It’s pretty much a universal acknowledgement that we like our media connected, like tweeting about shows or wasting time on Facebook games, much like Super Game Jam has both film and games. There’s an interesting concept there; watching a game being made in a fixed amount of time, then playing the final product. In the first episode, this translates into a rough start in the production of a documentary that feels stretched together, but its gaming counterpart brings it back home. Projects like these work as motivational tools, by showing what the human mind is capable with the right expectations.
In this opening sequence to a season of five short films, Super Game Jam takes a look at a 48-hour effort between the developer of Luftrausers and the creator of Ibb and Obb. That’s Jan Willem Nijman and Richard Boeser respectively. They’re given a theme to work on, in this case the “breakup’” term, then start conceptualizing the idea. This is done inside the home of one of the developers and presented with varying altered shots of the two chatting back and forth.
After deciding on a game, in this case a racing title with bonding elements, the two set off to create the prototype. Here, it becomes immediately obvious that one is more of a coding expert, while the other is focused on art and visual design. Not all of these roles are equally important when it comes to creating a game quickly. That, unfortunately, shows a disconnect in this episode. While the Luftrausers developer is mostly doing the code, there’s only a finite amount of work that Boeser can do, before it comes down to fluff.
More than just a cosmetic problem, however, the divide in roles makes for a tedious midsection in the documentary. After it’s clear what the game has to become and the two can only communicate on a basic level, the film starts to reflect this slump. To get to a painstaking 29 minutes of footage, the clips therefore begins using whatever empty moments there are in pacing half-phrases and the same repeated dozen lines since the start. That hardly makes for a fully entertaining dialog; not when it’s reused that often, at least.
Worse yet, the production for Super Game Jam is as rushed in time and space as its project. There are only so many camera angles the intimate setting can have and they work in the same timeframe to capture the happening jam. That means that whenever something essential is laid out, but no shot was able to capture it properly, the shoddy images are used regardless. This shaky, randomly segmented reel makes much less of an impact than it could have, had it been given some additional time for framing shots and increased editing.
A part of the capturing issue is shown in one of the extended interviews that come with the episode, when it’s revealed that one of the essential talks were held during angle fumbling. In the core documentary, this part is replaced with some archive footage of what game they were discussing at the time. It’s a means to an end, but it’s more of a quick fix than a thorough use of the medium that could be achieved with some more diligently taken scenes. Together with an already slim narrative, it’s hard to keep the attention going for the end result. That’s the problem with trying to find the essence in an introspective journey like a creative process; it’s usually done in solemn silence. It’s hard to imagine this will be any different in coming episodes.
Additional problems with the format crop up in the minimal interface of Super Game Jam. Its start screen is made up of a button for the game or the movie, with additional features on the bottom. Choosing either one will grant another minimalist layout with nothing but the most basic of options. It’s possible to adjust the sound in the documentary or skip to the next song in the soundtrack, but that’s it. As a media player, Super Game Jam needs to allow for a bit more leniency, even if the core files can be accessed separately in the game folder.
There is, however, a saving grace to this story. Once it’s said and done, the final product of the game jam can be accessed. In this first tale, the racing title is called Navigator and it plays wonderfully for a prototype. Moreover, this rudimentary form shows the added value of Boeser’s carefully chosen colors and shapes a lot better than the documentary could. There are a lot of art assets present, creating simple yet aesthetically pleasing worlds of pyramid shapes and saturated clouds.
Controlling the basic vehicle goes off without a hitch and momentum already has the appropriate weight to it. Playing Navigator and its auxiliary game design of picking up co-pilots to win by shaping bonds works; it works well. The longer pilots stick together, the stronger their relationship becomes. If the car bumps too many times, the couple breaks up and one is left by the side of the road. Driving well, using boosting strips and taking care of the duo are all important factors. Its visuals and sweeping motion have a hint of F-Zero in them and that’s a sizable reference to tag on a project. In some points, it’s hardly visible that it’s a sketch and not a budding product.
Building on that, Navigator shows that a solid idea can lead to a worthy project in just two days. That’s a powerful message that can inspire many to try to do the same. In that sense, Super Game Jam works more as a motivator than a straightforward documentary, which is an important added layer to its worth.
Much like in real life, actions speak louder than words and that is visible in Super Game Jam’s slow pitch as a documentary, but great closer as a game, in its first episode. Its game, Navigator, makes going through the creative process between two developers worthwhile, on the sole proof that a fully functional racing game can be done with limited time and tools. Due to that, it can be forgiven for some lacking content on the audiovisual side of its phlegmatic spectacle right now, but it will need to step it up in the next episodes to have both a great game and an intriguing story to go with it.
You can find out more about the game, Navigator, which comes with the first episode, by watching our gameplay commentary below.