Interview: Hive Time Developer Josh “Cheeseness” Bush
First you build a hive, and then you make some honey!
Hive Time is a cartoon-style, bee themed management/base building sim. The player must harvest resources, grow their bee hive, and produce a new Queen before the inevitable death of the current monarch.
From Itch.io: “Manage different bee roles in a totally scientifically inaccurate depiction of hive dynamics. Send Foragers out to find pollen and nectar, have Builders research new cell types, and ensure you have enough Beesitters to raise the next generation of bees.”
“Make interesting choices that affect the hive. Respond to wasp attacks, deal with outlaw slugs, or help a caterpillar realise a lifelong dream!”
We caught up with Josh “The Cheeseness” Bush to find out what the buzz was all about (I thank you) with Hive Time. This little hive management game has been received very well in the indie gaming community, and reviews have been positive. The smart blend of management sim and cartoonish fun, and with the stars of the show being everyone’s favourite black and yellow insect, it makes for a game that is both entertaining and delivers heaps of longevity.
Hey, Cheese, it goes without saying, that is one unique nickname! As is “The Cheeseness”. Where did this come from?
I find that it’s more interesting to leave it a mystery (the truth is pretty mundane). That said, I feel very glad that I wound up with a name that still feels like it fits me over 20 years later!
On to more important things – Hive Time. A unique game in the indie sphere that involves building your hive out, developing infrastructure, and making honey! What gave you the inspiration for the game?
In terms of gameplay, I drew conscious inspiration from the original SimCity, Dune II, Flotilla, Spacebase DF-9, and MASSIVE CHALICE. I’ve enjoyed a lot of other base builders and management sims over the years, which potentially influenced my tastes and sensibilities, but those are the ones that had elements that I particularly wanted to try to capture/explore.
Thematically, my partner and I just like bees. They’re important pollinators and a critical part of many of the world’s ecosystems. They’re also fascinating creatures that are often wrongly depicted as problematic or aggressive. Contributing to positive representations feels pretty worthwhile.
Prior to starting the personal game jam that lead to Hive Time’s initial prototype, my partner Mim and I went out for a brainstorming walk. Halfway through, she suggested abandoning our initial idea of making a Flappy Bird-esque game in favour of something where you build a bee hive. That quickly led to the idea of population diversity management. The broad strokes for Hive Time were laid down by the time we got home.
Relevant URL regarding inspirations: https://cheeseness.itch.io/hive-time/devlog/124905/inspirations-and-influences
Throughout the jam, and across Hive Time’s development phase, I kept a mantra of “Do as much as possible with as little as possible,”
Hive Time was a product of a ten day game jam back in May 2019. You really stepped on the gas pedal with development, launching ‘Beecember’ 2019 – how did you achieve this?
Throughout the jam, and across Hive Time’s development phase, I kept a mantra of “Do as much as possible with as little as possible,” aiming for the simplest approaches for achieving my goals, and taking time to reassess assumptions about what the game needs.
For example, Hive Time has no pathfinding – any bee can travel to any cell even if that means passing through another bee or a tall structure, which completely eliminates a significant and common place that bugs can manifest in these sorts of games. This, together with bees’ travel time between any two cells being (more or less) consistent, keeps the simulation simple and more readable when populations grow into the hundreds.
During the jam, we averaged 6 hour days, making sure to leave time for normal life. After the jam ended, Mim returned to her day job and I ramped up to full time hours.
I’ve been making computer games in some form or another for over thirty years now. That level of experience allowed me to approach Hive Time’s short development phase with a degree of confidence and consciousness that let me navigate the pitfalls and hurdles I encountered along the way. In particular, I feel like the previous jams I’d participated in gave me room to further hone my planning and project management skills by treating time constraints as management problems to be solved instead of trying to brute-force them by pulling all nighters.
Who was responsible for the various disciplines of the development, such as sound, graphics, coding etc. and how did you meet?
During the jam, Mim and I shared concept development, game design, and art roles. In addition, Mim hadn’t done any 3D work before, and we used the project as an opportunity to introduce her to Blender. After the jam, Mim continued to contribute event art every now and again.
I first met Hive Time’s composer Peter Silk while doing community work with Double Fine, and eventually recruited him as part of the community moderation team. Peter had seen the work I’d shared during the jam and offered to compose the soundtrack. I was originally planning to do the soundtrack myself, but Peter does great work, and bringing him onboard gave me more time to work on other things.
A few days before the game shippped, Aubrey Serr (another game developer friend that I met through Wolfire and 12 East Games) offered to help out, painting the game’s Queen portraits and saving a feature I was intending to cut to make release.
With the exception of one of the game’s bee sounds, and the fonts used by the game, I did everything else myself.
What got you started in game development in the first place?
When my family got its first computer in the late 80s, my Dad and I learned to program together by copying code out of the back of computer magazines. I made small games for myself, my family, and my friends, but that wasn’t really any different from making any other kind of art for fun.
I think the point at which I decided I wanted to pursue making games for broader audiences was when I started working on some Half-Life 1 mods at the end of the 90s. Only one of them shipped, and it’s as silly as it is buggy, but it was a great experience.
I didn’t start working on games full time until I injured my hands and lost my software developer/sysadmin job in 2010. Since then, I’ve been primarily working on my own projects, taking breaks to do contract work here and there to boost my savings.
You decided on Godot as your dev platform. What were the reasons behind this?
I typically use game jams as an opportunity to try a new piece of tech, a new workflow, or a new way of thinking about things. I’d used Godot for a couple of 2D projects previously, but had stalled on my previous attempts to do experimentation with it in 3D. Our little jam felt like a good time to approach it with a focus and goals.
I typically gravitate toward tools with Free/Open Source licences for a few reasons. On top of being able to debug my work running within the dependencies I use (which allows me to fix things on my own terms and contribute upstream changes where appropriate), it also means that I can share the tools I use with others without restriction, and that feels like an important part of healthy cultural participation.
Do you have any plans for a Steam release?
No plans at this stage. I’m committed to pay-what-you-want with a minimum of $0 and a default price, and to allowing purchases/downloads without an account.
If Valve implements these features, I’ll definitely consider making Hive Time available on Steam. In the meantime, I’m happy that by offering Hive Time on Itch, I’m making it easier for people to play my game (and with fewer strings attached) than it would be on storefronts like Steam, GOG, Humble, Epic, etc..
Many indie devs are porting games to mobile – do you see a place for mobile in your future plans?
Mobile’s not for me.
As fun as the game is – and it IS fun – there is an element of education that goes along with Hive Time, would you agree?
Education’s definitely a subjective thing that only occurs when a person comes across something that they can engage with and learn from.
“I wanted to make sure that I did something to highlight what makes real bees interesting and exciting in their own right”
On the surface, Hive Time is intentionally cartoonish and not an accurate portrayal of bee life or bee lifecycles, but a little deeper than that are some consciously constructed representations of how diversity and infrastructure availability affects the dynamics of human populations.
Beyond that, I wanted to make sure that I did something to highlight what makes real bees interesting and exciting in their own right. When the Informational Update launched and the Beepedia went in, I made sure to make room for some “true bee facts.” I haven’t worked it into the game’s UI nicely yet, but the game’s json data files include reference links for relevant research papers for many of these in the hopes that anybody who’s interested will be able to follow that interest and discover more.
The management side of Hive Time is paced well, and structured intuitively. Do you have a background in management?
Not specifically! I’ve had some positive experiences running projects and managing teams in the past, but most of that has been ad hoc and grew out of first hand experience with the relevant work and recognising that managerial roles are about facilitating the work of others.
What have you been most proud of with Hive Time up to press?
I think the thing that I’m most happy with is the way that I was able to keep development moving forward and focus on getting and keeping Hive Time playable/enjoyable from May 2019 onwards.
It’s the largest scale “solo” project that I’ve shipped to date, and being able to go from prototype to shipped game with seven months’ of work has been a big morale boost. My main project has been in development for six years now, and while I gladly embrace all of the opportunities and side-projects that have slowed it down, it’s a little disheartening to go so long without releasing a polished game of my own. Creating Hive Time has definitely topped up my positivity and enthusiasm levels!
The reception has been very positive for the game – have you received feedback that was useful in development?
I brought the first round of testers onboard in May 2019, and slowly introduced more people in batches right up until the game’s release. All up, I gave out around a hundred pre-release keys, and while I didn’t hear back from everyone, I did get a lot of valuable information that helped me identify some of the game’s friction points and areas where intended concepts weren’t landing. Without their support and attention, Hive Time definitely wouldn’t be as strong as it currently is!
What’s the next development project for you and the Hive Time collaborators?
There are two more updates that I’d like to ship for Hive Time of a similar scale to the recent Informational Update: one that focuses on high cost mid-game constructions that reflect the hive/colony’s journey through the game; and another that focuses on steering players towards setting their own goals and exploring alternative playstyles.
Outside of that, I’m looking forward to getting back onto In The Snowy Winter’s Wake once I wrap up Supply Chain – another little side project that I’m very close to shipping.
Mim and I will likely collaborate again on something in the future, but don’t currently have anything planned.
Peter’s been doing some music for Supply Chain and has some unannounced projects that he’s doing music on. I’m not sure what Aubrey’s current focus is, but 12 East Games recently released an Apple Watch app called Everyday Matter.
Looking back, did you learn any lessons that you know will be useful moving forward on other projects etc.
I try to draw as many learning experiences as I can from the projects I work on.
On a positive side, I’ve developed some new workflows for particular types of asset creation in Blender that I didn’t have before, I have more familiarity with the ins and outs of Godot, and I’ve continued to find ways to optimise my own productivity while avoiding working faster than I can think.
On a less positive side, I’ve learned that player driven goals are not something that has a lot of mindshare and/or aren’t intuitively embraced so much these days, I’ve discovered that people tend towards seeing “pay-what-you-want” games as “free” games when that’s not specifically addressed, and I’ve learned that it’s possible to at least partially recover from a launch with no press outreach.
Is there any advice you could give to future indie game developers?
Be conscious about sustainability, both in a financial sense and in a personal sense. It’s a tough industry with very few guarantees that crushes a lot of people. Do what you can to find ways to work without relying on one big success and without sacrificing what gives you the passion to create.
It’s the apocalypse, and you are running for your bunker; you can only grab ONE game (not your own!) to play as the world crumbles around you, for a long, long time… what’s the game?
Hmm, that’s a tough one. Maybe Firewatch. I love existing in its spaces, and it is one of the medium’s most mature (in the sense of mastery over craft as opposed to the less-mature “adult” sense) works.
Hive Time is available now from Itch.io
|Release Date||December 2019|