Nov 8, 2021 - Technology

Sci-fi game “JETT” is a “moonshot” with mixed reviews

Screenshot of a video game scene that shows a large violet bubble encasing mountains and water

"JETT: The Far Shore." Screenshot: Superbrothers/Axios

The co-creators of “JETT: The Far Shore” spent a decade making their ambitious and strange new sci-fi game, only to release it at a tough time and to mixed reviews.

Why it matters: Outright success or failure are the familiar storylines of video game development, but “JETT”’s odd creation, and the spot its developers find themselves in now can be instructive too.

  • “We knew we were naive,” Craig D. Adams, one of the game’s lead creators, told Axios about the game’s long development cycle, “but we didn't necessarily know, like, OK, how naive.”
  • He says the PC and PlayStation release is performing “within the realm of expectations” but compares it to his last game. That one: a Day One “slam dunk.” This one? “Eh, it’ll be a grower.”

The details: “JETT” presents players with an unusual mix of strange controls, gorgeous visuals, meditative music, a distinctly slow pace and a lot of reading.

  • Players spend much of the game piloting a futuristic plane that skims the surface of a newly discovered planet, while a dense story about science and religion is conveyed, via subtitles, by a chatty crew of explorers.
  • Reviewers have called it “beautiful,” “captivating” and “profound but extremely irritating.”
  • With unusual transparency, Adams has publicly acknowledged that the roughly 10-hour game has controls that take about 12 hours to master, later telling Axios, “I may need to zipper up my mouth a bit.”
  • (He also told us the game is akin to asking people to read Tolstoy while snowboarding, an admittedly “unresolved friction” in its design.)
Screenshot from a video game that shows a plane hovering over a grassy hill next to a body of water
"JETT: The Far Shore." Screenshot: Superbrothers

Between the lines: “JETT” was made over a decade-long stretch that locked in its best and worst qualities.

  • Adams conceived “JETT”’s core idea with developer friend Patrick McAllister in 2007, and in 2013 committed to making it, outlining a five-year budget for his tiny team.
  • Financing initially came from that “slam dunk,” 2011’s “Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery EP,” which let Adams buy a house in the Canadian woods and budget himself C$3,000/month
  • As money ran low and design stretched on, he bought a weight bench, went to San Francisco to get funding, and eventually got some from Sony PlayStation and Epic Games. Why weights? "It feels like there's a certain kind of executive-level problem-solving that is maybe well-served through strength training.”
  • Understaffed and unsure how to tie their ideas into a shippable game, the team added more pros, among them an art director who urged them to decide if the game was more about story or more about gameplay. (Adams: “I was still wishy-washy.”)

“JETT” finally emerged after two years of “white knuckle” final development in an October busy with standout games:

  • “I wish that we had emerged at a quieter moment,” Adams said.
  • But he calls the game a “moonshot,” and says a low burn rate — most who worked on it were on contracts that have ended — allowed the game’s slow start to be financially viable.
  • “I'm proud really of having gotten this far and to have delivered something as wildly original and ambitious,” he said. “And [to have] gotten out the other end.”
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