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New VR studio Squanchtendo launches

Squanchtendo seems like an unusual name for a virtual reality studio at first, but when you realize that the people behind it include Justin Roiland, creator of Rick And Morty, it starts to make sense. Squanchy is, of course, the sexually troubled, alcohol loving cat creature from Rick And Morty.

"I laughed so hard I cried the day I came up with that name," admits Roiland with a giggle.

He's teamed up with Tanya Watson, formerly of Epic, to build a studio together.

"After leaving Epic I wanted to start a studio and I was talking to a lot of people, checking out a lot of games. We're both friends with Cliff Bleszinski. I happened to be at his booth playing Lawbreakers and I ran into his agent who is also Justin's agent," explains Watson.

"It all started from there and over the course of many many phone calls Justin and I got chatting about how this would work and all that good stuff."

Roiland adds that it was good timing because he was actively looking for a partner and it was a culmination of two years of Roiland designing games on paper. "About eight sketchbooks," he guesses.

"Having finally narrowed it down to a specific IP that I really wanted to move forward with, meeting Tanya at that time was very serendipitous. From there we continued talking and it just made sense to team up."

Like most of the new studios setting up in the uncharted lands of virtual reality, both were immediately drawn to the medium and knew they wanted to create content specifically for those devices.

"VR is just absolutely breathtaking, in terms of a platform it's pretty much the ultimate gaming platform," says Roiland.

"We're just absolutely obsessed with it and enchanted by it and we want more experiences to play in it, so we're fans of it as well. It's funny because I don't know if there's even that much money to be made right now in VR."

They both talk about the "life-changing" moments of first trying VR. Roiland was one of the original backers of the Oculus DK1 and calls it a religious experience, and was especially blown away by Valve's Vive. 90% of his creative energy in his spare time became focused on game and story ideas for the platform.

Watson was at a conference when she first tried Vive and explains nothing has had the same transformative feel for her as virtual reality.

The team are being very coy about their first project (but they plan to show something at PAX in September) and wouldn't give much in the way of details.

"We are currently shopping around a comedy action RPG," says Watson.

"As I'm sure you can imagine the types of games that we want to make are also the types of games we want to play, and they're going to be funny and they're going to be based in fantastic worlds."

For Roiland it's about VR experiences that allow exploration but coupled with a really strong story, great characters, and a personality. While he loves the more arcade type games that currently fill the Steam VR category, he wants more in the way of narrative and weird characters. He name checks Vanishing Realms as "the promise of what's to come on the platform."

"The other thing for me is just more of a comedic tone. Obviously, the goal is to have a really strong structural backbone narratively that the player has to follow through, they understand what the larger goals are, but also the minute to minute and shorter form is really fun and really loose in terms of the way the characters talk. Breaking the fourth wall, having fun in the medium while also telling a really compelling story."

Of course, a Rick And Morty VR game is currently in the works, but not at Squanchtendo. Owlchemy Labs, the amazing team behind Job Simulator, are currently developing the title. So why isn't that Roiland's first project?

"It was just a timeline of events. First of all, I'm the biggest Owlchemy Labs fan, I think they're just geniuses. I was a huge fan of Job Simulator, I think it was one of the best examples of playing to the strengths of the HTC Vive hardware and had become friends with those guys very early on," he says.

He worked with Owlchemy to pitch the title to Adult Swim Games, and he is collaborating creatively, rewriting the scripts and working with the studio to give it an authentic Rick And Morty flavor.

"I feel like the path to getting a Rick And Morty VR game out as quickly as this one will come out... that was the best path for that. At that time when we pitched it was prior to meeting Tanya and prior to having a studio and all those pieces in place. That's not to say that we couldn't or wouldn't do a Rick And Morty game in the future."

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