Bee Simulator and the Importance of Bees
As a child, I was terrified of bees. Whenever one flew near, I’d panic and race off, not bothering to check whether the bee was actually in pursuit. Unlike spiders whose mere presence feels like a dire threat, my fear of bees stems from the risk of being stung. Not necessarily the pain aspect, but the unlikely allergic reaction that could occur.
Playing the new indie release from VARSAV Game Studios, Bee Simulator, I was able to see things from a different perspective. You see, the truth of the matter is that bees will only sting you when they feel threatened, as any beekeeper will attest.
If you casually walk past a bee doing its thing on a flower, leave it alone and it’ll leave you alone.
What’s more, if you’re dealing with an actual honey bee and not a creature of chaos and mayhem like the wasp, odds are you’ll only be stung “once” per bee. This is because the stinger of a honey bee is barbed which means it can get stuck in a person’s skin or an article of clothing.
When the bee tries to pull away, the trapped stinger will tear from the bee, resulting in the bee’s death. It’s simply not worth the hassle for a bee to sting you most of the time. And, should you experience a sting, the odds of an extreme response are reportedly low at around 5 to 7.5% for most people.
What about beekeepers? How do they brave the risk of hundreds – if not thousands – of single stings? After all, their work makes them a direct threat to the honey bee as they’re essentially invading the bees’ home and robbing it of resources.
Well, to avoid offending the bees in their care, beekeepers use smoke to interfere with the bees’ ability to communicate with one another. Again, if you leave bees alone, or smoke them out before dipping your hand into their hive, they’re essentially harmless.
Setting fears aside, bees are a surprisingly valuable natural commodity. Without bees, we wouldn’t be able to sustain our crops as bees pollinate over $30 billion worth per year. If there were no bees to pollinate our crops, we wouldn’t be able to have the abundance of fruit seen at our local farmer’s market or grocery store.
We’d also struggle to feed livestock, like the cow. For such a small insect, bees carry a heavy burden of responsibility. Prior to playing Bee Simulator, I took the bee’s existence for granted, and I think seeing things from a bee’s perspective in an indie game like Bee Simulator is something everyone should do at least once.
Not only is it informative, it’s un”bee”lievably fun.
In Bee Simulator, you fly around through bright, colorful landscapes, collect pollen, and defend yourself against foes including the aforementioned creature from the abyss, the wasp. Now, I realize that in popular media, bees have become something of a joke.
At the mere mention of bees, you may want to post GIFs of Nicolas Cage screaming, “Not the bees!” or share the video of Oprah gleefully unleashing a swarm of frenzied bees on her audience. Let’s not mention all the Bee Movie edits, there are way too many.
I get that bee jokes are funny, but the actual subject of bees has become something of a serious matter. One that more people should know about. As of right now, the bee population is rapidly declining.
Factors contributing to the dwindling bee population include a parasite called the varroa mite along with exposure to pesticides. Some of these issues are touched upon in Bee Simulator, but as a whole, the game isn’t here to make you a bee expert per se.
It’s simply here to give you a fun experience that doubles as a way to raise awareness for the bee and its current plight.
Bee Simulator is exceptional when it comes to cultivating an attachment between you and your bee. I mean, it’s hard not to grow attached given how adorable the digital bee design is. To make the bee even cuter, VARSAV released a short video showing the different hats you can put on your bee.
I won’t lie, seeing the little bee in traffic cone hat is one of the cutest things ever.
After beating the game, it’s impossible to “bee” anything other than a fan of bees. Having done just that, I found myself curious about the creation of Bee Simulator. So, I reached out to the team at VARSAV to ask them a few “buzzworthy” questions and VARSAV’s very own Founder and CEO, Łukasz Rosiński, was kind enough to respond.
Bee Simulator - Interview with VARSAV Game Studios
What was the main inspiration behind the creation of Bee Simulator?
A: The main inspiration for the game were two books - Book of Bees! by Piotr Socha and Let Me Tell You, Mom, Where Honey Comes From by Katarzyna Bajerowicz and Marcin Brykczyński that I have read to my 3-year-old daughter. After reading them, I thought that the habits inside the hive, its structure and hierarchy, are a natural scenario for a computer game.
Were there any unforeseen challenges in creating a game like Bee Simulator?
A: The biggest challenge in developing the game was having a proper balance between gameplay elements, educational aspects, and simulation. This was very tough, because our ambition was to make a universal game – one that could be interesting for kids, adults, non-gamers, and professionals (like beekeepers or nature lovers). All of them have specific expectations, all of them have something in mind when they think of an ideal bee game.
How many people worked on Bee Simulator, and how long did it take to finish?
A: We started developing the game with a small team of 5 people in April 2017 that made the first prototype of the game. Then, we grew quickly to around 25 people in June 2018, and this team was the core one that developed the game. When we take into consideration all the people involved in the development (subcontractors, voice actors, musicians, testers) we end up with around 150 people.
How much research went into the “lore” of Bee Simulator shown in the intro and various loading screens?
A: It took us long hours to talk to beekeepers, seek interesting facts from the life of bees, and another tens of hours to read books focused on beekeeping, honey, and bees.
What’s one important bee fact that you think everyone should know before they play Bee Simulator?
A: Bees pollinate 80% of the world's plants including 90 different food crops.
The bright, colorful art in Bee Simulator is absolutely gorgeous! How long did it take to create all of the art?
A: Everything that the player will experience in the game from the graphical side is made by our graphics team of 10 women. It took us much longer to develop all of the elements because the game itself changed a lot during development.
When we decided to have a map inspired by Central Park in New York, we didn’t think about the big amount of assets we’d have to develop to have a semi-open world filled enough to look interesting throughout the whole area.
After Gamescom 2018’s very positive response, we added the split-screen multiplayer mode with three separate locations which we had to develop from scratch. And at the end of the development, we had to redo some of the assets while porting the game on consoles because they were not fully optimized, especially for Nintendo Switch.
What’s the main type of bee shown in Bee Simulator? Will players encounter different types of bees as they explore?
A: The main type of bee in our game is the most common bee in the USA – the honey bee. But when the player plays the game much longer, they will be able to unlock 8 other species of bees – all of them live in the USA.
How much freedom is the player given to explore in Bee Simulator?
A: Our main location, Honeypark, is a semi-open world and gives almost full freedom of exploration to the player. The split-screen locations are much slower and limited because we wanted the players to be able to meet each other when playing together.
What are some of the threats players will face as a bee in Bee Simulator? Are they able to defend themselves?
A: The mechanics of fighting that we have implemented in our game gives the player the possibility to take care of natural enemies of bees like wasps, hornets, and other species of bees that want to steal honey from your hive. The next threat that the player will have is fighting with spiders – our bee will have to rescue itself from the spider’s web.
Many outlets have described Bee Simulator as a game that’s great for people of all ages. Do you agree?
A: We definitely agree that Bee Simulator is a game that could be interesting for kids, adults, and even oldies. We even think that it could be a good start with games for people that normally don’t play them – I mean beekeepers, nature lovers. By implementing easy mode and hard mode into our game, we tried to have a universal product that will give fun to all of them.
What do you think of the way other indie “simulator” games are presented? Do you think accuracy is important when it comes to simulator games?
A: Our definition of a simulator game is slightly different than the common one. We think that simulator games should have good quality, many gameplay elements, should look beautiful, and have good music. We think that simulating something doesn’t mean that you have to precisely transfer reality into a computer game.
Why? Because it could be boring. We have tested it in our game. We have prototyped many mechanics from the real life of a bee in our game – like pollinating flowers by sitting on each of them and moving around to collect pollen – but after 10 minutes of such gameplay, we were bored.
The same with the hive. Is a hive that’s dark inside and offers little space to fly around a good idea for the main location? Boring. If we decide to develop a proper simulator of a bee’s life, we will have to force such solutions. We have decided to focus on other interesting “simultanish” mechanics like bee vision (first-person perspective mode) or the structure and hierarchy in the hive, because they were much more interesting from the player’s perspective.
What advice would you give to aspiring indie developers looking to create something similar to Bee Simulator?
A: Take a lot of time for a proper pre-production phase. Know what you want as the final product and make as many tests of the gameplay mechanics in the meantime as possible. It will spare you time during the development phase.
Finally, if the team at VARSAV was asked to work on another insect-related game in the future, which bug would you pick?
A: Bugs, bugs everywhere! ;) Are you trying to have me disclose the information about our future games? Yes, we definitely like animals. We even have “games from a different perspective” as the motto of the company. It’s too early for any declarations, but we appreciate the animal’s world and think that they are weakly represented by games with interesting ideas behind them.