Interview: Gearbox and Dinosaur Discuss Making Desert Bus VR

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018

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OR: Was the Desert Bus drive all pre-mapped out or was it procedurally generated?

BB: Oh yeah, no. That was all procedural. There is no way in hell we could do that pre-mapped out. We basically had all these assets that randomly spawn and then we had certain things that would spawn at random intervals. Like, for instance, the bug splat on the windshield – we had that spawn within a certain window at a certain time.

Desert Bus VR | Bug Splat

The bug splat – as seen here – appears randomly within a certain time window while you’re driving the bus. (Image courtesy of Gearbox Publishing, LLC).

OR: So how did quality [review] of the game work? Did people really play the whole eight hours each way?

BB: Oh my God-

JS: Yes, actually. It was expected. Those people are heroes. Everyone in Q&A is just phenomenal. [You have] to make sure that it is legit. Remember, it is not just one way. But both ways. That is a full playthrough, there and back.

BB: Because we had bugs that- you would go one way, and come back, but we would never have found [those bugs] had we never actually done at least a complete trip once.

JS: One of the Q&A groups found a way to basically- they made a controller be able to detect a rumble feedback somehow when you were going off the road and [then] steer you away from it. And so there was this whole rig set up that we actually [have] still running. I think its on a hundred-and-twenty days.

EM: Wow!

BB: We had one of those ‘This is from like New York to the Moon’ and stuff like that.


“It is the best VR fucking bus driving simulator that I’ve ever played, at least.”


OR: So how involved was Loading Ready Run in making [Desert Bus VR]?

EM: [I was] involving with them at the end. Because the timing was kind of technical. I was producing the PAX theater show that was happening the late side of August. And they said ‘Okay, this game is pretty built, let’s think about how we’re going to do this thing?’ And between me and Randy in collaboration, we kind of figured ‘Hey, if we are going to talk about Penn & Teller, wouldn’t it be great to talk about Desert Bus VR?’ And in the same breath, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be great if we could tie it in [with Desert Bus for Hope] since their big livestream is in November? Maybe [we can] talk to them and see if there is any kind of marketing they want to promote and use our platform to tie in together.’

So I got in touch with them, and it basically ended up with where we had James – who has logged the most actual game hours on the original Desert Bus– sitting on stage, basically playing Desert Bus VR the whole time unacknowledged by us until this point where we started talking about Desert Bus VR: ‘Hey, you know that guy has been driving a desert bus the entire time this show has been going on.’ We showed off the bus, we showed off multiplayer, and that was the moment that they announced the actual date of the livestream. That was a really cool moment.

And from there, we started talking [about] how that was great and that they would play it as part of their livestream. And it went from there.

Loading Ready Run regularly performs a variety of humorous content. NSFW Warning: Adult language.

OR: What was it like working with Loading Ready Run?

EM: It was good! It was great. It was different. We looked for ways to be involved with it and to also do something good with charity for it. [Like] ‘Hey, this game is going to come out sometime, why don’t we have a release date of this game as a donation incentive for this charity?’ It was really fun working with them and I’m really glad we had a chance to show it off. It was hilarious to see them playing it on the livestream. So I was really happy that it was able to work.

Randy Pitchford and Penn calls in during Desert Bus 2017 to talk about Desert Bus VR.

OR: Several of the stickers in the game were a donation drive as well. How did that idea come about?

EM: I think that might have been something we were throwing around as far as ‘Okay, what can we do that can also be implemented in the game, but at the same time, we could Q&A quickly, especially since we also have a donation incentive involved because someone could have the game released tomorrow or six months down the line.’ We wanted something that we could implement and was achievable [as a result]. So thinking about that space on the inside, ‘Okay, what sort of cool thing that we could do?’ And it couldn’t be too much fun either. So we thought something cosmetic would be cool. So that was what we came up with.

JS: Actually, multiplayer came about as a way to incentivize donations [too]. Because as long as they are logged onto Steam, or whatever, if they get a donation from someone with a PayPal account, they can just ‘join in’ for this trip.

Desert Bus VR | Stickers

There are a variety of stickers added to the game as a result of Desert Bus 2017, as seen here. (Image used with permission).

OR: Desert Bus VR is free. It is a bit unusual for a Triple-A studio to make a free game. Why did you choose to set that particular price point?

AM: It is a charity game. The charity [aspect] makes it worth it.

Desert Bus VR | Child's Play Charity

Child’s Play Charity is a non-profit 501(c)(3) entity that buys video games and books and toys for children who are in hospitals and domestic violence shelters. Desert Bus for Hope has raised nearly 4.5 million dollars so far for Child’s Play Charity. (Image courtesy of Child’s Play Charity).

OR: So the game was released November 27, 2017. What was the feeling like in Dinosaur and Gearbox when [Desert Bus VR] was finally [launched]?

JS: I was ecstatic. For various reasons. I mean, for me, one of the major reasons was that we’ve been testing it and we were running into some weird bugs and stuff. It’s the highest rated game that I think both Gearbox and Dinosaur has ever had to work on.

BB: Yeah, it’s way up there.

JS: Yeah. In my entire career, it is first place. So I was so happy. I’m proud of everything I do, even the bad stuff. You put a piece of yourself in there and you send it out there. I knew the kind of reception [Desert Bus VR] was going to get, because I know the kind of people who like this kind of game: “I got on the bus, I honked the horn, the [bus] crashed. 10 out of 10.” But yeah, I was excited.

I was talking with Brian for a little bit about trophies, I wanted a trophy.

OR: Are there any plans to bring [Desert Bus VR] to another platform like PlayStation VR?

AM: Yeah. We would have to submit it to Sony, [for] Sony also has to consult, they have to play through it. It’s about timing.

Desert Bus VR | Start Shift

The Desert Bus VR start screen offers you opportunities to view the credits, change your player name, and start driving by punching your time card. (Image courtesy of Gearbox Publishing, LLC).

OR: Is there any future content coming either before or during the upcoming [Desert Bus for Hope] run in November 2018?

JS: There can be. That’s all I’m saying.

AM: Yeah, that’s all we’ve got.

JS: There can be. It’s actually pretty popular. It’s got a pretty [lively] VR chat. It’s one of the more popular chatrooms to be in. So you can spawn your avatars in VR chat and go for a roadtrip on this bus. And people do that, they go on a roadtrip together and it’s great.

OR: Did you ever expect that when making this VR game?

JS: I worked on a lot of stuff in the past that was very popular with the modding community. So I am not surprised by it. People love it. That’s what the modding community does.

OR: Couple more questions: How did you feel when you realized you weren’t going to have to sit on [Desert Bus VR] for six months [before release, as a result of the donation drive]?

EM: I was sort of hoping like “Man, I hope they pick a nice date. I hope they pick a cool date that won’t involve me calling the person in charge of pushing the button on a Saturday or Sunday or something.” And I am glad that they chose something that was soon, that was kinda still while the conversation was happening. And I think it was a friend’s birthday or something. So that as an extra little treat.

JS: Just so we could stop working on it, really. *laughs* To me, we’re still working on it forever.

Desert Bus VR | Opening

Who knows what lies in store for Desert Bus VR at this year’s Desert Bus for Hope run? (Image courtesy of Gearbox Publishing, LLC).

OR: Did you have a copy of the Sega CD game around while you were working on [Desert Bus VR]?

JS: That was never – Smoke and Mirrors was never released. We basically had the ROM, we did a lot of research on that. We had to see what it was like driving forty-five miles per hour. We had video of people specifically driving forty-five miles per hour. And we had to slow it down in virtual reality to twenty-five miles an hour in game.

BB: VR just feels different.

JS: But no, there wasn’t any copies of the game around. Just the ROM.

OR: Last question- To someone who is thinking about picking up this game, what do you have to say to them?

JS: It is the best VR fucking bus driving simulator that I’ve ever played, at least.

EM: Now with Google air freshener!

OR: Thank you!



I want to give a special thank you to the team at Gearbox Software, LLC and at Dinosaur Games for taking the time to sit down with me to talk about this video game that they made and then gave away for free just to help out a very good cause. 

Are you excited for this year’s run of Desert Bus for Hope? Have you tried driving the bus in VR or non-VR? How long have you done it for?

Let us know in the comments below!

Also, please consider to this year’s Desert Bus for Hope run via Paypal or donating to Child’s Play Charity directly via PayPal.

Desert Bus for Hope 2018 begins November 9, 2018 at 10 AM Pacific Time.

About Quentin H.

Likes pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. And video games. Cannot forget those video games. Anime too. Should not forget that either.


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