Rick and Morty Creator Announces New Game Studio with a One-Page Comic
The voice behind Rick and Morty now wants to invade your (virtual) reality.
Rick and Morty already has a VR experience, but the cartoon's creator wants to do more than just make a single game; he wants to create a VR studio. Partnering with former Epic Games' producer Tanya Watson, the two have started a new VR studio called Squanchtendo. And their press release is a hand-drawn comic. You can check it out below.
While they're not ready to discuss what exactly the newly formed studio will be working on, we talked with Roiland and Watson about what it takes to bring humor to VR in a phone interview just prior to the announcement.
GameSpot: You guys are getting into game development now, especially for you, Justin. That seems like a very different kind of challenge. What makes you want to make a game company?
Justin Roiland: I'm so inspired by what you can do in VR. Just the capabilities of VR as a tool or medium for storytelling, but more importantly for me as a massive gamer, interweaving storytelling on the back of a very strong foundation of good gameplay. The idea or desire to pivot into this medium is something that has sort of been brewing for quite awhile on the heels of getting the [Oculus Rift]. I was one of the first Kickstarter backers for that. Then, of course, I got the DK2, which made me even more excited. Then the HTC Vive back at GDC 2015, that just blew my mind. Now I'm just obsessed with all of them.
For me, as a massive consumer and gamer myself, a consumer of games and VR, I've been buying everything I can get my hands on. Trying everything and taking that back to my game design sketchbooks and testing things. Seeing what works, seeing what doesn't. And the thing that I'm most hungry for in the space are really strong but cool characters, a lot more personality, and just more story.
I do appreciate the cool arcade stuff and the short-form VR experiences. And I have no doubt that there are studios out there working, toiling away right now on exactly the types of games that I'm desperately wanting to play. But it something that I feel like I could bring the sensibility and comedic tone that we do on Rick and Morty to the VR medium. I want to bring that tone and character and personality and story and set it on top of a foundation of really strong, cool gameplay.
I love the concept of exploring worlds in VR. I want to do more of that desperately, but I've found that if you don't really have a reason to explore and you don't really have interesting characters and interesting things to do that are important to the player and the overall story of the game. It falls a little flat after awhile. The marvel of VR with just a giant massive world to explore is cool for awhile, but you definitely need something more than just that.
I don't know if any of that answers your question or not. [laughs]
Tanya Watson: Yeah, Justin.
JR: I just like to talk!
TW: What I really love about partnering with Justin is the idea of being able to do these really great, comedic, narrative-driven things with interesting characters in crazy worlds. To me, that just sounds like a game I would love to play. Therefore, that's the game I want to make.
There's not a lot of them even in the traditional space where you have these "laugh out loud funny" moments. There are bits and pieces here and there. But as a studio, those are the games that we want to make; that's our thing. I'm dying to play those games, and I'm dying to make those games.
Outside of someone like Tim Schafer at Double Fine who makes consistently great, comical experiences, I can probably count the games on one hand I'd consider genuinely funny. It's a distinct challenge in gaming. What makes you want to try to get into that space and what makes you think, "We can do this. We can right the wrongs of some really bad games in the past"?
JR: Some of the stuff that I want to bring to our game, some of the stuff that I think is just really inspiring and fun for me to do in execution is...I don't know if you're familiar with the inter-dimensional episodes of Rick and Morty...in those, I go into the booth and just kind of improv a bunch of nonsense. I want to bring that energy to games.
I feel that, obviously, you need a strong, compelling narrative that propels you through--and you mentioned Double Fine, those guys do an amazing job of that. They make sure that these stories that they're telling are really strong from a structural standpoint. Then, because they're so funny, they go in and nail all of the micro details, all of the cosmetics. It's all really funny and well-executed.
That's the same thing. We're going to make sure that our games have strong overarching narratives that are compelling and engaging and drive the player forward. The minute-to-minute and the exploration and the things that you come across in the world, the characters you come across are just going to be absurd and funny.
I want to go in the booth with some of my favorite voice actors and just let them go completely off book. Just go nuts. Less scripted, more outlined, loose performances and then really write that stuff in the edit bay when you're cutting the dialogue. I found that that's such a winning formula for the way my brain works on the TV side.
Having played so many of these awesome VR experiences and also just being a lifelong gamer in general, I'm so excited to bring that approach to the video game medium and to see how it's received.
TW: That's the thing. I think that in games, there haven't been many comedians and many people working in this field that know how to make comedy really funny in the game space. For me, that is one of the things that makes this really interesting. Having made games like Gears of War, Bulletstorm and whatnot, we have the way that we go about building those games. How we approach the narrative and how we go about making it. But when we're building the studio from the ground up, we get to reconsider all of that with Justin and how his process works with his shows and stuff. I think that's going to be a really fun challenge. Anything is on the table.
I'm super happy to throw out all of my experience and knowledge and old ways of doing things to figure out the best way to make comedy in games. Especially in VR, because you have so many more opportunities. I think that it's a really interesting challenge. For example, with Bulletstorm, one of the things that was really tough is when you're trying to line up the timing of two sets of dialogue lines. You don't really know where the player is, you don't even know if they're going to hear those lines. You don't know if it's going to have any punch, because they could've triggered enemy spawn halfway through.
In VR, being in first-person, being able to see up close and personal the faces of the characters that you're interacting with, there's so much more opportunity to deliver that timing really well and to have that be meaningful and to have more punch. I think that's another really cool thing about it.
Why do you want your games to be in VR? That seems a big challenge, especially for a newer studio.
JR: The number one answer is VR truly is the ultimate gaming experience. After playing in it, there's no doubt that it's the ultimate. It's the future. I feel like as the adoption rate goes up and more games come out it's going to be pretty self-evident that it's amazing.
TW: This is the base challenge of the problems for all of us. It's an equal playing field. Everyone in VR right now is playing with the same rule book other than the people who have already made VR games. For me, the idea of jumping right into VR isn't scary at all. In a way, Justin's got a great advantage by not having all the trappings of traditional game development, because he gets to approach everything with a fresh set of eyes. That's exactly the right time. Everybody's having to figure these things out so we'll be figuring them out alongside them.
JR: Also, the thing that's really interesting is just the way my brain works, I understand VR better. I feel like my brain is sort of fine-tuned for it. There's something about VR and all of the challenges and figuring out how to overcome them. For some reason I excel in that area. It's so much fun to stumble upon a solution to some of these very obvious problems.
Also the community is incredibly collaborative, the VR community in general. I think everybody wants it to succeed, so as the weeks roll by, we're trading information with each other. Here's an idea that we came up with on how to propel the player to a new space or how to improve locomotion throughout the larger virtual world or whatever. These are all things ... These are going to be standardized basic tools that the best VR games are going to adopt and continue to iterate on and make better. To me, I'm equally excited about that stuff as I am about all the fun, awesome, crazy characters and worlds that we're going to get to design.
For me I think the more interesting thing about VR are it's applications and the opportunities for storytelling beyond gaming. As a studio, is that something that you guys are looking into as well?
JR: We want to meet right in the middle of the crossroads of a narrative experience and a gaming experience. Our goal as a studio is to strike that balance. I want interactivity in everything we make. I want the player to be able to interact with the world and be a part of what's going on and propel the story forward. I also want to populate the world with characters and I want it to feel like a narrative as much as possible.
I tried some of the Google Daydream. They have a thing called Pearl we go to try at VRLA that was just absolutely stunning. It was so moving beautiful. It's super inspiring. That was a passive VR experience; you're just sitting and you're taking it all in. I loved it, I absolutely loved it. For us, I would want to take that to the next level. I'd want to have these really amazing narratives, but I want the player to actually also have some gameplay to propel them through it. I keep talking about exploration. I think the most important thing for me as a consumer and player of VR is just the ability to explore.
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There are so many amazing short-form experiences on the Vive currently and on the Oculus that are arcade-y, really cool environments, but it's that feeling I used to have back before Grand Theft Auto. I'd be playing Road Rash or something on the Sega Genesis, and I'd just kind of stop and go, "Gosh, I wish I could just go off road in that direction for, like, a mile and just see what's out there."
My brain has always been that way and when GTA came out it was the first time where I was like, "Holy crap, they're finally letting the players do that!" Just that idea of exploration, to me, doing that in VR is the ultimate, because you're there. You're actually there and it's really incredible.
It seems like that freedom also makes it even more difficult to experience comedy. In VR, you can do whatever you want, but with comedy, you have to be like a magician, keeping your audience's attention on a very specific thing. How do you get around that specifically with VR, as opposed to a traditional game, when you can't force a player to look at a thing? When you're in the room with them but they can do whatever they want.
TW: There are a lot of things we have to figure out, but the cool thing with VR is that we know where the head is; we know where the player is looking. Without really crazy system design in the traditional game space, that's not really known. We maybe know where they're located on a map, and we can do some scripting based on the triggers that they walk over.
But when it comes to VR, we can wait to trigger an event until we know the player is actually looking at it.
JR: I've been brainstorming a lot of clever ways to focus the player's attention. Without giving away too much of our first project...I have answers for your question, but I don't know how much I can say without giving away stuff, specifically story stuff. There are ways to focus the player's attention that you can do in so many ways that have to do with certain characters in the environment with that player. Like Tanya said, where the player is looking and once they look in the proper area, you can then activate something.
There are also other ways in which you're able to prohibit their ability to locomote. All of that can be woven into the story. It doesn't have to just be arbitrarily you can't move right now because you have to watch a cut-scene. There are ways to do it where it's really well integrated into the narrative and into the specific situation that the players are in and the characters that they're in those situations with.
That's the stuff that I get the most excited about, and down the road, once we're ready to announce our first game, I can't wait to get into all of these really cool ways in which we're going to be able to guide the player in these exploration scenarios. I can't wait to see what other studios do and I can't wait to talk about some of the ideas that we have.
One thing with VR is that it's kind of spread out. The HTC is very different from the Oculus and that's very different from the PlayStation VR, both in terms of what their strengths are and also what kind of experience they give to the player. Are you guys focusing on one specific hardware for your game or how do you decide what platform you want it to live on?
JR: Our plan as a studio is to always build our experiences to play to the strengths of the specific platform that we're building on. I've seen ports and I'm not a big fan. Eventually the hardware will become more ubiquitous and things will start to merge in one direction, but as it stands now, I think the best experiences are the experiences that have been built from the ground up to play to the strengths of whatever hardware that they're being released on by a long margin.
Like you just said, the Oculus touch controllers are not out so people are building games thinking about the best gameplay that we can do just with positional head tracking and a gamepad. Chronos is an amazing example of playing to the strengths of that. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, another one. Really fantastic example of controller and head movement.
As a studio, let's say if we're designing a game, we might be, but I'm not saying that we are, but if were designing a game for PlayStation VR for example, we're going to build that from the ground up to play to the strengths of the PlayStation VR. The controller in your hand, the headset. But then for the game that we'd be designing for the Vive, we would design that from the ground up to take full advantage of room scale, motion control, all that kind of stuff.
Obviously you guys are vested in virtual reality and that has the power to draw you in in ways that traditional media doesn't, but we also see the strength of augmented reality with games like Pokemon Go. Going outside what you guys are creating, what's your vision of where technology is heading and where you'd like to see things go? What is the future of virtual reality?
Did you see what Intel announced? That's why we're so excited to get into the VR game now, because I really do see in the coming years a lot of the gaming industry shifting over to this. I think augmented reality for me is the ultimate experience. Once the technology gets there, once the latency gets there and you're able to scan and re-map a room that you're in and not be tethered to any cables, have it all be mobile. The promise of what Magic Leap is doing is incredibly interesting to me. Having our studio up and running, having a few games under our belt, when we get leading up to this new hardware, it's going to be pretty exciting.
So, when will we hear more about what you guys are working on beyond just the announcement of the studio?
TW: Very soon. We've actually got something in the works. We've got some interesting stuff going on at PAX that...Well, I shouldn't say much more just yet, but we'll have something to talk about then for sure.
JR: The other thing...Tanya, you say it better than me. The game, our game, we're not really allowed to say much about it but we are working on...
TW: We're currently shopping around a comedy action RPG that we're really excited to make and play ourselves. That's why we have to make it, so we can play it. We're currently talking to a few different partners at the moment, so once we've got more info on that we'll be sure to let you guys know as well.
And we're really interested in finding people that are like us, that want to make amazing, life-altering VR games with really great gameplay and awesome story and characters. We are hiring, we're looking for folks that want to make these kinds of games. More of the long-form game you want to spend a lot of time in, not just an arcade-y mini game. We want to make proper long-form experiences. If there are other people like us, come to our website and take a look at our jobs and email us. It's www.squanchtendo.com.
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