Zachary Flores, a junior studying computer science (games) at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, is trying to break barriers in the games industry by creating a new virtual reality video game. As Flores explains, it will be a “road and path construction game, where you’re building the road for this old Volkswagen bus going on an absurdist road trip to space volcanoes and other crazy environments.”
The game, tentatively titled “Detour Bus,” will “tell the story of this family going on a road trip, where the dad is reliving his glory days from the ’70s, and everyone else is stuck along for the ride.” He intends on shaping the visuals of the game to fit the nostalgia, aiming for a “trashy, homemade look.”
A native of San Antonio Texas, Flores was inspired by a gimmick in 1990s-era animated games where the gameplay would be partitioned by live-action cutscenes. He wants to bring that experience into the 21st century, utilizing three-dimensional filmed cutscenes instead of the flat video of the past.
“I don’t think anyone has adapted 360 video cutscenes into their game,” Flores said. To bring his imagination to life, Flores is collaborating with his close friend, Ezra Robinson, a junior studying game design at the USC School of Cinematic Arts (SCA), to record the scenes in the next few months.
Somewhat analogous to the adventurous, unpredictable course one follows in Detour Bus, Flores’ own road to this point was not simple or straightforward. He recalled being conflicted about applying to USC and deciding between SCA or the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. He was very pleased with the outcome of applying to the engineering school, but marveled at how spontaneous that decision was and how easily his path could have changed.
Flores believes that the interactive media industry can benefit with becoming more inclusive and diverse. “Interactive media needs a more diverse mindset going in,” he said. “I think making things that encourage people to be a part of that community and making it more inclusive, nicer and safer is something that I’d like to be a part of.”
“Virtual reality just needs more jokes.”
In his free time, Flores can be found playing his favorite video game, Guitar Hero, or DJ-ing at the student radio station under the pseudonym “DJ Milk Steak.”
Flores began working on Detour Bus after a weeklong game development bootcamp through the Oculus Launch Pad in San Jose which provides resources for virtual reality content developers to transform their innovative ideas into marketable programs. Flores will be one among dozens of participants vying for about ten grants in Spring 2020, after submitting a demo of his game to Oculus in January.
Detour Bus will be showcased at an experimental game design showcase in Tokyo, Japan in March 2020, courtesy of USC Games, a partnership between the Department of Computer Science at USC Viterbi and the Interactive Digital Media Division of the School of Cinematic Arts.
The game will become his Senior Capstone project, where he will be able to assemble a team of fellow classmates to help him get the game up and running.
“If everything works on schedule, the way I want it to, I won’t be done for two years,” Flores said. “That’s how long commercial games can take to make, especially student projects where you don’t have people working on it 40 hours a week.”
Although this ambitious game may be completed before graduation, Flores has even loftier goals: “Eventually, I’d like to be running a studio, I’d love to be able to get a group of people who share the same vision, to joke around and make stuff for a living.”
How can the industry change for the better? Flores gives his DJ Milk Steak answer: “Virtual reality just needs more jokes.”