Developer Spotlight: Onett

Hey there, welcome back to our regular Developer Spotlight publication! This week, we’re interviewing Onett, the mastermind behind Bee Swarm Simulator. The game took Roblox by storm last year and we reached out to learn more about his interesting backstory. Keep reading to learn about how Onett made his grand return to the Roblox platform!

When did you first join Roblox?

A looong time ago. January 2009, right after finishing high school.

If I remember correctly, you hadn’t used the platform for quite some time and then came back and released Bee Swarm Simulator — what brought your attention back to Roblox?

Every few years or so I would come back to Roblox out of curiosity to see how it was changing and what was popular, so it never really fell off my radar, but it wasn’t until I read about the Developer Exchange program and the ability to earn a living making Roblox games in late 2017 that I began developing for it. Specifically it was a mixture of reading an article about the success of Jailbreak and playing Snow Shoveling Simulator that inspired me to try it out and take Roblox more seriously.

How would you compare Roblox as it is now to Roblox as it was when you signed up?

When I first joined, Roblox felt like more of a novelty. The games I remember most had absurdly simple premises, like climbing up huge staircases, or surviving a canoe ride down a really long river in the sky without falling off (with no real way to control the canoe), or running away from a bunch of rolling orbs that destroyed whatever they touched. There was an innocent charm behind the concepts that reminded me of just making up games with Legos and action figures as a kid. They were either mostly about roleplaying, or just taking in a physics-based spectacle. If there were goals they were rudimentary, like unlocking droppers in early tycoons. At the time I was already 19 years old so I was definitely not the target demographic. I played out of a mixture of curiosity from a game design standpoint and sort of an ironic appreciation of the unique childish culture that arose from the player-made content.

That culture and childish charm is still there, but Roblox today is way more sophisticated. As soon as developers were able to earn money off the platform it transformed into something legitimate, and the games started to become more polished and fleshed out. The early player-created genres on Roblox have sort of been taken to their ends. Simple life roleplaying games have evolved into highly refined and games with professionally polished UIs like Welcome to Bloxburg and Adopt Me. The button-clicker tycoon games have evolved into more elaborate “simulator” games. Roblox has retained its identity and the kids are still here calling the shots, but it truly feels like it has grown-up during its transition from a novel building game into a platform.

When you returned to the platform, did you bring with you any game development skills from other experiences?

I returned to develop full time in December 2017. After finishing college 7 years ago I began self-teaching myself programing with the goal of making my own games. I experimented with lots of different game development software including Game Maker, Multimedia Fusion 2, and eventually Stencyl. While working on a mobile game in Stencyl I transitioned from modifying the Stencyl engine, which was written in a language called Haxe, to programing my own game engine in Haxe, C++ and Objective-C. Over time my 2D mobile game engine evolved into a 3D one and I spent a few years focused on a Minecraft-like voxel based game engine with most of my time going into GPU accelerated particle physics and AI. The year before working on Bee Swarm Simulator I spent most of my time porting my engine from OpenGL to Apple’s GPU language Metal. I sort of lost sight of the endgame and became focused on performance and simulations, especially involving tons of simple critter NPCs. My specific goal at the time was to make an RTS-like game where you control huge swarms of pets to collect resources and fight other armies, and that was a big inspiration for Bee Swarm Sim.

What do you think made Bee Swarm Simulator such a hit? Were you expecting it to take off the way it did?

I’d say it was a mixture of iterating off of and expanding the “simulator” tropes that were already popular at the time and trying to maintain an innocent style with the goal universal appeal.

The core mechanic of popular simulator games at the time — collecting stuff by clicking and selling it to earn better scoopers and bigger backpacks — is accessible to players of all ages and surprisingly rewarding and addictive. The bees in Bee Swarm Sim expand on that naturally without over complicating it, and introduce the collectible aspect you see in games like Pokemon. Then on top of that core gameplay loop, Bee Swarm Sim has lots of systems designed to give long term goals that give the menial collection tasks more meaning — quests, crafting, unlocking new areas, and a couple combat mini-games to test your progress. Many things in the game actively promote returning to the game periodically, like monsters that respawn every hour or every few days. Overall, the core gameplay stays true to the collecting and selling simulator loop, while all the other systems act to accentuate that gameplay and give it meaning.

But none of that would matter if kids didn’t like the bees. I definitely think the cutesy style was largely responsible for the initial takeoff of the game (on top of the “simulator” tag). Stuff like friendly bears and silly music helped to set it apart and give it the character it needed to stand out from the flood of simulator games at the time. Still, I never expected the level of success, especially not the overnight success it got. And I definitely wasn’t prepared — the game was a buggy mess, and those first few months were pretty rocky.

What gave you the idea to create Bee Swarm Simulator?

My biggest and most direct influence was Snow Shoveling Simulator. It was the first “simulator” I played — I tried it out just because of how absurd and boring the concept of shoveling snow in a video game sounded, but I was immediately hooked. Its premise was so simple, but the progression was so satisfying. Loterman23 and FM_Trick did an amazing job with pacing the goals and the amount of effort required between purchasing new tools and bags, and I found myself hooked on the game all day. I was surprised by how hooked I was as an adult, and felt that level of universal appeal was too valuable to ignore. I saw how I could incorporate concepts from the games I was already working on into that style of simulator, mainly by using a swarm of critters to help you collect.

I wouldn’t have actually tried to make the game if I hadn’t read about DevEx and the ability to earn money on Roblox. At the time I was feeling desperate to release something after years of working on my own engine, and I was becoming overwhelmed with the scope of the project. I read about DevEx in an article about the Jailbreak developers shortly after playing Snow Shoveling Simulator and immediately jumped into working on Bee Swarm Sim. I was skeptical that it would work out, but I found Roblox development to be so easy to get into that I figured it was worth a shot.

What are some tips you might give to upcoming developers?

Play the popular games and try to understand what Roblox players are looking for. Roblox is huge and established while still being quirky and unique. Most successful games iterate off of other Roblox games and trends because that’s what the established player base is looking for. If you stray too far from the formula, you’re giving up one of the primary benefits of developing for Roblox — access to that traveling swarm of players that hops around from one familiar viral game to the next. Keep the core gameplay true to those trends, but evolve and embellish them. This keeps a game accessible while still allowing it to stand out.

If you’re new to programming or Roblox Studio in general, work your way through the tutorials on Roblox’s website first, and try tinkering with scripts found in free models in the Toolbox. Try to understand how they work and modify them. Make little places where you try to just copy specific mechanics. After lots of little projects like that you’ll begin to be able to see how to solve a problem or create something through coding yourself, and after that you can do pretty much anything given time.

I know that Bee Swarm Simulator has quite a following. Is there anything you’d like to say to your extremely dedicated community?

Love you guys! I know I’m slow and pretty quiet, just know I’ll always be back. Sometimes I get overwhelmed and need time to reflect and plan what my best next move will be. I want all updates to Bee Swarm Sim to be thoughtful and to contribute to the long term success of the game, and they usually take way longer than I expect.

Thank you so much for giving us your time, Onett! The backstory behind the creation of Bee Swarm Simulator is inspirational and very useful for anyone who aspires to create content that reaches the front page. We look forward to seeing more great things from such a talented mind. Be sure to follow Onett on Roblox and Twitter to keep up with the latest news related to Bee Swarm Simulator!