I’ve been thinking about Bugsnax so much that it feels like I’ve eaten one of the little mind-controlling critters myself. It’s been a week since I’ve finished the game and I still catch myself muttering “bunger bunger bunger” as I go about my day. To satiate my hunger for more Bugsnax without actually consuming any bugsnax, I decided to email Kevin Zuhn, senior creative director and writer of Bugsnax, some of my burning questions.
(This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.)
Kotaku: Can you tell me what your vision was for the bugsnax? How did you come up with this idea? What was your design process like?
Kevin Zuhn: The initial seed came from an old drawing I did in college of a waffle mixed with a caterpillar (the Wafflepillar), which I turned into a pitch about collecting bugs made of food. That got combined with [gameplay designer] John Murphy’s pitch about muppets that are mutated by what they eat, and [CFO, programmer, webmaster] Devon Scott-Tunkin’s pitch about screaming bananas, and at the end of our pitching process it had become Bugsnax!
When we set out to make the creatures themselves, we made a big list of iconic foods (burger, fries, cake) and iconic bugs (ant, dragonfly, scorpion), and looked for ways to connect them. We wanted to make sure we had a big variety of flavours, temperatures, body shapes, abilities, etc. Sometimes we’d build a bugsnak based on a really strong visual design, sometimes to fill a mechanical need, and sometimes just for the sake of a joke! You could say that our design process was controlled chaos.
Kotaku: Did you hire professionals to voice the bugsnax? For some reason, I have some grand fantasy that the bugsnax are voiced by normal non-voice acting folk that work for your studio and you just shoved everyone in a booth one day and said “give me your best bugnsax impression” and the best ones were picked.
Zuhn: I wish any of us at Young Horses had the talent to pull that off, but the bugsnax are all voiced by professionals! The good folks at Brightskull called in the likes of Robbie Daymond [the voice of Sailor Moon’s Tuxedo Mask] and Cristina Valenzuela [Sailor Mars from the same show], and they were assigned six or so bugsnax each. In the recording booth our voice director, Michael Csurics, would tell them, “You’re a hot dog, you crawl around like a worm, you are only able to say your own name which is Weenyworm. What does that sound like?” and they would improvise hilarious voices until we found one we liked. The scripts were the funniest thing in the world because the entire page would just say ‘Scoopy Banoopy’ over and over again. The whole process was bananas start to finish and I loved every step of it.
Kotaku: The grumpuses too are all unique characters. They all have desires and fears and insecurities, making them remarkably complex as NPCs go. What was your thought process for them?
Zuhn: We wanted Bugsnax to be an ensemble story, so my first goal was to define what role each character played in the society of Snaxburg. I started out with really broad archetypes: the mayor, the farmer, the archaeologist. Once we had those settled, the next question was why each of them wanted bugsnax. What is the hole in their life they’re trying to fill? I wanted to make sure each of them had a different answer, so they’d have different perspectives on what bugsnax are and what is important in life. That helped me to flesh out more details about how they act!
From there my favourite part: what do they think of each other? I drew big charts tracking who would be friends, partners, or enemies and why. How is the problem in their life affecting their relationships, good and bad? With all those questions answered, I was able to build quests and in-game scenes around the characters’ biggest sources of conflict! I really wanted to make sure all of this felt grounded and organic, because absolutely everything else about the game is ridiculous.
Kotaku: If you took an internal survey to find out who everyone’s favourite bugsnak would be, which one would it be (and why is it Bunger)? Do you similarly have a favourite Grumpus?
If I take an internal survey I’ll get ten different answers! The Young Horses never agree on anything. My personal favourite is actually Preying Picantis, but Bunger has a special shelf in my heart. There’s just something magnetic about Tom Taylorson’s cheeseburger-as-dog performance. As for my favourite grumpus, that’s Chandlo Funkbun (because he’s by far the most fun to write).
(Kotaku: Bunger all day. But I do love the sassy Sweetiefly too.) Were there any bugsnax that got cut from the final product?
Zuhn: Oh, plenty! We had pages of bugsnak concepts drawn up, and we had a system for voting up our favourites. Everything under the voting threshold got cut. Casualties include a grilled cheese crab, a baconfly, a spaghetti-meatball snail, and even the original wafflepillar! There are dozens more unused designs, some of which were even prototyped, but any bugsnak that actually got a full 3d model treatment stayed in ‘til the end.
Kotaku: One bugsnax that confused me was the Paletoss. I didn’t understand its name until I realised, “Duh! It’s supposed to be a paleta!” Do you have anything you can share about how you came up with the names for your snax?
Zuhn: They’re paletas that toss you: Paletoss!
Every few months the Young Horses would get together for a namestorming meeting, where we’d go bugsnak to bugsnak throwing out names until we found one we could agree on. Best case scenario, we’d make a solid pun by fusing the bug name with the snack name (Fryder, Scorpenyo, Buffalocust). If we couldn’t do that we’d try to use their flavour or behaviour (Paletoss, Sweetiefly). And if all else failed, we’d just warp the words into cute nonsense (Scoopy Banoopy).
The end result of this is that I’ve got an Excel spreadsheet full of hundreds of failed names for bugsnax, each more goofy and desperate than the last.
Kotaku: So the “good” ending of the game implies that Snorpy was right all along. Will we get to confront the Grumpunati in DLC or sequels? (Are there plans for DLC or a sequel?)
Zuhn: You should take what Snorpy says with a big grain of salt, because like all the characters in this story, he is only ever half-right. We’re still figuring out what exactly we want to do post-release, but we’re definitely not done working on Bugsnax yet. I know I’d hate to leave that plot thread hanging forever!
Kotaku: Did you always mean for Bugsnax to get as dark as it does, or was it something that just happened? If you’ve been catching bugsnax and feeding them to your friends — something they encourage you to do — you’re setting yourself up for a pretty grim ending.
Zuhn: Absolutely! We knew from the outset that bugsnax were dangerous parasites, and in their earliest designs they were not very cute. At some point there was an even worse ending where the Grumpuses become snak-craving zombies that eat each other and then you. So if anything, the game got lighter and sillier over time!
I wonder how an ending that is essentially The Walking Bugsnax would have worked with the game’s sugary sweet theme song “It’s Bugsnax!” Maybe Young Horses would have chosen a more appropriate sound, something like death metal? Just imagine a version of “It’s Bugsnax!” done by Babymetal. That actually sounds pretty badass.