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Why Bear and Breakfast's management systems were a "bear" to create

Bear and Breakfast lead developer Rareș Cinteză breaks down the design challenges of making a cute, cozy, and complex management sim.

Romanian studio Gummy Cat's Bear and Breakfast is another entry in the cozy management sim genre, which has been on the rise since Stardew Valley began its explosive rise to the top in 2016. With competitors like My Time at Portia, and bigger companies muscling into the genre like Disney and Square Enix, it's not hard to see that low-stress farming simulators are having a moment.

What is hard to see is the furiously complex design work that underlies all these games. There are finely-tuned timers, extremely honed progression curves, and deep interlocking systems that make these experiences possible. Fixing one bug in this complex sea of systems might just make two more pop up in your face.

And yet, Bear and Breakfast is here, and it's delightful. Where Stardew Valley encouraged players to build a fully operational produce factory, Bear and Breakfast players are tasked with making cozy and welcoming homesteads to attract the interest of vacationers.

It also benefits from some pointed writing. The player character Hank the Bear is surrounded by a sea of grifters and enthusiastic assistants all traumatized by a massive forest fire. Hank's good-natured go-get-em attitude is balanced by cynical realists, who in turn are influenced by his (and the player's) good deeds.

Game creator Rareș Cinteză told Game Developer that all of this came from a vision to make a modernized version of Bullfrog's simulation games from the late '90s. Here's how he took inspiration from Theme Hospital to make something relevant for today's world.

Mixing Theme Hospital with Wes Anderson flicks

Cinteză's other major influence for making Bear and Breakfast was the films of Wes Anderson. They're filled with colorful palettes, over-the-top plots that can feel like a Rube Goldberg machine coming to life, and tragic characters reckoning with inner turmoil. 

Bear and Breakfast adopts many of these elements, and its underlying game systems buoy that feeling. Hank's journey into the hospitality industry is an escalating series of events that involve him essentially signing up for a low-level real estate scam, but he's then tasked with managing an intricate series of hospitality mechanics while diving into the lives of the people and animals living in his neck of the woods.

According to Cinteză, building the game's underlying systems was "very challenging," both because Gummy Cat is such a small team (five people with help from contractors) and because you need a lot of overlapping systems in order for a management simulation game to be fun. When the team set out, creating only one feature or one mechanic at a time would get "boring quickly."

"So you need to add more and more, and the more you add, the more all these little things start eating at you," he explained. When working in this process, he said that Gummy Cat didn't realize until late in development that "having a lot of systems that are working with each other also means that working against each other."

A screenshot of Bear and Breakfasts' building system.

For instance, Bear and Breakfast has two major currencies: "coins" and "valuables." Coins are awarded for completing tasks, while valuables are dropped by guests or scattered in different locations. You can see that if guests stay in densely packed rooms, sometimes those "valuables" get dropped in hard-to-reach areas. 

Guests have AI programmed into them to use the bathroom, get meals, and seek out landmarks. If something's off in, say, the food system, it might have a spillover effect into how guest AI interacts with food.

Some of these unusual outcomes still pop up in the finished game (we saw one guest at a motel get angry about not being able to enter a bathroom, but the bathroom wasn't occupied!) but they also give the whole thing a realistic charm. Running any kind of business means dealing with situations that escalate out of control, and watching the game's simulation systems occasionally hiccup feels like a part of the experience. 

Cinteză couldn't remember any laugh-out-loud bugs from development, but he does remember why bugs would pop up. Sometimes it would be as simple as Cinteză forgetting to put a semicolon at the end of a line of code. "And [then] the system bleeds into something else, and it repeats one thousand times, and now it's death by a thousand cuts," he recalled. "They aren't like big bugs that show up and do something weird or funny, and maybe it becomes a feature."

How "wholesome" is a game where characters deal with trauma?

As mentioned up top, Bear and Breakfast has landed in a moment where lots of developers are jumping into the management sim genre with the aim of producing "cozy" or "wholesome" games. These games are light on conflict, heavy on warm color pallets, and are accompanied by soothing scores.

Many of them are great, and even use the wholesome tone to sneak in some thoughtful or nuanced themes. But Cinteză seemed aware that the word wholesome can be a loaded phrase, especially for developers who find more comfort in exploring uncomfortable or traumatic themes. "I understand the conversation around 'wholesome games,'" he said. For him, he sees the wholesome and cozy labels as describing games that evoke comfort, or more specifically, how he experienced games growing up.

Since Cinteză played plenty of management sims in his childhood, complex games where it feels like he's "playing in a sandbox" feel cozy, but others might not share that feeling. With Bear and Breakfast, a lot of work went into the player character, his avatar, and his animations in dialogue. "We spent a lot of time developing Hank the bear...both in developing the character itself, and also the animations to make sure he feels spongy and fluffy in whenever he moves," he said.

In his view, a cozy or wholesome game doesn't need to have cute or anthropomorphized animals, but having stylized art direction definitely helps. He noted that Hank feels much more like a toy plush than a realistic bear (other animals in the game, though certainly anthropomorphized, tack back toward their realistic forms).

Bear and Breakfast's goofy-looking bear hero talks with an ominous spirit fox.

One other ingredient in Cinteză's cozy stew? Make things "a little bit dumb." This is a game where a talking bear and his overenthusiastic friends stumble into running a chain of hospitality buildings. It's okay if he looks a bit like a doofus while he walks.

The Stardew Valley trend

Cinteză thinks that Stardew Valley's success had some hand in boosting the popularity of management sims, but it's not the only game that helped Bear and Breakfast become a prospective business proposition. Cinteză explained that the modern trend of farming-adjacent management sims seems to be the result of a moment in 2018-2019 where developers saw a business case in resurrecting older, niche genres they might have played in childhood.

For Cinteză, this was the array of simulation games produced by Bullfrog, while for other developers, it might be the early days of Harvest Moon. Cinteză noted that his team's game differs pretty strongly from farming simulators like My Time at Portia or the upcoming Harvestella. "There's no farming, there's no fishing...there's no putting together relationships with other NPCs. It's more of the traditional management of a type of business." 

Bear and Breakfast's cooking system.

He thinks there's plenty of room in that additional space for developers to make new kinds of fun games, but he pointed back to his analysis of the current trend being based on decisions made in 2018-2019, and urged developers to look ahead to 2025-2026. "I feel like it's getting close to the point where it's going to be a little saturated for developers to immediately think that they should jump in," he said. 

He warned that developers jumping on this specific trend might find themselves in a comparable market to where side-scrolling Metroidvanias and Roguelikes are in 2022: heavily oversaturated.

Cinteză did say developers working in the management sim or farming life sim space have one advantage: it seems like Animal Crossing did rope in a new audience of players who want to play more of these kinds of games. He doesn't have any data to back up those numbers, but he's watched how the game is received on social media. In his words, he sees lots of newer players comparing it favorably to Nintendo's early pandemic smash hit.

Delaying Bear and Breakfast on Switch to improve the controls

Cinteză does have one major regret from Bear and Breakfast's development, and it's that at the last minute, Gummy Cat and publisher Armor Games Studios delayed the Nintendo Switch version of the game, because playing the game with a standard gamepad scheme wasn't very fun.

He said it "took a while" after announcing the game to realize this was a problem, and it was deep into working on Nintendo's approval process that the team realized it wouldn't make the release date of July 28. Cinteză did share some additional context about the delay, which is that Bear and Breakfast has only been in development for about three years.

For a small team, that's not a lot of time to manage the intense demands of building a fun management sim. It's less time to pin down how the game will play on PC versus console. It doesn't help that the COVID-19 pandemic left the team "at the end of our rope a little bit," he admitted.

"We're at the point where we can't rely on delaying the game another two, three months when the next release window would make sense," he said. 

So that led to the decision to delay the Switch version of the game, while releasing on Steam.

Cinteză hopes that the Switch version of Bear and Breakfast will be ready "soon," after which he wants to try and get the game optimized for the Steam Deck. 

It's a hard life for a bear trying to run a hospitality business. It's a harder life trying to build the hospitality business the bear needs to operate.

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