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On Things Past: Hive Time


This is the first in a series of posts that hopefully make up for the past few years' silence, and tie up loose ends, and give some closure to both Two Lof Bees and the chapter of my life that it represented.


Back in 2015, we made Super Happy Fun Sun for a little informal ten day game jam. It was my hope that this would become an annual thing, and that creating interactive experiences together would strengthen and solidify both our working relationship and our personal relationship in the way that our previous creative endeavours had.

As tends to be the case, work and other commitments made it difficult for both of us to be able to allocate time, but in 2019, we were able to take a break and make another ten day prototype.

Initially, the plan was to create a Bat Egg game. Bat Eggs are something we'd drawn a bunch around our house, which is more or less a en egg with bat wings and a cute face (Miriam has scanned and should be uploading all of the art we've had sitting in our to-scan pile soon, which should have some Bat Eggs in it). It would have been a "flappy bird" type game, but with some stamina mechanics and collectibles.



On the morning we were scheduled to start, Miriam said that she wasn't feeling the Bat Egg thing, and so we went for a brainstorming walk. I'd suggested maybe we could do an arcade game where you're a bee that has to avoid falling hexagons, which Miriam wasn't super excited about (I turned this idea into Honeycomb CRUNCH later in the year). A couple of blocks in, she asked, "Why don't we just make a game where you build a bee hive?" By the time we got home, we had a pretty solid outline for a game that focuses on constructing a sustainable hive and managing the diversity of its anthropomorphic bee population that I'd eventually name Hive Time.

Throughout the jam, we focused on not overworking ourselves and put in a health six or so hours a day. Since it was just the two of us, we divided up the work with me doing all the programming and about 50% of the art, and Miriam taking an art director role while learning how to drive Blender.

We documented our progress in a Twitter thread and on my Patreon account, and after our 10 days had a playable prototype that was (apparently) fun! A lot of  things didn't make it in - the Jelly Refinery didn't have a 3D model, I hadn't done any music, and large scope items like a Beepedia were pretty much off the table as soon as we thought of them. That's all a very normal part of both prototyping and game development in general. Our job as developers/designers is to explore the near-infinite possibility space surrounding a concept and decide which combinations of which bits make for an interesting thing.



We had no plans to continue development. The project had generated a bunch of enthusiasm, but Miriam had to go back to work, and I had my own projects to work on. After some time away from Hive Time, money pressure had become a bit of a thing. My two main sources of contract work were both in the process of drying up, and while the support I get on Patreon is wonderful, it wasn't quite enough to pay half of our bills. When I looked at Winter's Wake and Hive Time, it seemed pretty clear to me that if I had to choose between them, Hive Time was easier to show off, easier to market, easier to set player expectations for, etc.. Unlike Winter's Wake, Hive Time was easy to describe and is more or less exactly what it looks like.

I made the decision to continue work on the game, ramping up to focusing on it full time while Miriam went back to her day job and contributed sporadically when she had time and enthusiasm. Maybe here, some cracks are visible. I've always tried to give Miriam opportunities to navigate project work in safe and comfortable environments. I never asked her for anything that she didn't offer of her own volition and always gave her as much time/space to find her own timelines, but sometimes she still got frustrated or angry at the work, and perhaps instead of it strengthening our relationship, maybe Hive Time put strain on it.


I adopted a "do as much as possible with as little as possible" approach to developing Hive Time, and used all of my project management skills and experience to get the game ready for launch as soon as possible. After seven or so months (with a month off while sick - doesn't it feel different to say that these days?), we had a finished game that launched on the 12th of Beecember.

When the game got close to release, Miriam and I discussed monetisation strategies - how many sales could I expect to attract, what would be a fair default price, what would be the best way to make the game appealing, and what would be the best way to make sure that people who couldn't afford it didn't feel alienated? In the end, we agreed that after the work I'd done, the game was probably worth around $10, and that in the interests of reaching a larger audience, we should go with pay-what-you-want pricing. I'd been following and researching pay-what-you-want pricing models for many years, and was excited to have the opportunity to explore that further and write about my experiences.

My expectations were that I would be reasonably able to convert 10% of downloads to paying customers, which I still think is achievable, but definitely would be difficult to meet if a pandemic or the onset of a global recession happened to make people more careful with their money and keen to avoid optional expenses. Good thing that didn't happen!



I had a bunch of things on my todo list that I'd pulled off to keep the scope down, but I kept all of my notes and ideas partly just in case extra time presented itself, but mostly so that if the game was successful enough to warrant post-release development, I'd have a good pool of stuff to work on. I was able to draw and build upon that for the Informational Update and the unplanned Hiveversary Update. I'm not sure if I'll be able to continue working on the game moving forward, but if the opportunity arises, I have plans for two further large updates.

While we were working on the initial prototype, a composer friend of mine named Peter had said he'd like to score the game's soundtrack if we went ahead with development. I was originally planning to do the music myself, but I figured that if someone else did the music, that'd free me up to get more done on the game itself. I didn't really have a budget for Hive Time, so I paid for the soundtrack out of money that I'd accumulated on Patreon (which was allocated towards Winter's Wake's release, but since I was shipping Hive Time first, I figured that wasn't a big deal).

A few days before release, an artist and fellow developer friend of mine named Aubrey said he'd be happy to help out, so I passed him the job of painting the portraits for past Queens (initially just one, but after release he painted a bunch more, which were added as part of the Informational Update).

Both the soundtrack and the Queen portraits came out so far beyond anything I could have made on my own. In my mind, Hive Time was a baby that Miriam and I created, and bringing other people on to work on it was difficult to feel comfortable with. In both cases, these were long-time friends who had demonstrated that they "got" the project, and in whom I felt like I could place a lot of trust.



In the end, we all made a wonderful little bee game that I'm very proud of. On the surface, Hive Time is about cute bees who watch movies, make typos, and sneak out of the hive at night to watch the stars. At a deeper level, I wanted to make something that used game mechanics to express and prompt players to think about population diversity, the relationship between labour and infrastructure, and individual identity within generational communities.

I think I achieved all of these things, and I think we made something you might find interesting. If you play Hive Time, I hope you enjoy it!


P.S. I had hoped that this post (or something like it) would go up around the game's release, but I didn't have time to write it, and Miriam didn't end up doing it either. One thing I did do was add a new Games tab for showing off some of the Two Lof Bees/Two Lof Bees-adjacent games that we had made in the past.

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Date Posted:
 2nd January 2021
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 Game Dev(7), Hive Time(1)