Tue. May 30th, 2023

Justin Roiland and the rest of Squanchtendo sit down with Ars Technica to talk about Accounting. Video created by Sam Machkovech, edited by Jennifer Hahn.

SEATTLE – “How much of this can I spoil?” This was my first question to Justin Roiland, the writer, animator and voice actor best known for co-creating Adult Swim series Rick & Morty—after 12 minutes of hysterical laughter in his first virtual reality project.

Topping off his impromptu morning mimosa, Roiland responded quite subdued, opting not to offer a PR-esque list of rules and restrictions. Instead, his plea sounded like a maker’s, not an advertiser’s: Whatever gets spoiled will ruin the whole point of his very first full-fledged VR product, so be cool about it.

Here’s what I can say so far: It’s called a “game”. Accountancy. In it, your VR hands look like giant Windows mouse pointers. It’s really about accounting. (And a bit more.) It’s free for the HTC Vive and will launch “very soon” as the first game from Roiland’s new, dedicated VR studio, the bizarrely named Squanchtendo.

“That’s one of the benefits of a free game,” Roiland told Ars. “If we’re selling this, we’re going to have to show a little too much right now. It’s like, ‘Why am I paying $3 for…?’ It’s so much better when it’s, you know, ‘It is Accountancy at VR? It’s free, whatever, I’ll try. The people behind it, I love what they’ve done.”

Then they act so strange Alice in Wonderlanddown-the-rabbit-hole madness,” he added.

Not only Virtual Rickality

Our hotel room get-together turned out to be even weirder than I expected – and I had already assumed it would be odd since, after all, this is the guy whose cartoon is dominated by hundreds of phallic, spherical, and pus-dripping aliens. Roiland joked about a hypodermic needle that surprised me in the first few minutes of the interview. The chat included one of Accountancy‘s main developers, William”The Stanley Parable“Pugh, set up like a Skype monitor at the head of a dummy body. When Pugh wasn’t being asked questions, he was doing his best to distract the other people in the room by doing weird things in his London flat , including ceasing what appeared to be a variety of drugs.

To be fair, their reputation had preceded them. You may have heard Roiland publicly joke about making an “accounting simulator in VR.” Shortly after that tease, Pugh posted a short excerpt from “Accounting for the Vive” to add fuel to the fire that this joke had some flesh.

Pugh and Roiland were clearly having fun with interviewers in March, saying things like, “In the early stages of VR, there’s going to be a real need for these people who have to sit at desks and look at Excel spreadsheets.” Knowing their track record, you could have guessed they lied through their teeth. But revealing exactly how they lied would spoil most of the glory Accountancy.

All I knew when I made a PAX West appointment with Roiland and his Squanchtendo co-founder, former Epic Games producer Tanya Watson, was that I could expect “a brand new game” – meaning: not the other major Roiland-affiliated VR experience that had already been announced, Rick & Morty’s virtual Rick-ality. That project is being made almost entirely by Owlchemy Labs, the makers of the HTC Vive hit Job simulator (“those guys are fucking awesome,” Roiland exclaims as soon as I bring them up), and published by Adult Swim Games.

Roiland explained that Owlchemy will handle the production and design of that VR game, while contributing higher-level design calls and “retroscripted” dialogue. recording booth. The preliminary demo of that game, which I also tested at PAX, looks like Job simulator in terms of asking players to do crazy things with their virtual hands while funny things are happening around them – just with the whole thing Rick & Morty universe comes into play, so players go to the locations of the show and meet familiar characters.

Accountancy is not. It has no affiliation with the cartoon hit, either officially, informally, or personnel-wise, and the same goes for the first batch of projects from Roiland and Watson’s company. (Roiland admits this could change in the future, but Roiland says no plans have been made R&M‘s staff to date.) The duo have only hired a full-time artist so far, but are looking for staff to create their own games as an entirely different entity to Rick & Morty or any other work on Roiland’s board.

Rick & Morty is a full-time job,” Roiland said. “I used to be on Reddit at night and on weekends Bachelor in Paradise, or building LEGO sets while listening to the old Joystiq podcast. Now it’s VR, VR, VR.”

As in, over the past year, Roiland has occasionally filled notebooks with ideas for gameplay mechanics, narrative hooks, and other elements he’d like to see in a VR experience. He partially credits Valve Software, who he contacted in 2015 to record Rick & Morty-specific dialogue for a special add-on “announcer” pack in the Valve game Dota 2. Roiland had already proven himself to be a VR fanboy by buying the first two Oculus developer kits, and he’s still gushing about that hardware and the first wave of retail games, including Chronos and Lucky’s story.

“But when I tried the Vive, something changed in my brain,” Roiland admitted.

“I am a pathological liar”

From then on, Roiland became a convert to the Vive, claiming that he had “a bunch of other people [Vive development] kits that are [now] developing their own games.” In the process, Roiland was trying to figure out how to actually get involved to make games, but since he has no programming experience, he instead started recording dialogue for early Vive hits like Move Junkers and Job simulator.

His first major transition from writing in notebooks to making games came when Pugh called Roiland cold call via Twitter, pretending to be someone else. “We initially met because he was looking [on Twitter] for a tour of Respawn Entertainment,” Pugh told Ars via Skype, referring to the studio responsible for the Fall of the Titans series. “I’m a pathological liar, so I said, ‘I’m from Respawn, follow me!’ He wrote me a little later and said, “I’m in your building, where can we meet?” Ten tweets later, we got talking about a collaboration.”

Before long, Pugh and other developers from his indie studio, Crows Crows Crows, flew to Burbank, California, to work with Roiland on a four-day VR game jam. Accountancy was the result.

Accountancythe launch trailer

“I’m glad I joined Justin for some triple-A studio,” said Pugh — and this is when the duo started finishing each other’s sentences over a frenetic design process with a small team. Roiland said it reminded him of his early, low-budget cartoon days, when he and some friends made bizarre cartoons like Cosby’s house. Roiland found himself more comfortable working on game design than he expected, and set out to find someone to help him realize his dream of actually opening and launching a dedicated game studio.

Watson met Roiland in a very Hollywood way, she admits, as Roiland’s agent also represents Cliff Blezsinski, her former colleague at Epic Games. Watson already had her own dream of dipping her toes into an independent studio with a VR focus, as she was tired of the game design process at bigger studios. She admitted she was “a bit skeptical” when she first spoke to Roiland about his idea for Squanchtendo, but what he accomplished with that four-day game jam blew her away. “We need to get this out there,” she told him after they formally started putting studio plans together.

What else can we expect? Roiland and Watson are not yet opening their design notebooks or discussing future projects. All they have to their name is another full-time staffer hired so far and this single, completely free game is coming up – which, to be fair, was largely produced by the Crows Crows Crows remote team. But Roiland is optimistic about what to expect, and while the content of Accountancy (whose release date will be announced soon on the official site) should be a good indication, the brevity should not be.

“This will set the tone for Squanchtendo,” Roiland said. “It’s an opportunity to see an experience similar to what we want to make in the future. We’ll have much tighter storytelling in the bigger games we develop, but I absolutely love the loose, improvised performances here. Really. , I’m really looking forward to the first big 10-hour game in VR.”

Frame image by Sam Machkovech

By akfire1

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