The Joystiq Indie Pitch: Desi Leaves Town

Indie developers are the starving artists of the video-game world, often brilliant and innovative, but also misunderstood, underfunded and more prone to writing free-form poetry on their LiveJournals. We at Joystiq believe no one deserves to starve, and many indie developers are entitled to a fridge full of tasty, fulfilling media coverage, right here. This week, Jakob Haglof of Pajamahouse gets literally literary with his iOS title Desi Leaves Town, which follows the life of an eccentric, rich frog in the 1880s. As you do.

What's your game called and what's it about?

Our game is called Desi Leaves Town and it stars an eccentric frog that gets himself into all sorts of situations in his attempts to stave off boredom.

Desi is an escapist who blames the world around him for his predicament but everything is pretty much his fault.

The game's story is told through cartoon segments, puzzles and action challenges. You do all sorts of things like assembling the perfect chair to knocking kids out with bread.

What inspired you to make Desi Leaves Town?

Desi Leaves Town came out of a conversation Nicholas Kratochvil -- the game's writer -- and I had at a bar. I had this idea for a mini game with a pompous frog that would berate you if you sat him in the wrong chair.

Nicholas said it reminded him of Against Nature's main character Jean Des Esseintes and maybe we could do an interactive adaptation of the novel instead of a mini game. And the next day we started working on it.

The voice cast for Desi Leaves Town is impressive and was obviously an important aspect for you to get right. What does the voice acting add to the story and how did you choose your actors?

Early on we knew we wanted to tell the story with voice. The delivery of the lines is one major aspect of the game. It helps establish the ridiculous atmosphere and humor of the story. I don't think it would have worked as well in text bubbles or through branching dialogue windows.

The first person we got was Riley Martin. I heard him on Howard Stern and he immediately came to mind when we started. I got in touch with him and luckily he agreed to work with us. I have no idea who my second choice would have been.

Everyone else in the cast is a friend of ours. We talked them into taking on a part and just wanted them to have fun with their roles. They all did a great job of bringing a lot of life to it.

The art, music and voices in Desi Leaves Town set the tone of the overall game -- what do you want that tone to be, and do you think players are getting it?

I think on the surface we want people to have fun playing the game and have a few laughs. Maybe even make fun of Desi himself, but also be able to empathize with him and experience the dimensions of his personality.

There are plenty of people out there that want to step away from their daily life for a moment. So we send them back to our comical version of the 1880s. If we can establish a connection between Desi and the player that makes them want to know more about him then we succeeded in delivering our intent.

We hope that people also appreciate how all the components came together. Like you said -- the art, music and voices. Countless hours were put into the artwork and animation. In the end we have something that works very well in motion, but is also vibrant and colorful as a snapshot.

The music was definitely a challenge. More so for our composer Cornelis Jordaan because we really threw a lot of obstacles and demands at him for the sound we wanted. Somehow he translated all our nonsense and created a score that fits the atmosphere perfectly.

We also pushed our voice actors (aka friends) to become alter egos they did not know they even had. For example one of my favorite moments is when we told Jordan Silver to talk like a ghost. In that moment the perfect voice for the servant was created.

The feedback we have gotten so far has been positive. People have been commenting on the individual components and it makes me happy that they were able to appreciate them. But more than anything people really enjoy the humor and Desi's antics.

What's the coolest aspect of Desi Leaves Town?

We've developed some strong characters that you get to know through the game's challenges and nearly 60 minutes worth of animated segments. So in Desi Leaves Town you get to meet someone new who you will either love, hate or love to hate.

In the future as we explore this world more we want to try new things out gameplay wise but always showcase unique and unconventional characters.

Anything you'd do differently?

We sort of took a gamble with the format due to being such a small team. And that was intentional. The idea could have taken shape as a cartoon or game, but we did something more in the middle.

This game feels like the best way to meet Desi and see what he is all about. But we certainly learned a lot about making development efficient for a studio our size and hopefully we can apply that to more games in the future. I'd definitely like to do more with Desi and experiment with new types of interaction.

Why develop independently, rather than work for an established company?

Having full creative control is one main reason. Also being part of a small team means we can talk more freely without ideas getting lost in a 100+ person staff.

We are all passionate about the work that we're doing and we get to see the results of that with every new idea we tackle.

I just can't imagine a desk job feeling as rewarding as what we are doing.

Do you see yourself as part of a larger indie movement?

Yes and no. I can definitely see the movement on a whole, but sometimes I feel like I do not participate enough in the community itself. We can definitely be put in an indie category, but I feel isolated from that community because we have such long stretches where we have our heads down working and forget the outside world.

A resolution of mine for next year is to get more involved and check out more things locally. I went to one NYUGC's talks a few weeks ago and had a good time, so it should be an easy resolution to keep.

Sell your game in one sentence:

Desi's world is worth visiting because it is full of characters and situations unlike any you have ever encountered.

Will we see Desi Leaves Town on any other platforms in the future?

We planned to bring it to Mac and PC, but we would love to see it on other platforms like Android, PSN, DSiWare and XBLA.

What's next?

We always have a few projects going at once, most of which are in various prototype forms and then one main game in production. We have about three to four projects planned for 2012 and one of those is the next installment of Desi Leaves Town. It's probably too early to say much about the others.

The Pajamahouse dev team: Hisaoki Nishida (Progammer/iOS), Maxim Schoemaker (Programmer/Desktop), Nicholas Kratochvil (Writer), Jakob Haglof (Art & Design)

Desi Leaves Town is available now for iOS devices through the App Store, and is coming soon to PC and Mac. Fight off your own bourgeois boredom with Desi's.

If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email jess [at] joystiq [dawt] com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Still haven't had enough? Check out the Pitch archives.