Update: This preview is written based on the PAX West demo from September of 2016. Since the game releases this week on April 20th, we wanted to refresh everyone’s memory on what makes it so hilarious and exciting. You can also read our list of 5 episodes to watch in preparation for the game’s launch.
Original: Going into PAX West, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. PAX conventions have never been known for their huge breaking announcements or the debut of incredible new technologies for press to check out ahead of time. In short, PAX is a convention designed for fans, and that’s what makes it so great.
When attending a convention like this as media, there aren’t a whole lot of surprises typically. But every now and then something gets announced a couple of months before PAX that catches the internet’s attention. In some cases, it’s a game based on a popular property, created by a known developer, that’s being demoed behind a black curtain tucked away in an otherwise crowded show floor.
This year, that game was Rick and Morty Simulator: Virtual Rick-ality and it was awesome.
“Justin Roiland [co-creator of Rick and Morty] is so incredibly and genuinely excited about VR,” said Alex Schwartz, CEO of Owlchemy Labs. “…He was tweeting about our game, Job Simulator, so I responded and told him we made it. A few days later I was in town for an event and I end up at his place. We’re having drinks, then there was this serendipitous moment where we both have the same idea at the same time: “What if we did Rick and Morty in VR, but it was basically Job Simulator in Rick’s garage?! …A few weeks later we went to the Adult Swim office together and pitched it.”
When I met up with the Owlchemy Labs team at PAX West to talk about the upcoming game, they were naturally all smiles. The great success of Job Simulator and its upcoming multi-platform releases, the recent investment news, and now a big new game based on one of the most popular animated shows on television, all adds up to having very little to be unhappy about.
They took me behind the aforementioned mysterious black curtain at the Adult Swim Games region of the show floor and let me don an HTC Vive so I could try out Rick and Morty VR for myself.
From the very beginning of the experience, it felt incredibly familiar in the best way. Rick, Morty, and I are standing in Rick’s garage, surrounded by all of the familiar items any fan of the TV show would recognize. His workbench is out in front of me, with shelves lining the walls to my sides.
Rick extends out his arms to hand me a basket of dirty laundry, while Morty’s exacerbated voice confirms that I am in fact supposedly one of his clones. I reach into the basket and toss the laundry into the washer eventually, but not before I make sure to let Rick complain a bit more. He was never a very patient man.
Soon after that, Rick and Morty hop through a portal on one of their adventures, leaving me behind to entertain myself in the garage. The environment is split into four quadrants, each of which is about the size of your job stations in Job Simulator.
“What we found is that if your environment is huge and people can click to teleport anywhere, wherever they want to go, they just stop actually physically moving their legs,” said Schwartz. “People stand in one spot and just teleport around the world without moving. With our system, you can only teleport between valid zones, but then they still have room-scale within those zones, so you’re actually mobile and moving around the zones themselves.”
Since I know my time with the demo is short, I start acting a bit frantic. I teleport across to the quadrant opposite me, the same one from the teaser trailer shown above, and immediately grab the plumbus. I just had to.
Once the wiggling stops making me giggle — which takes longer than I’d care to admit — I wave it around in various directions, slap different sides of it, and generally make a fool of myself in front of everyone else inside this dark, secretive PAX tent.
Following my demonstration, I proceed to break bottles and smash things around the garage, because I’m in VR, I have things I can interact with, and that’s just what you do in this type of situation. No interactable physics object is safe from my rampage. It’s the type of emergent gameplay that Owlchemy has quickly become known for.
“With Job Simulator, we had to invent so much,” explained Schwartz. “Now that we have this foundation that’s really flexible with our engine, we can apply it in a lot of really fun ways.”
Rick and Morty is the type of IP that every game designer should both dream about landing and dread actually working on. The fanbase is obsessively in love with the source material and each episode is packed full of references that you’d be hard-pressed to pick what to work with when brainstorming ideas for a game like Rick and Morty VR.
There is obviously a lot of original content here — the game is in 3D and the show is 2D, for starters — but it leverages and is influenced by the cartoon its based on quite heavily. Luckily, the core foundation that Owlchemy built while creating Job Simulator is incredibly adaptable and is planned to be used and iterated on for some time
But one of the biggest challenges that Rick and Morty VR presents that the team at Owlchemy never had to face during Job Simulator’s development, is the degree of player-NPC interaction. Since Job Simulator doesn’t actually feature any real NPCs other than some robots with a few lines, some elements were much simpler.
In the case of Rick and Morty VR, designing NPC interaction became their new cup of coffee problem.
“Now we’re trying to solve new problems,” said Schwartz. “We approached this and realized we need to figure out how to create fully-rigged, 3D, animated characters with voice acting that move and interact with the player in real-time, in your space, as well as accounting for all of the crazy things that come about in our games.”
What happens if you interrupt Rick while he is talking by slapping him? What if you complete the task before he is done explaining it? What if you get up in his face? These are all questions Owlchemy has to answer, but wouldn’t normally even be questions at all in a non-VR game.
Additionally, Rick and Morty Simulator: Virtual Rick-ality is aiming to be a lot more than just Job Simulator with a fresh coat of Justin Roiland-flavored paint. There is a plot here, with a detailed narrative, and you will be passing through portals across your adventures. And probably laughing a lot along the way.
Further details about this Rick and Morty VR game are scarce at the moment, but it felt every bit as authentic, hilarious, and immersive as I’d hoped.
Justin Roiland is involved semi-regularly in the game’s creation, but mostly as a writer and adviser. It turns out launching your own game studio and creating a cartoon both take up a lot of time.
You can see the game’s preliminary Steam page now for more details.