If you like to keep up to speed with the games industry as a whole, rather than just play the games it churns out, then you'll probably be aware that a fairly alarming number of games development studios are closing down these days. To the casual observer, this might seem a bit odd... all games sell millions, so developers must be bathing in money, right? Not so. Maybe you'll understand the situation a little better if you play Game Dev Story.
In this game, you take the management reins of a new software house. Naturally, the aim of the game is to rise from nothing to become a Valve-like behemoth, but the course of the games industry does not run smooth...
Five? Great! Send 'em in!
First things first. You can't knock out a game with just your secretary for help... you're not Jeff Minter, after all. Nope, to get anywhere in this game, you're going to have to hire some staff. Fortunately they're queueing up to work for your fledgling company. The difficulty comes in hiring the right staff. You're not going to get the best on your limited budget, but if you hire for their potential, you can train them over time and hopefully develop them into award-winners.
Having said that, there may be times when they're not quite up to the task at hand. No fault of their own... it's just inexperience. When this happens, you can give your project a boost, either by using items in conjunction with your research data, or by contracting some aspect of the work to a specialist outsider. What you have to bear in mind is that these things all cost money, and until you have a hit on your hands it's in limited supply... so choose wisely.
This project is really heating up...
Once your game is finished, it's time for the release. It'll help if you pay for advertising at this time... you need as many people to know about your game as possible. Then you can sit back and watch the sales mount up. Or can you? It doesn't pay to sit around, and while your staff might be a bit burned out to be considering anoher game, you can take on other projects to keep funds ticking over, such as creating scenarios or sound FX work. There's always plenty to do.
This all sounds a little bit dull, but it isn't at all. It's entertaining... interesting, even, to see how this game industry works. And it helps that it has a nice sense of humour. The game is littered with cute little references, and the best thing is they tie in (somewhat) with real gaming history. So if you know your consoles, you should be able to figure out which ones to throw your weight behind in the game... and which ones to avoid!
Damn! We were hoping for the Dreamcost 2.
I've seen a lot of reviews that complain about the graphics... that although the style is nice, the iPhone is capable of better. I think that's missing the point. Just because "better" is possible, it doesn't mean it's suitable. The pixel-art style this game employs fits really well, and that's much more important than adding extra flash. Similarly, there are complaints that the game doesn't fill the whole screen. If this affected gameplay, fair enough... but it doesn't. To me, Game Dev Story has very cute graphics that fit perfectly... that'll do for me.
Hurray! What a bunch of stars we are!
If there's one game that Game Dev Story reminded me of, it's Rock Star Ate My Hamster, which I played back at the beginning of February. It has the same reliance on hiring the right people, making the right choices regarding work and advertising, and some nice subject-related humour. That also means that there's a chance the repetitive gameplay will become stale over time. And with the relatively expensive (for the iPhone) £2.39 price tag, some might not feel like taking on the risk. Personally, despite my usual apathy towards resource-management games, I've fallen for the charms of Game Dev Story, and it's a very welcome addition to my iPod Touch.