I’ve been putting off this review of Game Dev Tycoon as an excuse to continue playing, even going so far as to delete it, only to reinstall it the next morning and curse Past Me for being such an idiot. A simulation of being a game designer from the mid-80s up to present day, Game Dev Tycoon takes a complicated process and boils it down to a simple, fun, and surprisingly challenging game that also highly replayable.
You start your business out of a garage. From here you make your first “game” by picking a topic (four are provided to start, picked at random from a long list), a type of game (like Action, Adventure, Simulation, RPG, etc.), and picking whether to make it a text adventure or use cutting-edge 1980s 2D graphics. These are all presented as simple choice boxes, and “programming” consists of three sets of three sliders, determining how to devote your time. Will you spend your time creating dialogues, or working on the game engine? Developing the world, or working on the sound? You can’t do everything, and both time and money will be running out.
Once you finish your first game, you release it to the world and wait for the game reviews and sales figures. Then it’s back to the grind to create your next masterpiece. That’s the entire game in a nutshell, through 35 years of game development, changing technology, and (hopefully) building your company to becoming a dominant force in the industry, releasing AAA MMOs that generate income month after month, having your own conventions, and perhaps even releasing your own console to dominate the market.
Though you’ll need to keep your bank account in the black to stay in business, the two real currencies in the game are time and research. You only have a set amount of time to work on each game. And while you can develop a small game all on your lonesome, once you start making medium, large, and AAA games (more expensive but also more profitable), you’ll need to hire staff to help you, figure out their strengths and weaknesses as programmers, and assign them to tasks accordingly without overworking them.
Research points are generated by creating new games and game engines. You’ll spend RPs on everything you need to stay competitive: new game topics, new types of games, advancing your technology by improving the graphics or adding new parts to games like Dialogue Trees, Stereo Sound, MMO and online capabilities, or just loosely defined ideas like “better user experience.” You’ll also need RP to train your staff, improving their skills and eventually making them experts in areas like Game Design and Level Design. There’s never enough research to do everything, so you’ll have to choose carefully.
Meanwhile you’ll have to pay for development, rent, and salaries. The more elaborate a game is, the more it costs, and every month your bank account will go down unless you infuse it with a popular game (or contract work, which is a stop-gap measure). Making a popular game might sound easy, and to some degree you can guess which topics and types will work together simply by basing them on the real world. If you can make a Fantasy RPG for the PC, chances are you’ll do better than taking a chance on Vocabulary Action Game for the Playstation 2. However the game makes even this aspect of the game challenging by randomizing the genres you start with, adding Age Ratings later in the game, and giving each console and genre strengths and weaknesses in terms of type and age level. The “Gameling” (their Gameboy stand-in) is popular with casual games for young people, but maybe a mature prison simulation would make more money on the PC?
Discovering these combinations is part of the fun of Game Dev Tycoon (especially when the fans demand unusual combinations), but even on repeat plays, knowing what works doesn’t always, well, work. You can’t repeat yourself too often or players will get bored with you. If your Tech and Design scores for each game (generated during development) aren’t high enough, you’ll get trashed in the reviews. Miss-time a marketing campaign or goof up withe press, and you’ll harm sales.
Though this all sounds complicated, GDT keeps it simple and fun. The game is made up entirely of dialogue boxes that explain clearly what you’re asked to do, and once you learn what does and doesn’t work, the game records those lessons as plusses and minuses in the relevant areas. The more you play, the better you’ll get, which makes it easier to unlock the endgame challenges: AAA games, MMOs, and your own Console, which require you to build an R&D department and Hardware section, all while keeping your employees productive.
The game has only one significant bug (oh, and you have to make sure to fix all the bugs before release or pay a hefty fee for a patch); when clicking in a dialogue box, it will sometimes ignore the box and open a contextual menu behind it. This happens most often if you click at the top of a box, rather than at the bottom. Less an actual flaw and more conceptual is the fact that the game is the same each time. The same combos are good or bad, the same consoles succeed or fail on the same time frame, and the same random events occur. This allows you to game the system to a degree (and make it to the high-end options at the end with more time/money), but I wish there was an option to randomize the events so you’d have to rediscover things. Like a world where Hospital Action/RPGs were popular.
Hey, that’s a great idea. I think I’m going to reinstall Game Dev Tycoon and try it right now!
Buy Game Dev Tycoon
Developer: Green Heart Games
System Requirements: OS X Snow Leopard 10.7.5, 2GHz Dual core processor, 2GB RAM, Hardware Accelerated Graphics with dedicated memory, 1,024 x 768 resolution display
Review Computer: 2.2GHz 13″ Macbook Pro, 8GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce 9400M with 256MB of DDR3 SDRAM
Network Feature: No
Processor Compatibility: Intel
Availability: Out now