As I write this I’m very angry at Kairosoft, developer of Game Dev Story. Not because it’s produced a bad game – far from it – but because its game has just destroyed my entire morning and much of the afternoon.
It’s one of those games that sinks its teeth into you without you even noticing. Hours fly by in no time at all, ruining schedules and relationships alike.
We’re often told that the game development process is torturous. If that really is the case, then Game Dev Story is pro-games industry propaganda of the highest order because it makes it all seem like a barrel of laughs.Crunch time
Beginning with a humble team of four (plus your occasionally-helpful secretary), you start developing games in an alternative reality version of the mid-1980s.
Starting out making PC games (you can’t yet afford the license to make games for consoles like the Intendro IES) you must hire staff (coders, writers, producers etc.), take on contracts to pay the bills and increase your research points (which can be used to level-up your staff among other things), and decide on what sort of game to make.
After a while you find yourself working with bigger budgets, better staff, and newer consoles. You can even develop your own console, once you get to a position where you can employ a hardware engineer.
This is all achieved through a delightfully simple set of menus and a neat isometric view of your office. The style of it reflects perfectly the 8-bit and 16-bit eras that make up the first half of the game, with bold emoticons and speech bubbles indicating what your staff are up to at a glance.
It has a splendid sense of humour that anyone versed in video game lore will appreciate. When the "Intendro Virtual Kid," a knowing dig at Nintendo’s disastrous Virtual Boy, comes onto the market, your secretary doubts its potential, and I couldn’t help but smile when Medical Gear won an award at an end-of-year ceremony.Debugging
There are a few problems, some minor, some major. The minor niggle list includes the rather random nature of the aforementioned ceremony (I saw Packet Monster Blue winning both the best and worst game of the year awards at the same event). There's also the way the game doesn’t make full use of your handset’s screen real estate.
Two larger issues book-end the game. There's a lack of adequate information early on, with your secretary's help all-but drying up after a brief initiation period. It would be nice to have each job role explained in detail, for example. A glossary would have been a welcome addition.
At the other end of the scale, the game runs out of meaningful challenges in its second half. By the time of the 3D console era I had assembled a ridiculously talented team who could churn out guaranteed hits at will. The game’s long-term appeal is damaged as a result.
Still, its target audience is the kind of knowledgeable group of gamers who will pick up on most of the early challenges without too much fuss, and will get many hours of entertainment out of the game before its appeal wanes.
That this game about games can inspire such devotion is a testament to its brilliance.
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