Creating a critically acclaimed TV series is one thing, but a video game is another matter entirely.
High On Life comes from the mind of Justin Roiland, one of the comedy duo behind the award-winning animated show Rick And Morty – a billion-dollar franchise that just wrapped its sixth season.
The game places the player in the position of a bounty hunter who embarks on different missions to eliminate different targets in increasingly bizarre, Alice In Wonderland-like worlds.
A unique aspect of the game is that all four available weapons come with talking faces on the back, which face the player and react with unique lines during playthrough.
Despite the success of a TV writers’ room, Roiland says the nature of the games makes them a far greater challenge.
“It’s like writing a TV show that people can reach in and turn around,” he told Sky News.
“And as a studio, we want to have a lot of fun narrative surprises that do that.
“Encountering an NPC (non-playable character) is different depending on which gun you have out.
“Each gun has its own complete set of dialogue and reactions. You write a lot more, really.”
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The studio tasked with bringing Roiland’s writing to life is Squanch Games, which he founded in 2016.
Lead designer Erich Meyr elaborated on how narratively complex the game can be.
“You have up to four guns and each one of them had a different line,” he told Sky News.
“So we had to check how wide we could go with it to make sure we could even do that.”
Given the amount of work that goes into game development, the idea of artificial intelligence doing some heavy lifting becomes very appealing.
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As advances in AI continue, developers are using it more often in production – including High On Life.
While most of the art was hand-drawn, Roiland told Sky News that the powerful Midjourney AI, which can paint original images based solely on the user’s written prompts, was used to put the finishing touches on his alien worlds.
“It makes the world feel like a strange alternate universe in our world,” he said.
“And we used that to come up with weird, fun ideas.”
“I don’t know what the future holds, but AI is going to be a tool that has the potential to make content creation incredibly accessible,” Roiland added.
“I don’t know how many years away we are, but all you need to be is somebody with some big ideas.”
Meyr revealed that the AI was also used to prototype some character voices, and a minor role made the cut.
The game otherwise has a full cast, including Roiland himself, Curb Your Enthusiasm star JB Smoove and SpongeBob SquarePants actor Tom Kenny.
While game development is a lot different from TV production, there is an obvious similarity in the crazy sci-fi aesthetic and tone of High On Life and Rick And Morty.
Roiland, who won an Emmy Award in 2018 for his Pickle Rick episode of Rick And Morty, said he had spent his childhood “obsessed with aliens and Area 51 and abductions”.
“It gives you the opportunity to tell so many different kinds of stories,” he told Sky News, “that you potentially wouldn’t be able to tell otherwise.
“Even some newer ideas I have, they’re all sci-fi related.”
Among those ideas are some British projects, although Roiland was tight-lipped on the details.
Meanwhile, High On Life is available now on Xbox Game Pass, or for individual purchase on Xbox Series X and S and PC.