That Groundhog Day: Like Father Like Son exists is an enigma. The 1993 film starring Bill Murray, who plays a character trapped in a one-day time loop, is beloved, and creating a sequel to that story more than two decades later – in the form of a video game, mind you – was no small feat, requiring a rare confluence between both the games industry and Hollywood. We got to chat with the teams creating the follow-up to that story about their vision for the game.
Groundhog Day VR is set about two decades after the 1993 film. Players take on the role of Phil Connors Jr., the son of the movie’s protagonist, who is stuck in a one-day time loop just like his father. Tequila Works, the developer behind games like Rime and The Invisible Hours, is helming the game’s production, and creative director Raúl Rubio knew early on he wanted to tell the story of the son instead of the father.
“We decided to tell Phil Jr.’s story, because Phil Sr. is kind of an amazing person,” Rubio says. “He’s loved by everyone. In his little universe, he’s God. For your children, that must be the worst experience ever, because you are growing up in the shadow of a perfect man. Phil Jr. has daddy issues.”
While Groundhog Day VR tells an original story, the team still intends to retain the film’s core themes. Tequila Works spent a lot of time early in production talking with Danny Rubin, one of the film’s writers, trying to understand the core of the original script.
“We asked all the fanboy questions we wanted to ask,” Rubio says.
When we asked what causes Connors Jr.’s time loops, the team was hush hush, but it did explain a little more of the game’s design.
Phil Jr. is an “a–hole” at the beginning of the game, according to Rubio. To break out of his time loop, which starts at 6 a.m. and resets at midnight, he has to explore the town of Punxsutawney, interacting with the residents to learn their dreams, goals, and fears, to ultimately help them solve their own problems. The team describes the game as a Metroidvania – interacting with the world each day teaches you new things that allows you to make progress during the next loop.
“We’re playing with the idea that the player is evolving as they learn about the world that they’re in,” says Jake Zim, the senior VP of virtual reality at Sony Pictures Entertainment who first identified the film as a good opportunity for a VR experience. “When we looked at Groundhog Day, we thought, ‘What is this about?’ It’s about this character’s evolution from being a piece of sh– to turning into someone who really cares about the world and people around him. There’s something fun about playing with the evolution of a player – how a player goes through a game, and learns new things, and solves puzzles, and becomes more aware of their world.”
There is a day/night cycle in Groundhog Day VR, but time only moves forward when players participate in certain scenes and setpieces. Your in-game phone tracks the time certain events take place and maintains records of the Punxsutawney denizens you interact with, so you too can reference new information in each time loop that follows. Scenes happen in real-time, too – Rubio says characters won’t wait around for you to do something, so you need to be mindful of how you spend your free time.
You can spend some of that free time learning new skills, like playing the piano. Rubio explains minigames aren’t menial and require actual skill. In the case of the piano, it will require players to actually learn and understand music.
We asked about potential returning cast members from the film that inspired the game, but the team was particularly tight-lipped on this topic.
“There are obviously challenges with bringing cast [members] back to a certain degree. We’re really focused on the new cast and the new generation that we have here… all the kids,” Zim says. “There are callbacks, but the real focus is on driving forward this new cast. I don’t want to make any promises. We think we have a great game and a great cast, and everything is really packaged to be what we want it to be. But you never know…”
We also asked if I Got You Babe, the song that played on the radio every time Phil Connors woke up in Groundhog Day, would make it into the game. Tequila Works says there is a licensed song that plays every time you wake up, but wouldn’t reveal the title, except for that it’s part of Sony’s catalogue.
Groundhog Day: Like Father Like Son is a strange fusion of games and film that we never would have predicted. While it plays on an established narrative trope – being stuck in a nightmarish time loop until the protagonist confronts their moral shortcomings – we’re excited to put on our headsets and explore Punxsutawney ourselves; to experience that trope in a way that hasn’t been explored before.
Groundhog Day VR will launch on PSVR, HTC Vive, and Oculus Rift sometime in 2019. You can listen to our full interview with the team in this episode of The Game Informer Show. In the world of VR, there’s a new Angry Birds game for you to wreak havoc in. And hilariously, a VR game called Apex Construct is seeing a boost in sales thanks to players mistaking it for Apex Legends.