Game Dev Story is a Charming Blast From the Past
Like the alignment of planets, every once in a while I unearth a game that aligns perfectly with my gaming needs. Thanks to a chance mention on Twitter, this week Game Dev Story has been that game.
Originally a PC game from the 90s, in 2010 Japanese developers Kairosoft re-released Game Dev Story on iOS and Android platforms, where its retro appeal and tongue-in-cheek view of the video game industry was well received.
Games Within Games
In short, Game Dev Story is a charming little tycoon game which gives the player the opportunity to become a budding Peter Molyneux, John Romero or Shigeru Miyamoto and nurture a video game studio from humble indie beginnings to triple-A market domination.
Starting with a couple of staff members and limited resources, the object of Game Dev Story is to find traction in an increasingly competitive industry by producing games of increasing quality.
The quality of each title produced is defined by four attributes; Fun, Creativity, Graphics and Sound, each of which slowly build over the development process as your development team animates furiously at their computer terminals. Icons appear above their heads as they deliver iterations to aspects of the title being produced and occasionally they will – quite literally – be on fire.
Each staff member occupies a role such as Designer, Coder, Sound Engineer, Producer and many more. Their ability to contribute to the development process is represented by a number of statistics which can be improved with training and levelling up.
As the game options are explored and calendar ticks by, more genres can be unlocked and more points can be earned to focus development direction on aspects such as Innovation, Realism and Simplicity. Regular events and presentations provide the opportunity to build a fanbase, promote games and give notification of new consoles being released. A successful studio can even produce its own console in an attempt to compete with Intendro, Senga and other manufacturers for a slice of the platform market.
Statistics Versus Character
Game Dev Story succeeds in delivering just the right balance of randomness and logic. It doesn't take long to start getting a feel for how things relate to one another and before long you can feel genuinely invested in your little pixellated business venture.
The charm is in the elements that leave you guessing as to how they work whilst retaining the sense that you can improve results.
Will critics give more favourable scores to a game with Fun of over 100 or to one with no aspect under 50? Just how important is it to hire a Director and/or a Producer? Does the age of the fanbase matter? What exactly is needed to win the Grand Prize at the Global Game Awards?
Of course you can probably find the answers out on the internet somewhere, but that's not the point. It's the fact that it feels like there might be some magic going on between the numbers. The player's imagination is left to visualise what might be happening behind the scenes or beyond the office.
Game Dev Story is defined by its limitations in a good way.
Lame Dev Story?
Game Dev Story isn't perfect; once a team of capable developers has been built up, the game becomes so easy, every release will hit number one and earn a place in the Hall of Fame even when combining genres and types that really don't fit (an Online RPG Dating game just sounds creepy).
A few more customisation options would have gone a long way to making the player feel more invested. Only being able to choose a name for a title after completion makes every development cycle a little impersonal. Game Dev Story's appeal might also be limited to those with an interest in the inner workings of the video game development industry. The port from the original PC format to a touch screen could have been better implemented.
Whatever its flaws, Game Dev Story certainly has that 'just one more go' appeal which many games strive for and just don't manage. I'm thankful that Kairosoft made no attempt to lever in some cynical in-app purchases and I am free to experiment with all the content to my hearts content. As a result, I'm horribly addicted to exploring every little variation and unlockable easter egg.
In an effort to make the end-game more of a challenge, I'm currently refusing to develop for any platform other than the PC, despite the dwindling market share.
It's not going well.