When Tanya Watsno and Justin Roiland first tried virtual reality, they both shared an instinctual reaction: the medium had to be part of their professional and creative lives.
That was before they had met, however. Watson had a significant career working with Epic, as producer on Fortnite, Gears 2 and 3, and lead producer on Bulletstorm. Roiland is a writer, animator, actor and director, most famous as co-creator of animated series Rick and Morty.
Despite their different backgrounds, after introductions through Roiland’s agent and Cliff Bleszinski, the pair quickly knew they had to set up a studio to focus on VR.
When they got to talking about what they could do with the medium, it immediately became apparent that combining their diverse skillset and shared love of playful humour could inspire some rather distinct games. It was a creative gamble, though. Watson’s previous experience with the world of TV had left her quietly cautious of the potential for collaboration.
It’s important for us to have fun with the creative process to make our kinds of games
THE TV STUDIO
“Frankly, when I first started talking to Justin, I didn’t really think it would go anywhere,” Watson admits. “At Epic we would have people from TV and movies interested in making games all the time. But it tends not to go anywhere because games is a different medium, with its own set of challenges that can seem tough if you weren’t aware of them.”
Roiland’s approach was a little different. From the moment he pulled a DK1 from his head, he began schooling himself in the creative and technical process of making games.
“I realised then that he understood those challenges, and was really interested in tackling them,” Watson continues. “He had a fresh perspective. That’s important, because you’re not solving the same problems in VR.”
With Watson’s distinguished triple-A background, and Roiland’s skills as a storyteller, illustrator and animator, Squanchtendo is well positioned to compliment VR’s suitability for content that crosses divides between games, film, television and other mediums.
THE COMEDY CLUB
Squanchtendo is a game-focused studio, dedicated to VR as a platform for comedy games.
“It’s important for us to have fun with the creative process to make our kinds of games,” Roiland offers. “Having fun and making yourself laugh the whole way through every step of production is something you don’t see so often in games. I’m not against gritty narratives, because I love all games, I truly do. But the stuff I want to do with VR is really be silly, and not take it so seriously.”
And Roiland says VR makes a great stage for delivering comedy: “The medium in and of itself, and being that it is so immersive and interactive, is powerful. It’s the same thing that makes there be a lot of scary games in VR. But I’ve tried to trick a few friends into playing scary games through VR, and the second it starts, they freak out.” Comedy doesn’t do that, Watson and Roiland agree. And that same power of presence and immersion does provide a perfect environment in which to make an audience laugh.
“Accounting is, for us, a taste of how funny and surprising narratives can be in VR,” Watson says of the studio’s first release, which was created with William Pugh’s studio Crows Crows Crows.
“It’s not got the length, and it’s not quite the same level as the other stuff we want to make in VR. But it does give a taste, so you can expect more of that kind of thing in the future.”
That taste is certainly one that puts a smile on players’ faces, and while the Squanchtendo co-founders can’t quite say what they are working on next, one thing is certain; the games Watson and Roiland are building are likely to be anything but somber.