Superbrothers Interview Part 1 – ‘JETT: Given Time’ and the Future

Today, Superbrothers and Pine Scented software have launched JETT: The Far Shore + Given Time on Steam. We’ve been covering games by Superbrothers for a very long time all the way back to 2010 when Sword and Sworcery was shown at GDC. Superbrothers’ first new game since Sword and Sworcery was JETT: The Far Shore. JETT debuted on PlayStation and PC in 2021, and it has arrived on Steam today with a brand new free expansion. In the lead up to JETT’s new expansion and it hitting Steam, I chatted with Craig D. Adams (founder Superbrothers A/V and co-creator of JETT with Patrick at Pine Scented) and Dan Berry (Given Time contributor and UK comics person and broadcaster) in a slightly different format.

Since the team was still hard at work on JETT for Steam and the expansion, I sent over questions about a week before launch and got sent back a video of Dan discussing the questions with Craig. It almost felt like an interview in itself with Dan interviewing Craig. I’ve split that up into two parts and edited for clarity and brevity. The first part, below, will cover JETT: Given Time, JETT: The Far Shore, and a bit about the future of Superbrothers.

TA: JETT: The Far Shore was one of the biggest surprises at Sony’s PS5 showcase. Despite not knowing much about it back then, a new Superbrothers game made me want a PS5 sooner than later. Promotion for the game has been quite an experience over the years, and JETT finally released back in 2021. How was the response to it pre-release following the initial reveal?

Craig D. Adams: Hopefully it has been a positive experience. We’ve done our best.

Post reveal, the pre-release response seemed good. I can say that the reveal event when the Superbrothers logo went up and the Sylvan sprite sound played, it was a treat to watch people on Twitter or in whatever chat. Most people have no idea what it is, but for a few people, they lost their minds just to think that Superbrothers still existed, and that there could be more from where that came from.

Following the reveal, honestly I was pretty heads down just trying to do all the things on the project. I had a lot of jobs and it was pandemic time. I was out in the woods. I wasn’t rubbing shoulders with other people or getting a real sense of things. It is actually tough for me to gauge that stuff. All I know is that we did our best. I think we did a pretty decent job representing the project and trying to keep things interesting. Working with popagenda and all the various people on the squad. You may have a better sense as to how it all seemed because you had that vantage point.

TA: The EDGE magazine feature for JETT by Chris Schilling got me quite excited for it. Reception was more mixed than I expected when it came out, but I have loved most aspects of JETT since experiencing it on PS5. What made you decide to work with Sony and Epic back then?

CA: In terms of JETT’s release. So EDGE liked it a fair bit. Then there were some other people out there that went to bat for many aspects of JETT. Some people really gave it a good recommendation. It is an unusual design and a little strange. It didn’t go over well with everybody, but it has been a treat to cross paths with the various JETT heads out there. People from the unorthodox design and the specifics of the project really went over well.

As for Sony and Epic, the decision making there relates to kind of where the project was at. Patrick and I had been cooking on this thing for years and we had come a long way with a low burn rate. It was just the two of us working from home. Part-timers coming in and out. Even then, by the end of 2018, we weren’t gonna be able to get to the end under our own steam. I can say that we had a gap to cross in order to get the project done to get it done at a level where it was going to be worth playing. We had to figure out that path to get to the end.

So in early 2019, fresh in the new year, I had to put on my business pants. A pair of pants that I had not been wearing very often up until that point, and I had to try and learn how this business actually worked. It isn’t something I was that familiar with. My experience with Sword and Sworcery was kind of unique. It was hinged around Capy and Nathan Vella and all that kind of stuff. So thankfully, I had gained a lot of good friends and contacts in the industry. Friends of Superbrothers and friends of JETT. That’s a great fortune to have and that’s how I was learning about things like “who are the partners that would be available for this?" and “how does that work? What does it take to make a pitch deck for a project like this?"

I put myself through some of that training and took the show on the road. I met with a few possible partners. There were some great options, but JETT was always aimed at PlayStation and so it was such a treat that we kind of brought it to them at the right time. What happened, happened. We were fortunate about that. They have been excellent to JETT throughout. Great folks there, I will say.

Similarly, I knew some people at Epic. They were open to a new Superbrothers thing. They were familiar with JETT from a while back. So we were able to make that work. And yes, they were excellent to work with. That’s pretty much the PlayStation and Epic story. Without partners, I don’t know how we could’ve hiked through to the end. We ended up needing a pretty significant squad to get the production quality up to sort of chase up all the technical debt. That’s that.

TA: JETT makes great use of the DualSense controller features. How was it working with the controller from early on?

CA: It was very cool to work on that controller from early on. Patrick and I always had PlayStation controllers in mind for JETT. I for one love the PS4 controller a fair bit. Before anything was even inked with PlayStation, that’s what we were working with.

When we ended up in the fold with PlayStation and we were able to learn what was in store with the PS5 and specifically with the DualSense, it was a goddamn treat. It all fits so nicely with where we’re at with the values of the project and what we wanted to do. The controller specifically was like a shoe in. We had already gotten some pretty good coverage with how we were going to do our rumbles and vibrations across the board. We were pretty deep in on that. It felt good. But then finding out we had all these new options with the DualSense was great. We set the bar higher and went after that.

What we delivered, it was a treat to have the PlayStation folks come back and say we did a great job and that we took the features and ran with it. There’s a lot of cosmetic rumble and vibration in JETT. You feel footsteps and impact. We tried to bring as much of that in as possible. Sound is obviously very important here at Superbrothers HQ. But, with the DualSense as you’re surging your scramjets, you can feel your scramjet instability climbing and feel your surge trigger stiffen telling you to ease off. That kind of thing is neat.

You’re actually getting usable data of how the game functions and what’s going on. You’re getting better at the game because of it or you get to feel it more deeply. So yea, it was a total treat working with DualSense. I’ve put a couple of years into playing it and playing on the DualSense. There’s nothing better. I know I sound like a bit of a cheerleader here, but listen, it’s good.

TA: You’ve spoken about how No Man’s Sky and Firewatch inspired JETT. I adore both of those games, but JETT feels unlike most things I’ve played. I still can’t get over some moments in it. The intro in particular is sublime. A near full-length free expansion isn’t something I expected for JETT. What made you want to release Given Time as a free expansion versus paid DLC or a standalone release?

CA: I’ll start by saying that for Given Time, the reason why the free expansion route was appealing amongst the various options, was because it felt so integrated into the vision for JETT that we wanted them to belong together. We didn’t want to put obstacles in front of people where they’ve got to make another purchasing decision. We just wanted it to just work. The way in which we thought that it maybe makes sense is that we are bringing out the Steam release at the same time. So in terms of making the math make sense, the goal is to bring it out as a bit of a gift, but also hopefully surf on that and try and get a little interest amongst the PC gaming community.

To note about No Man’s Sky and Firewatch, I had written something about those. They hadn’t so much inspired JETT. JETT’s inspirations date back to like SSX, 1080 Snowboarding, Wave Race, Metroid Prime, and Monster Hunter. That’s really where we started. But, it’s been a long development. Through the development No Man’s Sky and Firewatch happened and they shaped JETT in a couple of different ways. No Man’s Sky kind of, I wouldn’t say stole our thunder, but they kind of defined the procedurally generated ‘in a jet and out of a jet’ style of game. We had that as a core element of our vision but it occurred to us that it might be hard to get that across to people in the face of No Man’s Sky.

With Firewatch and the interest in that type of game like Gone Home, It seemed like there was an opportunity for us to strengthen our story in The Far Shore. To bring people in so they would be more receptive to the kind of core gameplay we had in mind. Which brings me to Given Time because that is the vision we have been driving towards all along. It was intended to be you going at your own pace, discovering interesting things, nobody talking to you, and getting to soak in the mood and think about this big sci-fi story and all of its different themes. We realized that because JETT is unusual in a bunch of ways, the way it controls, the kind of things you’re doing, that if we dropped you in the deep end and said here’s a free roaming go at your own pace ecosystem immersive sim, it would be hard for people to find their footing.

We did like our characters and our story and things like that. Anyway, The Far Shore became the way in which we ramp you up into Given Time. Getting you familiar with the world and how the “jett" works and more. So that you kind of have everything you need in front of you to enjoy this large free roaming expansion.

We’re extremely psyched to be bringing it out because I think it is going to make JETT as a whole make a lot more sense for people.

Dan Berry joined the project about a year ago, and has been involved in the project in a whole bunch of ways helping me with Given Time including narratively. Dan’s also somebody who played The Far Shore shortly after launch and then had the experience of diving into Given Time.

Dan Berry: Given Time takes everything that The Far Shore sets up. There are plotlines that were left dangling and this ties them together in what I hope is a way that isn’t patronizing to the player. It is going to give them pieces of a puzzle and let them try and figure out what’s actually happening. I think we’ve left enough breadcrumbs throughout the whole of Given Time that you should be able to work out what’s going on without being told definitely that this is the story and this is the conclusion. There’s a lot of room there for interpretation which I like a lot.

CA: Gameplay wise, in The Far Shore, in order to maintain momentum there was always this like “we gotta all do this thing now or something bad will happen." I was always trying to find a place where it’s like could we just have a normal day at the office? Scouting a planet where we just get to chill out. If you do that, you lose the momentum. Anyways even going back years, the plan was to have narrative momentum and propulsion to take you through the end of The Far Shore. We always had it in mind to sunset most story threads but keep a few in play, and have everybody play and go back into torpor.

Even going back into 2016, the plan was exactly that and then roll credits, and then lift the curtain and there’s this semi-secret sequel that is a lot more of that solitary Metroid Prime experience. That was always the scheme. We didn’t know if we would ship them together, or if they would have to be separated. We kind of went back and forth, but then the way that it’s turning out where there has been a little been of a separation while the scouts are in torpor. I think it’s kind of perfect you kind of wake up into this thing a little groggy remembering how the jett works. But it will feel really well-integrated. You will kind of realize that it is now a complete thing with a satisfying conclusion may I say.

DB: I’d say so too. (laughs).

TA: Barring the new story content, can players of the original JETT expect anything else in the main game through this update and free expansion release?

CA: The Far Shore campaign benefits from a new comms log which is a feature where after characters are talking, and you’ve been focused on not hitting trees, you can press pause and go to the comms log and scroll through whatever anybody has been saying which just helps you get into a rhythm of pausing to catch up rather than just forgetting and then not having that information available to you. There’s not too much else to report. There are some quality of life fixes, and a couple of awkward design corners that got smoothed out. Nothing else that’s all that notable in The Far Shore.

TA: How many revisions did the opening of JETT go through? It is an amazing experience.

CA: Great to hear. We are very proud of it. The answer could be that there were three main iterations or three million iterations. It did take a lot of work. Satisfying work though. I love that you step into JETT and you’re immediately into: “Hi, here’s the whole universe. Here’s your mom and dad. Your jett." It is a lot to take in and I love the way that it worked out.

The first iteration, 2015, it didn’t exist. You started in the mother structure and deployed, but I had these feelings that we need to reel people in and tell them who these people are. Give them their first taste of the jett and blast them off into space. I had this idea of the sequence of things that you could do where in 20 or 25 mins you could hit all these different notes and set up the rest of the game really well. We put that together in 2016 and you could have played it and I have footage of it somewhere. It was all just me doing environmental art back then.

That stayed pretty much as is for a while, while we worked on other things but when the JETT squad era got going and we got more people in, the elbow grease got out, the character rigs got fancy, costumes got fancy. We had Sam Bradley coming in for art direction. Flaminia Grimaldi on environmental art. A mix of old and new friends on the character rigging and things got fancy in the JETT squad era. We just got it as fancy as we could.

There’s one notable thing. I’m getting out of sequence, but Jim Guthrie’s song came online in 2017, which is the song that kind of defines the interstellar trip. The last iteration was in late 2020 after we pushed the release date. We were doing a lot of different shaping but there was this section where you’re learning how to use the jett in the prologue, and we felt like we could go in and strengthen it and kind of leave everything as it was. That was the third iteration that was just to bone up on the jett training stuff.

That’s simplifying it. Generally, it was a lot of tuning and honing. It was made with love. We were all pretty interested in getting it to reach its potential.

TA: JETT: The Far Shore + Given Time will see the game debut on Steam after being Epic Games Store exclusive on PC. Were there any optimizations done for Steam Deck? (Note: This was asked before a blog post was published about the optimizations on Steam Deck).

CA: For Steam Deck, I don’t have anything specific that I can talk about right now. I can say that Patrick at Pine Scented rolled up his sleeves and has earned some real breakthroughs here. I think we will have some positive noises to broadcast about JETT on the Steam Deck in the next little while.

TA: I’ve been a huge fan of Superbrothers since the first time I tried Sworcery on iOS. Are there plans to bring JETT to iOS in some form?

CA: No plans for JETT on iOS. There was a notion of this a few years ago, but it would be a real steep challenge given the complexity of the controls and just the technical demands. JETT is also not planned for Switch similarly because of the the technical aspects. It is a steep enough challenge. It is not something that we are eager to tackle. So JETT will remain PlayStation and PC for all time, I would think.

TA: With the Given Time expansion and update, is there anything else you’d like to do in the JETT world that you haven’t been able to do so far?

CA: Video game wise, I feel like we are leaving JETT in a great place with Given Time. I’m very well satisfied. I’d like to take a little break after being on JETT for 1000 years. But yes, if the right opportunity holed into view, I’d consider it. The world, the characters, and the concepts have a lot of potential. I think it is cool. Unbiased opinions only here (laughs). I do have some enthusiasm, but I do need to work on other things.

TA: Now that the expansion is out, and it feels like it will satiate what some wanted from the base game in its structure and story, will there be a physical release on PS5?

CA: No physical release is planned.

TA: Both Sworcery and JETT are very unconventional experiences, but there was quite a gap between both when it came to release date. What genres would you like to work on in the future?

CA: They are both unconventional. With JETT it was unconventional, but also ambitious and lengthy. Particularly once you’ve traversed Given Time and you see what the total vision for JETT was. There’s a reason it took two people multiple years, and then took a whole squad to get it done. So going forward I am interested in not doing that. That was great to do once, but I would like to work on projects that don’t take a decade to get done. So that’s kind of guiding my feelings going forward.

I don’t want to tip my hand too much. I do have some things kind of starting to cook over here, but they may take a different shape. One thing that is interesting to me going forward, is if you kind of choose to be innovative and disruptive, there’s a cost to it. In terms of it taking more time or it being harder or having fewer reference points to clam up on on the development side, and when people get the game in their hands, every innovative or disruptive element they now have to spend mental energy climbing up on. There was a time 10 years ago, where hey this game is doing something interesting, I’m up for it.

But I feel like there’s been so many video games now, that it is an understandable place to be to say hey could I get something that I already know how to play and where the controls aren’t the thing that I’m struggling with. You can have those innovative and disruptive elements, but maybe don’t put them in the way of players enjoying or learning the game. Those kinds of frictions. JETT has a lot of intentional frictions all over the place. We do it in so many areas that at a certain point it is a little bit tiring for people. I’m interested in making something that is a smoother shot. Whatever innovative and disruptive elements it brings, don’t complicate a players’ ability to get in and get going. That’s something I’ll say.

TA: JETT is now available on PS+’s game catalog. What do you think of the current state of the industry and how there’s a push for subscription services across platforms?

CA: I love the PlayStation folks, and I’m grateful to them, and I’m pretty happy to be getting JETT out to a lot more people. More people that get a chance to play that prologue, the better. As for commenting on what’s going on in the industry with subscriptions, I don’t know. It’s mysterious. I’m not qualified to prognosticate so I’ll leave that question where it is.

Part two will be landing in the very near future covering one of my favorite games ever, Sword and Sworcery EP, Sound Shapes, working with Jim Guthrie, and more.

Thanks to Craig D. Adams and Dan Berry for their time here leading up to the launch of JETT: The Far Shore + Given Time and also to popagenda for facilitating this interview.

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