The Steam Workshop for Garry's Mod - the monolithic physics sandbox that emerged from Half-Life 2 — contains 15,974 maps made for all sorts of different game types and purposes. Jazztronauts is its own separate heist game, but it takes place on those maps. Yes, that means it already has nearly 16,000 levels.
This story originally appeared in May 2018, and has been republished to coincide with Jazztronauts' release today.
Jazztronauts is an upcoming free mod for Garry's Mod in which you "explore, ransack, and tear down random levels with your friends." You can steal everything, from furniture to characters to triggers that would normally make events happen if you hadn't stuffed them in your endless digital pockets. You deconstruct levels as you move through them. If you nab the right kinds of map objects, you make money.
It's an absolutely bonkers game concept, and as you can imagine, levels often come out of it looking, well, different - like in this clip from streamer TieTuesday, who got in on a play session with one of Jazztronauts' developers over the weekend (via Rock Paper Shotgun):
With the walls stolen, a poorly lit concrete slab of a level turned into a neon crystal dreamscape. But that wasn't the end of it. Seconds later, things got nutty. Tie and co started stealing event triggers, leading to a candy-coloured apocalypse:
There's some clever technical trickery powering this part of the game. Basically, the server downloads the map and copies the level geometry, at which point the game can render portions of the map as the nightmarish yet appealing funky "void" that you see in the above clips.
"We can also take the level geometry and create physics models on-the-fly, to simulate floors walls and ceilings falling away into the void," coders Zak Blystone and Scott Kauker told me in an email.
They added that this can be an issue on levels that are actually one giant model, meaning that - presumably - if you tried to steal something, you'd pocket the whole dang level. "There are plans in motion to fix this," they said.
In between levels, you go to a hub world inhabited by cat people and collect your money by pulling a lever and watching all the garbage you've stolen spill out onto the floor. It's something else:
The goal of it all, say the game's creators, is to let players deconstruct video game levels in an interesting way. "On one hand, it's a crazy chaotic swarm of looters crawling through the map stealing everything not nailed down, but on the other hand, it's like dissecting a body to figure out how it works," the game's writer, Daeren, said in an email.
"In playing the game you almost inevitably run into weird hacks and abstractions that made the map function or flow in a sensible way that make you confront the logic - or lack thereof - that went into the map's design."
Or, in short: "It is an archaeological dig and retrospective through a hugely influential period in PC game design that happens to primarily involve stealing garbage to appease strange cat overlords," Daeren said, summing it all up.
Jazztronauts won't be out until sometime later this year, but I'm already enamoured with it. Sure, video game series like Grand Theft Auto and Payday have pulled off plenty of grandiose heists, but they were basically ripping off famous movie scenes.
Jazztronauts, whether it ultimately turns out to be just a novelty or demonstrates actual staying power, will certainly be in a league of its own.