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How Young Horses leveraged PS5's unique features in Bugsnax

Are the new features on the PlayStation 5 useful for developers? Bugsnax developers Kevin Geisler and John Murphy break down the value of the haptic controller, activity cards, and more.

Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

December 9, 2020

6 Min Read

One of the PlayStation 5's most unique launch exclusives was Bugsnax: a comedy/adventure/maybe body horror title from Young Horses, the makers of Octodad. It's a launch title that stands in contrast to other games like Spider-Man: Miles Morales and the Demon's Souls remake. Instead of showing off the graphical extremes the console can produce, it's a smaller title available for free on PlayStation Plus that offers more content for players who sign up to Sony's service and add value to their purchase.

And yet Bugsnax still manages to do some neat stuff with PlayStation 5 tech. During a livestream on the GDC Twitch channel a few weeks ago, Bugsnax lead programmer Kevin Geisler and design lead John Murphy dropped by to discuss the making of their food-fueled game.

Of note to smaller developers curious about making games for the PS5 was a brief discussion about the console's unique features like its advanced controller haptics, the Activity Cards, and the Game Help feature. We've heard some developers wonder quietly if these features are worth putting the time into if they're not a Sony-backed platform.

For their part, Geisler and Murphy were able to explain some of the advantages these features afforded when launching Bugsnax on PS5.

Here's a quick slice of our chat with them about making games for the PlayStation 5.

This game is launching with the PlayStation 5, it has some interesting features that take advantage of the new haptics in the controller. Is there anything you've learned about this experience? What do you think other developers should know about making games for this console?

Geisler: Well working on PS5 was kind of identical to working on PS4. We put together our own tech in order to do Octodad. And after that, we kind of went with the decision of "we already ported it to 11 platforms, let's try to get another game out while this generation happens."

Personally, I was anticipating we would release this game before the next generation. I guess we kind of made it, being a launch title for PS5. This was pretty beneficial because it gave us a talking point for when we announced our game. We also still had the the PS4 version that we had been working on this whole time.

As far as the development differences, I do think the PS5 controller was absolutely my favorite part to play with in terms of development. We ended up using FMOD for audio. Seth Parker, who did our sounds, ended up doing all the haptic feedback and vibrations for the game through that system.

The cool thing we were able to do with the audio was to feed into other systems (for instance, the animations of the characters' lips flapping animations, it's just all driven by amplitude coming out of FMOD). The controller vibrations are also just audio sent out from FMOD.

Seth can just hook up a sound and route it straight to the controller as a vibration. On top of that, the work that went into the PlayStation 5 version could apply to the PS4 version. It may not have the cool rumble features, but we can just track all that audio that was meant to be routed to the PlayStation 5 controller and reroute it to the controller rumble on other platforms.

That was my favorite part. The controller also had some cool stuff we did with the the triggers as well, just sort of trying to make those feel different. When you've got the [in-game] camera open, one of the triggers feels more like clicking the shutter button. And then because I was sort of enamored with the controller, we also threw in controller sounds so when you capture a Bugsnak, the controller then speaks the Bugsnak's name right after you capture it.

How much extra time and effort does it take to make things for this controller? What are your thoughts about what the payoff is for developers who are making games for multiple platforms to be paying attention to console-specific features like this?

Geisler: The controller specifically, is absolutely worth the effort. I guess in terms of like platform-specific features, it was one of the things that took the least amount of time. There were certainly other things that we had to to learn to use or to rethink. The controller is certainly a thing that adds an extra layer to play in the game that really didn't take that much time to do compared to other [features] we've put in.

Murphy: I didn't really have much direct input [on the controller] but a post-release thing that players have noticed that I think is worth mentioning is that the new Game Help feature has been really nice for people. It's these little video hints of how to [for example] catch a particular Bugsnak.

We had a lot of help from Sony on actually generating all that. But that is a thing that I imagine developers are gonna have to do. I think that that players are going to like it a lot, at least for [puzzle-driven] games like ours. Next time, I want to keep in the back of my head that we're going to have to do this, and it's going to be a lot of work, but it might be worth it. Or at least, it'll be a new expectation from from players that it's there.

Does that impact your thoughts on puzzle difficulty, knowing that a more difficult puzzle might not hit player retention if players have the option to quickly reference a guide if they're stuck that's available on the console?

Murphy: I think it would depend on on the game. Like for Bugsnax, I never wanted really tough puzzles. I wanted expressive [solutions], you've got different ways to [progress]. But sometimes it's tricky. For me it's more like, this feature fills in the gaps in my bad design, it feels like a safety net for me. That's kind of similar to what you're talking about.

Geisler: I think the use case that I saw when we started first implementing [Game Help] was that this would be amazing for parents with children that maybe can't get past a certain part and are stuck and are asking, "why won't this game do this?"

And the parent then may come in and say "well, I have no idea where you are, I haven't been playing this game at all," but they can jump in the Game Help to help them play through it or play through it for their kid.

I also think players who haven't played a specific game in a while may want to return and see features like the Activity Cards and go "hey, I've got these activities active. This is where I left off, but I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing." While we tried to give those instructions in the game, sometimes having that extra video feedback or instruction can just help them get the ball rolling again.

I do think that's kind of what Sony was trying to go for with the Activity Cards in general was to keep players being able to move through a game and not just languish on a specific spot that may have happened to get caught up on.

For more developer interviews and event livestreams, be sure to follow the GDC Twitch channel!

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