Space Slam VR Preview: A Planet-Smashing Jam-boree

Credit: Team ;), Quickdraw Studios
Credit: Team ;), Quickdraw Studios /

As VR tries to find its footing, a new game studio’s on-the-fly game jam work is about to become a smashing space adventure.

It’s a wonderful and terrifying time to be involved in virtual reality. 2016 saw multiple VR headsets enter the mainstream at price points reasonable enough for those with disposable income, if not the majority of the gaming public. At the same time, the game libraries can be hit or miss as developers figure out what works and what doesn’t. It’s inherently risky, developing for VR, as your title could easily be one of the earliest hits in the medium, or just as readily remain a forgotten prototype for some better thing that could come after. Even more so for a game like Space Slam, the first title from a small, but mighty, fledgling studio.

Certainly, it must be a terrifying prospect if such a game is the first game you’ve ever made, as it was for the folks over at Team 😉 (pronounced “Team Winky Face”). The odd naming convention of their studio is the direct result of their roots: they collaborated at a game jam to create a game from scratch in 48 hours. It’s an effort that would not only win them the game jam, but also resulted in an approach from a local publisher and a strange, risky, but enticing offer: why not turn your game into a launch title for PSVR?

space slam
Credit: Team ;), Quickdraw Studios /

Let me back up. Team 😉 began at the ICT Game Jam 2016, where Kody Kostboth, Andrew Burdick, and Sam Gartner teamed up to tackle the theme of the year: lost in space. With only from Friday at 8 pm until the following Sunday at noon to make a functional video game, they quickly took an idea for breaking large cubes into smaller cubes and transformed it into smashing up planets.

While out for dinner that night, they ran into Ray Shash, a friend of theirs who seemed interested in the Game Jam and texted them an hour later, wishing he could join them. They brought him onto the team at midnight that night and made him their programmer. The trouble was, Shash had never programmed before in his life.

After sitting up all night watching Unity tutorials, at 7 am the next morning he was ready to roll and got to work. The group proceeded to put together Space Rammer, or (as they wanted to call it but didn’t), Michael Jordan’s Best Friend Goes to College (because they were making a Space game at a game Jam, get it?). The original game was not in VR and involved flying a space ship for the most immoral mining company in the galaxy. Your job? Smash into asteroids and collect the ore inside. Simple. Here’s gameplay from the game jam, aka what Space Slam looked like six months ago:

The game was simple enough that the team, inexperience and all, was able to complete two finished levels with a story, a scoring mechanism, and original music composed just for the game. They tied for Community’s Choice and won Judge’s Choice. A few days later, they got an email from Quickdraw Studios, veterans of the previous year’s Game Jam. They’d gone into publishing since their 2015 debut and wanted to publish Space Rammer…in Virtual Reality.

More from Previews

Although it was originally intended as a PSVR launch title, putting together a VR game with no prior VR experience in only a few months is no simple feat. With help from Quickdraw and new team member Dominic Green, Team 😉 got to work turning their simple space smasher into what is now Space Slam. While delays are never fun, the bright side is that pushing the game back on PSVR allowed them to get the title greenlit on Steam, where it now has a release date of Christmas. PSVR will follow soon after.

You can check out the Steam Greenlight trailer for the game below, though I’ll note that the version I played a week ago had some pretty significant visual upgrades (the images in this piece are also from the Greenlight days):

When I dropped by for the preview, Space Slam was quite obviously about ready to roll. Team 😉 is currently putting finishing touches on the title, such as improved textures and more small detail, such as fleshing out the inside of your spaceship cockpit. They’re also working on making the final boss battle a bit sharper, and are hoping to get the game out a few days before Christmas so they can release a small Christmas update with red and green colors and a Santa hat on the boss.

I can’t help but compare the feel of Space Slam to that of the space portions of [No Man’s Sky], albeit with much clearer goals and the advantage of actually being fun.

The basic structure of the title hasn’t changed since its Game Jam days, as I found when they let me play the original game. But while the premise is still the same, the VR title has come a long, long, long way in just six short months. You pilot a spaceship for M-Star, a company of highly questionable morality which requires you to mine the precious ore located at the cores of planets orbiting various start systems. To get at said ore, you need to set a collision course for said planets, ramming into them as hard as you can, as fast as you can, to break their cores apart.

Mind you, this isn’t an easy, breezy space trip. The planets are constantly moving, some faster than others, meaning you’ll need to plan your course carefully. Furthermore, the planet cores you must break are different colors, and you can only break certain colors at certain speeds. If you’re not going fast enough when you hit a core, you’ll bounce right off. And to complicate things further, each planet is surrounded by a crust that also requires some high-speed maneuvers to smash through to even access the core. You can also use your ship’s lasers, which gain charges each time you fly through the system’s star. The lasers are easier to use, yes, but flying through the star eats up precious time.

space slam
Credit: Team ;), Quickdraw Studios /

It’s easy to let time get away from you while you’re soaring through the stars and planets, but don’t. M-Star’s strict schedule means missing a deadline leaves you left behind in the void of space…or worse. Either way, a Game Over for you. That’s okay, though, because Space Slam isn’t the kind of game you finish in one sitting. It’s one you improve your skills in with each loss until you can tackle each challenge before you with relative ease, all the way to the end. And there are multiple challenges involved beyond planet smashing, from zapping asteroids to navigating the thick blue fog and dangerous lightning of nebulas. Though I certainly didn’t perfect my skills in one sitting, they did let me catch a glimpse of the boss battle, and I can assure you that all of your skills will be tested in the final confrontation.

Team ;)’s extra development time certainly paid off, as your space environment is quite pretty and the disorientation factor of flying through the void was, at least for me, minimal. Obviously, results may vary, and I wouldn’t recommend turning a bunch of backflips, but it seems that most people should have no problem with the speedy planet smashing of Space Slam. While the visuals must necessarily be simpler than those of No Man’s Sky, I can’t help but compare the feel of Space Slam to that of the space portions of Hello Games’ title, albeit with much clearer goals and the advantage of actually being fun.

space slam
Credit: Team ;), Quickdraw Studios /

There’s no walking away from Space Slam without high praise for the soundtrack, all original New Wave compositions from Burdick that perfectly compliment the feeling of planet smashing acrobatics while looking out into the distant stars. Most impressive was the way the music served as an audio cue for how fast your ship was going, adding new instrumentation as you increased speed. Not only do you not have to look down at the dashboard if you’re tuned in, but the sound grows in intensity alongside your flight plans. The music isn’t the only sound cue guiding you to your goals, so keep a close ear out both for directives and the game’s curious lore.

More app trigger: 50 Best PS4 Games Right Now

While the premise is indeed simple, it’s easy to get addicted to Space Slam. Not only is flying around in space on its own a blast, but there’s something immensely satisfying about smashing into and zapping apart planets as I zoom by. Though, like most VR games, it will likely end up with a relatively shorter runtime, plans to add more game modes (including an Endless Mode) are fairly promising given both the variety of levels already implemented and ideas in the works. It’s a good thing because my short play session ended with me wanting to return to my little ship and improve my skills to earn my stripes against the big bad in the final level…or, you know, just zoom around in that lovely nebula one more time.

space slam
Credit: Team ;), Quickdraw Studios /

Space Slam is currently scheduled for a release right around Christmas Day on Steam, both for VR on the HTC Vive and as a regular PC game (though if you can, you really want to play it in VR!). You’ll also be able to catch it soon after on PlayStation VR, though no specific target date has been given. You can check out their official website or Twitter account for more info and updates on the title, or find its Steam Store page to add it to your wish list.

The views expressed in this article explicitly belong to the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of, nor should be attributed to, App Trigger or FanSided as an organization.