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‘Bugsnax’ Devs Put Four Free Games on Steam

Taking a look at quirky game jam projects Antbassador, SnakeDate, and others from Young Horses.

Cole Martin

May 1, 2023

Often when people think about the process of creating video games we conjure up the image of a soulless meeting room where stuffy business types in suits ignore creative business pitches in favor of monetizing the latest trend for a safe, well known franchise. In some cases that may be an accurate depiction of the development process, but for many indie studios the idea for their next big release often starts with a small game jam.

Game jams are typically utilized by developers to foster creative thinking and team building while giving their team a chance to experiment with new ideas. Programmers, writers, artists, and other game-dev adjacent people will work either alone or with a small team to bash out an idea for a game and create a playable prototype in a span of 24 to 72 hours. Occasionally we will see the fruits of a game jam, like Goat Simulator or Super Hot, reach the market as a full release. Many of these titles get shuttered away and never see the light of day, but the lessons learned from game jam prototypes and other unusual side projects often are carried on into future releases.

Young Horses, the studio behind some of the quirkiest of indie games including Octodad: Dadliest Catch and Bugsnax, recently decided to release a collection of side projects that started their life as game jams and early prototypes under the banner Free Range. Young Horses Free Range collection includes four titles being released to the public for the first time via Steam for free. Two of these titles, Antbassador and Snakedate began as part of the Ludum Dare game jam in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Antbassador features a charming giant human finger donning a top hat who serves as the titular Antbassador to a kingdom of ants. The finger, while unbelievably strong, must carefully navigate the ant world and help the colony without accidentally squishing anybody. The game only takes about five minutes to play, but it’s an excellent example of the wild ideas that can come out of a game jam and what a small team can do when given just 72 hours to create. Antbassador actually reuses some assets from OctoDad: Dadliest Catch.

Similarly to Antbassador, the charming physics based dating game SnakeDate was also created by Young Horses during the Ludum Dare game jam, this time following a break in the development of Bugsnax. It features an ever-lengthening snake looking for love on the Charmr app, with the player having to wrap the snake around one of the eleven potential horses to complete a date. The third title included in FreeRange, Octodad: Student Edition, gives players a chance to play the original version of Octodad that was created by Young Horses when they were still just wee little college students.

In addition to Antbassador, Snakedate and Octodad the Free Range collection also includes a first look at IndependANT, a recently created tech demo from Young Horses that was developed as a tool for helping the studio move from their previously used proprietary engine to Unreal 5. IndependANT features a small open world map where players control an ant worker that has been displaced after their home colony falls off the table only to smash to bits. The queen of the colony goes missing, and your little ant is the only one who can safely search the map and secure food for your fellow displaced ants.

The nature of indie games generally allow developers to embrace their weirder ideas, to an extent. A game like OctoDad might not have ever made it past the brainstorming phase at a larger studio that was afraid to take risks on unusual IPs. Even with that willingness to give the weird and unusual titles a chance, Young Horses still had to take risks with OctoDad to get enough eyes on the game to generate a successful kickstarter campaign before ever going public with it.  While the additional titles included in Free Range are much smaller in scale than OctoDad they all three are overflowing with that Young Horses charm and silliness, and it’s a refreshing to see a studio be willing to show their fans and aspiring game devs alike a look behind the scenes at what can be accomplished in as little as 72 hours.

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Cole Martin

Cole Martin is a writer and artist living out in the absolute middle of nowhere who has a love for obscure indie games and also Call of Duty. You can find her posting occasionally on Twitter @eternalrhage


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