Hive Time Inspirations and Influences

Hi people! Below is a cross post of a write-up that's on the Hive Time Itch devblog that explores games that inspired Hive Time a little more succinctly than last week's stream.

From time to time I've been asked how I came up with Hive Time. While  there are many of parts of the game that I think primarily came from my  own or Mim's imagination, no substantial work is ever created in a  vacuum. Hive Time draws upon and is a part of the legacy of a number of  other games. Some of these influences are easy to see, with Hive Time  sitting more or less within the "management sim" genre, but others may  be a little less direct or more obscure.

I generally avoid taking about a project's inspirations and  influences until after that project has established its own identity.  Since what stands out or sparks the imagination is enormously subjective  and will vary strongly from player to player, it's a little bit too  easy to set false expectations. As an example, Swooper was the primary inspiration behind Honeycomb CRUNCH, but they're entirely different games and may not even appeal to the same audiences.

Now that Hive Time's been out for a couple of months, I wanted to  take some time to dive in and celebrate the games that I drew  inspiration from. Last week, I streamed some rambling discussion of and gameplay from five games that informed, inspired, and/or influenced the game that Hive Time would eventually become.

Below are summaries of SimCity, Dune II, Flotilla, Spacebase DF-9,  and MASSIVE CHALICE along with the aspects of each that I drew upon  during Hive Time's development. 


SimCity (1989)

Developed by Will Wright and team (Maxis)

My family got its first computer in 1987. Our Amiga 500 was where I  first learned to type, where I first experimented with programming,  digital art, animation, and so forth. The games that I had access to  were often wildly different, and that diversity helped shape the way  that I appreciate digital experiences. We had a couple of versions of  SimCity, but the first one I played was the original 512 release  (requiring 512kB of memory). A later release would have improved  graphics and the ability to play with different tilesets, in which I  mostly made moonbases, but also enjoyed the futuristic European tileset.

The game was originally created for the C64 by Will Wright in 1985 as Micropolis, growing out of a level/environment editor he had created while working on top-down helicopter shooter Raid on Bungeling Bay.  Over the following half a decade, the company Maxis would be founded,  and additional contributors would be brought on board to work on the  game's eventual release version, which shipped on ten platforms between  1989 and 1992.

SimCity wasn't the first management sim, but it did a lot to widely  popularise the genre and solidify city builders as a subgenre. As  another management sim, Hive Time obviously carries forward many of  SimCity's sensibilities. How the specifics work isn't quite the same,  but constructing facilities and spaces in order to achieve goals and  fulfil needs is definitely something that I drew upon for Hive Time.

One of the things I appreciated most about SimCity while playing were  that it presented a simulation with unclear but learnable dynamics,  rewarding experimentation and observation while learning, while still  presenting an interesting and rewarding experience after that learning  phase was over. SimCity was likely the first game I really got into that  was effectively endless without an ever-increasing difficulty curve,  where a player continues managing their city so long as they're having  fun. For some players, the most enjoyable part is growing a new city,  while for others, it's in keeping an established city ticking. I wanted  Hive Time to be approachable in a similar way, though instead of  requiring players to start an entirely new game, Hive Time allows some  continuity for players who'd rather play a string of new hives than look  after one massive one.

SimCity's graphics are pretty minimal by more modern sensibilities,  but I find them to have a level of detail and intricacy that implies and  supports the notion that there's a little world that extends beyond  what you can see. When Mim and I first started to consider what Hive  Time's various cell types might look like, details that suggested more  of what's going on (like blocks in the Nursery or hammers and saws in  the Workshop) were something we wanted to make sure we included.

  • Game without an end
  • Intricate detail implies unseen activity
  • Rewards/requires experimentation and observation when influencing the simulation

Dune II (1992)

Developed by Aaron E. Powell, Lyle J. Hall, and team (Westwood)

I think the first time I came across Dune II it was on a friend's  Amiga. I'd already seen and enjoyed the world presented in the films,  and while the game seems to draw more from the books (which I hadn't  read at the time), it gave me something to be excited about and pulled  me into the game. Years later, I'd pick up the DOS version and play it  more thoroughly, but my early experiences were what shaped the game's  identity in my mind.

Like SimCity, Dune II (also known as Dune II: The Building of a  Dynasty or Dune II: The Battle for Arrakis depending on region) was not  the first, but very much a foundational RTS responsible for further  establishing the genre and pioneering conventions that would be seen in  three decades of strategy games since. It was Westwood's first RTS, and  paved the way for the even more prominent Command & Conquer franchise.

Genres are tricky - I typically don't like to use them since they  invite one to assess a work based on the merits of other works rather  than its own, but sometimes they're useful for expectation management.  With that in mind, I don't consider Hive Time to be a strategy/RTS game  per se, and it's definitely not something I've steered clear of when  talking about it. There's a lot that I like about RTS games in general  and about Dune II specifically, but there isn't much that I drew upon  for Hive Time.

The one thing that always stood out to me from the beginning was the  requirement to place concrete slabs in order to make portions of the  game world buildable. These in turn would have to be placed on rock,  making construction space a limited resource in the sand-rich world of  Arrakis. There's a bunch of stuff about terraforming and dominating  natural environments to unpack from both this game and its source  material that I won't go into here (consequences for mistaking Arrakis'  deserts as barren and lifeless, mistaking its people as being meek and  ineffectual, and so forth are themes that tend to surface in the books),  but I did appreciate the way that it divides construction into  allocating space and then building functional structures. The resource  and time costs involved would allow room for planned space to need to be  repurposed before the originally intended structure was ready, and that  in itself made construction more interesting. Although I'm on the fence  about whether or not Hive Time's balance of cost/construction duration  manages to pulls off something similar, the idea of requiring empty  cells to be constructed before functional cells could be built on them  came from Dune II's concrete slabs.

  • Two-step construction process encourages pre-planning, provides  additional resource constraints, and gives rooms for construction plans  to be interrupted by shifting priorities

Flotilla (2010)

Developed by Brendon Chung (Blendo Games)

While Flotilla was initially released in 2010, it didn't receive a  Linux port until April 2019, the week before Mim and I started work on  the initial Hive Time prototype. I've played and enjoyed a number of  Brendon's previous games, and while Flotilla is dramatically different  from Gravity Bone, Atom Zombie Smasher, or Quadrilateral Cowboy, it's at also immediately recognisable as a Blendo game.

I mentioned in last week's stream  that without commenting on the amount of work that goes into his games,  Brendon's works always have a sense of effortless elegance to them.  They typically have a tight, well polished core focus, accentuated and  amplified by supporting aspects that add context and imply a larger  world. In a broad sense, this was something I aimed for in Hive Time as  well - the core gameplay of balancing population dynamics and managing  the hive should be capable of standing on its own, while all other  aspects should expand the world and provide some other optional  distractions without getting in the way of that core gameplay.

At its core, Flotilla is a turn based tactics game, where capital  ships face off against each other with turns occurring simultaneously,  requiring players to anticipate enemy manoeuvres and deal with the  consequences when something unexpected occurs. This comes wrapped in a  short story generator, where between combat encounters, players must  respond to events that typically offer binary choices.

Events feature a cast of zany and unexpected characters that add a  richness and vibrancy in what would otherwise feel sterile and clinical  universe. The admiralty of a xenophobic space deer empire might aggress  you for unknowingly salvaging a derelict in their space, bandit space  cats might demand your help in hiding from authorities, or cable-chewing  baby space yetis might present an ethical dilemma. This style of event  presentation that presents tangential problems that expose facets of a  larger world is something that I think can easily be seen reflected in  Hive Time's events.

At the end of each Flotilla adventure (all of which have a hard limit  on how long they can be, framed as the player character entering the  final phase of a terminal illness at the outset), a log shows all of the  events and choices that were encountered along the way, presenting that  as a single narrative for the player to reflect on. Initially, I had  planned something similar for Hive Time, which would have allowed event  histories to be viewed at any point during gameplay, but as the game  grew into a longer, more sprawling experience where individual events  might end up being repeated, it made progressively less sense and the  idea was eventually retired.

  • Narrow scoped and focused core game that is expanded by side-content that provides context
  • Implies a bigger more interesting world through events/vignettes

Spacebase DF-9 (2014)

Developed by JP LeBreton and team (Double Fine)

Since I was a little busy focused on other things during the Amnesia Fortnight  that the initial Spacebase DF-9 prototype was created for, I didn't end  up playing the game until the first Early Access builds were ready to  go live. At the same time, I was solidifying my working relationship  with Double Fine, stepping up to help fill more community facing roles  in addition to running the Double Fine Game Club.  Immediately, throughout development, and even after, it was a game that  I found a lot of enjoyment in. With my name slipped into the game early  on, I enjoyed seeing/hearing of a Cheeseness that had joined players'  bases. For a time, I was collecting screenshots of dead Cheesenesses in  the hopes of eventually making a big photomosaic out of them, but with  the eventual negativity that would come to surround that project, that  became difficult to continue with.

Spacebase DF-9 is difficult to talk about. The situation surrounding  its release was nuanced, messy, and not so relevant here beyond  acknowledging that the people whose lives,  livelihood, and wellbeing  were on the line were treated poorly and without empathy, and that no  matter how disappointed one might be at a game not fulfilling one's  hopes and dreams (or at expectation management that allowed those to  spiral out of control), nothing justifies the harassment or threats that  I witnessed.

Open development with a buy-in is difficult, and both developers and  players are still coming to terms with navigating the new type of  relationship it invites. Having a window into Spacebase DF-9's  development helped me appreciate some of the kind of challenges I would  eventually face with Hive Time. Beyond that, I also gained a better  understanding of and framework for assessing the value of various genre  conventions, allowing me to embrace and avoid various features with more  confidence than I could otherwise have had, and ultimately contributing  significantly to Hive Time's relatively short development cycle.

Spacebase DF-9 invites players to grow and maintain a base capable of  sustaining its citizens and defending against raider attacks.  Individual citizens' occupations can be set, but they can not be  controlled directly (beyond setting waypoints for security officers),  instead making players rely on and interact via the simulation to fulfil  goals.

As in SimCity, the simulation itself isn't immediately readable, and  observing citizen activities ends up being an important part of  gameplay. The presentation of individual bees as entities that do the  hive's work, but cannot directly be controlled aimed to evoke a similar  feel. Their visible actions and activities allow a number of population  states to be identified, though readability turned out to not be  scalable when dealing with populations in the hundreds and I ended up  adding some graphs and charts to make these things easier to read.

At a more detailed level, citizens' "SpaceFace" logs give further  cues for morale and health, as well as some extra context for various  base statuses and events. These are presented as short social media  posts that end up providing a lot of characterisation and implying  broader lives beyond the small snippets shown. Hive Time doesn't have  any kind of simulation for individual bee health or social dynamics, but  its vignettes grew out of a desire to provide similar small windows  into bees' lives that would allow players to infer/project personally.

  • Open development provided awareness of genre-specific concerns
  • Allows characters' lives/priorities to be inferred by observing in-world behaviour
  • Implies characters' ongoing lives and personality by presenting personal moments


Developed by Brad Muir and team (Double Fine)

I don't recall precisely when I first played MASSIVE CHALICE, but it  was during its Early Access period. I remember being impressed with the  way that Brad and co were able to stick to what I had initially felt was  an aggressive time schedule (the game shipped around six months later  than was projected during the crowdfunding campaign that occurred before  pre-production began) without putting significant stress on the team or  significantly compromising the game itself. It, along with Spacebase,  remains one of my favourite Double Fine games. Its gameplay, character,  and aesthetic are contentious and bold, and its finale includes one of  the few examples out there of mechanical storytelling - the special and  unique quality that is specific to our medium.

MASSIVE CHALICE is a turn based squad tactics game crossed with a  generational genealogy sim in which players must defend the last  remnants of a fantasy land from the encroaching Cadence, an endless and  inexplicable force bent on corrupting and consuming the entirety of  existence. Players direct around a dozen generations of individuals from  heroic bloodlines through battles that take place every decade or so,  pairing regents in keeps to raise the next generation and pass on their  expeirence.

As time passes, random events will occur that typically provide  outcomes that will upset or interrupt various things that the player may  be focusing on. This might mean corruption increasing or decreasing in a  particular region, shifting risk and protection priority, or it might  mean some trait change to an important hero rendering them no longer  appropriate for a planned regency. Typically outcomes aren't known in  advance, so players are invited to engage with events' narratives at  face value and deal with whatever consequences ensue. The impact of Hive  Time's events are sometimes a little more explicit, but they definitely  draw upon this notion of upsetting player priorities by providing  unexpected pressures. My hope is that in a game that is about finding  and maintaining balances, making those balances delicate and subject to  dramatic shifts brings some valuable tension and gives players some work  to do even after they've learned the core mechanics.

Lastly, MASSIVE CHALICE's writing tends to have a thread of humour  running through it. With the game infrequently surfacing writing, it's  not always immediately obvious, but there is a playful tone that I  wanted to try to capture. Hive Time's use of puns, outlandish  situations, and overtly comedic moments likely exceeds what can be found  in MASSIVE CHALICE, but the origin of its humour is rooted within  MASSIVE CHALICE.

  • Events distract focus and disrupt plans
  • Writing often carries a playful, comedic tone

And that's about it! This isn't an exhaustive list of games that  might have influenced Hive Time, but it does cover everything that I  consciously and specifically pursued or tried to capture. Other  favourite management sims that I enjoy, such as Dungeon Keeper, Railroad Tycoon, Transport Tycoon, or Theme Park  all likely contributed to my appreciation of and tastes in these types  of games, but none of those have presence within Hive Time in a way that  feels as direct and specific as the five covered here.

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