Speaker Q&A: Owlchemy Labs discuss lessons learned during ‘Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality’

Devin Reimer and Alex Schwartz (Chief Technology Owl and Chief Executive Owl, respectively) of Owlchemy Labs will be at VRDC Fall 2017 to present their talk ‘Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality’ Postmortem: VR Lessons *burrrp* Learned’, which will discuss failed prototype interactions, early development videos, interacting with characters in room-scale, and managing performance.

Here, Reimer and Schwartz give us some information about the studio and their work.

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Tell us about yourself and your work in VR

Owlchemy Labs originally began in the mobile and PC game space back in 2010 and as CEOwl and CTOwl, we’ve always directed the studio towards multi-platform, highly-polished, and absurd games. However, it was room-scale, hand-tracked virtual reality that really got us excited, and once we got our hands on it, we decided to focus Owlchemy Labs 100% on VR. We created Job Simulator, which launched as a day-one launch title on all three VR platforms with motion controllers. We followed it up with Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality, a collaboration with Adult Swim Games, which was a complete blast to develop as huge fans of the show itself!

Without spoiling it too much, tell us what you’ll be talking about at VRDC

We’ll be doing a postmortem of the development process of Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality. There were a ton of lessons learned throughout the process of building the game, so we’ll be unpacking some of the problems we faced, as well as our solutions and unsuccessful prototypes along the way. We love sharing failures in particular as we believe there’s a ton to be learned by what doesn’t work in VR– so that will surely lead to some hilarious footage shown in the talk as well.

What excites you most about VR?

There’s so much to be excited about when it comes to VR as a medium. I’m personally thrilled by the sheer untapped potential when it comes to interesting ways to interact and experience new stories and worlds, but I’m also equally enthusiastic about VR’s ability to change essentially every single industry. Games and entertainment have already clearly been a focus for VR, but the long term impact on training, simulation, education, travel, medicine, and how we interact with others is super exciting and not to be understated!

What do you think is the biggest challenge to realizing VR’s potential?

I don’t believe that there’s one single factor that needs to be solved to get the industry to the point where VR adoption skyrockets. One of the great things about working in VR is that there’s a myriad of problems to solve and there are many folks throughout the industry working to solve them together. Keeping in mind that we’re in the early days of VR, essentially every aspect of VR will improve and make it a bit easier for consumers to want to dive into VR. Price of entry, ease of setup/on-boarding, content availability, comfort, and incremental hardware advances will all play into the overall growth curve of VR. We try to keep in mind the fact that in the grand scheme of things, VR has only been experienced by a small percentage of the population, so the growth of an industry from the ground up takes time. The incredible quality of experience that can be achieved in VR is what makes me very optimistic that we will see a steady growth of VR adoption. It’s just a matter of time and we’re excited to be playing a part in that growth.

What was it like jumping from working on an original project like ‘Job Simulator’ to an IP with a huge fanbase like ‘Rick and Morty’? What was the proudest moment for the development team during production?

It was amazing to work on Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality! Everyone at the studio were already such a huge fans of the show, and the show’s universe is so densely packed with hilarious bits. It was essentially a playground in which we could build absurd and hilarious moments. As for a specific proudest moment, showing our first playable demo at San Diego Comic Con has to be up there. The fans were floored by being able to experience their favorite show in VR and to finally feel like they had stepped into the cartoon. Watching people get completely absorbed into the experience and laughing out loud as Rick insulted them to their face was an unforgettable moment.

Owlchemy Labs has quickly become one of the most recognizable studios creating VR games. What is it like developing a game for VR? Is the process similar to developing a traditional 3D game? Could you take us through a typical day for the team during the production of ‘Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality’?

As a fundamentally new medium, we have to constantly question and figure out what will and won’t work in VR — and to this day, we still don’t know for sure what will work until we prototype it and playtest it in VR! Traditional games have been around for quite some time and inspiration can be drawn from many years of history and examples in that realm. In VR, it’s commonplace to build a mechanic, only to figure out that the gameplay we developed is unintuitive, or simply not fun! Or that one small change can bring an experience from tedious to enjoyable. In Rick and Morty VR specifically, our biggest focuses were on creating a compelling narrative in VR as well as bringing a world we know and love from 2D, into 3D! In order to do these things, we pioneered techniques in spatialized storytelling while simultaneously encouraging player agency with a frankly ridiculous amount of available options for interactions. We wanted our players to feel like they stepped straight into an episode of the show, and we absolutely accomplished that while keeping players comfortable in the VR experience!

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