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2 cancer survivors, 1 video game and a documentary, too

The Dev Diary movie poster features three smiling Coster brothers rendered in pinks and yellows.
Provided by James Reichmuth
The Dev Diary movie poster features three smiling Coster brothers rendered in pinks and yellows.

In late 2015, St. Louis filmmakers James Reichmuth and Alessio Summerfield were looking for subjects to include ina documentaryfilm about locally produced video games. They found an ideal source in Butterscotch Shennanigans, a game development studio, that “was putting out a huge game at the time” and “going through some personal turmoil.”

Butterscotch Shennigans — run by brothers Scott, Sam and Adam Coster — was about to release Crashlands, inspired by Sam’s diagnosis with stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  The game would go on to become a creative and commercial success.

As a cancer survivor himself, Reichmuth knew he’d found the story.   

“This is a story about somebody who is not only battling a terrible, crippling disease, but somebody that is taking that disease and using it to fuel a fire to make something bigger,” he said.

Reichmuth and Summerfield’s documentary captured how the brothers drew inspiration from crisis. They will make it available to an international public via Vimeo and Amazon on Jan. 21. A long cut of the film will also premiere at music and gaming festival MAGfest in Maryland. The story follows the Costers through the game’s development, Sam’s treatment, the release and glowing reviews, and the Costers experience as they learn the results of Sam’s final bone marrow transplant.  At the time there was still a lot of uncertainties for the filmmakers, the game developers, and for Sam.

Sam Coster, left, and Seth Coster, laugh while talking about Crashlands at the University City apartment they work out of.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Sam and Seth Coster in their old apartment studio.

“The game hadn’t been released, Sam’s health was still in flux a little bit, and we kind of had to figure out ‘how can we tastefully just tell the story, bare bones?’ So that’s what we did.” Reichmuth said.  

He says the project’s success came down to three factors: Crashlands’ status as a major gaming release that came from a relatively small Midwestern city, Sam’s personal story overcoming a major disease, and the brother’s relationships. 

Filmmaker James Reichmuth, Seth Coster, and Adam Coster discuss filming 'Dev Diary' and developing the computer game Crashlands.

Both the documentary’s producers and their subjects say the film offers a window into their journey, sometimes even for members of the family.  Adam Coster, was in Texas throughout part of the games development and his brother’s treatment.  For him the documentary will offer the chance to see moments he missed while away.

Filmmakers Alessio Summerfield and James Reichmuth.
Credit Provided by James Reichmuth
Filmmakers Alessio Summerfield and James Reichmuth.

“I was here for the Crashlands launch but I was not here for Sam’s final bone marrow biopsy and for his final diagnosis when he got his all clear and all that stuff so I’ll get to see it in the context of the story,” Coster said.

He said the brothers agreed to the project because they felt sharing their story might help others evaluate how they pursue their own goals.

“It was interesting to me to see how people would see the story in those terms, a story of despite large adversity, getting to where we wanted to be,” Coster said.

Filmmakers Reichmuth and Summerfield are exploring whether to produce follow up episodes of the documentary.  The Coster brothers are still working on the Crashlands game and beginning development on another immersive game that takes place in a related “universe.”

Follow Willis on Twitter: @WillisRArnold