“It’s about nothing,” George tells Jerry as they discuss his upcoming meeting with NBC executives at Monk’s Diner. During the fourth season of Seinfeld, a show-within-the-show storyline emerged as characters Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza pitch an idea for a new sitcom to NBC. Originally airing in 1992, this episode – and subsequent season – not only broke ground in terms of being meta without breaking the fourth wall, it introduced a tagline that has stuck with the iconic comedy for decades. That Seinfeld is, at its core, a show about nothing. “Everyone’s doing something, we’ll do nothing,” George emphatically states.
Even though it existed in a very specific time and place, the comedy in Seinfeld is as timeless as it is influential. From Puffy Shirts to Close Talkers to Soup Nazis to an irate postal worker by the name of Newman, it was a masterclass in comedic storytelling that focused on everyday social interactions.
The ‘90s also had its fair share of ground-breaking comedic video games, and they were mostly point-and-click adventures. We’re talking about the likes of The Secret of Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle and Sam n’ Max Hit the Road. In these games, vibrant pixel-art, 2D animation, and wonderful writing came together to create genuinely funny and memorable moments.
Seinfeld Adventure, the new project from artist and game designer Jacob Janerka and animator Ivan Dixon, takes this idea and runs with it. Jacob, who solo developed the point-and-click adventure Paradigm (read IGN’s Paradigm review here), and Ivan, who directed the animation in Childish Gambino’s “Feels Like Summer,” in addition to the pixel intro for The Simpsons, are no strangers to the age of Hammer Time. Seinfeld Adventure is positioned as something you could have played back then – a floppy-disk or CD-ROM tie-in that feels true to the show.
Get a sense for the pitch in trailer form.
And much like the show-within-the-show called Jerry, this game-about-a-show isn’t a done deal. Just as Jerry and George pitched the network execs on their concept of a show about nothing, Jacob and Ivan need to convince Seinfeld co-creators Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David to give the greenlight for their passion project to become a real thing – a game about nothing, as it might have existed in the 1990s… in the only way it could, as a point-and-click adventure.
“One of the first things I wanted to do as an artist was create pixel art,” Jacob Janerka tells me. “I didn’t have a lot of experience so I wondered what I could create as a fan that would be fun. I made George and it was this low-effort pixel art exercise. I posted it on Imgur and it blew up. But I love Seinfeld, and I love pixel art, so I kept working on it and eventually made a fancier GIF that went viral. That was when Ivan contacted me.”
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“Hey Jacob, guess what? About ten years ago I started making a Seinfeld point-and-click adventure game. What a coincidence. I never finished it, but I have a playable demo,” Ivan Dixon recites the original message he sent to Jacob. Created while he was still in university, Ivan recalls that the art in his playable adventure was somewhat crude, something he warned Jacob about as they discussed the idea of working together on a Seinfeld adventure game.
“The way we met and became friends was through our Seinfeld projects,” Jacob explains, with both feeling strongly that the underlying idea – a Seinfeld point-and-click adventure game – was a natural fit. Perhaps the only fit. “Just like other great discoveries in the world, multiple people think of it at the same time,” Jacob adds, jokingly.
“What appeals to me about the Seinfeld-verse, is that it’s really rich,” Ivan explains. “It’s got locations that you return to again and again, like an adventure game. There’s also a lot of fun dialogue-based comedy, like in an adventure game. And there’s often recognisable props and repeated gags around things like the Pez Dispenser or the Black and White Cookie or Fusilli Jerry.” These objects feel purpose-made to become adventure game inventory items – they’re familiar, everyday objects, but reinvented in the context of the story.
“It’s interesting that Seinfeld existed during the golden era of ‘90s point-and-click adventure,” Jacob adds. “Sitcom sets are very much like the sets you see in an adventure game. Also, the style lends itself to overcoming a lot of creative hurdles that you might have if you were to create a more modern Telltale-style adventure. For example, you could create the entire game without actually voicing the characters.”
“We definitely talked a lot about what the project needs to be,” Jacob continues. “We felt that recreating episodes, while kind of interesting, wasn’t that exciting. We feel that this is a perfect opportunity to create new content for Seinfeld in a way that’s appealing. Would Jerry or Larry even want new content? Well, in a way this is a work-around where they don’t have to meet the high expectation of creating brand-new episodes. This is both timeless and stuck in time, a place where we can create completely new plots.”
One look at the sets and the pixel renditions of Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer created so far and you’d probably agree. But what’s it actually going to be about?
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The Seinfeld sitcom analysed and played with everything from etiquette, social mores and taboos, through to relationships, dating and the freshness of fruit. There’s an expectation, then, that Seinfeld Adventure would present a Seinfeld take on, well, something. That something is email.
In Seinfeld Adventure’s first episode, “The Email”, Jerry’s dating a publicist who unwittingly gives Kenny Bania Jerry’s email address. Naturally, the Ovaltine-observer and fan of soup begins to flood Jerry’s inbox with a wide range of emails. This breach of trust prompts Jerry to break up with his girlfriend, but he doesn’t want to confront her or do it face to face. Kramer suggests doing it over email, and he does. This then triggers a number of narrative twists and turns involving tickets to the premiere of “Rochelle, Rochelle 2”, enlisting the skills of someone who has contempt for the newfound electronic mail industry, and the appearance of a certain Gore-Tex jacket.
“Back during the show’s run email was a new thing and so was the internet,” Ivan explains. “We thought that that would be funny to explore. It also ties the world to where we are now, where the internet and a connected world is everything. In fact, Jacob and I both connected over email and one of the main reasons we’re able to make this together is because of technology like email. It feels nostalgic but also has this contemporary edge by being a break-up story over email.”
“Initially the idea was that maybe you just play as Jerry or George,” Jacob tells me. “But then that began to feel like a George spinoff. The only way it works is with playing and controlling multiple characters. Like with Day of the Tentacle, using all the characters to complete an objective, which in a way is what the show is.”
“It’s almost a reference to the episode where George leaves his girlfriend that angry phone message and they wait for her to get into her apartment and replace the tape before she can hear it,” Ivan admits as we discuss a storyline in “The Email” that involves Jerry looking to delete the email before she can read it. “I love George and Jerry’s chemistry when they’re trying to pull off a kind of heist.”
As Jacob and Ivan started fleshing out Seinfeld Adventure, they began by looking at the source material – the show itself – as both inspiration and template. This means a three-act structure with a comedic story told in roughly thirty minutes. It means multiple locations with multiple characters meeting up and doing their own thing. And it means narratives intertwining and looping over each other as they reach an unexpected conclusion.
“I think The Contest is not only a great envelope-pushing episode that discussed masturbation on television,” Ivan says. “But it’s a good example of how you can do a half-hour story where each character has their own little arc. There’s this kind of symbiotic nature to the story. You’re not just interchangeably playing as these characters through different scenes; their actions affect each other. And they bounce off each other in funny ways. If the role of Jerry is to perform a certain task within this scene, then some of that will spill over into Elaine’s story.”
That said, only three of the iconic four characters that make up Seinfeld’s principal cast will be playable. “That was one of the big realisations we had,” Ivan confirms. “The decision that Jerry, George, and Elaine would be playable, but Kramer wouldn’t. In a way you empathise and relate to them, with Kramer acting more like an agent of chaos. You want him to play a role in all the stories, but just like in the show he’ll arrive at the perfect time, say or do something and then that messes everything up. Or, some twist of fate lands him in a favourable situation.”[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=That%20was%20one%20of%20the%20big%20realisations…%20that%20Jerry%2C%20George%2C%20and%20Elaine%20would%20be%20playable%2C%20but%20Kramer%20wouldn’t.%20In%20a%20way%20you%20empathise%20and%20relate%20to%20them,%20with%20Kramer%20acting%20more%20like%20an%20agent%20of%20chaos.”]
“What’s been a really fun thing about the exercise is that we’re trying to write in the voice and tone of Seinfeld,” Jacob adds. “We don’t want to it feel completely different. Of course, there will be differences because it’s us and it’s an adventure game. But we’re approaching it from the position of if you were to hire someone today to write brand-new episodes of Seinfeld.”
“There’s going to be puzzles and object-based stuff and conversational things you need to say, but mostly we want it to feel like you’re controlling a Seinfeld story,” Ivan continues. “If you’re George in a conversation, you could yell, you could lie, you could cry, and they’re all funny responses. Some of them will drive the narrative while others just kind of add replay value.”
The Little Details
“Seinfeld was a show that constantly made call backs to earlier episodes,” Ivan tells me. “Often obscure references from seasons past, which was something the finale relied upon. We knew we didn’t want to make a fan service thing, we wanted to create new content in this world that would fit. But we also wanted to include the little Easter Eggs, and with an original story we can still reference those things while creating something that feels like a continuation of sorts.”
Jacob and Ivan have obsessed over every little detail. “When we did the second design pass, we kept going back and forth looking at the characters, and we both had different ideas of what it would look like,” Jacob says, explaining the long process behind getting the look just right. “If we needed to keep them smiling or not smiling. That was a thing that we talked about a lot. One of the hardest parts about creating the backgrounds and sets was finding consistent shots because the sets change a lot in Seinfeld. Especially Jerry’s apartment, trying to find shots of the whole room as a reference wasn’t easy.”
Hulu actually recreated the iconic set in 2015 as part of a promotion to celebrate having all episodes online to stream. It was a like-for-like recreation that impressed many, but there was one glaring issue. Discerning fans noticed that Jerry’s computer changed from a 1990s Mac to a 1990s PC. Jerry was, of course, a Mac guy.
“I found an article that listed every computer he had and the exact Macintosh we ended up using was one featured in later seasons,” Jacob confirms. “Basically, all of these tiny details you never think about we had to think about. Trying to find the perfect screenshots of one side of the room or what exact painting was on the wall. The Porsche image Jerry has on his wall changes a couple of times throughout the show.”
These little details can be seen throughout Seinfeld Adventure, from the way the cursor of Jerry’s hand opens up when hovering over the inventory in a way that mimics his stand-up delivery, to the various tapes labelled with various bits from episodes past that can be seen on Jerry’s shelf. It’s an approach that spills over into the presentation, in which mimicking the feel and flow has been the template. Much like a typical episode of Seinfeld, “The Email” opens with Jerry doing stand-up, with players given the option to choose each line as it’s delivered to the crowd. It’s a killer concept, and the duo hopes to involve Jerry himself in the creation of the material.
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There’s also a freeze-frame at the end with title cards, with both Jacob and Ivan actively considering the use of a laugh-track as a bonus feature to recreate that authentic Seinfeld experience. “Although we would have the game played straight without a laugh track,” Jacob ponders. “A fun idea would be to include an option in the menu where after every joke, there’s a laugh track.”
“You’d definitely want a big holler when Kramer enters too,” Ivan adds.
“One of the biggest comments I got when I posted the early stuff on Reddit was from people saying that they don’t play video games, but this would be the first one that they’d play,” Jacob recalls. “I feel like Seinfeld fans would go to the effort of trying it out. And then it would appeal to, you know, the meme generation.”
Even now over twenty years since the show finished its run after nine seasons, Seinfeld’s popularity hasn’t waned. “They managed to make a comedy that was compelling to a wide audience,” Ivan explains. “It wasn’t all about young people problems either. They made relatable, older characters. I remember watching Seinfeld with my folks and when George’s parents came on the screen, they would laugh so hard because it reminded them of their own parents.”
“We would love it to be funny enough that people would want to replay it,” Jacob adds, noting that watching and re-watching classic episodes of Seinfeld has become a pastime in and of itself. “You’ve knocked off work and you just want to have quick play through of the game. I love the idea of it being episodic, that it can be played in bite-sized chunks. Especially for the target audience. It will take less than an hour, have a beginning, middle, and end and you’ll laugh. There’s really not many, if any, games that you can say that about.”
As a labour of love for both creators, they’re treating Seinfeld Adventure as a pitch to rights holders, Jerry and Larry, and as something that can sit alongside the show as we all stream episodes on Netflix, Hulu, Stan, and other platforms. The trailer itself is a mock commercial for an actual product from the ‘90s. “The Email” serves as proof of concept, the story has been written with all puzzles planned out. A playable intro exists too, featuring Jerry’s stand-up and a tutorial that requires making a bowl of cereal to “help him think”.
“It’s designed to be as modular as possible,” Jacob tells me. “If we were to get funding, the perfect scenario would be that we got to make three or four episodes. And we would involve writers from the original show.”
“The kind of dream scenario for us,” Ivan concludes, “is that whoever owns the streaming rights says we love this idea, let’s make a bunch of them. A season of them, and we get the original voice cast to voice them. I could just die if that happened.”
As one of the fab four would say, Seinfeld Adventure is a sponge-worthy idea. But it still needs your help, so put on your Sunday-best Puffy Shirt and help spread the word. Use the hashtag #SeinfeldGame across social media, keep the YouTube trailer playing on repeat, check out the website, and let @IvanRDixon and @JacobJanerka know that you’re master of your domain.