Ever had the overwhelming urge to break shit? Once a year, Titmouse, the animation studio behind Adult Swim classics The Venture Brothers and Metalocalypse and the new Fox series Son of Zorn, invites staff and friends to do just that on their Hollywood campus. At the so-called Smash Party, the studio provides the weapons and safety gear while guests bring the mallet-fodder to bash inside a cage as a mob of onlookers cheers on. This year, the mayhem went virtual: VR Smash Party, a collaboration between Titmouse and Viacom NEXT, made its debut last weekend at the studio’s IRL bash. The game is anticipated to hit Steam by the end of 2016. Soon, HTC Vive users will be able to join in the fun 365 days a year.
Titmouse head Chris Prynoski had noticed the similarities between the VR headset, where users have strict parameters on where they can move, and the Smash Party. “It’s confined to this cage,” Prynoski explained by phone before the event, “which is similarly constrained.” The company had already been working on a mobile game based on Smash Party, but Prynoski, who has been keenly interested in creating comedy animation for VR, was also thinking about a room-scale virtual-reality cage battle. He met with Viacom NEXT, who work on VR projects for brands like MTV, and pitched the idea. He says he mentioned a VR Smash Party “half-jokingly,” but Viacom NEXT dug the idea.
“We are from the cable TV/film world,” said David Liu of Viacom NEXT by phone. “We do believe that VR is going to be more, so when we met with Chris and talked about the project, it was a perfect fit. Where else could we work with a creator like that?” Titmouse handled the creative side of the project, adding all of the oddball characters you would need for an action-packed comedy battle. Viacom NEXT took care of the tech.
The real-life Smash Party is serious business. Guests have to sign a waiver before entering the party and load up on safety gear if they want to take a turn in the cage. At this year’s party, a corner of the parking lot overflowed with doomed items—everything from a Hello Kitty TV set to multiple Donald Trump piñatas.
Contenders have about a minute to wreak havoc. They enter the cage with all the bravado of professional wrestlers—there’s a prize for the contender who gives the most attention-grabbing performance—and wield weapons against objects that never stood a chance. Debris flies against the sides of the cage as the crowd hoots over the din of destruction.
Inside the VR Smash Party, you get about 75 seconds to swing the Vive controller at the objects in front of you. Once you make a hit, you rack up points and more items appear. You’ll get to use multiple methods of warfare: Sometimes, a pile of breakables stands ahead of you and you can take them all out with one downward blow; sometimes you swing as plates fly at you. If you get a big item, like a TV or a toilet, you may have to bludgeon them. This is the kind of VR experience that you would want at an arcade, combining the adrenaline rush of a fighting game with the physicality of Dance Dance Revolution.
And, like the real-life Smash Party, it’s good for spectators. Between the joyous destruction on screen to the Vive-strapped person swinging at imaginary objects in the play space, there’s a whole lot to take in.