VR's Potential, According to Rick and Morty's Justin Roiland

The dawn of VR.


If you're familiar with the dark comedic tone of the cartoon Rick and Morty, then you know what to expect from its creator's first virtual reality game. Justin Roiland and his newly-founded company Squanchtendo--named for Squanchy, Rick and Morty's raunchy anthropomorphic cat--will be releasing their first foray into VR in the coming weeks, and boy, is it a gut-buster.

You begin in an accounting office as a new accountant for a rather eccentric VR company. But once you put the goggles on, the gloves come off, and your job flies off the rails at breakneck pace.

The short experience will be free, or "complimentary" as Squantencho co-founder Tanya Watson calls it, for the HTC Vive. The game, ominously called Accounting, is being developed in conjunction with William Pugh of The Stanley Parable developer Crows crows crows. It both is and is not about its titular subject matter. Without spoiling the story, it can only be described as a journey of self-reflection, of learning to be accountable and the accountability of others--and the consequences of tampering with something you're ignorant about. And again, if you enjoy Roiland's brand of off-color humor--interrupting conversations, muddled words, and heinous atrocities inflicted on the unsuspecting--then you'll feel right at home in Accounting.

According to Roiland, Accounting is just a taste of what Squanchtendo wants to accomplish, and is meant to be more of a business card than a full-fledged product. And the whole thing came together because Pugh lied to Roiland about working for Titanfall developer Respawn Entertainment.

"I was in a building, a sort of innocuous office building in Van Nuys (Los Angeles)," Roiland explained." And I saw some kind of video gamer types. You know, you can just spot them. And I was like, 'Wait a minute', so they got off the elevator and I sort of peeked. And I saw Titanfall shit, I'm like, 'What the fuck!' So I tweet out, 'Does anyone work at Respawn or know anyone that works there?'"

"I see that and I'm like 'Dude I do, yeah I work at Respawn, why?'" Pugh continued. "Cause I have an emotional need, I want attention, I equate that with affection. The more famous a person is, the more that I want their love. But I was very quickly found out."

Pugh confessed that he did not, in fact, work at Respawn, but when Roiland learned he had worked on The Stanley Parable, a whole new conversation started. The two planned a game jam together the week prior to the Game Developers Conference, and during they jam fleshed out the bones of what would become Accounting.

"It is a really good representation of what I want to do more, see more, actually, in VR ," Roiland said, "which is just a lot of fun characters and a lot of looser, more improvisational dialogue. Obviously you know what the audience needs to hear, the player needs to hear, you know what information needs to be conveyed and you know what needs to happen from the top of a scenario all the way to the bottom of that scenario. You also know what actions in the game are going to trigger what audio and what that audio needs to be. So if you have all that all mapped out out--which is equally as fun, because that's all the game design stuff--and then you go with all of those... I've just been going into the [audio] booth and just completely improving with some of my friends who are incredible, talented people."

Both Roiland and Pugh's voices are prominent throughout the game experience, as both play multiple characters. It's difficult not to laugh when the two are both screaming in your ears, vying for your attention and guiding you towards different objectives. And while most shorter VR experiences feel more like demos and less like a complete experience, Roiland and Pugh's Accounting feels like a solid, fully-fledged one, despite the short length. It's also about VR itself--a VR game about VR, which is less meta than you'd expect.

"We're taking players to new spaces, using spaces using VR headsets inside VR," Roiland said. "You just keep diving deeper into VR. This is kind of an inventive way to transport the player to the next space. But even more importantly than that is the character, and the voices, and the feeling... just that there's life. It's like you're in a populated world with really interesting and funny characters. Sometimes they're just yelling at you, sometimes they're very needy and distracting you from what you're actually supposed to do.

"It all really lends itself to this nice, cool feeling of just a little more narrative, a little more life than what I'm seeing in the current stuff VR right now."

"I feel like a load of VR stuff at the moment is essentially tech demos," Pugh added. "It's moving now, transitioning mainly form the majority of people working in that space being hardware manufacturers or hardware specialists to people who develop software primarily. There's a movement there. I think initially all the early stuff is pretty much exclusively done by people who aren't particularly interested in the narrative side of stuff. We're seeing the whole indie scene kind of kick-start this thing."

Tanya Watson, co-founder of Squantendo and a lead on Accounting, also believes that smaller studios will shepard in the era of VR for the wider consumer base. Having worked as executive producer on Epic Games' Fortnight and a producer on every Gears of War title save the first one where she lead QA, Watson has seen hardware cycles come and go. But VR, she believes, will be the one that allows for more room in the creative process and gives the biggest potential possibilities for new narratives.

"This is the thing--to be at such early stages with a new technology... for me, I came into games into the middle of it," Watson said. "I guess I was part of the early next generation, like the Xbox 360 launch. That's nothing compared to this. A whole new way of thinking, of how to develop your games and design for those interactive experiences. It's great to see it all being shepherded by indies."

Squanchtendo's Accounting will be available soon for the Vive. And after that, you can expect to see a more from Roiland and his fledging indie VR studio.

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