If there are two things that I like in life, it’s games and films. And when I find something that combines both, I’m usually an immediate fan. That’s why I’m trying to watch and review as many documentaries about game development as I can: not only am I developing a game myself (my second game now), but I’m also a short film director. And I want to find the gems in the rough of indie game dev cinema. For every “Indie Game: The Movie” that gets the big Netflix deal and everyone knows about, there’s a “Super Game Jam” that hides just as much enjoyment, and maybe a bit more reality than its more famous counterparts.
“Super Game Jam” is a docuseries of 5 medium-length films (about half an hour in length), in which each film focuses on 2 people making a game in 48 hours. A game jam, basically. While the setup seems simple, there’s a lot to take into consideration: the people in the film haven’t worked together before, so personal dynamics are always unknown. The theme is revealed moments prior to the start of the jam (as it’s usually the case), so there’s very little preparation. And then, there’s the pressure of finishing a game in 48 hours, which in and of itself, is a feat.
Where feature films like “Indie Game: The Movie” succeed in breaking the quality barrier and presenting a polished end product, both in terms of the games (though they are not included when purchasing the film, most of the time) and the film, “Super Game Jam” is, at its core, very much an indie production itself. This leads to some technical issues that, while not enough to ruin the film, certainly highlight the lower budget the filmmakers had to work with. Grainy low-light shots, some odd choice of b-roll and some sound issues during speech are present, but as I say, do not detract from the experience enough to make it difficult to enjoy.
And enjoyment is what “Super Game Jam” brings to the table in spades: through all 5 episodes, I was never bored. I never checked my phone to see what time it was. I just wanted to see if the two people in the film could make their game work. It really was down to the wire for some teams, and it made for fantastic storytelling.
Highlights of the episodes for me include: the voice acting in episode 3 (I don’t think I can put acting in my game in 6 months, let alone 2 days!), the over-stretching and ambitions of the team in the second episode, which again, echo my own experience in trying to make a game too big for my own good. The quiet competence of the team in episode 4 made me jealous, the crazy approach to the theme in episode 1 made me laugh, and finally… episode 5 brought the first and only woman to the series… and it was a breath of fresh air. She completely changed the dynamic of the series for me, and made me wonder why there was only one woman taking part.
Overall, I have to say that I loved every minute of “Super Game Jam”. I even got in touch with my local game dev community after watching the film to feel out the possibility of organizing a meeting. It’s very inspiring to see people work on something with passion and knowledge of the craft. Sure, some of the devs featured were a bit green, but damn it, so am I! And that made it all the more relatable.
Sure, these people didn’t become the next Ed McMillen, but that’s the reality for most game devs. Most game devs struggle. They stumble and continue as best they can. And in the confined universe of a game jam, where perfection is an express impossibility, imagination takes over in a delightful, freeing way. And I loved that about this series. It was whimsical, silly at times, but it was never dull. It was a hell of a good time, actually, and if you’re even remotely interested in game development or documentaries, I suggest you give it a shot.