May 4, 2019
For the past 10 days or so (we wrapped up last night), I've been jamming on a game called Hive Time with my partner Mim.
We'd been talking about doing a small game jam during her leave for a while - the last time we were able to have an informal "home jam" was when we made the Super Happy Fun Sun prototype. In my experience, creative collaboration is a good team building and relationship strengthening exercise, and there are few things I find more rewarding than making stuff with people I care about.
Toward the end of April, we were toying with the idea of doing a flappy-bird-esque game where you play as a Bat Egg and have to fly between trees, eat fruit, and rest in nests, with more of a focus on managing stamina than precision button mashing. As we closed in on the 25th (our start date) though, we had an idea for a small management/base building sim where in addition to building buildings and accumulating resources, players would also have to manage the ratios of roles given to new bees (without being in control of the actual birth rate).
We approached the project pretty casually and on average spent 4 - 6 hours a day working on it. The extra time away from the game helped me be more deliberate and considered when I sat down to work. I also found time to go for a walk most days, mow the law, mop the kitchen, vacuum the lounge, and do all the Normal Functioning Human things that people tend to ignore during jams. I like to think of managing time constraints as the primary challenge of a game jam, and finding ways to make interesting stuff without brute forcing that by pulling all nighters feels super rewarding!
All of the game's systems came together pretty smoothly, and aside from what look to be some Godot bugs (this one is a bunch of fun if you're using collision objects for buttons like we are), the engine has been a pleasure to work with. I've been planning to use Godot for my next major project after In the Snowy Winter's Wake ships, and my experiences here make me feel even more confident in that decision.
This has been the first 3D project I've done in Godot, and while I was able to bring it to its knees by spawning 2000 or so bees, it's stood up better than I was expecting based on some earlier tinkerings with Godot 2.x. Either the Godot engine has come a long way (which it has) or I've become more efficient (seems unlikely :D ).
This was also the first time that Mim had ever done any 3D work, so we had an additional learning overhead as well. All things considered, I'm super impressed with how nicely the game looks and how well everything came out given that we have so few assets.
We invited some fresh eyes around yesterday and had our first playtest (with pizza), which gave us some good balancing feedback and an opportunity to assess the impact of the rough edges that we knew were there.
All up, by the end of an extended play session, our main tester (my Dad - hello Dad!) was able to accumulate 600 jelly (the primary goal is to amass 600 jelly in order to produce a new queen before the old queen dies). This was doubly impressive as we'd told him that wax and jelly production facilities (two things needed to achieve this goal) weren't in the game - they were implemented, but had no visual representation, so when built, they looked like empty cells.
Most of the building ratios ended up being more or less about what I expected, and although there's a lot of tuning to do, I think the game is more or less in the ballpark of what we were aiming for balance wise. Awesome.
A bunch of UI concerns (no indicator of what input mode you're in making it easy to get confused about why your clicks aren't doing what you expect, the aforementioned missing production facility models, the lack of clear valid/invalid placement indicators when building multi-cell buldings, the lack of clear indicators of where resources are coming from/going to, etc.) and a couple of missing features (like being able to pause production to force stockpiling of resources, or actually being able to spawn a replacement queen/have the game end if you don't) make me uncomfortable putting out builds right at this point. Less awesome.
In a systems oriented game, rough edges or missing bits are harder to gloss over than in other types of games. For example, The Secret of Monkey Island avoids having a complex fight sequence designed and animated by having it all take place offscreen (something we paid homage to in Robin's Rescue) - hide the missing bits with some gags and move on without anybody really the wiser. By comparison, if one of the five resources in Hive Time aren't being produced correctly, that then affects everything that makes use of those resources, and everything that makes use of whatever that is, and so forth.
I want to write more about my experiences, and about Hive Time itself, but I want to get builds up, which gives me some decisions to make. I like this project, and I think it's close to something I'd be comfortable calling a "saleable product" (as much as I hate those words).
I don't really want to put myself in an "early access" type situation where I'm committed to working on the project for an extended duration, and I also don't want to interfere with my plans to release In the Snowy Winter's Wake this year.
I do want to get builds out though, and I want to make sure that whatever I do put out isn't going to turn off people who're interested in the way that builds that were cut right now would. I've been sharing progress/bugs/code snippets on Twitter and Mastodon (thread 1, thread 2) over the past 11 days, and between that and a few other places, I get the impression that there are other people out there who're excited to see a presentable version.
I fixed a couple of bugs and added in the two missing building types today, and I think I'm going to stream some gameplay/dev work tomorrow while I make up my mind about how to move forward. Not sure on times, but I'll be sure to pop an archive up.
Hope this has been an interesting read, and apologies for not posting something sooner. Don't really have any excuses beyond wanting to write something substantial and not really having a good block of time for that.
Keep an eye out for builds/more news when I have a chance to think things over properly :)