Desert Bus VR remakes vintage joke drive ’em up for free

Vintage joke game Desert Bus, where players drive the eight-hour journey from Tuscon to Las Vegas in a wonky bus which veers slightly to the right, is now remade in full modern fancy-o-vision as Desert Bus VR. Published by Borderlands devs Gearbox, this new version is completely free, it adds online multiplayer, and yes, it has a non-VR version too. The original Desert Bus was part of an unreleased Sega CD game, Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors (yes, Penn & Teller the wizards), which leaked online then came to fame through Desert Bus for Hope, the annual charity fundraiser marathon.

Desert Bus has players drive a bus from Tuscon to Las Vegas in real time through a dull desert, eight hours of holding forwards and steering slightly to the left to avoid going off the road. If that happens, god help you, you’ll be towed backwards to Tuscon – also in real time. Reach Las Vegas and your grand reward is one point and the opportunity to take a return journey.

The new Desert Bus VR remakes this experience in full 3D fancy-o-vision, giving us a dingy bus with trashed seats and still so much nothing to see. You can turn your head and look around, though. Online multiplayer means passengers can now join to sit, wave, and throw paper at the driver. I sadly could not find a bus to join when I tried.

Desert Bus VR also adds a radio, with programmes including Penn Jillette talking about the game’s origins amidst the violent video game moral panic of the ’90s.

When Jillette gabbed last year about making a new Desert Bus, he said it would come as part of “a bundle of games,” like the original was in Smoke and Mirrors. Well, I see only this, but I’m not complaining.

You can download Desert Bus VR for free from Steam. The release date, yesterday, was chosen by a winning donor from this year’s Desert Bus for Hope. 2017’s event raised $651,766.51 for the charity Child’s Play.


  1. Grizzly says:

    Desert Bus for hope always is one of the highlights of the year for me. The comedy group LoadingReadyRun (who you may know from “Friday Nights” or the escapist’s unskippable before they left) turns the whole thing into a 24/7 improv comedy stream. Which is fun! And, here’s a saved video from them playing it:

    • mukuste says:

      I like that when he looks over his shoulder, there’s nobody actually sitting in the bus, making the entire exercise even more existential.

  2. Excors says:

    I’d love a VR version of the real-time Journey to Alpha Centauri from Only You Can Save Mankind.

  3. rustybroomhandle says:

    I did not know the Penn & Teller connection.

    This is the same week I also learned that the 1992 Eurodance cover of the Tetris theme was made by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    This feels like the kind of thing I’d play if I won the lottery and thus had eight hours to sit there and do nothing.

  5. Velthaertirden says:

    What is this? Why is there no amazing alt text that I am so used seeing in every post by Alice?

    • DEspresso says:

      An Imposter! Get the Pitchforks!

    • mike22 says:

      Hopefully they finally twigged onto the fact that alttext is an accessibility feature to help users with sight impairments to better understand content, and not a space for secret jokes.

      Also I imagine like most news sites it’s primarily frequented by mobile devices, which won’t see the alt text anyway, making it mostly redundant for its target audience.

      I’m all for jokes being added to captions though.

      • Alice O'Connor says:

        I use the title attribute for ‘jokes’, not alt.

        • Velthaertirden says:

          I stand corrected. Once again, life teaches that blindly repeating what others are saying is not so good. All it would have taken me was just a right click and then inspect element.

  6. MrEvilGuy says:

    They should have just made the original VR compatible and fully native.

    • Snowy007 says:

      The original is not only old, but also 2d. So that would have been impossible.

  7. KastaRules says:

    I saw “Desert Bus” and thought: “only Alice O’Connor could write about a game like this.”

    Right I was.