Reggie Watts On Games, VR, And Improvisation

Reggie Watts On Games, VR, And Improvisation
November 27, 2016

When Reggie Watts is onstage, it feels like you're watching a fully self-actualized performer. His art is a mix of comedy, music, and theater, churned into a surrealist smoothie of live energy. His sets are a combination of his own voice, merged with live synthesizers, samplers, drum machines and loopers; he'll improvise songs that transition from soulful and melodic love ballads to mangled alien tongues, bits that move from the British countryside to the hood in the same, deep breath. Watching Watts, it's clear that much of the performance is improvised live, but it's difficult to suss out where the script starts and stops. His particular brand of magic comes from the fact that his performances feel like they're being rendered in realtime – a lot like video games. Reggie Watts lives in the space between free jazz, Mitch Hedberg, and the 1991 NES game Harlem Globetrotters.


Since the release of his first solo EP in 2009, Pot Cookies, Watts was featured on the IFC series Comedy Bang! Bang!, and began collaborating with Michael Cera, Tim & Eric, and Sarah Silverman to create their comedy YouTube channel Jash. He currently performs as the bandleader and announcer for The Late Late Show with James Corden. His most recent stand-up special, Reggie Watts: Spatial, releases on Netflix December 6th.


How do you like to play?


Sometimes games for me are kinda like binge-watching episodes of shows. Generally I pick the easiest setting, because I'm not very interested in difficult combat. I just like to get through the story to see what happens.


What were some of your formative gaming experiences?


As a kid we had an Atari, a Commodore 64, so I played stuff like ParsecPitfall– those were fun games and I love them, but they were also kinda like bite-sized candy bars. The first game I really got into that was more complicated was the Dreamcast version of Resident Evil. Totally freaked me out. That and Shenmue. Those were my first sort of fully engrossed, can't-stop-playing type games. I just wanted games to be interactive movies.


You've been performing live in the social VR platform AltspaceVR, and worked on Waves, a VR experience about doing VR in VR. That's a lot of VR.


I'm an inspiration-based person – I need to be inspired to do something. VR is exciting to me. I'm excited by the prospect of wireless headsets. I may partner with Justin Roiland [co-creator and executive producer of the Adult Swim animated series Rick and Morty] to make a game we've been talking about, which would be great.


I'm generally into stuff that's not too daunting of a task – that can suck the creativity out of any project. There's a company in China making a wireless system for HTC Vive, which I think will help a lot. I want maximum computational power with high-bandwidth wireless transmission for the headset.


Why is that?


Just because I don't like to fuck around [laughs]. It's more accessible, but it's also just a selfish thing – I don't want that fucking cord dragging around all the time.

What's impressed you so far, in VR?


I really like Job Simulator. It's really stupid and great. Justin Roiland's game Accounting, I really love that. Raw Data is pretty rad. Altspace VR isn't quite a game – it's closer to the Oasis in [Ready Player One]. I really enjoy that, and I think it's kind of a killer app for VR. You can see people, you can hang out with people. It's a nice feeling: "Ah, there's a person behind that avatar!" And the nice thing too is that I run into women that are in there as well! It's great to have diversity and people with different perspectives.


The thing I want to see in VR is a playable RPG center that uses VR. Similar to the Ghostbusters [Experience] in New York, which has real objects in the real world mapped to objects in the VR world – when you touch things, they're actually there. Some form of this in a large warehouse space, with many rooms and interactive objects. Being in a room wearing wireless headsets, with your friends, looking at your friends in this medieval dungeon crawler, moving through space, fighting things, swinging swords. Escape rooms are doing this kinda thing well, and I think this will follow that lead. The idea of disappearing inside another world is really intriguing to me.


A lot of what you do onstage is augmentation – looping, voice modulation, etc – and technology seems to let you extend your range of performance. Is that something that appeals to you about VR performance?


If the tools are accessible and easy to use and intuitive, I'm all for it. Working with Altspace has been great because they listen to my ideas, and if I want something different or I want something customized, they're willing to make it happen. I always like to stay in a comfortable margin. I don't like to push things so much that they're super buggy – unless it's something experimental. I want things to work.


Do you have a favorite game?


I'd have to say Borderlands. It's everything I love about games. I do like first-person shooters – not exclusively, I'm not all about first-person shooters – but I have a particular interest in them because I like to play games alone. But with Borderlands, you can have someone with you who's just as enthusiastic about the game. And it's great because you get to have fun together, it's cartoonish and not realistic, it's really funny, the writing is incredible, it's fast-paced, there are tons of missions, the world seems never-ending, and I love all the characters. You could say I've been looking forward to Borderlands 3

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