From Iceland — Enter The Bunkhouse: A new contender emerges in the Icelandic video game scene

Enter The Bunkhouse: A new contender emerges in the Icelandic video game scene

Published June 24, 2024

Enter The Bunkhouse: A new contender emerges in the Icelandic video game scene
Photo by
Joana Fontinha/The Reykjavík Grapevine
Stills provided by Bunkhouse Games

In a colourful wooden house on a Hafnarfjörður side-street, something exciting is brewing for the Icelandic video game scene. It’s the home of Bunkhouse, a new studio that started up in February of this year.

The studio was born from the ashes of Arctic Theory, as studio director and co-founder Ólöf Svala Magnúsdóttir explains. “That’s where I stumbled upon Matti in 2020,” Ólöf, referring to Bunkhouse co-founder Matthias Guðmundsson. “They’d just founded Arctic Theory and I was the first employee. We were working on a very ambitious MMO [massively multiplayer online] game at the time, called ‘Pioneers of New Dawn.’”

But the New Dawn never came, with Arctic Theory cancelling the game almost four years into development. “We realised we either had to put five more years into it and get 100 more people — or move on and do something new,” says Ólöf. “It was hard to let it go. It was our baby! But we learned a lot.”

Friendly fire fun

One of the big takeaways from Pioneers of New Dawn was effectively managing scope, which shows in Bunkhouse’s first project. Currently codenamed Project Dolly, it swaps the grand MMO concept for something more intimate. It’s a four player co-op game in which teams work together to battle computer-controlled enemies and work their way past obstacles to complete each level.

“I’m really inspired by games where you party up with your friends, like Left 4 Dead, Lethal Company, and Helldivers 2,” says Ólöf. “But we didn’t want to make yet another zombie shooter. So we tried out some new ideas. Like, what if you could only throw things? And what if you could break things in the scenery, so everything can be a weapon?”

This idea opened the door for the kind of shareable moments and funny friendly fire incidents that has made Helldivers 2 one of 2024’s viral hit games. “You start with no weapon — just a default shove — but the throwing means you can use anything, really,” says Ólöf. “It could be a trash can, or a lamp post you’ve just broken down. The focus is making it really silly. You can mess up your friends, but it’s not like, ‘God, we lost, that sucks!’. It’s more like ‘That was funny, let’s go again.’”

Tossing the caber

With the gameplay outline in place, the team moved on to another important factor: the setting. “We were thinking about who these characters are and where they are and what they’re fighting,” says Ólöf. “With throwing being the main element of combat, we started playing around with it being in Scotland and instead of zombies, you’re fighting sheep.”

Using Scotland’s Highland Games as a source of inspiration, the initial idea was for each team member to have a unique ability and weapon, like a hammer or caber. “But we realised that it was starting to feel like a hero shooter,” says Ólöf, “and we wanted to make something more chaotic and dynamic. So every time you play through one of the levels, you might try something new or find a different approach. Like, if your friend breaks the bridge by throwing something, the whole team has to find a new way around.”

First playable

The current goal for the Bunkhouse team is to make the first playable level. After the New Dawn experience, Ólöf is keen on getting this creation to its intended players as soon as possible — both for genuine player feedback and to start building a community around the game.

“I think players are getting super into being a part of the process,” she says. “Getting to know what actually goes into development and getting to know the studio behind the game. So I really want us to have an open approach. Because it’s a co-op game, I think it’s especially important to involve the players, get lots of feedback and make sure people like it.”

Ólöf has also been heading out to festivals to pitch the concept to publishers and venture capital firms — and getting some positive initial feedback in the process. With the core concept in place and the team coming together, she’s optimistic about the future and the prospect of Bunkhouse putting together a playable level by August.

“It’s our first product and we’re a pretty well-set studio,” says Ólöf. “We’re funded and so we have a buffer to, you know… go and make this game! I really want to keep moving and not get stuck in upping the scale constantly. I want to show the game — even if it’s the simplest first version — and get it out there as soon as possible.”


Find out more at bunkhouse.games.


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