One can only imagine how the round-table brainstorming session played out for the folks in charge of coming up with the perfect title for a game where you dive off of mile-high buildings, head-butt poultry in mid-air, flip-off fans for extra points and collect human teeth as currency. After tossing around about 50 different names of varying quality, the team at Dejobaan Games finally settled on a winner for its upcoming extreme (and overtly peculiar) skydiving simulator: AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! – A Reckless Disregard for Gravity. Yes, that’s spelled with 25 letter As and three exclamation points.
“Our biz dev guy saw that and refused to write the initial press release until we went with it,” says Ichiro Lambe, Dejobaan’s founder, about the unusual title scrawled towards the bottom of their list of possible candidates. “The three of us spent the next hour screaming the name to determine how it should be spelled.”
In ten years the small development team has made a dozen games, including a slew of PalmOS releases and recent PC oddities like Epidemic Groove and The Wonderful End of the World. The plan for 2009 is a little different: “twist something we’ve built to create something new, let gamers touch it and make sure it’s fun and vaguely disturbing.” To this end, they modified their 2004 first-person shooter Inago Rage, implemented skydiving movement mechanics, tested it, tweaked it and turned it into the prototype for Aaaaa!. But why make a game about jumping off of tall buildings? Last December, Dan Brainerd, Dejobaan’s gameplay architect, passed around a few extreme base jumping videos featuring crazy guys in wingsuits (think flying human squirrels). The team was immediately hooked on the concept and got to work.
The game takes place in a futuristic-looking Boston, MA, where technological advances make it possible for buildings to float above ground level. Extreme boredom has spurred kamikaze thrill seekers to don wingsuits and hurl themselves from great heights into spiraling obstacle courses seemingly designed to inflict the greatest amount pain and dismemberment possible on the trip downward. Aaaaa! utilizes a simple WASD and PC mouse controlled first-person shooter perspective that really gives you the feeling of a headlong freefall. “Dan sometimes jokes that we should have a USB fan blowing at players as they fall at terminal velocity, but I don’t think we have that kind of budget,” says Lambe.
Once you make the big leap, the objective is to rack up a high score by hugging the sides of buildings, crashing through colorful score plates and avoiding a messy demise before you pull your chute’s ripcord and glide safely to the landing zone. Since merely jumping and falling has the potential to wear thin, Lambe and his team are incorporating some unconventional ways to boost your score.
“Real-life BASE jumpers try to avoid birdstrikes, but the game encourages you to head-butt poultry wherever possible. Striking a bird with enough velocity will cause it to explode into a flurry of smaller birds that hate the concept of who you are,” says Lambe. In addition to earning “hugs” for getting dangerously close to a structure and “kisses” for every second you stay there, you’ll eventually be able to boost your score with specific gestures. “We’re currently working on something where you can give your fans a thumbs-up and flip off protesters who decry your sport as dangerous bunk. If you hit the gesture just right, the spectators will topple off their balconies and fall with you (albeit without wingsuits). As they hit the ground, they break open, and are reborn as American Giant Hybrid sunflowers.”
Curiously, you’re rewarded for completing challenges during a successful run with human teeth that can be spent on unlocking extra content. Gloves that allow the aforementioned gestures and espresso shots that dilate time will be included among other items you’ll be able to purchase with your fine collection of pearly whites (presumably culled from a medley of other people). Items and abilities you pick up later in the game will make revisiting earlier levels rewarding.
“For example, we’ve prototyped a grappling hook item. If that makes its way into the game – most likely after a player has unlocked everything else – it’ll be possible to re-play a level called ‘Samuel Clemens,’ hook a floating sculpture of Mark Twain, and find treasure buried in his moustache.” Lambe says. “Fans and protesters are an example of a goal that’s visible initially – you see them in earlier levels, but to interact with them, you have to unlock the neon-yellow “Flip-It!” glove, and revisit those levels.”
The developers are currently exploring a number of different play modes for Aaaaa!. Challenge maps will feature courses peppered with winding rings, colored scoring plates to break, and other obstacles not typically found in the general, freeform levels. A “Procedural Paaaaain!” mode, featuring levels where you’ll fall infinitely through an algorithmically generated course gaining points until you crash, is also in the works. “Dan’s rooting for “Birder Death Kill” mode, where angry crows try to murder you, and you must fight them off,” adds Lambe.
Expect to find the team’s sense of humor, perhaps in alarming quantities, popping up at regular intervals in the final game when it launches digitally on PC later this year. If that goes well, Aaaaa! could very well wind up on other game consoles, says Lambe. “We’ll gather gamers and non-gamers together, feed them a lot of wine, and have them play a version of the game that recognizes Wii Remotes in order to find out if the experience translates over to the Wii properly.” They’ll do the same for the Xbox 360, he adds, only testers will be plied with ample quantities of Young’s Double Chocolate Stout.
Nathan Meunier is a freelance writer, a regular contributor at The Escapist, and a die-hard indie gaming enthusiast. You can read more of his work at http://nathanmeunier.wordpress.com.