Game Dev Story

John Gameson is a parasite. Here we are mere weeks from launch and he’s yapping: “I’m not sure I can do my best.”

Get out of my company.

That’s the God-sim part of Game Dev Story. Not quite as extreme as The Sims’ no-ladder-in-the-swimming-pool trick but I like to think John Gameson got a job testing Zombie Apocalypse 2. Whatever fate had in store for John, he’d been axed. 2-Bit Studios would go on without its lead coder.

The Gary Glitter Story went on to ship 16,000 copies. Interestingly the majority of copies found their way into the hands of the tween demographic. Even with review scores averaging at 40% and review comments like: “Why did they do this to us?” we had our foot in the door of every 12 year olds’ bedroom in the country. Fitting.

That’s Game Dev Story’s ingenious inner workings. You’re alwaysaiming a little higher; there’s always something just over the horizon and you’re never good enough.

You make games, choosing the genre and then hamfistedly the “type” – stuff like ninja and Egypt, inexplicably. With those boxes ticked you set your little team of ants to work. They sit at their 8-bit desks, tapping away on 8-bit keyboards, burning out 8-bit eyes. But there is always a project reaching fruition or a decision crying out to be made meaning there’s no downtime and no chance to get off the ride. It’s criminally addictive, if wholly simplified.

Back at the studio capital was dangerously low so we took to contractual work. We made piss-poor movie CGI effects, fashioned irksome ringtones and translated scripts. Souls officially sold.

You level up your employees, slightly awkwardly, with research data amassed through the development cycle. The data – which looks like a floppy disc – sits in the corner of the screen waiting to be injected into the brains of your drones. Sure everyone could just improve automatically along the way like, you know, the real world, but that’s not as involving as having to micro-manage your entire work force.

Game Dev Story is deceptively deep. Deceptive partly because it costs less than a Happy Meal and partly because you just don’t expect to be managing ad campaigns, trade show appearances and outsourcing key work in a title that doesn’t require mouse input. But you wouldn’t want to play it on anything other than an iThing. It’s that slick. Even the deeply nestled menus that detail the sales figures, critical reception, cost and profit from games made a decade ago are only a finger tap or two away.

You have to spend money to make money in industry and so arrived the time to move the studio to a bigger office and invest in new tech. We had a string of semi-hits on the Exodus but it wasn’t until the Game Kid emerged that we really got our name out there. The year the Game Kid hit the shelves we attended Gamedex – the annual tradeshow. Crowd comments included “uh” and “boring” but we left with an expanded fanbase and an inflated sense of self worth.

Every now and again you’re hauled out of your little office and into either the Gamedex event or the Game Awards Show. The Game Awards Show is Kairosoft’s smartest inclusion. The event is rigged. It’s so rigged – or broken – that at one ceremony we attended the title awarded “Best Game” also won “Worst Game” (an award that, brilliantly, comes with a $300K penalty). 18 years in and with a review average of 90% I was still waiting on that coveted prize.

“Pensioner” sent us a fan letter.

“Hello!” Pensioner cried. “I’m the biggest 2-Bit Studios fan in my town.”

Other ways besides adoration that Game Dev Story keeps you playing:

  • There is never a moment of rest. In true Rockstar fashion, the office never shuts. Your employees burn out after a while but in that scenario they get up, leave the office, and then come right back.
  • The little timer in the top left corner of the screen. We’ve just finished Red Dead Robot and it’s the Holiday period. Sales are naturally higher at Christmas. Having put Red Dead Robot out we can take a break, right?  Wrong. Now it’s time to watch the dialogue box as sales data immerges. Where did we debut? How did the critics respond? Has our fanbase increased? All answers drip-fed to you post-release.
  • New consoles are constantly being released. To develop on these consoles requires an extortionate license fee. To save your company from shoveling shit onto decadent consoles you’ll need to pay that license fee. So you make more cynical sequels. Forever working with the lure of something better.

As your team of hired drones slave away, little icons pop out from their ears. Each of the workers specialises in a unique discipline so you have coders, musicians, artists and the like working together, but their skills govern how many of these icons spew forth from their heads. The icons increase the fun, creativity, sound and art stats associated with the game. The more icons the more hype the game receives. It’s quixotic but works in the abridged context of the game.

With Tiger Does Nam (a golf shooter) we had a hit. It went on to break the 500K sales barrier. One critic commented: “So close and yet so far – 6/10″ – whatever that meant. We took it as a compliment. Tiger Does Nam debuted at number 5 in the charts. It was a barnstormer.

From there we started resting on our laurels. We coughed out more sequels, rushed the development process, I fired our talent to make way for Hollywood icons and made a motion-controlled trivia game about Egypt. All this soul selling culminated in the hiring of one Stephen Jobson.

With Stephen Jobson came the engulfing desire to sink the once fledgling studio I’d slaved away over for the best part of six hours, three bus journeys and a lecture on 3D animating. I hated Skwiing, I despised Red Dead Robot 3 for its dated graphics and rehashed mechanics. And yet the people flocked to our products like they were the ailment to all the diseases and all the wrongs in the world.

And that’s where Game Dev Studio trips. Once you’re up there, there’s nothing left to do. It becomes a silly God simulator, delegating success regardless of decisions made through the process and alienating you entirely. No matter how many motion control card games you put out, no matter how many times you skip the QA process, it’s nigh on impossible to force the pillow down over the hype. And then what? You start again, the whole process again and again endlessly.

Game Dev Story is intoxicating in the worst kind way, the kind you only realise when it’s too late, when you emerge dazed and grouchy two days later thinking: what was that all about?

It’s intoxicating in the worst kind of way: The Sims kind of way.

8/10

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