‘Ex­tremely bizarre’ game from Chicago devel­op­ers com­ing to PlaySta­tion 5

Chicago Sun-Times - - ENTERTAINM­ENT - BY LUKE WILUSZ, STAFF RE­PORTER lwilusz@sun­ | @lukewil­usz

Af­ter more than a half-decade of qui­etly work­ing on the fol­low-up to in­die hit “Oc­to­dad: Dadli­est Catch,” Chicago video game devel­op­ers Young Horses an­nounced their new ti­tle, “Bugsnax,” dur­ing Sony’s PlaySta­tion 5 show­case event last month.

“It’s re­ally ex­hil­a­rat­ing be­cause we know that a lot of peo­ple are go­ing to see it,” cre­ative di­rec­tor Kevin Zuhn said of the high-pro­file re­veal. “We’ve got­ten a pretty big fan re­sponse and we’ve been quiet for a very long time, so kind of get­ting to show it to the pub­lic in such an ex­plo­sive way is re­ally grat­i­fy­ing.”

While the stu­dio is stay­ing tight-lipped about the par­tic­u­lars of the game­play and plot, Zuhn said “Bugsnax” is a first-per­son mys­tery that tasks play­ers with search­ing for miss­ing ex­plorer El­iz­abert Me­gafig on Snak­tooth Is­land, which is pop­u­lated by the tit­u­lar half-bug, half-snack food crea­tures. Play­ers will have to hunt and cap­ture the Bugsnax us­ing a va­ri­ety of traps and tools.

Zuhn said the stu­dio is ex­cited to in­cor­po­rate some of the new fea­tures of Sony’s up­com­ing flag­ship con­sole into the game’s de­sign, in­clud­ing the ad­vanced hap­tic feed­back of the DualSense con­troller.

“We’re try­ing to get a kind of im­mer­sive feel with the vi­bra­tions that it can make,” Zuhn said. “It feels dif­fer­ent on dif­fer­ent ter­rains as you’re walk­ing around the is­land.”

They also plan on mak­ing use of the con­troller’s built-in mi­cro­phone and the im­proved load­ing times Sony is tout­ing with the sys­tem’s solid-state drive.

The trailer in­tro­duces an as­sort­ment of col­or­ful crea­tures — in­clud­ing a liv­ing straw­berry, cin­na­mon-bun snails and a literal crab ap­ple — set to a bub­bly theme song by Bri­tish in­die-pop out­fit Kero Kero Bonito.

Zuhn said Young Horses has seen a huge on­line re­sponse to the an­nounce­ment, in­clud­ing fan art, memes and in-depth at­tempts to an­a­lyze the two-minute trailer for any clues re­veal­ing what the game is ac­tu­ally about.

“It’s the fun­ni­est thing: I’ve seen peo­ple out there who have said the ex­act plot,” Zuhn said. “And, you know, ob­vi­ously the best thing to do is to stay silent about it so that no one knows which of the ideas is right . . . . That one per­son is gonna feel su­per-smart and jus­ti­fied. And I think that’s cool. I think it’s good that peo­ple are able to ex­trap­o­late and fig­ure things out.”

Young Horses’ pre­vi­ous re­lease, “Oc­to­dad” — a slap­stick com­edy game about an oc­to­pus pre­tend­ing to be reg­u­lar hu­man hus­band and fa­ther — started out as a stu­dent project when the devel­op­ers were in the game-de­sign pro­gram at DePaul Uni­ver­sity. The eight-per­son team founded the com­pany af­ter grad­u­at­ing and re­leased a com­mer­cial ver­sion of the game in 2014 that ended up sell­ing more than a mil­lion copies.

“Back in school, I didn’t know that this would have been a pos­si­ble ca­reer path,” Zuhn said. “Like, I had never imag­ined start­ing a com­pany. I had al­ways fig­ured that I would wind up, you know, work­ing my way up through var­i­ous po­si­tions at a big­ger com­pany.”

Zuhn said the les­sons they learned from that early suc­cess helped in­form their process as they got started on “Bugsnax.”

“We want a broad au­di­ence, but we want to make games about re­ally weird and in­ter­est­ing top­ics, and that’s, I think, the tightrope we’re al­ways walk­ing is try­ing to make the ab­surd very ap­peal­ing,” Zuhn said. “And that’s what I think we learned most from ‘Oc­to­dad,’ is one, that we could do that, and two, that kind of ap­proach of be­ing emo­tion­ally sin­cere and ex­tremely bizarre at the same time. And I think that spirit, more than any­thing, car­ries be­tween both games.”

The core team work­ing on “Bugsnax” is about 10 peo­ple, in­clud­ing Young Horses em­ploy­ees and a few con­tracted col­lab­o­ra­tors. Zuhn said keep­ing the team small has al­lowed them greater cre­ative free­dom to ex­per­i­ment and take their time with the game’s de­sign.

“Our big­gest chal­lenge is speed, rel­a­tive to our am­bi­tions,” he said. “We have a fairly big game idea. Nor­mally a com­pany would hire up a bunch of peo­ple to make that process go faster, but we didn’t do that, so the process didn’t go faster.”

While there’s no re­lease date set yet, “Bugsnax” is ex­pected to launch this hol­i­day sea­son for PlaySta­tion 5, PlaySta­tion 4 and PC.


ABOVE: “Bugsnax,” the new game from Chicago stu­dio Young Horses, fea­tures a va­ri­ety of crea­tures that are part bug, part snack food. LEFT: Young Horses an­nounced “Bugsnax” dur­ing Sony’s PlaySta­tion 5 show­case event in June. The team’s 2014 game “Oc­to­dad: Dadli­est Catch” started out as a stu­dent project while the devel­op­ers at­tended DePaul Uni­ver­sity.

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