As I mention in the intro to this podcast, I know John Murphy as the pilot of a 90s era Pontiac Trans Sport — aka the “Egg Van.”

The world, however, knows John as co-founder and gameplay designer at Young Horses, the indie games collective responsible for the much beloved hit Octodad.

As a lad, I was an obsessive and nerdy player of role-playing games for the Super Nintendo. Final Fantasy, Secret of Mana, Secret of Evermore, Chrono Trigger…as well as “also rans” like Breath of Fire and Illusion of Gaia.

Since then, I haven’t kept up much with video games, so I was excited to pry into John’s creative process in a medium that I think is often underrated by outsiders in terms of its potential for expressiveness and imagination.

John was also part of a team that — despite all the odds — turned a school project into an international video-gaming hit. I can tell you that none of my school projects ever approached anything that anyone would possibly care about, so we also discussed the dynamics of building a real business from an unlikely beginning.

Check out the full conversation with John to learn:

  • How Octodad stumbled into finding a massive audience — and whether John thinks a scrappy group of young devs could pull something similar off today
  • How to balance user feedback with creative vision — especially in a “long cycle” development process like the years Young Horses has spent on Bugsnax
  • The parallels between a guitarist or songwriter being influenced by a song that they like and a game developer being influenced by level design or gameplay dynamics

Listen Here

Check out more from John, Young Horses, and Bugsnax here:

Check out the trailer for Bugsnax here:

Oh yeah and the Bugsnax theme by Kero Kero Bonito

Show Notes:

  • [02:30] Is it ethical to leverage the powers of technology and understanding of human psychology to lock people into fantasy worlds?
  • [15:18] How did Young Horses turn a school project into Octodad — a game with international success and renown?
  • [24:22] How do different “scenes” work in the video game industry? How do these scenes lead to innovation and creativity?
  • [33:51] The process of developing a video game involves a certain amount of “lock in.” How do developers get user feedback and iterate? How does this impact the creative process?
  • [43:35] How do “influences” impact the creative process of game design? What games and developers influence John and Young Horses?
  • [58:06] Existing between “genres” in the video game space — how does Young Horses balance the strangeness of their games with the playfulness?
  • [01:08:45] Is finding the right genre necessary for success in marketing a video game?
  • [01:21:12] How to play Young Horses’ games — including Bugsnax holiday 2020

Links and Resources Mentioned

Games Mentioned