Business simulation tycoon games have been around for a while. The idea of letting users manage the various aspects of a business in order to successfully achieve goals lends itself to some seriously immersive gaming. Unfortunately, the sheer complexity and learning curve keeps most games in this genre from gaining mass appeal. Very few tycoon games succeed in maintaining the balance between approachability and complexity. Game Dev Story by Kairosoft is one such gem.
In Game Dev Story, the game developers put you in their own shoes, tasking you with running a game development studio, building games and keeping your fans happy for decades. You would think a game development team would know what goes in building a successful gaming business. They do indeed, and execute the concept with great energy, a fine eye for detail and some very subtle but unmistakable humor to boot.
You start with a small game studio with a couple of employees and a secretary who guides you throughout the game. She tells you how to get started, explains every event and how you can respond to it, and does pretty much everything except making decisions. You are the one who makes the decisions — that’s your task throughout the game. The aim is to run a successful game development studio for twenty years raking in as much cash as you can. You can continue to play beyond that, but the high scores don’t count any more. The next option is to then start from scratch and try to break your record.
If all this sounds confusing to you, I can’t guarantee you will enjoy the game very much. There are two types of people who may not enjoy the game very much – those who have little or no clue about video games (and don’t want to get into them either), and those who are looking for casual, mindless fun from a game. Game Dev Story requires gamers to pay attention to every detail of their studio, from picking game genres to hiring the right people to keeping tabs on cash available. Hiring, training, licensing gaming console: it all costs money. If a game doesn’t sell enough, you may find yourself doing contract jobs to keep the cash flowing. Games are reviewed and the scores impact how well it sells in the market. There is even an annual awards function where your game can win trophies for the best game, graphics, and sound — as well as for “worst game”.
To cut a long story short, playing Game Dev Story is an exercise in multi-tasking. It is by no means an easy game to master, but the complexity level is so well balanced, you always feel like there is a chance to top the ranks with your next game.
The first thing you notice about the game is that the interface is not exactly contemporary. It seems like one designed to work on any mobile phone, with two buttons – for Save and Menu – at the bottom corners covering much of the interaction. You can also enable an option to use a control pad like the one found on most feature phones to completely skip the touch interface and go retro. If you prefer the more freeform approach, touching anywhere on the screen simply opens the menu.
A problem with an interface not built for touch, is that it depends on the user navigating to an option to provide details about it and then selecting it. On the touchscreen, this is taken care of by using a single tap for enabling an option and another tap for selecting it. It takes some getting used to, but isn’t a show-stopper in any way. A horizontal bar just above the buttons does a good job of providing all the data you need to make decisions in the game. This is usually divided into two or three layers, which can be accessed by swiping your finger over the bar. Tapping the bar opens up a more detailed set of stats.
The game uses a pixel art style, which does a great job setting up the environment of your game studio and all the frantic action that goes into the development of a game. Your employees work on their computers, adding one of four characteristics to the game they’re building – fun, creativity, graphics and sound – each represented by icons appearing on their heads and in the information bar at the bottom. Every once in a while, a team member will get a stroke of inspiration and go on fire churning out points for the game.
The game is full of cheeky humor, be it the names of the employees – take Gilly Bates, Pablo Picolo & Maris Sharpovich for example – or the game consoles and manufacturers – how about Intendro, Sonny and the Playstatus. The same goes for other games that you are up against at the annual gaming awards. Overall, I was very impressed with the fine details all through the game that you can’t miss, especially if you are a gamer yourself.
Game Dev Story is not for everyone, but if you have the slightest interest in video games in general and the patience to work through the learning curve, it can be an extremely satisfying gaming experience. It is a complex game, but not too hard once you get the hang of things.
It is not perfect by any means. The interface could have been much better suited for touchscreen devices; heck, it doesn’t even cover the entire screen space available if you hide the control pad! It also tends to slow down a bit and stutter during longer sessions. But these are minor niggles in an otherwise brilliant experience and won’t stop you from losing hours and hours of your life trying to build that one blockbuster game to beat them all. In the end, it gets a big thumbs up and a must-buy tag from me.
Game Dev Story is a business simulation that puts gamers in charge of their own gaming studio with a 20 year timeline to make a mark in the gaming industry. Beautiful, funny and insanely addictive, this is a must have for anyone with an interest in video games.8