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IGF Factor 2014: Jazzpunk

Don't mention the cold war

Today's investigation into the hopes and dreams of the IGF Award finalists takes us deep into the cold war caper of Jazzpunk. We settled onto a whoopee cushion and called Luis Hernandez (graphics/sound) and Jess Brouse (programmer/animator) to discuss comedy, lounge music and pizza.

RPS: Is Jazzpunk a game or a musical genre?

Hernandez: It's a game. Long after I came up with the portmanteau "Jazzpunk", we discovered that there is also supposedly a musical genre named "jazz punk" as well. There's a musical sub-genre for anything, so I shouldn't have been surprised. Its really awful music, so I'm glad we haven't been associated with that style at all.

RPS: Can you tell us a little about the game's origins? What are your backgrounds inside or outside game development?

Hernandez: In 2007 Portal and Braid kind of proved a few things. Portal proved that you could make a short-form game, something that lasts roughly the length of a movie, and as long as it was an enjoyable experience, people were cool with that. It was an example of a successful game that didn't need to have 80 hours of "gameplay" and 80 different endings to be important (ie: star ocean).

Braid showed that an indie game distributed solely on digital platforms could do quite well. So these two things happening at the same time, plus the recent availability of stand-alone game development tools (like Unity, but before Unity) convinced us to start making something ourselves. Its a much longer story about how Jazzpunk itself evolved, however.

My background in game development is in the late 90's modding scene, making quake, Half-Life maps and mods and stuff. Trying to squeeze as much weird stuff out of those tools as possible. Jess and I met as technicians at an art gallery. I did a lot of sculpture, photography and music work at the time, I definitely come from an arts and electronics background.

Brouse: I made a Noah's Ark themed FPS with 3D Game Studio in the 90s. From there things started to go downhill.

RPS: The game has been compared to the works of Mel Brooks, and spoofs such as Naked Gun and Airplane. That must be pleasing but what are some other inspirations in the world of film, game and literature?

Hernandez: It's strange; we decided to cite Naked Gun and Airplane when we initially had to start doing press stuff for the game. Up until that point we'd never really had to put a name on the style or genre of Jazzpunk, let alone try to define the comedy style of the game specifically. I wonder how many people would've made that connection to those Zucker Abrahms Zucker films, had we not decided to highlight that connection ourselves. I've read enough reviews that don't think theres any ZAZ connection at all, because the reviewer was expecting an LA Noire style "photo realistic" Leslie Nielsen character to be running around.

There are a lot of films and books that were influential to me, and this is one a lot of people don't ask about, but there are a lot of albums that were actually influential in the look and feel of the game. A piece of music can have just as strong an effect for me, as an entire movie. Lots of old lounge and exotica, big band and hi-fi records had a major impact on the look/sound of the game. In terms of film, I really like Gilliam's work, Brazil and his old collage-animation especially, great sense of humor, lots of technological density. This is also true for Bladerunner and Alien. Old japanese yakuza films, hitchcock stuff (anything with saul bass and bernard herrmann).

Old 1980s cyberpunk literature was also very influential, I've seen a lot of people pickup on that stuff in the game. Gerd Arntz' pictographical style was the inception for the NPC deisgn and a lot of industrial design, architecture, Josef Albers contributes to this as well. Three games that made a big impact on me were PaRappa The Rapper, Jet Set Radio, and Katamari Damacy, I love how much much they were able to convey with pretty low-poly worlds (and strange mixtures of 3d-2d objects), they come from a era of japanese games that just don't exist anymore, and I miss it dearly. I hope anyone familiar with those games can feel the connection.

Brouse: Jazzpunk has bit of Grim Fandango going on even though Luis never played it. Likewise with Space Quest. Both had a compelling mix of world exploration and humour while maintaining a distinct visual style.

RPS: Are you frightened of pizza?

Hernandez: Pizza is probably my favourite food.

Brouse: Much like a shark, Pizza is more afraid of us than we are of it.

RPS: Have you played many of the other entrants and are there any that you'd like to see win in their category?

Hernandez: I've basically been living under a rock for the past year or so, trying to wrap the game, up, unfortunately I haven't had a chance to play any of them. I remember playing the old Samorost games, and they were pretty cool/weird, so I'm looking forward to trying the new one.

RPS: Are you particularly pleased to be nominated for the Seumas McNally Grand Prize and have you played any of the other entrants in that category specifically?

Hernandez: I had the pleasure of meeting Lucas and Davey (Papers Please, The Stanley Parable, respectively) back at least's years PAX prime, but again, still haven't had an opportunity to sit down with their games. I saw Device 6 running on my friend's iPad thing once, but I don't personally own any iOS devices, to its another game that eludes me. I think we can all sympathize with having a game backlog that we need to eventually get though.

Because I worked on all the audio in the game, it actually meant a lot to me that we got an honourable mention for audio. Seumas McNally is trickier to parse in that regard.

RPS: What are your plans for the future?

Hernandez: New exciting things! I'm looking forward to being able to experiment with games again, having worked on a project as long as jazzpunk...it means its been a long time since I've been able to really try new stuff, stretch my legs, make prototypes, etc. So that aspect is very tantalizing to me.

Brouse: We are beginning to chart some new game development workflows involving real science, technological and creative R&D.

RPS: What is the funniest game you've ever played?

Hernandez: Hmm...hmmm...that's a rough one. Theres's something special about Parappa the Rappa, and I think a lot of the scenarios and awkward aspects of that game made for some good laughs, its quite surreal, and just isn't like anything else.

Brouse: Space Quest 4 at the time. I also lost my shit when I discovered Enviro-Bear.

RPS: Finally, do you have a favourite gag in Jazzpunk? (mine is either the pillowfight or what I dramatically refer to as 'The Removal of the Shoes'.)

Hernandez: I've had different favourites throughout development, often the latest one we implemented would be a temporary favourite (because its fresh and still gets a laugh out of me). The various VR worlds have had the longest lasting appeal for me, because I drove them into the ground less, during testing. The shoes gag was actually one of the first jokes we ever put into the game, and was one of the "proof of concepts" that convinced us that comedy could work. Glad to hear it still holds up after all these years :)

Brouse: Some of the VR worlds have a sort of brain melting effect that is fun to watch others discover, but personally I still get a hearty laugh from some of the incidental character voices- the cowboy, Xavier Esperanto etc.

RPS: Thanks for your time!

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About the Author

Adam Smith

Former Deputy Editor

Adam wrote for Rock Paper Shotgun between 2011-2018, rising through the ranks to become its Deputy Editor. He now works at Larian Studios on Baldur's Gate 3.