Justin Roiland made an entire career out of being the weird, absurdist comedy guy, and that‚Äôs translated over into games.
Roiland‚Äôs newest project is Trover Saves the Universe, a very funny VR platformer that turns players into a chair. They‚Äôre partnered with an adorable alien creature who gets sucked into this cosmic adventure because of a villain named John, who is using a pair of dogs as a way to generate his unbelievable powers. All your player really wants to do is track down these dogs that have become a big part of your life, and just so happen to be an animal that‚Äôs banned in this specific universe. Trover gets hired to track down these dogs and return them to their original owner. You and Trover team up and, as Roiland described it, go on this Alice in Wonderland-type of adventure throughout the cosmic universe.
It‚Äôs bizarre, but it‚Äôs also inherently Roiland. Trover Saves the Universe looks like it will appeal to Rick and Morty fans or anyone looking for a very funny gaming experience. The demo I got to play felt like a tangible version of the game Joaquin Phoenix plays in Her. Trover Saves the Universe seems like it‚Äôs designed around comedy more than anything else, and that‚Äôs exactly what Roiland said he was going for in developing the game.
‚ÄúMy approach for this game is, like, let‚Äôs make ourselves laugh,‚ÄĚ Roiland said. ‚ÄúLet‚Äôs have a lot of fun. I‚Äôm going to have a few drinks and go in the booth and let‚Äôs just see what weird shit I say, and in some cases, really funny, crazy stuff ends up in the game because of that. All of the other actors that are coming in are amazing people, and I can‚Äôt say who yet, but amazing, amazing, talented people, and it‚Äôs the same process. Like let‚Äôs have fun. Let‚Äôs just go nuts and have fun with it, go off-book and improv as much as you want.‚ÄĚ
Octodad and South Park: The Fractured But Whole are two games Roiland cites that continuously make him laugh. He wants to see more comedic games span the AAA sphere and, perhaps most importantly, see these games incorporate traditional comedic cues into the actual gameplay.
In Trover Saves the Universe, for example, players have the option to walk away from new characters if they don‚Äôt want to listen to a long ramble. The demo I played featured an annoying, buzzing creature who just wanted to complain about building zone violations while I was trying to move on in my mission.
The demo gave me two options: I could either walk away from the annoying buzzing creature and continue on with my quest, or I could listen to his inane ramblings, which turned out to be pretty funny. Roiland said comedy is designed into almost every core mechanic and choice that players make. Another example appears a little later in the demo: I was confronted with a puzzle to which there is no solution, but the more I tried to solve it, the more frustrated Trover became.
‚ÄúA big thing for us is like integrating comedy into the actual gameplay,‚ÄĚ Roiland said. ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs a section later on in that level where it‚Äôs pretty tricky. It‚Äôs optional, but it‚Äôs really fucking funny because the longer it takes you to do it, the more times you miss, Trover just starts to comment on it. He‚Äôs saying the things that if you were playing a game by yourself, you would be saying out loud … And it‚Äôs really, really weird ‚ÄĒ in a good way. It almost really kind of makes it connect you to him in a strange way as a character.‚ÄĚ
Combining voice acting, game mechanics and absurd storylines is easier dreamt up in a writer‚Äôs room than actually executing. Roiland understands why there aren‚Äôt more AAA games strictly designed to make people laugh. A big concern he faces is knowing how to toe the line between funny and offensive ‚ÄĒ what‚Äôs something that will make people laugh without really ticking someone off. Roiland and his team encountered this issue designing Trover Saves the Universe when they decided to implement the word ‚Äúretard.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúWe tend to be really good about building frames around anything that might be a line-crossing moment, like using the word retard for example,‚ÄĚ Roiland said. ‚ÄúWe built a big fucking beautiful oak frame around that as a commentary, you know? But it‚Äôs tough. You don‚Äôt want to worry too much because you don‚Äôt want to get in the way of the creative process. For me, it‚Äôs like, ‚ÄėHey, let‚Äôs just go with what makes us laugh the hardest.‚Äô Obviously there‚Äôs stuff that I‚Äôll pitch in the room and I‚Äôm like, ‚ÄėWe can‚Äôt do that. We can‚Äôt do that.‚Äô But usually we‚Äôll know when we get into. Like, we get all this stuff hooked up in game and we‚Äôre playing it and if it works in context with everything else and it‚Äôs really funny and it‚Äôs making people laugh, then let‚Äôs just do it.‚ÄĚ
Developer Sqaunch Games came up with two different versions of the game to really give Trover Saves the Universe players the comedic experience they designed: a VR version and a non-VR version. Designing different experiences for both VR and non-VR players led to a different style of jokes and comedic gameplay being integrated into both.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs so much fucking funnier in non-VR,‚ÄĚ Roiland said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs seriously the funniest thing. The idea that we came up with makes me laugh so fucking hard, and it‚Äôs one of those things where I was like, ‚ÄėOK, yeah, this is great.‚Äô We might even get to a point where fans of the game will want to play it both in VR and traditionally just to see the differences and sort of and find those other jokes.‚ÄĚ
Trover Saves the World is funny ‚ÄĒ or at least, the demo I played is funny. It‚Äôs also very Justin Roiland. Anyone who‚Äôs seen Rick and Morty enough times knows what Roiland‚Äôs style of comedy is, and that comes through every few seconds in Trover Saves the Universe. When I asked Roiland if he ever thinks about the style of comedy he created, which many people simply refer to as ‚ÄúRoilandy,‚ÄĚ he gets a little flustered.
‚ÄúI try not to because I think I try to stay outside of that because that can be a bad thing too, you know what I mean,‚ÄĚ Roiland said. ‚ÄúAfter a while it‚Äôs like, ‚ÄėOK, we get it. It‚Äôs the same thing.‚Äô I can‚Äôt say too much about it, but like the next project we‚Äôre going to be doing is a very loose, fun, comedy, adventure game. The next thing we‚Äôre doing is a bit more grounded narratively and it‚Äôs still going to have all the fun comedy, but it‚Äôs going to be not nearly as fourth wall-breaking and loose and bizzaro as this game. I want to make sure that we‚Äôre not just doing the same thing over and over again as a studio, and we‚Äôre evolving or at least trying different things.
‚ÄúBut at the same time I‚Äôm like, ‚ÄėYeah man, I want to make a bunch of fun, smaller in scope games to like gain experience so we can just release stuff on steam that‚Äôs just crazy awesome.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
Roiland doesn‚Äôt read the comments. He doesn‚Äôt really read replies on Twitter or go digging for every single write-up on his different projects. He said he doesn‚Äôt need to know everyone‚Äôs opinion, realizing early on that diving into toxic responses from people who he doesn‚Äôt personally know doesn‚Äôt help him. There are people, he‚Äôs aware, who won‚Äôt like Trover Saves the Universe, and that‚Äôs OK. He just wants to make games for people who like his particular brand of comedy, he said. Doing that, and knowing there are people who enjoy it, helps to keep him going.
‚ÄúLet‚Äôs have a good quality of life and make something that we believe in, and if it‚Äôs making us laugh really hard, then let‚Äôs put it out in the world and see how it does,‚ÄĚ Roiland said. ‚ÄúAnd then you know, the people who are are our fans will love it and the people who don‚Äôt like it won‚Äôt like it and you can‚Äôt please everybody. I know that, and that‚Äôs OK.‚ÄĚ
Trover Saves the Universe will be available on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation VR in 2019.