When Owlchemy Labs‘ Alex Schwartz saw that Rick and Morty creator Justin Roiland was a fan of their Job Simulator VR experience, then he reached out and met up with Justin in Los Angeles. They came up with the idea of creating an interactive Rick and Morty Simulator VR experience that would combine the mechanics of Job Simulator within the setting of Rick’s garage.
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When Alex started adding narrative components to the and discovered a big problem that would immediately break presence. Every character and action needed to be interruptible in order to maintain the plausibility illusion within the experience. Matching expectations is the biggest challenge for creating a highly interactive VR environment, and interacting with real humans means that they should have an appropriate reaction if you try to interrupt them. One of the most complicated new systems that Owlchemy Labs had to develop was a framework that could account for all different types of interruptions.
The result is that Rick and Morty Simulator is one of the most advanced interactive narratives that I’ve seen so far. Their interrupt system seamlessly blends highly dynamic interaction within a narrative structure that keeps the overall experience moving forward in what ends up feeling like a complete adventure within the Rick & Morty universe. There’s still a lot of work to be done in having the characters directly respond and react to your physical presence and action directed at them, and Alex says that this is one of the biggest open problems that they’re working on.
I had a chance to catch up with Alex at PAX West where we talked about how the Rick and Morty Simulator project came about, the importance of interruptions in interactive narratives, maintaining presence within VR, their workflow for writing and collaborating with Adult Swim and Justin Roiland, and some of the open problems that they’re working to solve.
Here are some tweets that document how Alex and Justin first got together.
— Justin Roiland (@JustinRoiland) August 30, 2015
— Owlchemy Labs (@OwlchemyLabs) September 11, 2015
— Owlchemy Labs (@OwlchemyLabs) September 11, 2015
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[00:00:05.452] Kent Bye: The Voices of VR Podcast. My name is Kent Bye, and welcome to the Voices of VR Podcast. So at PAX West over this weekend, I had a chance to try out one of the most advanced interactive narratives that I'd had a chance to see so far. It was the Rick and Morty simulator by Alchemy Labs. So, Alchemy Labs created the Job Simulator, which is trying to really focus on active and willful presence, where you're able to essentially interact with any object in the room and have it have some sort of delightful behavior that matches your expectations of how it should behave. So I had a chance to talk to Alchemy Labs' Alex Schwartz talking about how to blend interactivity with a story and narrative with the Rick and Morty simulator. So that's what we'll be talking about on today's episode of the Voices of VR podcast. But first, a quick word from our sponsors. This is a paid sponsored ad by the Intel Core i7 processor. You might be asking, what's the CPU have to do with VR? Well, it processes all the game logic and multiplayer data, physics simulation and spatialized audio. It also calculates the positional tracking, which is only going to increase as more and more objects are tracked. It also runs all of your other PC apps that you may be running when you're within a virtualized desktop environment. And there's probably a lot of other things that it'll do in VR that we don't even know about yet. So Intel asked me to share my process, which is that I decided to future-proof my PC by selecting the Intel Core i7 processor. Today's episode is also brought to you by VR on the Lot. VR on the Lot is an education summit from the VR Society happening at Paramount Studios October 13th and 14th. More than 1,000 creators from Hollywood studios and over 40 VR companies will be sharing immersive storytelling best practices and industry analytics, as well as a VR expo with the latest world premiere VR demos. This is going to be the can't miss networking event of the year with exclusive access to the thought leaders of immersive entertainment. So purchase your tickets today while early bird pricing is still in effect at VROnTheLot.com So this interview with Alex happened at PAX West that was happening in Seattle from September 2nd to 5th. So with that, let's go ahead and dive right in.
[00:02:28.902] Alex Schwartz: My name is Alex Schwartz. I'm the CEO and janitor of Alchemy Labs. We're here at PAX West showing Rick and Morty Simulator, the Rick and Morty VR experience, which is an Alchemy and Adult Swim Games partnership. And people are freaking out. The line has gotten rowdy because they are so into wanting to see this five-minute snippet. It's pretty insane.
[00:02:50.442] Kent Bye: Yeah, I had a chance to try it out and it was a lot of fun. It's kind of like a job simulator meets kind of Rick and Morty cartoon narrative components. So maybe you could start with how this project came about.
[00:03:04.006] Alex Schwartz: Yeah, I mean, your one-line description is exactly how the genesis of the project, you know, Justin Roiland's a huge VR fan, and he was tweeting about The Vive and about Job Simulator, and he's like, oh my god, Job Simulator, it's amazing, it's amazing, those guys, those alchemy geniuses, and so I saw that, and I was like, oh my god, this is like one of my favorite shows, and the guy co-wrote it with Dan Harmon, and he does the voices for Rick and Morty, he's fanning out on our stuff, it's crazy. So I reached out to him and I ended up in LA and ended up at his house and then we started drinking and it was just kind of this obvious pitch of what if Rick's Garage were Job Simulator? What if Job Simulator were taking place in Rick's Garage? And that was it. That's all you really need for the pitch. I think Job Simulator has this genre that no one knows how to describe, which is room interaction, standing and doing things. and it just works so well for a cartoon that's all about silly, crazy situations and interactions. So we pitched it and talked with Adult Swim and they're super on board and the rest is history. Now we have a game, we have a part of a game and we're still working heavily in development on it.
[00:04:10.477] Kent Bye: Yeah, the way that I kind of think of Job Simulator is that, you know, you're kind of really exploring agency and willful presence in a way of how can I exert my will into this environment. And, you know, we talked before at the Unity Vision Summit about the hand presence, and I think hand presence is kind of one way of thinking about operating and manipulating tools where you're kind of doing these active within an environment, and you want things to be plausible, which means you want to be able to do something and see some sort of immediate reaction of that.
[00:04:40.360] Alex Schwartz: Absolutely. I mean, what we call it is, like, expectation management, is that's how the entire game development cycle and flow really goes, is we put people in this world and we fill it with humor and interactions and things, and then we make sure that everything that everyone thinks of, where they go, oh, I'm gonna outsmart the developer here, or, you know, like the examples in Job Simulator, like, I'm gonna photocopy my head, this and they would nip there is zero chance that developers would have thought of that and then it happens and the elation of like my worldview of what should have happened actually happened and they like took it another level is I think some of the best joy that comes out of this game so it just means going down the rabbit hole to the point where a normal producer would say like you've gone insane and so we just go deeper and deeper and deeper because people expect a these things about the world around them and how it should work and we need to fulfill every one of those wishes and make it happen and have a funny outcome. And I think it was Chet at Valve who he was playing an early version and his feedback was I tried to break your game in seven different ways and behind every one of those moments there was a joke that was ready for me and he's like that was the win. So you know we have to live up to the how hilarious the actual cartoon is and make it feel right and so it's a good fit together.
[00:05:54.345] Kent Bye: Yeah, this really reminds me of the game Facade, because Facade has like 2,000 dialogue pairs. When you go through an iteration of that experience, you maybe only experience like 20% of that. So it feels like there's so much kind of dialogue and story that's being driven, but you know, you can exert your local agency, and it doesn't seem like you're actually impacting the global agency like in Facade where your small actions can actually dictate the outcome. It seems like there's a pretty set arc of the story, but yet you're still allowing people to kind of exert as much of their individual local agency as they can.
[00:06:32.500] Alex Schwartz: Yeah, I mean, I think in the things that we're building, if someone says, I want to play with this item or I want to pick up this plumbus and shake it around for the next eight hours, like the game needs to let you do that and not be, you know, the traditional game design would lead you to having some VO line that says, hey, come over here and pull the lever. Hey, come over here and do the thing like. come on, what are you doing? And we just need to not have the moments that force you in a direction. Obviously, in the demo, we had a five-minute constraint, and so we pulled the player around in a lot of different ways. But if you want to go nuts playing around with insert any, I don't want to reveal all the mechanics of the game, some really cool thing that's in the garage, you need to have the ability to just do it and not be berated or feel like you're being timed or feel like the world's not reacting to what you're doing. Interrupting was the thing we mentioned before. At any time there's some VO, obviously there's things that are gonna happen. If you go do something that would spawn a different path or a different VO, the characters will actually stop themselves and stutter and then go into that path that you just kind of, you've got this linear rail and then now you're down a different one. And we actually do a really funny thing where if Morty's talking and then you pick up the Meeseeks ball, Rick goes, shut up, Morty, and he just jumps right in with his line. So it's kind of like, in AAA games prior, there was an interrupt system, and then we could do it in a really funny way. And we just, we have to think of all the ways, because you don't want to do something and then wait 12 seconds for, like, some boring thing to finish out. You want it to feel real and reactive to everything you're doing.
[00:08:02.288] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think that the only moment that I felt like there was a bit of a nudging was, you know, where they say, hey, this is only like a five minute demo. Come on, I got to do the thing, you know. And so, like, other than that, it felt like a pretty free kind of open world where I was kind of free to explore at my own leisure.
[00:08:18.087] Alex Schwartz: Yeah, we actually had a little bit of a challenge is that people want to be so deliberate and look at every little thing. So you've got someone standing in the corner looking at a ruler for four minutes. And we wanted to tell them, hey, there's so many other cool things. So we're trying to actually push them because of the five minute time limit. But that's the reality of how many people can we get through in one conference day. And we want to try to maximize that without going nuts. But if there was no timer and we just left people to their own devices, they'd probably be in there for quite a while before we had to rip the headset off of them.
[00:08:47.550] Kent Bye: Yeah, from my own personal experience, it felt like it was a very expansive five minutes. I don't know if it was because there was a lot more story elements, more than job simulator. I mean, there seemed to be dialogue, which I think is a little bit different. There feels like there's kind of like this emerging story that's happening rather than just kind of like doing, you know, task-based things. So what have you found in terms of like trying to integrate story elements
[00:09:12.492] Alex Schwartz: Yeah, I mean, it's really hard to tell a story without it feeling like a linear just, you know, sit there and watch it happen. And so we needed to be really careful to have the player be triggering all the events that led to more story. And so if you choose not to trigger, because clearly, like, they're like, hey, you should be doing this, and you don't for a while, totally fine. But yeah, it all needs to be kind of driven by the actions of the player. And at certain times, like both Rick and Morty, They're like, oh, we got to go take care of some important business. I'm out of here. And they leave. And Rick tells you not to touch his stuff. And there's that moment of, hmm, well, clearly I have to disobey that. The entire game is about disobeying the rules. No one listened to Job Bot. If you did, you were a sap in Job Simulator. Yeah, I mean, we want to give people, it's a merging between, what does it feel like to go through a real Rick and Morty episode? Like it's got to have an arc and it has to have a moment and a surprise at the end and all this stuff. But we also want it to feel like that hybrid sandbox-y type of vibe where you can do almost anything, so that wish fulfillment. So it's just a constant push and pull between the two. And I think we found something interesting, but Man, is it hard to pull off. I think a lot of this is just first time through type of stuff. Like, we were able to circumvent, for example, like in the technology, there's floating robots, you know, in Job Simulator. It's a great way to get around doing fully rigged standing characters that are fully articulated with lip sync. that look at you when you're talking like wherever you move they follow around and just all those like if they stare at you intently for too long then it's creepy and how do you make it so it doesn't feel weird to be in the same space with characters. So we're learning a lot there and I think a lot of teams around the world are learning like how do characters and how do you interact in VR without it feeling strange. And you don't know until you try it. So it's been a very iterative cycle of like, OK, let's test this. Oh, he's way too close to me. Ah, it's a little weird. Like, just kind of going through that and making it feel right.
[00:11:09.179] Kent Bye: So with this Rick and Morty simulator, do you feel like it's going to be kind of an episodic framework? Or is it just one kind of scene? Or is this an experience that you want to people have go through once, but have a high replayability where they can go through the same story, but yet kind of discover new things each time?
[00:11:27.505] Alex Schwartz: I think we're still working through a lot of that as we develop out the game. We've said, like, people might be assuming, oh, it's like Advergame or something like that. You know, like, oh, it's going to be a little test game for conferences. So I just wanted to dispel that notion. This will be a fully-fledged game that we'll release at a premium price, you know. But as far as time and the date of the launch and all those details and how long it'll be in total, we're still cranking through some of those.
[00:11:52.615] Kent Bye: And there was also just announced within the last couple of weeks, Justin Roiland's doing his own kind of VR development shop, Squetch Tendo. Maybe just kind of clarify the IP that you're working on versus what they're doing.
[00:12:04.601] Alex Schwartz: Yeah, totally. Yeah, Justin is helping on Rick and Morty Simulator in the sense that he does all the VO for the characters, well, for Rick and Morty. Our game is an Alchemy Labs and Adult Swim games partnership with Justin helping out. And then Justin has started his own company to do original games. And so Justin's always working on a number of things simultaneously. And he showed me his massive dust off this huge bible of game ideas. And so he's extremely prolific and hilarious to work with. So he's just got ideas for days. So I think now I'm excited to see what they come up with over there. Yeah, he's doing this and that and season three and like all these things all at once.
[00:12:44.508] Kent Bye: Can you talk a bit about the planning process or visualization of how do you actually take a look at the form and structure of what you're creating and how do you, is it an iterative process or is it something that you've kind of planned out? Maybe just talk about your workflow in terms of how do you actually kind of put together something like this and collaborate with a team on doing it?
[00:13:03.908] Alex Schwartz: It's all brand new stuff. We don't have a template to work off of as far as, here's how you make a character-based story slash narrative sandbox VR game. We're going forward and figuring it out as we go. The process right now, which is pretty funny, is we do all the writing and all the voice recording in-house as the Alchemy team. then we send it over to Justin and he listens to our bad renditions of him and laughs and then improvs over it and does his version. So we get back you know the writing that we had done but slightly funnier and done with these little improv moments that make it so much better. So we've all like at the office gotten kind of used to doing Rick and Morty's voice. I think it's myself and Andrew do a lot of that and so it's like Morty gotta I don't know, Rick. It's just a poor version of Justin's brilliance. But by the way, doing about five minutes of that, I am almost unable to speak. I have newfound appreciation for voice actors because I don't know how they do it. They must have iron throats in order to pull it off. But yeah, we write and we create, and we're just given a lot of creative freedom, which is amazing. In a show this big, you know, we are inventing new things in their IP. We're going nuts in that world, and I think they trust us to be A, funny, and to B, like, know this show deep and to respect the IP. And so I don't think there's a better group of people to be building out something in an IP world than the people who actually love the show themselves, right? like we wouldn't have done this project if it wasn't a kind of like a an amazing fan dream of ours to work on it as well so it's a really good fit for us.
[00:14:39.724] Kent Bye: Does Adult Swim have any type of Bible for Rick and Morty in terms like this is all the canon for the show or is it just based upon watching all the TV shows and then having it emerge from that?
[00:14:50.818] Alex Schwartz: They've got a lot of reference material that we've sorted through. There's a ton of it, so that's helped us in certain cases. But yeah, watching the show generally gives us the gist, but if we need to dig into something specific, they've been super helpful in providing us what we need.
[00:15:05.537] Kent Bye: So what is some of your biggest lessons learned so far of doing this kind of interactive narrative with NVR?
[00:15:12.982] Alex Schwartz: I think the one big thing is what I was mentioning is the interrupt system is that people don't want to wait through boring VO and they don't want to hear something they've already heard and it needs to feel natural all the way through and so to get that to feel good it's not something you necessarily plan. I didn't plan that out from day one and we didn't think that we'd need an interrupt system. It was something that As we tested and got into, we realized, oh, that's annoying. We need to somehow solve that. And it turned into this deep system that was required to pull it off. The lessons about personal space bubble and characters and things that move quickly too close to you, we saw that in Job Simulator, but it's even more pronounced in this, is that in the automotive job, the car comes right up into your space. And at one point, we had done some rough test animations, and the car kind of came in much faster and people were terrified that it was gonna hit them and so they'd see it and they'd jump back and and so like I've played a bunch of VR games that don't do a good job of respecting the personal space bubble and the animations like clip right near your face and you really don't want to violate the comfort of the user and you want it to feel like I'm really there with them and I guess that's not necessarily a lesson but just like a big thing we've been thinking about and iterating on and making sure is correct and like bug fixing when we see the wrong thing happen is about positioning and animations and characters too close to you. And then the other thing is we're learning a lot about how to handle performance in a game where you've got these fully rigged skin characters that are pretty high poly. animating, doing lip sync, in a fully interactive environment where physics, we're already physics bound, you know, in Job Simulator, now we're adding an entire new layer, and so we're using Valve's new rendering shaders, you know, the lab shaders, to help us out with Perf and Unity, but it's a big challenge with everything that we're stacking on top in this game, all the layers and the You've got positional audio taking up this amount of time and this many milliseconds and then you've got the fully rigged characters and the VO and the lip sync and then you've got the rendering, the lighting and the physics and the portals that we're doing are a crazy thing in Unity with multiple cameras and render textures and like the fact that it actually feels smooth as you go through a portal is pure shader genius magic and we have this one guy who's doing our shader work. He's a wizard, and so to pull that off is just a lot of churning through math and making it work. So we're finding the challenge of getting it all to work in under 11 milliseconds for 90 hertz is a big challenge.
[00:17:48.929] Kent Bye: In terms of presence, do you find that you can achieve a state of presence within your own game, or the fact that you know what's going to happen, does that kind of ruin the plausibility that you're in a real environment? Just from you personally.
[00:18:02.727] Alex Schwartz: Absolutely. Presence kicks in immediately in standing room scale VR for me. I would have thought that it would have been lessened, but near the end of Job Simulator, having put in thousands of hours of my time in those scenes, I still had moments where I almost dropped the controller on the virtual table. If that's not the sign of Presence, I don't know what is, because you're already taking a layer of your brain's CPU and being like, okay, I need to remember to test Alright, I just made a code change, I need to go in and I just need to test whether this item is fixed or not. And a lot of times you go in and you forget that you were trying to test a thing, or you test it and then you start playing with other stuff and then ten minutes later you're like, shoot, I was supposed to be testing something. Or they're like, no, I'm developing, blah blah blah, and then you accidentally think something's so real that you lean on a counter or whatever it is. I think we've maybe talked about this before but like novelty, I think there's a sense of initial novelty that does wear off with general consumption of VR content. Like you could see a spinning box in room-scale VR for the first time and it's mind-blowing. And now that novelty has worn off in a sense, but the presence is still at that same exact bar. So it's kind of incredible and doesn't really fade, at least for me. I don't know if we have enough evidence on this. Do you have any thoughts on whether that's the case for others as well?
[00:19:28.898] Kent Bye: Well, I think that I've been starting to think about ways to break down different types of presence. So I kind of think about it as the four main categories of social, embodied, active, and emotional presence. And so within that, I think that Job Simulator has a lot of active, willful, exploratory types of presence. Embodied, you don't actually have a physical body in a lot of these experiences, so it's a little less embodied in that sense. I think there's haptics and different levels of presence you can get. Whenever you're interacting with a group of other people, you get a sense of social presence that I think is distinct and different. emotional presence I think story actually kind of invokes a lot of emotional components just kind of puts us into that mindset of receiving a narrative in a certain way but there's either joy or elation or sadness and grief and so I feel like there's like those four major types of presence and that there's different nuances to being able to actually cultivate it and generate it but I Mel Slater, he has the place illusion and the plausibility illusion. The place illusion, I think, could be kind of a sub-part of the embodied presence, but I think that each level of presence has its own plausibility. You know, in some ways you have characters, and so you're kind of creating a synthetic social presence with these other people, but I know they're not people because they're not reacting to me like a real person would, so it kind of diminishes the social presence a little bit.
[00:20:55.222] Alex Schwartz: If you saw the animation of some striking moment where, I don't know, a character is dying, but the first time it's like, oh my god, it's intense. But then you watch that loop 80 times, you know, at some point you do lose the emotional side of it and you're analyzing the technical side of it. I think that's in like how fast the iteration loop is of seeing the same content again So it must be like, you know editing a film over and over like there's gonna be a very emotional moment here But if I'm cutting clips and trying to trim and edit and to keep watching the same scene over and over I'm going to become immune to what's happening there a bit, but you still can't stop some of the spatial presence of like Even if I know I'm testing if something gets thrown toward my face I can't avoid moving my head out of the way or putting my hand up or like reacting at a deep level so
[00:21:47.428] Kent Bye: Yeah, to me, I kind of think of it as a mental presence is one dimension of the social presence is that you're kind of either solving a puzzle or you're cognitively being so engaged in the activity. But the social presence, there was a moment in Rick and Morty where the characters actually being very reactive to your movements. And so within that moment, I was like, oh, wow, I'm having that highly dynamic, interactive, like, oh, this is what a real human would be doing. And you start to kind of create this sense of social presence. But most of the other times, I knew they were just canned animations and that they're not physically reacting to me like I just kind of take my hand just kind of try to mess with his face and a real human would have kind of ducked around so I kind of know that it's not an actual human.
[00:22:29.350] Alex Schwartz: We've got some tech that's in the works that does kind of solve some of that because people love to just like slap around the face of some virtual character because they know that no repercussions type of moment especially in cartoon and the whole vibe of the show. That's the same reaction of when Jobbot says you need to stay at work and then people throw a donut at him, right? It's that same, like, I'm rebelling, and so people will love to just, like, try to test that boundary. So we want to do something there with kind of dynamic physics to deal with how to interact with those characters. If I throw something at one of them, hopefully we can pull off some magic in the engine to kind of do almost on-demand ragdoll type of movements. But it's really tough, technically.
[00:23:09.613] Kent Bye: Was there anything in the process of developing this game in particular that you saw was breaking presence?
[00:23:16.677] Alex Schwartz: In general, no, because we're building off of a very solid base, having brought in the interactions and the room-scale logic of Job Simulator. I don't have any good examples. Like in every project, you screw something up badly enough that it totally messes up your test.
[00:23:33.192] Kent Bye: I think one for me is when I started to just try to slap around the face, I'm expecting a certain amount of interactivity and it doesn't happen. I'm kind of testing the limits of it, but it's sort of a trade-off between exploring in that way and trying to break the demo, but yet it can also kind of break the presence in a certain way.
[00:23:50.349] Alex Schwartz: Yeah, I mean, I think that's one way that we have not yet fulfilled our, like, eventual end goal of everything reacts to you in a way that exceeds your expectations and never lets you down. Like, again, I don't want to give away exact perfect examples, but there's moments in the game where you think, this is going to be totally innocuous, and I grab and reach and interact with the thing, and then there's a great joke at the end of it, and so the world is just filled with, like, these Jack-in-the-Box-style I don't know what's about to happen right here, but hopefully it's something funny. Oh, it was funny. You know, that kind of moment. So yeah, we just got to make sure that no one goes down that path, that thought process, does something, and it does nothing. And then they're like, oh, well. Oh, well. Guess the developers missed that one. Like, missed opportunity. So.
[00:24:31.760] Kent Bye: Yeah, I think that's an element of exploration and discovery that happens with that. You know, kind of like interacting with something, and then something delightful happens as a result of you interacting with it.
[00:24:41.731] Alex Schwartz: Actually this one is very simple and amazing how necessary it was. So there's a lamp on the corner of the office way up high and there's the bulb inside the lamp and for some reason people love to just reach out and grab and pull that bulb out. And so it actually shuts the light off and it's got the bulb in your hand and then you can break the bulb on the ground. Like without that, if you go reach for something that looks grabbable and you can't touch it, they'll do like one or two failed attempts in the air and then just kind of move on. But you could see that there was some small level of disappointment there. And so just doing something that had no true reason to build in, the only reason was that someone tried to grab it. And if someone tried to grab it, we have to respond. Absolutely. That's the cardinal rule of, like, when hand presence and hand interaction is your number one goal, you can't let people down.
[00:25:33.760] Kent Bye: So it sounds like you have to do a lot of playtesting then.
[00:25:35.973] Alex Schwartz: Absolutely, yeah. As the developers on the team, we can only think of so many possible outcomes. The second half of Job Simulator's development was weekly playtests with watching people and then we go, oh, they actually did that thing I totally didn't think of. I didn't realize that someone would want to boil water by taking the cup filled with water and putting it in the microwave, microwaving the water and then getting the hot water and pouring that into the teapot instead of using the grill. And so it's like, oh, well, the temperature system needs to translate to this and that, you know. And so we had to do it because I remember my wife was like, oh, I want to make tea. And she's like, that's how I boil my water. It's like, why doesn't this work? This is stupid. So like people just get upset over the most hilarious things when you're building a world that feels real and then something lets them down.
[00:26:19.352] Kent Bye: Great, so what's next for you and Alchemy Labs?
[00:26:22.855] Alex Schwartz: We are still one third shipped on Job Simulator because we had our Vive launch and we have Oculus Touch launch and PlayStation VR launch upcoming this year. So we'll have the Trifecta launch by the end of the year, it'll be great. And then we have Rick and Morty Simulator which is a huge project for us and we don't have any timelines or dates on that but we're working pretty hard. and we've got another original game that we have said nothing about but we're in the early early stages of trying to figure out it's so hard to like to come up with a new game from the ground up that has brand new interactions like we don't want to do something samey we want to build something brand new that really blows people away and The only way to do that is to have an extremely small team just heavily iterating and trying out 20, 30, 50 things. So we're in that process now. And people ask us, like, how's it going? It's like, oh, we're going down the, we're rolling that ball. And we'll see what comes out of it. And working on our tools, making those even better. And yeah, it's just never a dull moment right now.
[00:27:21.581] Kent Bye: And finally, what do you see as kind of the ultimate potential of virtual reality and what it might be able to enable?
[00:27:28.486] Alex Schwartz: I think remote communication, on a very general level, is the win state of VR. You know, I've said this before, the magic of seeing, even if it's just three transforms moving, three boxes, you could see the human behind that, and the empathy that is translated just through quality motion coming through on the other end, is unreal. And so I can't wait to not have to fly out a remote person to do a design session with them because a lot of the key elements of designing creative content involves body language and conveying emotion and being on a whiteboard and having those like head-scratching moments together and you can't get that over Skype you can't get that over text chat or the phone and I feel like we could approach 99.9% in VR as we go forward with just remote collaboration and remote communication I think it's the closest we'll ever get to making real teleporters that bring people together across the world.
[00:28:22.918] Kent Bye: Awesome, well thank you so much.
[00:28:24.179] Alex Schwartz: Of course, thank you.
[00:28:25.631] Kent Bye: So that was Alex Schwartz, he's the CEO of Alchemy Labs and he was talking about Rick and Morty Simulator, the virtual Rickality. So I have a number of different takeaways from this interview is that first of all, I think the most striking thing is that interacting with this type of highly dynamic and interactive environment where you can interact with any object while there's also a story that's trying to unfold, then if you're going to give the player the ability to interact with the environment and maintain the player's expectations of plausibility, then you have to be able to be able to interrupt anything at any moment, any time, and have a reaction that you would actually expect. And so I think that this is probably one of the most sophisticated jobs of really successfully pulling off an interactive narrative in that way. where it did feel like a seamless integration of being able to interact with different objects and then either have them directly respond to whatever I was looking at or to be able to interact with the different characters in small ways. And there's still a lot of work to be done. I think that that's what Alex said, that that's one of the things that they're trying to build in is some sort of reactive system so that when you're actually with the character and start to try to engage with them in some sort of physical or embodied way, that they're actually kind of responding to you in some way. you can kind of get a sense that it's a bot and a robot if they're not aware of you at all and they're just kind of on their script and moving forward. So I think as they start to add some of that, they're going to be able to start to generate a little bit more of this synthetic presence. I think people are pretty clear that this is not actual characters or real characters, but I think that there were some moments when it was very dynamically reacting to my movements and it was very convincing for my limbic brain at that moment. And I could see how if you're adding all sorts of different body language and subtle things like being able to walk into somebody's personal bubble, that was one thing that Alex mentioned that they're trying to take into consideration for you as a user of these experiences, that if they actually come up into your personal bubble space, then they expect the person to have some sort of reaction. Just the same if you start to get into the personal space of a non-player character, then you would expect that if it was a real person that it would also have that type of reaction of like, hey, don't do that, that's annoying. So that I think is going to be a part of what they're going to be working on moving forward. Also, it was really interesting to hear the process of Job Simulator, how the whole second half of the development of that experience was just watching what playtesters did and seeing if people tried to do something, then they would get an idea and then try to actually implement it. And so, Job Simulator seems like it's a great foundation to be able to start to build all these other experiences on. actually makes me want to go into Job Simulator again and try to do things like photocopy my head or try to do things that break the experience and push the limits for what the developers may have thought of in terms of implementing. So in terms of telling a story with this type of highly dynamic and interactive environment, there's still a bit of a arc and thread that I think in this experience helped out a lot in terms of help moving you through the different phases of the experience. There seemed to be a full kind of story and arc and There was elements where they were instructing you to kind of interact with different things and you could also do an open world exploration where you could ignore those instructions and do other things. But it actually had a really great payoff, some of the different things that they had in there in terms of having your own clone and being able to have a mirrored version of yourself to be able to solve some puzzles with. But overall, there's a bit of dialogue that's being given to you that's kind of like going to be the same every time. And then there could be other ways of engaging with the environment and then having either Rick or Morty respond to whatever you're doing. And you start to implement some of the principles that Rand Miller was talking about in creating Myst and Abduction in terms of trying to embed elements of story within the objects in place that you're in. And so I can imagine a time when you start to pick up different objects and that triggers different dialogue pairs. I think in the future it'll be interesting to see how they make that balance of kind of open world exploration kind of mixed with a fixed narrative arc and whether or not they're going to try to have a fixed narrative and a limited time to be able to go through that and have to kind of repeat the same story in order to further explore all the different variations and nuances or if they're just going to have it open enough so that you can just have as much time as you want to be able to fully explore. I think the tension there is that they want to give a little bit of progression through a certain story that's happening, and they don't want to just have people get bored and then just suddenly quit. So it'll be interesting to see how they balance that highly dynamic and interactive exploration with that narrative that's happening. And finally, it was interesting to hear that they had been given a lot of creative freedom from Adult Swim, the Cartoon Network, to be able to take and extend the Rick and Morty IP and to be able to do their own writing and then pass it off to Justin Roiland, who would then improv on top of their writing and then add more jokes to that. And so from that baseline of the voiceover, then they're creating all the other animations and movements and the overall experience. So it's a very emergent process from that perspective where you kind of have to know what the environment is and once you have the environment and then the next step is to then kind of see what players want to do and then from that be able to further extend and perhaps be inspired by other jokes that are happening. I think the thing that really stuck out to me as well is that when Alex relayed the story from chat from Valve saying that he tried to break the experience in seven different ways and that at the end of those seven different ways was a joke. And so I think that's sort of the goal that they're trying to do is like maintain the level of expectations for creating a plausible, highly dynamic and interactive world. So that's all that I have for today. I wanted to thank you for listening to the Voices of VR podcast. And if you'd like to help out the podcast, then help spread the word, tell your friends and become a donor at patreon.com slash Voices of VR.