Justin Roiland Has High Hopes for High on Life

Published: September 7, 2022 12:00 PM /


Kenny the gun shooting at enemies in High on Life

Squanch Games CEO Justin Roiland dared to ask the question, “What if a gun could talk?” His drive to create games he’s always want ed to play led him and the studio to High on Life, their latest project. Equal parts comedy and combat, the upcoming first-person shooter has a lot riding on its shoulders, with the studio hoping for it to be a massive success. 

Roiland is aiming to create a solid, single-player, narrative-driven, upgrade-tree sort of game, and he often thought about BioShock as a sort of "north star." Obviously, High on Life will likely focus more on humor than Jack’s adventures through Rapture, considering Roiland’s history with shows like Rick and Morty and Solar Opposites

TechRaptor had the pleasure of interviewing Roiland and Squanch Games Executive Producer Matty Studivan at PAX West, where we learned a lot about High on Life. It may end up being the funniest game of 2022, but there’s more to this colorful adventure than some chuckles. 

Warning: This article contains strong language.

The main hub city for High on Life

High on Life Takes its Humor Seriously 

The narrative in High on Life is pretty simple – Roiland said so himself. Humanity is being sold as drugs, and the bounty hunter who was supposed to save the day is a washed-up loser. So it’s up to you, the unlikely hero, to save humanity with the help of some hilarious talking guns. 

"This is a fucking gift to have such a simple, clean, and unique larger goal for the player," Roiland said. "And then it's just making sure that the smaller moments, the beat-to-beat moments, those goals are clear and all critical path stuff." 

Thanks to the more straightforward narrative, there’s lots of opportunity to make players laugh. The latest gameplay demo showed off an interactive segment where you decide which slum security guard is hotter, and everyone’s seen the viral clip of the player's gun chastising them for killing a (very annoying) kid. Roiland even claimed that there’s some really crazy, hilarious scenes that maybe only 10% of players will see, and people will only find out after seeing these scenes shared online.

"I don't mind dying a handful of times on a boss, as long as it has that Nintendo-esque quality where like, 'Oh I'm learning, OK, I got it.'" --Justin Roiland, Squanch Games CEO

The rock-solid base of comedy comes from a strong script, which was spearheaded by Narrative Director Alec Robbins. Roiland claims he "just knocked it out of the park from a scripted, on-the-page standpoint." Of course, no project of his is complete without some improv. For example, parts of the annoying kid’s rant come from Joel Haver improvising on the mic, and an in-universe version of "Interdimensional Cable" has no script. 

"J.B. Smoove, who does one of the guns, his best stuff is definitely his improv," Roiland said. "It's really fucking good."

However, being a lifelong gamer himself, Roiland is very aware that dialog can’t overstay its welcome, and he wanted to ensure players would feel as much agency as possible. Players who enjoy the dialog and comedy are free to enjoy the little vignettes as they unfold. For those who want to get right into the action, lots of the side dialog can be skipped by simply walking past NPCs or starting combat mid-speech. 

"I get fidgety, so I'm a good barometer for that," Roiland said. "Every time the player's locked down for any sort of critical path, ‘A story’ narrative stuff, we've earned it. It's all really good. It's funny as fuck, and also we earned it by all the cool shit that happened leading up to it, or what's about to happen after."

The player in High on Life shooting Kenny in a bright, vibrant jungle.

High on Life Aims to Be Fair for All Players 

When you’re not watching a scene, you’re likely running around, exploring, and shooting baddies. All of the gunplay feels fantastic, and you can read more about it in our High on Life preview. Don’t let the focus on comedy fool you – traversal and combat are just as important here. Squanch Games Technical Director Nick Weihs previously worked on the Resistance franchise, and that experience is carrying over into the upcoming shooter. 

"It's really important for him to A, get the feel right, and B, this is punishing but fair, right? Like this is my fault as the player, this is not the game being cheap or whatever," Studivan said. "So if you go on hard, it's going to give you a run for your money."

For Roiland, it’s important that High on Life remains widely accessible while providing a fair challenge. If there’s a hard mode, there has to be an easy mode. Hardcore players and genre newcomers alike should be able to pick up and enjoy the humor, and the last thing he wants is something that’s pull-your-hairs-out levels of difficult.

"Obviously it's way too early to talk about a sequel, but jeez man. We got a lot of stuff that we want to do, and we really believe this IP is really something that could be a vessel for a lot of amazing content." --Justin Roiland, Squanch Games CEO

He recounted his time playing games like F.I.S.T.: Forged in Shadow Torch and Metroid Dread, saying that those games felt ridiculously tough. He didn’t want the core experience of High on Life to be like that. 

"I don't mind dying a handful of times on a boss, as long as it has that Nintendo-esque quality where like, 'Oh I'm learning, OK, I got it.' We have boss fights like that that are really fuckin' cool," Roiland said. "That's a high fuckin' bar I think to achieve."

Players won’t need to "get good" to beat High on Life, and a lot of the studio’s design decisions feed into that idea. Much like with the narrative, it’s all about giving players the agency to (try to) control the battlefield in whatever way suits them. 

For example, there’s no need to worry about ammo pickups. You just reload and that’s it. There are health pickups for aggressive players, but careful players (like Roiland) can hide behind cover to regenerate health as well. 

"There was a direct turn from resource-based to more chaotic and strategic," Studivan said, with Roiland echoing the sentiment. 

"We also didn't want to hold the player back from just shooting like crazy," Roiland said. "That was more fun to me. So I was like, let's go in that direction, it feels really good."

A landscape of some slums in High on Life

Squanch Games Wants to Do High on Life DLC

While you may be the nameless, voiceless protagonist of High on Life, the real stars of the show are your guns. These guns are full-fledged characters, each with their own personalities, and they’re more than just a gimmick. Each one has something different to say about whatever’s happening in front of you. 

"There's choices that are there that wouldn't be otherwise if you have one gun over the other," Roiland said. "But also just having a gun out in a level versus another gun – we wrote full suites of dialog for every single gun that caters to their voice, their sensibility, their personality, and then of course playing to the strengths of the actors that we got cast for those guns. 

"We sort of consider these guns like your companions, not just your guns," Roiland said. "We're treating them sort of the same way a Dragon Age companion might be treated."

And he isn’t kidding about the Dragon Age comparison. In the early development days for High on Life, each gun had its own storyline and side mission content that players could do. In its current state, however, the game won’t include any "companion mission" type content. 

"Ultimately, with the size of the team we have, we're indie, you know, we had to prioritize, and it got lower and lower, and it was just like, 'I don't think we're going to be able to get to it.' And that's kind of the lamest thing to say, you know? But it's just the honest truth," Roiland said.

"We keep thinking if it does well, we want to do DLC. There's so many ideas we have, and that kind of stuff is so perfect for that." --Justin Roiland, Squanch Games CEO

Another idea that was scrapped early on was dual wielding these guns, particularly because of how hard it would be to account for all the possible conversations. Every gun reacts to your actions and the environment, but when you have different pairs of different guns providing different reactions to different moments, accounting for everything becomes a little daunting.

"The game's already scoped so fucking out of control from the writing side," Roiland said. "It's certainly something that I think would be fun to do in controlled ways in sections, but it's something that we got scared away from doing in this first outing."

If there’s anything that defines the development process at Squanch Games, it’s that there are too many good ideas, gestating and waiting to be brought to life. Roiland and the rest of the studio want to provide strong post-launch support for High on Life. There was even talk of potential DLC. 

"We keep thinking if it does well, we want to do DLC. There's so many ideas we have, and that kind of stuff is so perfect for that," Roiland said. "Is it good to be that honest? I never know with this stuff."

Kenny and the player walking through the hub city in High on Life

It wouldn’t be the first time for the studio to provide post-launch support, either. Its last project, Trover Saves the Universe, had a few months of support, including free DLC just four months after release. Based on our talk with Roiland, the studio is brimming with off-the-wall, inventive ideas, and its creative drive is fired up. 

"Obviously it's way too early to talk about a sequel, but jeez man. We got a lot of stuff that we want to do, and we really believe this IP is really something that could be a vessel for a lot of amazing content," Roiland said. "There's so much stuff, tons of fucking cool shit that we want to do. It's that way on Rick and Morty, it's that way on Solar [Opposites], just so many ideas."

The launch for High on Life is just around the corner, with its Dec. 13 release just three months away. But if things go well, that might not be the last time you’ll hear about High on Life. You can pick it up on Xbox platforms and PC, and it’s also hitting Xbox Game Pass on day one.


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More Info About This Game
Learn more about High on Life
Game Page High on Life
Squanch Games
Squanch Games
Release Date
December 13, 2022 (Calendar)
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