Giant Bomb Review64 Comments
Game Dev Story Review4
by Ryan Davis on
It runs out of steam before it finds some semblance of a conclusion, but this twee, oddly knowing take of the game development process can be curiously engrossing and hard to put down.
As much as Game Dev Story leaves out of the game development process, it covers an admirable amount of ground, and does a pretty good job of laying out the simple, rhythmic flow of the game. I could go into painstaking detail of all the little mechanics tucked in here, of which there are truly legion, but the basics of the business boil down to hiring a staff, choosing the platform, genre, and theme of your game, choosing which employee you’ll have focus on the initial pitch, the graphics, and the sound, doing some debugging and then pushing it out the door, seeing how the critics and the game-buying public take to the game, maybe spend a little money on advertising, and then rinsing, and repeating. Each and every one of these little factors, plus dozens of other, smaller decisions you have to make, can determine the success of each title. It’s fun to experiment and mix and match weird genres and themes--like, say, a historical golf game--and then seeing how successful the results are, but the game obfuscates so much of the math behind each little step that it can, at times, be tough to really min-max the process.
While you manage all the little details, including, but not limited to, the training of your employees; whether you choose to attend the annual games industry convention GAMEDEX and how much you want to spend on a booth; whether you want to take a break between dev cycles to take on a quick, potentially lucrative contract job; all the way down to the freaking seating chart for your employees, you also have to keep the big picture in mind, since running out of capital in the middle of the dev cycle will cause that game to be canceled, and cranking out cheap, quick, low-quality games will prevent you from ever winning any awards, or developing any games good enough to warrant a sequel, never mind getting your company to the point where you have the know-how, and the cash, to develop your own console.
Though it adheres to a pretty strict arc for each game you develop, the game is constantly introducing new genres and themes to play with, new consoles to consider developing for, and bigger offices to make space for more employees. The action in Game Dev Story ultimately boils down to two simple acts: selecting various menu items, and watching various meters fill up. That’s really it! The only real objective in the whole thing is to just make the best durned games you can muster. The game “stops” at the 20-year marker to tally your accomplishments, but you can still keep playing after that, should your heart desire. Personally, by the time I hit the big two-oh, I had pretty thoroughly burned out on Game Dev Story. For one, those twenty years represented a lot of hours with the game, though the mobile nature of the iPhone and the ability to play in short bursts makes it hard for me to peg an exact play time. The real issue, though, is that I just ran out of new, interesting ways to expand my company at a certain point, and was kind of grinding out games year-in, year-out. When Game Dev Story works, it’s because of the constant carrot-on-a-stick of incremental expansion, and all the busywork can make it hypnotic. I just reached a point where it ran out of carrots.
The boxy, pixel-art-style visuals that more than a little recall Habbo Hotel establish the cutesy tone of Game Dev Story, though it’s also jam-packed with characters, consoles, and competing developers and games with names that wink towards real-world games business and pop culture in general. The constantly looping music in Game Dev Story can get pretty shrill after a while, though there’s an option to mute it that I’m very grateful for, and over time I developed a certain Pavlovian response the rest of the game’s cheery little chimes.
The menu-based interface is clunky as hell, and the odd letterboxed look of the visuals betrays the fact that Game Dev Story was somewhat hastily ported from another mobile platform. But the quick, turn-based pacing still makes this a pretty terrific fit for the iPhone.