Chicago video game studio whips up ‘Bugsnax’ for PlayStation 5

Young Horses’ first-person mystery tasks players with searching for a missing explorer on Snaktooth Island, which is populated by half-bug, half-snack food creatures.

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“Bugsnax,” the new game from Chicago studio Young Horses, features a variety of creatures that are part bug, part snack food.

“Bugsnax,” the new game from Chicago studio Young Horses, features a variety of creatures that are part bug, part snack food.

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After more than half a 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.

A crab-apple carries a pineapple in a clip from the trailer for “Bugsnax,” an upcoming PlayStation 5 game from Chicago-based studio Young Horses.

A crab apple scuttles on a beach in a clip from the trailer for “Bugsnax,” an upcoming PlayStation 5 game from Chicago-based studio Young Horses.

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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.”

Chicago-based game developers Young Horses announced their new game, “Bugsnax,” during Sony’s PlayStation 5 showcase event in June. Their  2014 game, “Octodad: Dadliest Catch,” started out as a student project while they attended DePaul University.

Chicago-based game developers Young Horses announced their new game, “Bugsnax,” during Sony’s PlayStation 5 showcase event in June. Their 2014 game, “Octodad: Dadliest Catch,” started out as a student project while they attended DePaul University.

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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, and 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.

“Bugsnax” by Chicago-based Young Horses will launch on the PlayStation 5 this holiday season.

“Bugsnax” by Chicago-based Young Horses will launch on the PlayStation 5 this holiday season.

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