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On Things Past: Games we never made (and one I did)


This is the second 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.

Creativity is an unpredictable thing. Many more ideas present themselves than could ever be realised, and our job as artists is to try to make sure that as much of it finds a way to live as possible.

In some form or another, I've been making games for over thirty years. For the past twenty, I've been passionate about creating games to share with the world, and for the past ten, that's been my primary focus. It's no surprise that games formed a part of the creative endeavours that Miriam and I shared, and the titles that we've collaborated on are ones I view as being a part of the Two Lof Bees "brand."

Over the years, we'd made and released several small games, with the intention of bringing something of value into the world, growing our shared skills, and strengthening our collaboration. This would eventually culminate in Hive Time (you can read more about that in the previous post), but along the way, we also had plans for a number of other projects - some that we'd only discussed privately, and some that we spoke about publicly.

Though other commitments, opportunities, and life events got in the way, it was always my intention to return to those projects and make good on those plans. With our collaboration ended, the situation has changed dramatically, and I feel a need to officially cancel each of these projects and give them what closure I can.

In preparation for writing this post, I took the time over the past six months to make one of the games that never got made. You can play a full version of Bat Egg (or my vision of what Bat Egg would have been) right now. It's free for you to enjoy, and you can find it over on my Itch page.


Before we dive in, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the games that we did make together. Voices of the Past features Miriam's first game writing, and I found it very moving to work on. The jam version of Above The Waves is bare bones in places, but still lovely, and I continue to be impressed by Miriam's first forays into character animation. We laughed a lot while making Robin's Rescue - it's tiny, but I'm so glad that we took the time to make it. Super Happy Fun Sun is very rough, but it's very cute and it established the "home jam" that we would eventually make Hive Time for. Miriam's support and encouragement while I made Ruben the Claw Troll gave me the strength I needed to work through the difficult subject matter, and I'm very glad to have been able to use her artwork for the challenge card in the "Rubens Only" companion mod. Last, but certainly not least, there's Hive Time.


In reverse chronological order, these are the game concepts I'm going to be discussing:


Bat Egg

A screenshot of the version of Bat Egg that I made on my own

We initially prototyped Hive Time for a 10 day game jam in 2019, but Hive Time wasn't our first idea. When planning the jam, we had intended to make a small game featuring the bat egg characters we'd been drawing for each other for a couple of years (at least, that's how I remember it - we haven't actually been able to find very many of these drawings).

The idea of doing a bat egg game had been around for at least a year or two by that point. I think we laid down the broad strokes after Miriam had started playing a game called Badlands. That was in a couple of Humble's bundles during 2014, which would place the game's origin a year or two later, well in the wake of Flappy Bird and the wave of clones it spawned.

I'd not played Flappy Bird, but I'd played plenty of Lunar Lander clones and thought that the idea of a cute game about managing gravity and momentum with simple controls would be a good fit for us (we'd already explored those concepts along a different axis in the Super Happy Fun Sun prototype).

Managing stamina, resting at nests, hanging from branches, and collecting lost eggs were all a part of the concept in it earliest form. While the concept always started as an endless game, the story of a bat egg searching for family was something that had been in my mind from the beginning.

I'd originally anticipated that we'd look toward allowing pitch control while gliding, with momentum being lost while climbing, but I don't think we were attached to any specifics and it made sense to leave things open until we had the opportunity to prototype and experiment.

In the lead up to the jam, we had discussed character customisation options, and likely would have had default characters that reflected us specifically. I think that iteration of Bat Egg would have been 2D rather than 3D, but I feel like the version I released today represents the spirit and style of game we would have made.

If you play it, I hope you find it interesting.



Above The Waves

Sketches of Yok-yok poses that didn't make it into the jam version

In 2015, Miriam and I participated in Adventure Jam, creating a short point and click adventure about an octopus named Yok-yok who, along with other sea-friends, is taken from the ocean by a spacefaring species and after some malfunctions must repair and take control of their abandoned ship.

We were proud of the work we did for the jam, but hadn't managed to tell the entire story we set out to tell. Our planned cutscenes ended up being more work than we were able to manage, and we fell back on using title cards to convey the game's opening and conclusion. After repairing the ship, we also wanted to give the player a choice of three endings.

The first would be to return to the ocean, with Yok-yok bringing each of the other sea creatures to their respective homes and using the ship's technology to improve and build more elaborate maps and orreries, exploring the stars at a distance. The second would have Yok-yok and his companions use their new spacecraft to travel and explore the solar system, setting off on new adventures together. Finally, the third ending would see Yok-yok and company decide to follow their departed abductors, trying to learn about them and their culture ahead of an uncertain encounter in the future.

After the jam ended, we agreed that we should revisit the project in the future, possibly in the Godot engine, which we'd been keeping an eye on and would later use for Super Happy Fun Sun. More character animation, shaders for underwater effects, background/environmental animation, sea-friends who followed Yok-yok around in-scene instead of as inventory items, sounds, and playable epilogues for each ending were all things we'd hoped to bring to an enhanced version of Above The Waves.

Of the games discussed here, I think Above The Waves is the one that I'm saddest about. I cared a lot about Yok-yok, and wanted our little yellow octopus to have the adventure we'd envisioned for him. This would have been my first independent commercial game, and I think it would have been very well received by/would have helped us grow the Two Lof Bees audience significantly. Even in its reduced form, it still managed to find people who loved it, and I'm disappointed to have let any of those people down who were looking forward to the enhanced version.



Untitled Cubewhale game(s)

The first cubewhale render

Ever since I made the first Cubewhales in 2015, I've wanted to make a game featuring them. I've had several ideas, one about exploring ocean food chains and ecosystems with board game type presentation, another following the adventures of a Cubewhale as it explores the ocean and meets many other square friends. Some above/on the water, others below.

I think I was a long way from making a decision about what the (or the first) Cubewhale game would end up being, but I'd bring them up every year and would have picked something quickly if Miriam had been keen to make something with them for one of our game jams - not that I regret the games that we did make.



Tiny Knight Adventure

Some concept sketches for Tiny Knight Adventure

At some point around 2013, jotted down some concept stuff for a side scrolling game where players took on the role of a tiny knight riding a tiny horse through oversized environments - leaping over twigs, ducking under blades of grass, and using a lance to burst magic bubbles while racing to get to the level's end as quickly as possible.

Of the concepts discussed here, this was probably the least developed, but I like the idea of a heroic protagonist who only has to move a few metres to save the day, but has been shrunk down so far that getting that far in a day is no easy task.



Tiny Ninjas

Cloud ninjas

In 2013, I think while doing a new design for AICon featuring the previous year's Pocket Ninjas, we talked about making a game featuring those characters (I don't think we ever really named them, but since they're not always in pockets, it doesn't make sense to call them Pocket Ninjas - let's go with Tiny Ninjas). We'd made little versions of them that were just a head with separate hands that we could have poking out from behind anything, and I always enjoyed sneaking them in around our stalls.

I was keen on auto scrolling levels where players had to dash from behind one object to the next, or "fall" off the level. Objects within levels could be moving or temporary, creating extra pressure to find a good path an navigate it quickly. I also liked the idea of allowing a player to dash a bit beyond their radius if they were dashing to or from somewhere that the other player was already hiding to help give a sense of helping each other along. I think that it would have manifested as a sort of co-op speed-Frogger.

You'd never really get a glimpse of more than a blur as they moved, maintaining the integrity of the faces-poking-out-from-behind-stuff Tiny Ninjas character design. I imagine that levels would be themed, but still have room to feel odd and eclectic  - maybe one level has them dashing between branches and falling snowflakes, while another might have them hopping between buttons on an overcoat as an upturned jarful of pencils falls past.

I don't think either of us felt particularly committed to this game, but I still think it would have been fun to make and play.



Untitled Sprinkles JRPG

The original "Hello friend" Sprinkles drawing

In 2012, Miriam and I pledged money toward a crowdfunding campaign to open source Monster RPG 2's game engine. The tier we supported at allowed us to request a feature, and we opted to work with Trent (and by "work with," I mean "ask nicely") to get SVG support into the engine, with the intention of then using that to allow us to use some of our existing Inkscape workflows to make assets.

The game we were intending to make would have featured Sprinkles exploring a world and befriending various animals, which would then follow her around - the conga line of friends was a strong recurring theme among our concepts.

In place of encounters framed as conflict, Sprinkles' "combat" abilities would have been things like "offer food" or "talk soothingly" or "step back." Animals' health would have been replaced with some kind of timidity meter that gets depleted or increased depending on Sprinkles' actions and their own responses. I haven't played it, but I think Ooblets' dance mechanics probably moved along similar axes in terms of giving non-violent framing to what would typically be combat mechanics.

We hadn't really discussed any plot/narrative context for the project, but I could imagine the game expressed as a child's imagination giving extra significance to backyard/park playtimes.



Untitled Pea People co-op platformer

An early prototype exploring visual style for the pea people platformer

Also in 2012, I started prototyping a co-op platformer featuring Pea People. I had hoped to make something with Superfrog type handling and Trine type 2D gameplay in a 3D world, with a range of gameplay modes.

"Ohmamo" would have been a hide-and-seek mode, where one player has their screen dimmed while counting, and others go to hide, interacting with background objects to disappear into them. The seeker would then explore the level, and interact with background objects that they believed other players were hidden within (likely with a limit on "incorrect" guesses). When the seeker was off screen, hiders would emit giggles when hidden, and would be able to dash between hiding spaces. I imagine that this mode would also have some holding-your-breath mechanic that adds extra tension when a seeker is nearby.

We also had some co-op modes planned, which would have had a more traditional platformer type levels. One would have players start at opposite ends of a level and try to reach each other as quickly as possible. Another would have co-op partners start in the middle of a level and do a scavenger hunt across a non-linear level. A third would have required co-operative puzzle solving, providing similar coordination and communication challenges to Portal 2's co-op campaign.

Expressive actions were something we really wanted to give room for in this, so actions like sit, wave, high five, etc. would have made an appearance. We also talked about allowing regaining health by hugging, and that sort of thing.

I always imagined that we'd release a small version of this game, with one or two levels per game mode. We'd then be able to expand the game through through ongoing content updates, maybe with a new level every lofversary, new character customisation options for Dress Like A Walrus Day, and extra referencing/celebrating new games as we made them.

I didn't get super far with prototyping before other things pulled me away. I'd always planned to come back to it, but it felt like something I should share with Miriam rather than do on my own, and there was never a point where it seemed like the right thing to focus on.



Fruit Salad

Miriam's original Choose Happy Fruit collage

At AICon 2011, Miriam won Best Weekend with her cut out and layered Choose Happy Fruit picture. As Two Lof Bees grew and our AICon presence shifted from being attendees to traders, Happy Fruit became a Lof Bees staple that we continued to grow and expand upon over the years.

In early 2012, we talked about doing a platformer featuring them. The premise we'd come up with was that you played as a piece of fruit or pieces of fruit that escaped a fruit market to return to the jungle. The game's final beat would have been a "Now what?" moment, in the vein of Finding Nemo's conclusion for the Tank Gang's escape to the ocean.

The specifics of Fruit Salad weren't set in stone, but I have memories of us discussing treating rescued fruit found along the way as extra lives that bounce along through levels with you. This in turn inspired the kind of thing we'd wanted to do in Above The Waves with rescued sea friends following Yok-yok around the ship, and finally was realised in Bat Egg, where hatchlings will follow the player to the end of a zone or die in their place.

In my mind, the Happy Fruit are bouncy and tumbly, and my expectations were that Fruit Salad would be one part skill to two parts buoyant chaos. I don't think I'd heard of Bean's Quest before Fruit Salad coalesced (I still haven't gotten around to playing it to this day D: ), but I do remember feeling like it demonstrated that the kind of thing we were aiming for was doable.

We'd also talked about co-op at some point, and I really liked the idea of co-op partners adding to the chaos when unintentionally bouncing off each other.



Untitled Loftopus point and click adventure

My initial sketches of the loftopus story/game that I wanted to makeI had a loftopus story that I wanted to tell about a loftopus who created a sculpture of another loftopus with found objects to show its affections. I oscillated between wanting to tell this through a picture book and wanting to express it through an interactive narrative, but I think that the latter is what I was most attached to. I had thought that this came up later, but hunting back through the archives, I found a sketch dated November 2010 that I recall doing while I was ironing out the concept.

It would have been another single verb point and click adventure, and I knew that it would require animation way beyond what I was capable of. Getting practice at animating octopuses so that I could grow those skills for this project was one of the reasons I was initially enthusiastic about the idea of doing an enhanced version of Above The Waves.

I don't recall whether Miriam ever knew about this one - I know at one point, I was hoping to make it as a surprise gift, but I also know that I like sharing things with the people I care about more than I enjoy hiding things, especially when it comes to creative work.



Untitled Lof People point and click adventure

Miriam's original lof people drawingVery early in Lof Bees history, perhaps around 2010, I had talked about wanting to do a single verb point and click adventure game featuring Miriam's Lof People designs. I vividly remember being inspired by a specific drawing, which featured Lof People without faces and wasn't Hi Bees!, but I can't find it, and it may just have been an amalgam of several Lof People pictures.

I really liked the idea of trying to express a journey for these characters without text or voices, as they explored and traversed the kind of worlds seen in our art, with surreal scale and a sense of wonder being central aspects.

I think a lot of what we'd hoped to achieve with this one came out of the feelings that Machinarium evoked, but I also was drawing a little upon my appreciation for the way that Another World was able to tell a story without words.

In my mind, the main reason why we didn't pursue this one early on was because neither of us had the skills to pull it off with the level of confidence and deliberateness that I think the project deserved. It definitely would have required animation skills beyond what I had at the time.

This was probably the earliest game concept we had together, and it was probably the first to be put on hold while we did other things, but it was also something I still felt committed to and wanted to explore. If you had asked me a year and a day ago if I still planned to make it, I would have said, "Definitely."



And that's it.

Every project that we had announced, talked about doing, or shared something from/adjacent to, but never ended up making. I love and have loved every one of these concepts, and I'm glad to have been able to share a little something of each. I hope that this post gives some closure to anybody who was still waiting for any of these, and that being able to play Bat Egg goes some way toward making up for any disappointment.

Almost every project had significant input from Miriam, was an expression of our relationship, or was based on her work to an extent that I don't feel like it would be appropriate to make them now. I felt like I could make an exception for Bat Egg, but it was still very difficult for me to work on.

While these projects are now Officially Cancelled, I expect that some aspects and elements will find their way into my future work. I still like the idea of having conga lines of friends trailing along behind a player, and there are co-op ideas from the Two Lof Bees platformer that I think I'd like to bring forward into other games.

The only exceptions that I could see myself returning to in the future would be a Cubewhale game, a Tiny Ninjas game, or maybe revisit Tiny Knight Adventure, but I don't currently have any plans to pursue those.

If you end up playing Bat Egg, I hope you enjoy it!

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Date Posted:
 25th September 2021
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 Bat Egg(1), Cubewhale(3), Game Dev(7), Happy Fruit(2), Lof People(1), Loftopus(2), Ninja(2), Pea People(1), Sprinkles(6)