I absolutely hate Goat Simulator.
I find the graphics ugly, glazed in an unexplained Matrix-green sheen with pop-up aplenty. The physics are all over the place, which isn't a great combination with controls that are less responsive than I would like. Both rob me of the precision needed to reach some of the trophies hidden around the level, or make it nigh on impossible to tick off items from the checklist of tricks the game challenges me to perform. There is little to no variety across the NPCs, there's inconsistency with what you can and can't interact with, and the elevator music that passes for a soundtrack does little to endear me to the experience.
Also, there are so, so many bugs. Bugs and glitches galore. In fact, the game's Steam page proudly declares there are "MILLIONS OF BUGS" because the team decided to "only eliminate the crash-bugs, everything else is hilarious and we're keeping it."
That hasn't stopped Goat Simulator becoming a smash hit. Launched in April 2014 and developed by Coffee Stain Studios, it had sold more than 2.5 million copies and generated over $12 million in revenue by 2016. And, most frustratingly of all, it's given my six-year-old son more hours of entertainment than any other game (including titles I've personally enjoyed far more than this one and have used in a vain attempt to lure him away from goat-based shenanigans).
Today, the sequel – Goat Simulator 3 – launches for PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S. It swaps the original's handful of sandbox levels for a single open world, focuses on four-player co-op, and adds new mechanics like Tony Hawk's-style grinding and GTA-style driving (yes, goats can drive cars now).
"What we’ve done for the sandbox is we spent a lot of time building upon the systems within the world, and for them to interact with each other, and with everything that you do," Coffee Stain North CEO Sebastian Eriksson tells GamesIndustry.biz. "We’ve made it much easier to have fun in the sandbox, and to get crazy results.
"I think in the first game, you had to work a little bit more for it. The NPCs, for example, had their paths that they walked on, or they stood there, just doing one thing. Now, everything is much more reactive and smarter, and the world is much more fragile."
As with the original, the focus is on destruction but this time almost anything can be destroyed. There is also an elemental system, where things like fire and electricity and oil will interact with everything. For example, electrify a car and it will drive away by itself; do so while another player is driving it, and they will lose control as the car speeds up. Or if you electrify another player, their goat will be stunned for a while but will gain the power to shoot electricity for a short time.
It's probably worth pausing to address the name. No, you're not misremembering – there has not been a Goat Simulator 2. When asked about this blatant disregard for how numbering works, Eriksson says the studio "hasn't really thought about it" but is enjoying the many theories cropping up online, such as it all being a hilarious joke to confuse people. Creative lead Santiago Ferrero, meanwhile, suggests that it's because the game is "two sequels in one" – but immediately admits that it's "maybe a very sales pitchy" take on it.
The original Goat Simulator began as an internal game jam title that gained traction on YouTube, prompting the studio to build a full commercial version. As inexplicable as its popularity may be to me, Ferrero believes the buggy mayhem it offered was a breath of fresh air for players.
"In a world where players expect perfect games, having a game which is the opposite, it’s a totally different experience"Santiago Ferrero, Coffee Stain North
"You have Call of Duty, Fortnite and all those games, and this feels like a game where you don’t have to think that much," he says. "It's something to play between your 'real' play sessions. So, you’re playing The Last of Us, and then you’re playing this, just to get a palate cleanser. There’s no structure, but that enhances the gameplay in some weird way. Yes, it’s just nonsense, and I think that we really leaned into the nonsense aspect of it."
Eriksson believes part of Goat Simulator's strength was to give players all of the tools from the beginning and let them loose in the game's world.
"We really didn’t limit you in any way. We were totally okay with you crashing the game, even. So, it was like, 'Yes, you can now spawn goats, however many you want.' After a while, the frame rate will tank, and maybe even crash the game, but that’s fine. It’s a weird game, and we’re telling you upfront, ‘You are God in this world.’
"With the sequel, we really leaned into that as well, trying not to limit any of the game systems or the tools that we give the player, because we think that that was part of the success of the first game. Not many games do that. A lot of games put hard caps and limits on you as a player, and we really didn’t want to do that with the first one, or with this one, in particular."
He also describes it as a "tool for storytelling," something that players with good imaginations can enjoy for longer with the more they put in. That explains the many, many hours I've spent being ordered about by my son, telling me we need to take all the goats to the spooky woods because they're going to have a Halloween party with the hideously stretched, Slender Man-style goat.
This time, the onus of storytelling is not solely on the player. While the first game was more akin to Tony Hawk's skateboarding titles, dropping players into an arena with a checklist of challenges but no overall progression or objective, Goat Simulator 3 introduces a story mode designed to offer players more direction and guide them through all the possibilities afforded by this much larger world – bigger than all previous sandbox levels combined, according to Eriksson.
"What we really wanted to do with this game was to give the players that need more of a helping hand, or more of a red thread to follow, give them something to enjoy as well," he says. "So, this time around, the game actually has a story and a progression system. It’s pretty open-ended and you can disregard it if you want to, but if you need that in your games, we do help you to have as much fun as the people that have their own agendas. Hopefully, it will be easier for single players to get into it and have as much fun with it."
"It’s a weird game, and we’re telling you upfront, ‘You are God in this world.’"Sebastian Eriksson, Coffee Stain North
But what of the bugs? In the roughly seven minutes of playtime I managed to secure during Gamescom, the goat's neck did not extend horribly, nor did its limbs flair at impossible angles, nor did it become wedged in the scenery or fall through the floor and into an endless void – quite the opposite from the original Goat Simulator.
"This time around, we knew we wanted to make it a good game – not that the original wasn't a good game," Eriksson says, adding that this does not mean Goat Simulator 3 has been polished to perfection.
"To do what we want to do, to be able to give the player all of the tools and all of the power, you can’t get around bugs. Sometimes, it becomes even more fun, and funnier, and that’s cool. So, [we're] trying to look at, ‘Okay, what’s a good bug and a fun bug, and what’s just a bad bug?’
"We tried to get rid of all [bad bugs], as much as possible – it’s not that we intentionally leave bugs in just for the lols and for people to have a bad experience. Most of the time, it’s more like, ‘Okay, this happened. That wasn’t really meant to happen, but that’s fine. That’s part of the game now.’ And with all of these systems interacting with each other, of course there will be more bugs, but most of them are just adding to the experience, I would say."
Of course, Goat Simulator 3 launches at a time where scrutiny over bugs at launch is higher than ever, particularly since notably troubled launches like 2020's Cyberpunk 2077. Earlier this year, developers even told us they have delayed their own games to avoid such criticism – so should Coffee Stain even release a purposefully buggy game in 2022?
"I think the name Goat Simulator helps us out quite a lot," says Ferrero. "We would probably get more bad reviews if the game was too perfect. People expect some jankiness to the game. I also think that, in a world where all these players expect perfect games, having a game which is the opposite, it’s a totally different experience. I think those different types of games can coexist, and I think players want that as well."
Eriksson adds that, with core AAA games like Cyberpunk, glitches and bugs "take you out of the experience [the developer] wants to convey to you."
He continues: "They want you to be in that world, and those kinds of bugs don’t belong there. But in Goat Simulator, the bugs that we do keep in that are fun, those are a good experience. That adds to the game. I see those as totally different things."
It's been eight years since Goat Simulator first debuted, and there's still a healthy number of players still mucking around with its silly sandbox (Batchelors senior and junior included). With the sequel now available, Coffee Stain is hoping to sustain the brand even longer as well as attracting a new audience.
"We spent a lot of time building the world and the systems in the world to make the sandbox much more interesting to play with for the longer haul – as I said before, some players did it with the original game as well, even though it was really bare bones," Eriksson concludes.
"This time, it’s not [bare bones] so I imagine your son will play it for the rest of his life."