A lot of the hype around the rebirth of virtual reality has been about the technology’s unique ability to bring us to unknown worlds. The digital oracles promise it will show us distant places and alien landscapes… or maybe just office cubicles.
The environment of lowly corporates hacks is one of the spaces explored by Job Simulator, a new VR game from independent company Owlchemy Labs. It also gives users the perspective of other destined-to-be outmoded human workers, like restaurant cooks, auto mechanics, and convenience store clerks. The premise of Job Simulator is that by 2050, computerization has eliminated all jobs on Earth, and you’re playing a slapdash reconstruction of work as it once existed. Each situation presents an absurdist simulation of an average day on the clock, and devices such as ’90s-style computers and knockoff Slurpee machines are operated with big, shiny virtual buttons.
The sense of place in Job Simulator is remarkable, and because of the mundane nature of these simulations, they feel remarkably familiar, despite their ridiculousness. There’s also a certain jankiness in these early days of VR that the game embraces—when you’re accidentally knocking over coffee machines and breaking computers, it only make things even funnier.
It’s out now for the HTC Vive, and will be released this summer for the Oculus Rift, along with PlayStation VR later this year. We spoke to Owlchemy Labs’ founder Alex Schwartz about the job of making Job Simulator.
What inspired the decision to use VR to reproduce mundane realities for people to inhabit?
VR itself, actually. We didn’t go into the headset with any idea of the game we wanted to make; rather, we built a table with three blocks on it, and then sat in VR playing with them. Having accurate physics that allow you to manipulate objects in VR turns people into kids again, building and knocking things over. That inspired us to really commit to it and give players as many toys as we could to throw around.
What got you guys involved with VR, initially?
When the initial Oculus Rift [development kit] came out in 2012, we were amazed with the immersion it offered. It was a life-changing experience. We immediately retrofitted a previous title we worked on, AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! for VR, and re-released it as Aaaaaculus! Our intrepid ambition got the attention of [virtual reality hardware company] Valve, who invited us out to see the super secret hardware they were working on.
I can’t tell you what it was like to experience hand tracking for the first time—to be able to reach out and interact with the space around us. We knew immediately that VR was where we wanted to be. Valve trusted us with one of their hand-built prototypes, and we locked ourselves in a basement for a week and game jammed the beginnings of Job Simulator.
Have you seen any weird things watching people play Job Simulator?
During a demo, we had two players discover an emergent co-op gameplay style where one of them used the headset, while the other one manned the controllers. We once had a playtester pull every item available onto the ground until she had a giant pile of objects in the center of her playspace. Then she laid down in the center and made trash angels. We all just watched, we’d never anticipated that. How do you design for that?
We’ve also had playtesters create their own games within our sandbox world, such as trying to sink free throw shots of tomatoes into a pot from across the kitchen, or stacking donuts to the ceiling and playing makeshift Jenga. We see new things every single day, which is kind of insane.
How do you think non-gamers are going to respond to Job Simulator, and VR in general?
I believe that games overall will become more accessible with the advent of VR. We’ve seen this with Job Simulator—our parents and grandparents have had no problem picking up and mastering the interaction methods in the game, mostly because VR affords a more natural mapping of input. We have years and years of experience reaching out and grabbing items in the real world, and now this type of interaction comes through in a very natural way in VR. We no longer have to abstract our input in games by pressing a single button to represent an action.
What’s your big picture feeling about VR these days? There’s obviously been a lot of hype, but do you really see this as world-changing tech in the near-term?
I think that VR is on a path to disrupt every single industry that exists, and that the world has no idea how much impact VR will make on the everyday life of the average person. We’re in for a wild ride in the next years.
What’s the computer in the Job Simulator office scenario modeled after?
The office job is modeled after the agonizingly clunky monstrosities we had to muscle through in our youth. Also, Office Space.