Justin Roiland became hooked on virtual reality after Valve invited the co-creator of Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty animated series to Seattle for a secret meeting. Valve ended up showing Roiland the HTC Vive and he was hooked. While a lot of creative people have been captivated by VR, Roiland sought to make virtual reality games.

First, he partnered with Owlchemy Labs to create Rick and Morty Simulator: Virtual Rick-Ality, which made its public debut at San Diego Comic-Con. Then he went a step further and co-founded his own indie VR game studio, Squanchtendo, with Epic Games veteran Tanya Watson. That studio has already launched its first (free) game for HTC Vive, Accounting, from Dr. Langeskov developer Crows Crows Crows, and there are more games on the way.

Justin Roiland

Roiland, who has been busy soaking up video game knowledge from shows like Game Developers Conference (GDC) and PAX, talks to [a]listdaily about why he’s hooked on VR in this exclusive interview.

How did your first GDC help prepare you for virtual reality?

GDC was awesome, in that I was able to go and see on the ground floor and hang out with a bunch of the VR devs that were actively programming and working on stuff for the HTC Vive. I spent a whole day with Dirk Van Welden (founder of I-lllusions), the Space Pirate Trainer guy.

We talked about VR and all the cool, crazy stuff you could do in the medium with that hardware. That was a really important step in this journey. I already had my Vive dev kit at my house set up, but there were a handful of things that I hadn’t tried that were really incredible. I started imagining what you could do on this platform with this medium.

How open have virtual reality game developers been with you?

Everyone is exchanging notes, which is good. I got a lot of information and discussed a lot of stuff in regards to what works in VR and what doesn’t work in VR. And now there’s so much out there for you to try that if you want to spend money, you can almost experiment with the titles that are out and go, “Yeah, this is something that I wouldn’t want in my game, or this is something that I would want in my game because it works perfectly.”

How do you see VR evolving?

There’s a lot of mini-games—a lot of short-form games—because there’s only been so much time for devs to spend working on stuff. I spoke to devs about how exciting the future is going to be when some of these more long-form games come out. When we get the more narrative-driven, bigger experiences like what Grand Theft Auto III was for console games—that shifting point where it was like, “Holy crap, you can do this on the hardware!”—it’s going to be exciting to see what comes in the subsequent months and years.

What are your thoughts on navigating through VR gaming worlds?

Usually, a lot of people now are moving towards the teleportation mechanic. At PAX, I got to try the Doom VR demo that they had set up at the booth, and that was just ridiculous. It was exactly what I was imagining in terms of [what] the locomotion would be. The ultimate way to do it [is] where you have your non-dominant hand point anywhere you want and then you actually see yourself zip over to that spot. You can point behind you and it works and you can point in front of you. It’s very exciting to see that in action and someone using and proving it out, because that’s the first time I’ve gotten to try that in a full 360-degree way, and it worked perfectly.

What are you personally learning from short-form VR game experimentation that you’re developing with Accounting and Rick and Morty Simulator: Virtual Rick-Ality?

(Crows Crows Crows developer) William (Pugh) and I got together right before GDC with his buddy Dom (Johann) and it was really just a game jam. It was like, “Let’s have fun in this medium.” The goal was to lean into the characters and the weirdness that I’ve wanted to see in VR for a while, and I’m still waiting. I know that people have to be working on something that leans in that direction behind closed doors. We set out to put as many weird characters in a game and record as much dialogue and audio as possible.

To an extent, that’s what’s happening with the Rick and Morty game (from Owlchemy Labs), where I’m going in and retro-scripting everything. So you have two characters that are actually in the room and there’s a lot of character animation and stuff going on. We have some of that in Accounting, but it’s the idea of putting a character in a space with a bunch of bizarre characters that are rambling and rambling, waiting for you to do something that you’re supposed to do, but you don’t know what you’re supposed to do yet. Accounting is very much like a puzzle experience. You’re in a room, you’re not sure what you’re supposed to do, and you have to listen to the characters and do what they tell you to do. In some cases, they don’t tell you to do anything. They just yell at you, and you have to kind of figure it out on your own, which is really funny to me. In the Rick and Morty game, the characters are more like your guide, but they’re definitely commenting on the stuff you’re doing.

What does VR open up in allowing players to interact with characters you’ve created, whether from Rick & Morty or original game characters like Accounting’s cast?

I love the idea of having an audio drop for every single interaction that the player can make, that’d be my perfect-world scenario. So there’d be something that the characters say or comment and it really does feel like a two-way thing despite the fact that you can’t just open your mouth and talk to them. I’m sure there are people working on that, but that’s basically Alexa- or Siri-level stuff that we’re talking about there. It’s about how can you get around that and make the player really feel like they are interacting with the characters in the space. And the best way to do that is to have an audio drop for every single thing that they can interact with in the space. Some of those audio drops will just go on and on until they trigger the next one. That stuff’s really fun to do.

Accounting was really an experiment based on taking a puzzle-based “escape the room” concept and making it different by including bizarre characters that are going through an interactive talk and ramble experience. The whole thing about Accounting is that there’s quite a bit of replayability because a lot of players are going to figure things out quicker than other players in certain rooms. We’ve recorded so much that they’ll want to go back and listen to everything until it very clearly loops.