Game Dev Tycoon scratches a specific, strategic, nostalgic itch
As a commentary on the pitfalls and perils of a modern development studio, Game Dev Tycoon’s management simulation nails the risk/reward of creation versus iteration. Do you risk your company profits on a massive sci-fi shooter franchise that might set you up for the next ten years? Or do you settle into a rhythm of surefire hits with gradually dwindling rewards as audience apathy reigns, fans gradually become disillusioned and technology moves on?
The genesisAt first, it’s all about innovation. Starting out in a basement, Game Dev Tycoon asks you to develop the career of a lone coder in the early 1980s, crafting small-scale hits from a selection of genres and game types that can be gradually unlocked with research points earned from your last project. As your career progresses, real-world consoles (and the PC) are mimicked with fake counterparts that become gradually more expensive to develop for, and as your company grows you’re able to hire and fire staff, move to new digs and craft titles for systems right up to the PS4 and beyond.
Do you risk your company profits on a massive sci-fi shooter franchise that might set you up for the next ten years?
You’re not actually writing lines of code of course, but instead choosing where to invest your time during three distinct development phases along with making numerous decisions on when to splurge on marketing and conference stands. An action-adventure game might require a focus on all the technical areas to succeed, as an example, whereas an RTS will benefit from bumping the AI slider up to the max at the expense of graphics and audio.
Those recipes are further complicated by bolt-on value-add features such as 2D or 3D graphics, linear storylines, character progression and a huge swathe of others that can be researched and inserted into a new engine at a cost. They arrive alongside the real-world consoles that inspired them; 3D graphics show up around the era of the Saturn and PS1; surround audio with their more modern siblings; achievements with the advent of the 360 and PS3. The list is vast.
Releasing a game means judgment from four magazine journalists before dumping the resultant product into the market to generate profits and a buzz that could either make or break your burgeoning company. Rinse. Repeat. Too many games in the same genre will see scores bottom out and sales dwindle, but risking everything to release a critically acclaimed darling in an unproven market could bring the whole operation to the ground. Platinum Games says hello.
Anybody that played Kairosoft’s wonderful Game Dev Story will attest to how addictive this formula is, and Game Dev Tycoon will do well by anybody that ever looked at a middle-of-the-road shooter and thought they could do better, daydreaming about unbridled creativity and unlimited budgets. As an experienced player of the former title however, it has to be said that Game Dev Tycoon walks a fine line between homage and flat-out copy.
Although the basic gameplay loop of assigning staff and resources to particular areas, moving to new offices and training up specialists is pretty much identical, Tycoon does add further layers of complexity that mimic the real-world process, and those end up as just enough to differentiate it from its competition. The likes of dedicated game engines, more research options, increased development choices, multi-system releases and publishers sustained my interest for long enough to complete a full 5-6 hour playthrough, and the compulsion to release just one... more... title is as strong here as it ever was in the other camp.
There’s more data and more insight into the underlying simulation too. Decisions in Game Dev Tycoon are more often than not based on research and documents gained from reports on previous products, and there’s a sense of honing a craft and a formula for each genre that isn’t quite present in Kairosoft’s handheld title. It’s a little more meaty in all areas as a result, and as a PC release that’s a welcome direction. Additions such as the R&D lab and hardware design add even further branches of complexity in the back half.
- Addictive formula
- Deeper than rival titles
- Moves the genre forward
- Just. One. More. Game.
- Graphically underwhelming
- No variety in audio
- Presentation a little bland
Game Dev Tycoon ReviewAs a compulsive player of Codemasters' underrated Rock Star Ate My Hamster back in the days of the Amstrad CPC 6128, titles like Game Dev Tycoon scratch a specific, nostalgic itch that feeds directly into whatever governs addiction in my brain. They’re all about quick iteration, fast decisions and generating a sense of momentum until you reach the pinnacle of their topic; which with Rock Star was a number one single and album, and in Game Dev Tycoon is a series of perfect 10 scores and an ever-increasing bank balance.
It's all about repetition and honing your formula to become the best it can be, all the while catering to a market that changes its requirements with regularity. In that regard Game Dev Tycoon certainly isn't an original game if you take Kairosoft's Gave Dev Story into consideration, but it does just enough to move the genre forward and make it worthwhile for those of you with experience.
If I’ve learned anything at all from Game Dev Tycoon it's that iteration is sometimes necessary, but there's always room for improvement. That sentiment is encapsulated neatly in GreenHeart Games' project.
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