High on Life, a new comedy-FPS from Rick & Morty co-creator Justin Roiland and his development studio at Squanch Games (creators of Trover Saves the Universe), was announced yesterday at Xbox Showcase and will be released later on Xbox and PC this year. To celebrate, Roiland has created a new animated short which you can watch above. He also discussed the project with IGN.
IGN: What did you learn about the process of writing and creating video games with Trover, and how are those learnings being applied to the new game?
Justin Roiland: I feel like writing a game is like writing a few seasons of TV, but it’s TV that people can reach and snoop around and play with. We like to have (as much as possible during our development time) surprising answers to this research. But also, just forking out narrative paths, conversation/dialogue trees, a ton of jokes that only 2% of players will actually hear, and most importantly, quality timing with dialogue changes, especially when there are a lot of moving parts. (dialogue-wise) controlled by the player. I guess all of this to say that we learned a lot doing Trover, but what stands out to me the most is how to do everything I mentioned a little while ago in this same answer a few sentences. Go back and check it out. It’s only about 4 or 5 sentences back. Good luck finding it! But something else that we played around with a bit in Trover, but then got LOTS of strength in High on Life, is player choice. So much more. Much more meaningful things too. Different things happen depending on so many things the player does/chooses. From fundamental choices like which cartel leader to hunt down and kill first, to talk to your sister and Gene, to some super small, seemingly inconsequential things you can do that end up being more than you ever would. think. Just a ton of that. We wanted to aim for a dense cup of player story type stuff. We can’t wait to hear people compare how different things have been based on some of these choices. Tons of content crammed into this thing. Definitely worth a few parts.
IGN: The list of first person comedies – in games or any other medium – is quite short. It seems like weapons are a way to convey the comedy in this game. Are you an FPS fan yourself, and why did you choose FPS for this project?
Roiland: I can think of a few off the top of my head! Stanley Parable springs to mind, Portal 1 & 2, Perhaps some of the weirdest DLC games? Stuff in the Borderlands series? Duke Nukem? Maybe this Postal 2 game? Was 2 good or bad? Matt McMuscles, any help? No. I mean… I guess it depends on what you consider comedy. The thing is, there is a piece of great comedy in FPS games if you look closely. Return those rocks to Steam. An FPS comedy salamander can escape. GRAB IT! QUICK! Shit. It’s dead. You were too slow. I wish there was more comedy, but the world hasn’t exploded yet, so there’s still time. In High On Life, yes, we use guns as both companions and upgradable weapons. They each have their own personality and dialogue in each situation, so there’s plenty of player choice (once you’ve acquired more weapons) in which weapon you want to hear the most or use in a specific NPC encounter. , and yes they are really funny. We were really lucky with the cast on all levels, but the comedy in this game really comes from all over the place. I’m not sure exactly what I’m supposed to take away in terms of information, but there are A LOT of hilarious/weird aliens you’ll encounter, awesome technology you can use to warp into weird, random parts of the cosmos and these things are just amazing, tons of sketches and cartoons on TV at home and around the world. Guns are massive and hugely important, but certainly far (no pun intended, seriously) from the only source of comedy in the game. One of our main pillars for this game was comedy, so that’s in the cellular composition of High On Life. Other than some aspects of the story that we really want to land with some semblance of weight and just lots of solid level design, I can’t think of one thing the Squanch team created for HoL that wasn’t motivated by comedy. And the last part, yes. I’m a big fan of FPS, but I suck at online team matches. I also suck at Halo and the newer Doom games. Fast and nervous shit, no thanks. I build Lego sets all day when I can. Slow down for me, please. A little more Nintendo, a little less QWOP you know? I tend to lean more towards single-player games that have a good balance between story and action. Give me RPG elements in a shooter. Give me weird NPCs…God, the perfect example to sum it up is Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas. I could list a ton more but it’s almost 3am and I have to be up by 8:30. Phew.
IGN: The animated short film definitely has an improvised side. Did you just jump into the VO booth and start riffing?
Roiland: We have a LOT of interdimensional cable-style sketches in this game. LOTS. And not all of me. Joel Haver and my head writer Alec Robbins did a bunch of that too. They are weird and awesome and very VERY clearly improvised on the spot without any discussion or really anything before rolling. Boom, we’re rolling. “Hi, uh, I’m Mr. Signpost! And welcome to the lifestyles of the rich and signpost people,” or some weird shit would come out. We should actually have this “signpost people”. I could do something with that. But yeah, we’ve recorded a ton and more will appear on the TV as you progress through the game. Some only play in certain alien towns on the big Blade Runner ad screens. Also SUPER IMPORTANT NEWS BREAK EXCLUSIVE!! In this game you can also pilot a spaceship and drive any car you see, and we have 100,000 fully constructed planets, all unique from the last, filled with their own unique race of characters who have unique millions and billions of lines of dialogue, and you CAN turn into a dinosaur. And a cat, in a robotic city. We have an entire game’s worth of this one section where you are that stray cat in a cool robot city. It’s super cool. Never been done before. JK!! I was doing the whole Hello Games thing. No Man’s Sky. Remember? (Google it) I’ve always wanted to do this. Shit. I wanted to do it so badly, but everyone said no. It’s not good. So yeah, everything I said the game has (beyond comedic sketches) was a lie and I’m sorry.
IGN: Does any of your work tend to end up on the editing room floor? If so, did you come up with any fun Trover ideas that didn’t make it into this game and ended up fitting into this one? Or stuff like that that will eventually make it Rick & Morty? I’m curious about this because I imagine you don’t want fun ideas to go to waste.
Roiland: The boring answer is yes, but it’s almost always down to scope/budget. Trover had extra levels that we had to cut that KILLED me to waste. But they needed new systems that would be used maybe once, and a bunch of other nonsense talk from developers, so they had to leave because we had about $3.5 million to do all of Trover. That’s crazy. I know that sounds like a lot, but ask a guy with 200 bitcoins if that’s a lot. It will tell you, probably, “Yeah, that’s a lot”, but that’s not a lot to do an entire game, QA, localized in god knows how many regions, plus QA and bug squashing, AND marketing?? It’s certainly no mystery why most people don’t know about Trover. So back to the question – When it’s not scope/budget, we had a few levels of blocking that we realized we just didn’t do a good job of writing. We blew. And we also had this problem: the focus testers didn’t know who was talking. It was a huge disappointment because it was totally my fault. We had Reggie Watts brilliant record for about four fucking hours for this level and we had to do a front page rewrite (Fleshworld for those wondering) and Reggie was very busy and unavailable to get back before the deadline on this VO so we spit out the new level and we just dove in and I did almost all the vocals. We recorded it while I was drinking slowly the whole time. We’ve gone through the level order and you can REALLY hear the booze going by the moment you get to the first big boss fight in Fleshworld. That’s actually where we called him for the day haha. In fact, I find this level hilarious. And I hate a lot of my stuff once it’s done. This level makes me laugh every time somehow. The four times. Finally, on HoL, we got a surprising amount of the whole game. But with a game like this where you build an entire universe and a backstory for so many different characters and races, there’s so much good ideas. Too many amazing stuff and of course if we had 50 million dollars to make this game, great. Mix everything. But we don’t because NOBODY BELIEVES IN US!!! JK. So yeah, we had to put aside some cool ideas. Nothing anyone would ever notice missing though. Just things we know we love and will definitely come back to at some point. And for the last part, not much cross-pollination between the TV side and the game side actually. Just really different sandboxes. Please check the spelling and make me sound smarter than I actually am. Thanks IGN. [Editor’s Note: You got it, Justin. No problem!]
Ryan McCaffrey is IGN’s Preview Editor and host of IGN’s weekly Xbox show, Unblocked Podcastas well as our monthly interview show, IGN unfiltered. He’s a guy from North Jersey, so it’s “Taylor ham”, not “pork roll”. Chat with him on Twitter at @DMC_Ryan.
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