High on Life, a new comedy FPS from Rick & Morty co-creator Justin Roiland and his development studio at Squanch Games (makers of Trover Saves the Universe), was announced yesterday on the Xbox Showcase and will be released for Xbox and PC later this year. year. To celebrate, Roiland has created a new animated short that you can watch above. He also discussed the project with IGN.
IGN: What have you learned about the process of writing for and creating video games from Trover, and how are those lessons 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 for, poke around and mess around with. We love to get surprising reactions to that poking around (as much as possible within our development time). But also, just story paths, conversation/dialogue trees, a ton of jokes, maybe only 2% of players will actually hear it, and especially quality timing with the dialogue edits, especially when there are a lot of moving parts (dialogue-wise) passing through the player are controlled. I think all of this is to say we learned A LOT about making Trover, but a big benefit for me is how to do all the things I mentioned in the same answer just a little while ago, just a few sentences ago. Go back and check it out. It’s only about 4 or 5 sentences back. Good luck with the hunt! But something else that we’ve played with a little bit in Trover, but then strengthened A LOT in High on Life, is the player choice stuff. So SO much more. Much more meaningful stuff too. Different things happen depending on so many things the player does/chooses. From basic choices like which cartel leader to hunt down and kill first, to talking to your sister and Gene, all the way down to just a few super small seemingly insignificant things you can do that end up being more than you ever imagined. Just a ton of that. We wanted to aim for a dense cup of story-like stuff for players. We look forward to hearing people compare how different things were based on some of these choices. A LOT of content crammed into this thing. Well worth a few playthroughs.
IGN: The list of first-person comedies — in games or any other medium — is quite short. It seems that weapons are a way of conveying comedy in this game. Are you a first-person shooter fan yourself and why did you choose FPS for this project?
Roiland: I can think of a few! Stanley Parable comes to mind, Portal 1 & 2, maybe some of the distant creepy DLC games? Something in the Borderlands series? Duke Nukem? Maybe that game Postal 2? Was 2 the good or the bad? Matt McMuscles, a little help? No. I mean… I guess it depends on what you consider comedy. The point is, there’s a lot of great comedy in FPS games if you look closely. Flip those rocks on Steam. A salamander of FPS comedy can shoot away. GRAB IT! FAST! fuck. It’s dead. You were too slow. I wish there were more comedy stuff, but the world hasn’t exploded yet, so there’s time. In High On Life, yes, we use the weapons as both companions and upgradeable weapons. They each have their own unique personality and dialogue in each situation, so there is a lot of player choice (once you buy more weapons) in which weapon you most want to hear or use in a specific NPC encounter, and yes, they are real funny. We’ve been really lucky with the cast across the board, but the comedy in this game really comes from everywhere. I’m not exactly sure what to withhold in terms of information but there are LOTS of hilarious/weird aliens that you will meet, great technology you can use to warp weird random parts of the cosmos and those things are just incredible, tons of sketches and cartoons on the TV, at home and in the world. The weapons are huge and extremely important, but definitely far removed (no pun intended, seriously) from the only source of comedy in the game. One of our main pillars for this game was comedy, so it’s in the cellular structure of High On Life. Aside from some aspects of the story that we definitely want to land with some semblance of weight and just a lot of solid level design, I can’t think of anything the Squanch team made for HoL that wasn’t comedy-driven. And the last part, yes. I’m a big fan of FPS, but I’m bad at online team based match stuff. I’m also bad at Halo and the newer Doom games. Fast nerve-racking shit, no thanks. I build Lego sets all day if I can. Take it easy for me, please. A little more Nintendo, a little less QWOP you know? I tend to lean more towards single player games with a nice balance of 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 many more, but it’s almost 3am and I have to get up at 8:30am. Oof.
IGN: The animated short certainly has an improvised feel to it. Just jumped into VO mode and started reefing?
Roiland: We have LOTS of interdimensional cable style sketches in this game. A LOT. And not me at all. Joel Haver and my lead writer Alec Robbins also did a lot. They are weird and awesome and very VERY obviously improvised on the spot without any discussion or really anything before they roll. Just boom, we’re rolling. “Hello, uh, I’m Mr. Signpost! And welcome to the lifestyle of the rich and the waymarkers,” otherwise something weird would come out. We really should get those “signpost people”. I could do something with that. But hey, we’ve recorded a ton and new ones appear on TV as you progress through the game. Some only play in certain alien cities on the large Blade Runner advertising screens. Also SUPER IMPORTANT NEWS BREAK EXCLUSIVE!! In this game you can also drive a spaceship and drive every car you see, and we have 100,000 fully built planets, all unique from the last filled with their own special unique race of characters that have millions and trillions of lines of dialogue, and you CAN transform inside a dinosaur. And a cat, in a robot city. We have a whole game worth of this one section where you are this cat wandering through a cool city of robots. It’s super neat. Never done before. JK!! I did the whole Hello Games thing. No human heaven. To remind? (Google it) I’ve always wanted to do that. Goddamnit. I wanted so badly to do it, but everyone said no. It is not good. So yeah, all the things I said the game has (beyond the comedy skits) was a lie and I’m sorry.
IGN: Does your work often end up on the cutting plant floor? If so, do you have any funny ideas from Trover that didn’t make it into that game that ended up being a good fit for this game? Or things of this that will eventually end up in Rick & Morty? I’m curious about this because I can imagine that you don’t want any funny ideas to be lost.
Roiland: The boring answer is yes, but it is almost always due to size/budget. Trover had extra levels we had to reduce that KILL me to lose. But they needed new systems that might be used someday, and a lot of other developer crap, so they had to go because we had about $3.5 million to make Trover from scratch. That’s disturbed. I know it sounds like a lot, but ask a guy with 200 bitcoins if it’s a lot. He’ll probably tell you “yes it’s a lot” but it’s not much to make a whole game, QA, located in lord know how many regions, more QA and squash bugs, AND marketing?? It’s certainly no mystery why most people don’t know about Trover. So back to the question, if it’s not in scope/budget, we’ve had a few block-in levels where we realized we weren’t doing the writing right. We screwed up. And we also had this problem: focus testers didn’t know who was speaking. It was a huge downer because it was all my fault. We had the brilliant Reggie Watts record for about four fucking hours for this level and we had to rewrite page one (Fleshworld for anyone wondering) and Reggie got busy and wasn’t available to get back on that VO before the deadline, so we spit the new level and we just dived in and I did almost all the votes. We recorded it while I was drinking slowly the whole time. We went in order of how the level plays out and you can REALLY hear the alcohol coming through by the time you get to the first big boss fight in Fleshworld. That’s basically what we called it for today haha. I find that level really hilarious. And I hate a lot of my stuff after it’s done. That level somehow makes me laugh every time. All four times. Finally, we got a surprising amount of the entire game at HoL. But with a game like this where you build out a whole universe and backstory for so many different characters and races, there are just SO many good ideas. Too many great things and especially if we had $50 million to make this game, great. Throw it all in. But we don’t because NOBODY BELIEVES IN US!!! JK. So yeah, we had to put some cool ideas aside. Nothing anyone would ever miss 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 really between the TV side and the gaming side. Just completely different sandboxes. Please check the spelling and make me look smarter than I actually am. Thanks IGN. [Editor’s Note: You got it, Justin. No problem!]
Ryan McCaffrey is IGN’s executive editor of previews and host of both IGN’s weekly Xbox show, Podcast Unlockedas well as our monthly (ish) interview show, IGN unfiltered† He’s a boy from North Jersey, so it’s “Taylor ham”, not “pork bun”. Discuss it with him on Twitter at @DMC_Ryan†