I vomited while playing a VR game for the first time last week. Thankfully, it was fake, virtual vomit, spraying out of my first-person camera in green spurts and a few chunks of half-eaten doughnut. That’s what happens in Owlchemy Labs’ delightful Job Simulator—a launch title for both the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive—when you pull a moldy doughnut out of the trash can and eat it. The same thing may also happen in real life. I haven’t tried that, yet.
Job Simulator was the most fun I had demoing the Oculus Touch controller. For a brief five minutes, I was standing in an office cubicle, waving cartoony oversized hands around in perfect 1:1 symmetry with my Touch controllers. Much like Surgeon Simulator, Job Simulator is a playground that turns the mundane into outlandish slapstick. Owlchemy Labs started with an inherently silly twist on reality, setting Job Simulator in the future of 2050 where “Robots cook, clean, service, and rule organize the world with precision and speed. Human occupations are now memories of the past; long gone are the blue collar jobs that ran the old world. Humans raised in our perfect automated society must not forget their useless ancient ancestors and history. This is why JobBot was born. JobBot created Job Simulator to teach humans what it is 'to job'. All praise to JobBot, for he is the keeper of human history.”
My time on the job actually felt longer than five minutes, because the cubicle was so densely packed with things to pick up, giggle at, and interact with. When my chunky CRT monitor didn’t turn on, I (physically) crouched down to look under the desk and find the cords I needed to plug in. I opened a doughnut box and put a frosted doughnut in the photocopier. I copied the doughnut.
I even found a disc hidden among the books on my shelf, put it in the computer, and played a Flappy Bird clone. When the phone rang, I answered it, instinctively raising my hand to the side of my face. Then I thought “what the hell am I doing?” and sheepishly threw the phone across the cubicle.
“We were originally thinking about doing 10 or more jobs,” said Owlchemy Labs dev Alex Schwartz, who I talked to after trying out Job Simulator. “And then we realized that as we started building, it’s the depth of each world that’s important. When you pull that book off the shelf and look on the back and see in the corner this funny joke, you’re like ‘aha, those developers!’ Or when you find that Flappy Bot disc and find out there’s a whole game on it. We can put so much richness in the world, that it’s better to have depth and richness than lots of jobs with more sparse population.”
The office isn’t the only job in Job Simulator, though—Owlchemy Labs has five planned, including cooking and clerking at a convenience store. There’s also going to be significantly more to each job than the five minutes I spent messing around.
“There are elements of progression on top of the sandbox,” Schwartz said. “Technically the first thing you had to do was drink coffee. But you could’ve done everything in the world and then at the last minute drank the coffee. And then you would’ve gotten through one task in the sequence, yet done so much stuff. It's a hard line to balance. You can play GTA for 8 hours and then do the first mission.”
Much of the appeal of Job Simulator is how intuitive every action feels. I actually played the cooking job on SteamVR back in April, and it was great. But I had more fun in the office using Oculus Touch, which allows you to squeeze a perfectly placed button to “grab” objects. It feel natural, like making a fist. While I never actively feel immersed in Job Simulator’s reality, it’s surprising how effectively motion-based VR can fool the brain, as was the case with my phone-to-ear reflex. Owlchemy Labs has encountered those reactions more than a few times while developing their game.
“The table in the kitchen feels so real, [my friend] was playing the game and was done, and he was like ‘that was so much fun!’ and put his hands forward and then let go of the controllers in mid-air,” said Schwartz. “Even though he was taking himself out of the experience and talking to us as people, he thought that table was so freaking real he just dropped our controllers on the ground.”
Owlchemy plans to launch Job Simulator on both Oculus and SteamVR when they’re available, although “launch” for SteamVR is a bit of a loose window—Valve will only be releasing a limited number of units at the end of 2015. Schwartz told me they’re waiting for Valve to announce the official launch, but Job Simulator will be there with its five jobs when it happens.
I hope I can puke in each one.