired them) and press fire when they reach your gun barrel, whilst also dodging the bullets coming past from behind you (because you already dodged them). A thoroughly confusing game, it should be well worth checking out.

Kairo by Richard Perrin is an exploration game. A minimalistic style in a world of geometric shapes you can move around and jump and little else. The more you explore your surreal world the more you will uncover, puzzles along the way leading you further into this mystery. The demo I tried felt a little vague, with no real direction, incentive or narrative to guide you through, though I was assured it gains more of a narrative later on.

Marc ten Bosch (I’m still not sure if that’s just a person or a studio) showed off Miekagure, a 4-dimensional game. To clarify, that’s not 4D as in three spatial dimensions and time, or whatever marketing types are trying to tell you is “3D plus one better” these days, that’s four spatial dimensions. As in tesseracts. Hypercubes. The old analogy goes that a 3D creature viewing a 2D world could appear to teleport to a 2D creature by using dimensions the 2D creature can’t see. The same applies here, you can only view three of the four dimensions at a time allowing for 4 different perspectives of reality. You can change to any three dimensions you want at will and changing items in one version of reality will affect (presumably) two of the others allowing for some fiendishly clever puzzles. Honestly, watching people try to play confused the hell out of me. Maybe it’s more intuitive when you get into it yourself, but I suspect it’s a title for the more intellectual gamer.

Finally, Antichamber by Demruth. It’s going to be very difficult to describe this using mere words, but such is my task. Anticahmber is a first-person game designed to challenge the way you think about absolutely everything. The first half hour of gameplay is set up to force you to unlearn everything you know about games. You may solve a puzzle and then find yourself immediately thwarted by a similar looking puzzle that is fundamentally different. If you try retracing your steps you’ll often find yourself somewhere entirely else. Coupled with an incredibly striking visual style this game has already won countless awards and deservedly so. If there’s one indie game to watch this year, this is it.

There was so much else there that deserves recognition. PAX East was jam-packed full of so much talent, but unfortunately I can’t cover everything or this would never end. A bonus shout to Snapshot, Vessel, Skulls of the Shogun, Bit.Trip Runner 2, Monaco, and BattleBlock Theater. All well worth your time checking out.

I’ll finish the PAX East round-up tomorrow with the Boston Indie Showcase. Six up and coming mobile games from some excellent aspiring developers.



PAX East 2012: Indie Round-up Part 1

PAX East 2012 was my first PAX. First real gaming convention at all, in fact. There was plenty to see and do. All the big releases this year were on show: Borderlands 2, Bioshock Infinite, Assassin’s Creed 3, Far Cry 3 and plenty more. More importantly from my perspective though, there was a fantastic indie presence. 16 independent developers all got booths in an area together and, in a wonderful spirit of cooperation, banded together as a megabooth. parked right next door to them was the Boston Indie Showcase, a celebration of some of the best upcoming mobile games. So without further ado, let’s plunge into a world of games you might not have heard of.

I’ll start off focusing on the big boys. Well big-ish, I suppose. Dejobaan Games was pretty much my first stop at PAX East. BM readers might have spotted my playing with the Titan Builder a little while back, and I’m pleased to say Drunken Robot Pornography is shaping up beautifully. The playable version of the game on offer featured the same fast shooting, jetpacking, titan-smashing gameplay as the builder but instead offered a sequence of 12 predesigned titans, scaling in size and difficulty with a high score board at the end for me to top. It’s looking very bright and vibrant and it’s a hell of a lot of fun to play. This is after a mere 3 months of development so it should be something pretty special when it’s done. Ugly Baby, sadly was dropped from the show at last minute and didn’t make an appearance, but for everyone who’s been patiently waiting since Valve’s Potato Pack (and even earlier for some), updates are very close.

Uber Entertainment, responsible for the Monday Night Combat series had a large area showcasing the latest updates to Super Monday Night Combat. 20 PCs networked allowed for two LAN matches running at any given time, tournaments ran throughout the day, prominent community members were on hand to talk people through the game and dole out tips to newcomers, and plenty of swag was freely available. Oh, and a man in a sickly yellow suit and bad toupee was on hand all three days to run commentary. He was no Mickey Cantor, but still very entertaining. I’ve logged 40 hours in the invitational beta, I’m biased; I’ll tell anyone it’s a good game. More objectively though, I heard a lot of positive feedback from newbies and even from people who had no idea what DOTA games were, so I’m sure they’ll have picked up plenty of fans from the experience.

Robot Games also grabbed a decent sized spot to showcase Orcs Must Die 2. Looking very similar to its predecessor, the most notable change is that of the protagonist’s new female companion. She’ll feature more magical attacks than her traditionally brute force partner allowing for debuffing and tactical gameplay. Basically though, it’s more of the same, but you can play it with a friend. When all is said and done, I’d always much rather have something new to play with than more of the same, but Orcs Must Die is an excellent game so I won’t complain too loudly about another chance to gratuitously butcher bad guys again this summer.

Supergiant, of Bastion fame made an appearance, sadly with nothing new to see. The very first playable prototype of the game was made available to play, from a mere 1 month into the game’s development. A world of place-holder graphics and poor mechanics, Bastion has come a very long way from its starting point, something we can all be thankful for. Although there’s nothing solid to mention at this point, Greg Kasavin, design lead, assured me that the team is keen to begin work on something new, and that whatever they create will live up to the high standards set by Bastion. That’s something well worth keeping an eye on in the future.

Zeboyd Games had a prominent booth, being the guys behind the resurrected Penny Arcade’s On the Rain-Slick Precipice Of Darkness series. Fans may remember some years back Hothead games dropped the series claiming it was unprofitable, choosing instead to work on the Deathspank games. While I can’t deny the Deathspank games have been successful, probably far more so than OtRSPoD  Episode Two, I for one still mourned the loss of a great series. Mercifully, Zeboyd, notable for such offbeat RPGs as Cthulhu Saves The World, have picked up where Hothead left off and have chosen to take it down an entirely different path. Episode Three resumes the story one month after the events of Two, but this time in a retro 16-bit RPG format, similar to Zeboyd’s other titles. Speaking to the developers, they say they hope the new style will attract a new audience and that they aim to make it easily accessible to newcomers who have never played the first two chapters. After sampling the demo on offer, the dialogue had me in stitches right from the very start and the game should shape up to be a must-play on that point alone.

That about wraps it up for PAX East’s more prominent indie titles. I’ll cover some of the littler guys tomorrow, so stay tuned.