Justin Roiland and William Pugh on why Excel is VR's killer app

SOURCE: Screen of short video tease from Pugh's Twitter.

SOURCE: Screen of short video tease from Pugh's Twitter.

The week before thousands of game developers flocked to San Francisco to discuss the future of the medium at the annual Game Developers Conference, three restless creators were already attempting to shape that very future. William Pugh (who worked on The Stanley Parable) and Dominik Johann of Crows Crows Crows partnered up with Justin Roiland, co-creator and voice of Rick and Morty, for a week long VR game jam and emerged with a bizarre new project in the pipeline.

The trio agreed to sit down with me to discuss what their new VR project is all about, and once they started talking I had to throw out every question I had at the ready. It’s an idea so mundane and bleak (and likely misleading), that it just might work: Get ready for Accounting, a virtual reality accounting app, where you—well, where you sit at a desk and do accounting work.

There's almost certainly more to it than they're letting on. After all, Pugh helped bring us the subversive labyrinth of The Stanley Parable, and his new studio Crows Crows Crows created the playful meta-narrative of Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist. Meanwhile, Roiland co-created a show with a character named Mr. Poopybutthole in it, so accounting productivity software would be a pretty significant change in direction. Either way, I don't mind being part of the joke

Read on to learn about the death of sitting, the origin of the living room, and the emotional landscape of virtual accounting offices.

PC Gamer: You guys did a VR game jam, what happened there? Did anything cool come out of that?

Justin Roiland

2010 Justin Roiland

Justin Roiland is a cartoonist, actor, writer, producer, and director. He’s best known for co-creating Rick and Morty, which airs on Adult Swim, and for voicing both of the titular characters. Roiland is also the voice of Oscar on Disney Channel show Fish Hooks and Earl of Lemongrab on Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time.

Pugh: So I suppose we should start with how we first got in contact.

Roiland: I was tweeting, I was asking if anyone worked at Respawn Entertainment, and then William tweeted at me and said, 'I do! I work at Respawn!' And then I immediately DM'ed him, and I'm like, ‘Hey, I want a tour, I'm in the building.’ And then he's like, 'Hey, I hope you're not mad at me, I don't actually work at Respawn.' But the funny thing was, once I realized who he was, I was like ‘Oh fuck, dude, I'm a really huge fan.’ That's how we initially started talking that was in, I want to say summer of last year. It was in-between seasons of Rick and Morty, I was on break, and I just got the HTC Vive Dev kit from Valve, and I was really, really entrenched with all things that are possible with that platform.

I have the Oculus, the DK1, the DK2, I've been there since the beginning, and I have a lot of respect for those platforms, and I'm excited for the Sony VR, and all that stuff, but a switch got flipped in my brain with that room scale. It was just bizarre. So I was reaching out to him, we were Skyping, and just talking general concepts, general do's and dont’s in VR, and sharing ideas and theories. That led to the idea of a game jam in September. And it just crept up. I wasn't even sure, thinking 'Is this really going to happen?' I wanted it to, I didn't know where we were going to do it at first, but we moved offices recently at Rick and Morty, and those new offices provided this amazing space for us to set up and work in. It was very serendipitous from a timing perspective.

So the game jam happened this last weekend?

Roiland: Last week.

Pugh: Last Monday to Friday.

And who all was there?

Pugh: I was there, Justin was there, and my colleague Dominik Johann, who is actually on his way. Yeah, we just sat in a room, we had a bit of help from outside, like in terms of–

Roiland: Yeah, we had some awesome people, we tweeted out, 'Can anyone help 3D model this concept art?' We had a small group of people helping. And in addition to that, people from Will's team.

Pugh: Yeah. Me and Dom are two members of my studio, Crows Crows Crows, which I suppose we were able to pull on a lot of those resources.

Roiland: Yeah, going into it, the guys had all kinds of tools, all kinds of things ready to go, so we didn't have to worry too much about programming, the stuff that takes a long time. They had already laid a bunch of pavement, cement, a runway for that.

Pugh: We figured out what we would be doing roughly, and then before we flew out, we built all of the structure, the framework, and then it was just making sure that all the time we spent in the same room was spent on the creative process and figuring that stuff out: writing, and all that.

[Dominik Johann enters and hellos are shared.]

SOURCE: @justinroiland — The VR jam begins.

Source: @justinroiland — The VR jam begins.

Can you talk about anything that came out of the game jam?

Roiland: It's actually quite simple. We talked a lot on that first Monday, what can we do, what's the coolest thing we can do creatively? We've got the pedigree of Rick and Morty, we've got the pedigree of The Stanley Parable, the Crows Crows Crows team–what kind of awesome thing can we put all of that incredibly original creative energy into, and the answer was clear after a few hours of discussion.

All: Accounting.

Roiland: Accounting in VR app. It's the simplest pitch in the world, you can pitch it in an elevator that only has two floors, that's how easy it is. The concept is it's an app that helps boost the productivity of any accountant that's trying to do accounting within the VR space. So it's a VR app for accounting. Crunching the numbers, finances.

Johann: The first two days of the jam were spent on–you know how you can do formulas in Excel right?


Johann: Algorithmic functions and stuff like that. So it's basically a combination of tech like that and the programming language Python. We use that to interact with the API of the Vive, and translate all that into actual physical movement.

Roiland: Yeah, the one thing we felt was that accounting jobs are boring, right? It's arguably not fun, I would assume for the most part. So we're in the early stages of VR, there's going to be a real need for these people who have to sit at a desk and look at excel spreadsheets. How can we make that just a little more interesting by putting it in a VR office?

Pugh: You can look about and see all the different numbers. It's set in an office, and I know we're going to get a lot of comparisons to Job Simulator, but I don't like that because Job Simulator makes me really angry.

On the next page, Pugh explains why Job Simulator makes him angry, details on Excel support, and more.

James Davenport

James is stuck in an endless loop, playing the Dark Souls games on repeat until Elden Ring and Silksong set him free. He's a truffle pig for indie horror and weird FPS games too, seeking out games that actively hurt to play. Otherwise he's wandering Austin, identifying mushrooms and doodling grackles.