Legendary novelty game Desert Bus – in which you’re tasked with driving a slightly defective bus for eight straight hours across the mind-numbingly monotonous expanse between Arizona and Nevada – has come to Oculus Rift and Vive as Desert Bus VR.
Desert Bus has a long and fascinating history, having originally been created in the mid-90s by magicians Penn and Teller as part of an unreleased compilation of mini-games, known as Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors.
Smoke and Mirrors was a collection of games largely designed to trick your friends, and was intended for release on the Sega Mega-CD. By the time it was ready for public consumption, however, the Mega-CD was a virtually dead format. As such, nobody was interested in picking it up when original publisher Absolute Entertainment went out of business.
Smoke and Mirrors’ story would have ended there, ordinarily. In a twist of fate, however, it began to gain notoriety some years later when a journalist sent his pre-release press copy to Lost Levels, a website specialising in unreleased games. Desert Bus’ legacy was sealed in 2007 when internet internet comedy troupe LoadingReadyRun decided to marathon the game to raise money for the charity Child’s Play. The event, known as Desert Bus for Hope, has run every year since, raising almost $4.5m for charity.
Desert Bus’ appeal lies partly in its absurdity, and partly in its wilfully mundane, irresistibly punishing challenge. Your journey – from Tucson, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada – is run entirely in real-time, but your bus is limited to 45mph. As such, a single journey takes around eight hours, with no passengers to keep you amused, and no notable scenery outside your window stimulate your senses. Excitingly, however, an insect will fly into your windscreen about five hours into your trip.
The already tedious, time-consuming feat is made more complicated by the fact that you can’t pause the game – hitting the ‘start’ button on a controller merely honks your horn. And although the in-game road is completely straight, Desert Bus has one last trick up its sleeve for potential cheaters: the bus veers constantly to the right, demanding that the driver gives it their full attention. Leave the road and the bus will stall, causing it to be towed right back to the start of your journey. Reach your destination though, and you’ll score a single point.
It’s a game particularly suited to video gaming marathons, partly due to its appealingly dull set-up, and partly due to its endless nature. Once you reach your destination, you can immediately turn round and drive back – the return journey taking place at dusk, and the third run occurring at night, lit only by your feeble headlights. In theory, you could keep driving that lonely road until you draw your final breath.
The newly released Desert Bus VR is a functionally faithful adaptation of the original game, albeit with a polygonal makeover, and some of that good ol’ VR “presence”. It was first announced early last year and is a collaboration between creator Penn Jillette, developer Dinosaur Games, and, unexpectedly, Gearbox.
This being 2017, however, there are inevitably a few new additions to bring Desert Bus up to modern day standards. You can for instance, use your new-fangled VR wands to honk the horn, turn your fully functioning radio on and back off again, open (and probably close) your vehicle’s door, and even prod the air freshener.
More brilliantly still, Desert Bus VR features a new multiplayer mode. Here, up to four friends can join you on your eight-hour journey, sitting, waving, and even tossing wads of paper, as your ever-present passengers. A future update will even patch in stickers for your bus, as designed by the winners of the charity-based Desert Bus Sticker Art donation drive.
Desert Bus VR is out now on Steam, supports both Vive and Oculus Rift, and is completely free. Good luck, dear friends: the ride of your life awaits.