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

An office-like environment from Crows Crows Crows' first game, Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist

An office-like environment from Crows Crows Crows' first game, Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist
Dominik Johann

Dom Interview Headshot

Dominik Johann is an artist, animator, game developer, and one third of Crows Crows Crows. See more of his work here.

Why were you upset, Dom?

Johann: So I'm the art director on this. I drew all the textures, and getting the office just right, that took a lot of time and effort.

Roiland: He put a lot of pressure on himself, he's his own worst critic. We were happy with some of those early textures.

Johnan: They have the name recognition, I don't have anything but hard, honest labor.

OK, so what was your inspiration, for instance, for the surface texture on the desk itself? What were you going for, what were you thinking about when you were putting that together?

Roiland: Photorealism.

Johann: Yeah, as you want to go in VR. It can't be too photorealistic though, that would be distracting. Imagine doing your paperwork and seeing the wood grain texture, that would be too much maybe. So we went for something that's still very representative and gets the emotional point across, while also being simple enough to be in the game to be processed by the Vive technology.

Roiland: One of the emotional struggles we had—William is very passionate about sitting as the new smoking. Sitting at your desk, the doctors are saying that's as bad as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

Pugh: There's no chair. Do you use a standing desk?

I sit right now.

Pugh: Why would you do that to yourself?

[Note: William sat for the length of the interview.]

Roiland: We figure this would is a great way for players in room scale who don't have the money for a standing desk, and now it's just put the headset on, boom, the desk is right there. Standing desk. And that was a bit of an emotional struggle.

Pugh: I was angry about it, if I'm being honest.

Roiland: I felt like we should at least offer the option to sit, but the we ran into limitations with the hardware.

Pugh: And there's some ego in the room, I'll admit to that, I'll put that hand up.

Roiland: I think the biggest clash of egos had to do with the standing as the new smoking versus allowing the player to sit.

Are you pro sit?

Roiland: I'm pro choice. If you want to sit, sit. If you want to stand, stand. William's very passionate about it, thinks everyone should be standing.

Pugh: Everyone should be standing, because that's the healthy thing to do.

Roiland: Yeah, your whole speech about how God made people with legs.

Already, this game is already starting an important discourse about sitting versus standing in 2016, and I'm not sure that would've been possible without VR.

Roiland: You're right. Now it's really going to come to a head, as the sands of time continue to flow and we get further down the road where standing versus sitting is going to be the hottest topic in regards to VR, and I'm really happy we tackled it early.

Pugh: When historians look back on this, they'll say I was right.

Roiland: In 200 years, everyone will be like, 'People sat? At work?'

So, looking at VR, GDC this year is very focused on VR. Have you guys been around the show floor and played any of that stuff?

Roiland: I haven't yet, but I'm excited to check it all out.

Pugh: I will not.

Why's that?

Pugh: I don't think they're being honest about VR, I just feel lied to. I feel like they do a lot of lying. They're very sneaky. And I don't believe them.

Roiland: Lots of arcadey, fun stuff.

Johann: No one's going to buy them anyway. That's where we come in.

They call it the living room because it used to be when your relatives died, you put them in this room, and everyone would mourn their death.

Roiland: I think that once our accounting project hits, that's when you can expect the adoption rates to skyrocket. It's kind of interesting because, there's a graph on the wall in the accounting VR office we made that shows productivity, profits, and there's a little graph that just goes up, you see it just going up. And we didn't even realize it, but I think in a lot of ways, at it's deepest, deepest, deepest pit–that's VR purchases at the release of accounting, and then after that it's the adoption rate just going up.

Pugh: I mean, PC Gamer is smart for getting ahead of the curve on this. This is like getting in on water before water existed.

And we need that to live.

Roiland: I think so. We didn't even touch upon this, and we talked about this all week. This is going to open up the world of accounting to everybody now. Not just accounting professionals, but your average person that wants to actually account their own numbers, their finances, and be like, 'Oh man, I need to budget better.' All kinds of accounting, I mean, it's really exciting. It's funny, three or four hours of talk, and we never looked back with any regrets or any hesitations.

Do you see this idea spreading to other professions?

All: No.

Just accounting?

Roiland: Yeah, just accounting. I mean, maybe some other devs will do something for I don't know what, but yeah, accounting is all we really need.

Pugh: We're pretty firm believers it wouldn't be right.

Do you expect to see Ubisoft, EA, and so on to come out with their own versions of accounting a year from now?

Roiland: To try and copy it? Yeah.

Pugh: They'll try, but they'll fall over themselves.

Roiland: We'll have the jump on them, we'll have the jump on them. By a long margin. Once the train leaves the station, they're just going to be running–it's like those scenes in those movies where the girl is in the train and it takes off and the guy is trying to chase it, and it's like, you can't run as fast as a train. So we're the train, and Microsoft and Ubisoft, and all these others, they're the guy trying to chase the train. The train's already moved out of the station, and it's going.

Pugh: They're made from orange juice concentrate, water added, and we're freshly squeezed orange juice.

Johann: I mean, they could get to maybe, what, 20 miles per hour? But the train, how fast can that get?

Roiland: Wait, 20 miles per hour is a pretty good clip for a person.

You could probably crunch some numbers and figure out how fast the train is going.

Roiland: The train could be an expansion pack.

Pugh: No, we don't want to make any promises.

SOURCE: What a robot assistant named Samantha might look like in our near future.

SOURCE: GDC VR predictions panel — What a robot assistant named Samantha might look like in our near future.

Five years from now, ten years from now, where do you see VR as a whole, and apps like Accounting?

Roiland: The living room, they call it the living room because it used to be when your relatives died, you put them in this room, and everyone would mourn their death. It wasn't called the living room. At some point, the mortuaries–what are those companies called? The people that deal with the dead? The six feet under types? The dead-peoples, they took it, they made a business out of it, and then they renamed those rooms to living room, because why don't we spend time there? It's a place for the living! I really believe the next transition for that room, the living room will become the VR room, and I think it's going to be in the next five years, you're going to see the most unreal adoption of this technology. And in all sincerity, it's going to change everything. And then as Google continues to develop advanced AI, and as Boston Dynamics continues to develop really scary, walking, creepy robot monsters, and all those things come together, we really are headed towards the Matrix, I think the Matrix is true, and we're all going to die anyway so who cares?

Pugh: Where VR is going is strapped on, nailed onto your head.

One of the speakers at GDC said we can expect robots to touch us in VR in the future. Do you see that kind of thing happening soon?

Roiland: Yeah, absolutely. Again, no promises, but maybe when we do Accounting part six, maybe there will be an assistant and you can be like, 'Samantha!' and she touches you and a real robot hand caresses you, and you can say, 'Samantha, please, that's inappropriate. I need to get back to my accounting, I just needed you to bring me some agua. Agua dolce. That's sugar water.'

When can we expect to account for ourselves?

Pugh: You should be looking to be seeing this around May.

Roiland: Sometime in May is the currently planned release date. We'll be heavily promoting as we get closer to that. Price point, not announced yet, we don't know yet. This is specialized software, so.

Pugh: If you head to crowscrowscrows.com, and sign up for the newsletter, we're putting the game out via that. That will be the way you hear about it first.

Thanks for chatting.

Follow William, Justin, and Johann* on Twitter for more information as the game nears completion.

*Johann asked that we share his Twitter, but requested that no one was to follow him. Please do not follow Johann.

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.