How Bugsnax studio Young Horses stays sustainable and deeply strange

Young Horses pitched Bugsnax to Sony in 2016 or 2017, Tibitisoki recalled, early on in the development process. Octodad had performed well enough to sustain the studio without taking on contract work or rushing out another title, and Tibitoski’s team had spent some time honing their ideas into a semi-coherent prototype. 

They began with touchstones like Pokemon Snap, Pikmin, The Muppets, Apocalypse Now, FernGully and The Island of Dr. Moreau, and initially ended up with an on-rails food-truck simulator that wasn’t much fun to play. They brainstormed more and expanded the game to include cooking half-food, half-animal creatures and feeding them to nearby residents in order to influence their communities, complete with town-upgrade trees.

“After prototyping each of those things out, we realized this is way too much for a team of our size to actually accomplish, and so we took the things that we liked the most out of those, and eventually pared it down to what Bugsnax is now,” Tibitoski said.

Bugsnax’s story evolved over time and numerous table reads, with creative director Kevin Zuhn and story editor Sage Coffey at the helm. The final version of Bugsnax has a cast of charming characters called Grumpuses, a touching narrative, and 100 adorable animal-food creatures to catch. When Young Horses initially pitched the game to Sony, executives asked if there was a gas leak in their office or something, considering the ridiculousness of the idea. They liked it, but it was still years away from going gold.

Young Horses continued building out Bugsnax, and eventually, it became clear that the game would be ready to ship near the end of 2020, when the new PlayStation and Xbox consoles were rumored to land. Tibitoski started poking his people at Sony again, asking if Bugsnax could be involved in the launch of the PS5. One day, they poked back.

Bugsnax

Young Horses

“It was April, and so that was an interesting experience of being, I don’t know, trusted enough to be part of that whole marketing set of beats from the announcement in June to release, and to be sitting alongside Miles Morales,” Tibitoski said.