The Official Sequel to ‘Groundhog Day’ Is a VR Video Game
In the 30 years since Groundhog Day was first released, it’s been interpreted as an allegory for Buddhism, Christianity and Judaism as well as achieved bona-fide comedy classic status. Moreover, it’s the kind of movie that’s perfect on its own, without the need for a sequel of any kind. And yet, an official sequel to Groundhog Day does exist: Groundhog Day: Like Father Like Son, a 2019 VR video game by Tequila Works that follows the story of Phil Connors Jr., the son of Bill Murray’s character.
Nearly three decades after the events of the movie, Phil Sr. has passed away and Phil Jr., who is visiting his family in Punxsutawney, gets stuck in the same time loop as his father did before him. Also like his father, Phil Jr. must become a better, more well-rounded person by learning things like how to play the guitar or how to sculpt. The biggest goal for Phil Jr., though, is to repair his relationship with his family, and he’s forced to repeat February 2nd over and over again until this particular lesson truly takes hold.
The game was originally conceived by the game’s narrative director Joshua Rubin, an Interactive Emmy-winning writer known for games like Assassin’s Creed 2. “I wanted to do a first-person time-loop video game, and I was pitching this as a sci-fi idea,” Rubin tells me. “Then I heard that Sony was looking to do something with the Groundhog Day property — which is the core time-loop IP — so I retooled my pitch as Groundhog Day. I’ve always been a fan of Groundhog Day. The way it was able to get these very spiritual messages across through humor was always incredible to me, and I wanted to carry that into the game.”
Sony saw the potential in Rubin’s idea and decided to greenlight the project, hiring Tequila Works to make the game with him. “In a way, every single video game is like Groundhog Day — you try, you die and you repeat,” explains Raúl Rubio Munárriz, the founder and CEO of Tequila Works.
Still, Munárriz describes Groundhog Day: Like Father Like Son as having “probably the most complex narrative structure ever made in a video game.” The reason being that the game featured a fully interactive Punxsutawney, and so, Rubin had to figure out every single possibility of what people might do while playing as Phil Jr. For example, an early scene has Phil Jr. making breakfast at his mother’s house, but you can also just throw the food around that you’re cooking or start a kitchen fire.
Despite its complexity, Rubin says that a major highlight of writing the game was bringing back a few familiar faces, like Ned Ryerson (who was played by Stephen Tobolowsky in the film) and Phil Jr.’s mom Rita (Andie MacDowell’s character). Better still was getting to bounce ideas off of Danny Rubin (no relation), Groundhog’s Day’s original screenwriter who conceived of the film’s central story. “He gave me a lot of what his original ideas were and things that the Bill Murray character could have done,” Joshua Rubin says. Some of the ideas that didn’t make the film were more of the skill-building types of things that informed Like Father Like Son’s central gameplay.
Most importantly, both Rubin and Munárriz vowed to stay true to the philosophy of Groundhog Day, which meant they had to define what the movie meant to them. For Rubin, he says, “We all reach a point where we realize that life is meaningless and that the universe doesn’t care about us. So, we’re the ones who give meaning to each other. Through love and kindness, we give each other’s lives meaning — that’s why we’re here.”
For Munárriz’s part, he tells me, “If you feel shitty, maybe that’s because you’re making your life shitty. You should realize what you’re putting out into the world. Some people call it karma, but for me, it’s just thermodynamics — action and reaction.”
Of course, much like the film itself, Rubin and Munárriz had to include these ideas without being heavy-handed or losing their sense of humor. They felt they were successful on both counts and are enormously proud of the game, though Munárriz wishes it had gained more traction with audiences. But perhaps, as VR gaming becomes more and more popular, Groundhog Day: Like Father Like Son will find a wider audience. After all, if there’s any franchise that’s about second chances, it’s Groundhog Day.