clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Desert Bus comes to VR at long last

Eight brain-congealing hours of driving non-excitement get taken to the next level

Dinosaur Games/Gearbox Software
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Jesus H. Christ, Desert Bus is coming to virtual reality.

A VR edition of the epochally awful, intentionally mind-numbing minigame from the unreleased Penn & Teller’s Smoke & Mirrors 21 years ago has a listing on Steam. The game supports the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift headsets, plus motion controllers and gamepads (partial support).

From four screenshots shown, it looks like the game has been remastered with new graphics. But the gameplay is still the same: Drive a bus from Tucson, Ariz. to Las Vegas, in real-time (eight hours), fighting its misaligned steering the whole way.

If you can’t keep the bus on the road, and it wrecks, it is towed back to its originating city in real time where the player must start over. Each completed trip awards one (1) point. Reaching the destination results in an offer to drive back, for another trip that earns another (1) point. Importantly, the user may not pause the game. That means if you want that high score, you better have an empty milk jug sitting next to your seat.

Desert Bus VR promises new interactive features. The biggest is multiplayer. Oh yes, you can share the misery of the long haul with three friends, who may “sit, wave, and even throw wads of paper at the driver,” according to the description.

Drivers in VR may open the bus door when stopped at a bus station, tap the “fully-interactive air freshener” to release its scent, and honk the bus’ horn. The radio also carries “a variety of engaging radio programs” featuring Penn Jillette, the illusionist/actor and one-half of the game’s namesake.

The launch follows Desert Bus for Hope 11, the week-long charity marathon that ended on Friday after raising more than $650,000 for the Child’s Play charity. One of the donation perks was choosing the launch date for Desert Bus VR, and other features. Those prerogatives were claimed by Robert “DoctorBobtastic” Nix, who selected Nov. 27 for the game’s launch, as it is his birthday.

Nix also chose the default driver signature of Desert Bus VR to be Bill “BWOS” Watt, as a tribute to the late member of Loading, Ready Run, which has put on the Desert Bus for Hope marathon every year since 2007. (In the original Desert Bus game, the driver’s name is JOCKO.)

The original Desert Bus was one of a series of satirical minigames in Penn & Teller’s Smoke & Mirrors, along with Mofo the Psychic Gorilla, Buzz Bombers and What’s Your Sign, in which the owner of the game was given the means to lure unsuspecting players into gullible, open-ended video game pranks. Desert Bus was intentionally designed to be as boring and unobjectionable as possible, coming in the mid-1990s during the moral panic over video game violence that gave rise to the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.

Though Smoke & Mirrors was never launched (it was planned for the Sega CD) a ROM of it made it to the wild years later, and ironic playthroughs of Desert Bus became A Thing. It later became the basis for Desert Bus For Hope, one of the oldest and most successful video gaming marathons for charity.

Desert Bus VR is developed by Dinosaur Games, and published by Gearbox Software.