Pros: Incredibly Addictive Gameplay, Cheap Download
Cons: Far Too Easy, Boring Aesthetics
I'm one of those people who has had a hard time getting into gaming on mobile phones. With the Apple iphone came a big push for developers to release simple touch screen games for the new platform. I'm not a fan of Apple products so I went with the next best thing - an Android based phone. I tried downloaded several games even the super popular Angry Birds, but nothing particularly caught my attention. Then I heard of a rather curious simulation game created by an unknown developer; Kairosoft. This title, Game Dev Story, puts you in the role of president of a company that creates video games. Naturally I found the idea intriguing, and I didn't even mind paying the few dollars to download it. Little did I know this turned out to be one of the most addictive titles I've ever played, on both cell phone and home console alike. Unfortunately the game lacks lasting appeal, but it's a fun ride while it lasts.
Game Dev Story lacks an intricate story, ironically enough. Basically you're in charge of a company (that you may name yourself) that develops video games. That's it, but for a simulation game this is an acceptable set-up. Time passes here (with weeks passing in a matter of real life seconds) and games take time to develop. Furthermore, new game consoles for which you may create games are released at specific points in the timeline, and what's interesting is the fact that this very closely mimicks the history of systems from the NES (called the IES in this game) to the Nintendo DS (called the Intendro DM). You have twenty years before the game is over and your high score is recorded, but in theory you can play for an infinite amount of time. At this point you can start over and carry many of your stats over to a new game which will help a great deal in beating your previous high score. Due to the subject matter and scenario I do not imagine this game appealing to casual fans, but Game Dev Story should be right up the alley of your typical hardcore gamer.
You begin the game with three employees, but one of these is your secretary and does not count. While you can start out developing games right out of the gates it's best to hire some more talent in order to increase the quality of your work. You are given various methods of advertising for hire - in the beginning you are given only a few options but as you progress more will unlock allowing you to hire better employees. Each character in the game has a job which includes the likes of writers, coders, sound engineers, directors, producers etc. In addition, each character regardless of job has a specific set of stats which determine their aptitude in game development. These areas include program, scenario, graphics, and sound. They can be trained in various ways to increase their stats but can only do so much before you must allow them to rest. Each character also has a level rating and like in a role playing game this can be increased through the use of research data thus improving their stats. While you can only have four employees at first your headquarters will become upgradeable as you play and eventually this can be doubled.
Now it's time to get to the meat and potatoes - developing games. You don't have any direct control over this process as you can only select a genre and type as well as choosing the direction. If you want to make an adventure pirate game with a focus on the game's world then you absolutely can, or perhaps you want to make an action horror game with an emphasis on cuteness? It's all possible, though some genres do not mix well with specific game types. A lot of this can be figured out simply by using logic, but you will often have to rely on trial and error. The game warns you when you've got an unpopular combination so you will get better as you play. Furthermore, each genre and game type has an ABC rating which determines its current popularity and these seems to change as your game releases seemingly affect the market demographics. During the development process icons appear over your employees heads and at certain points you must select who to put in charge of scenario, graphics, and sound. You can also contract outside people for this job, but this will cost you money.
Game development progress is handled by a percentage displayed at the bottom of the screen. While in production little icons will appear over each of your employees head seemingly at random. These indicate that an employee has increased one of the values from the game which is determined by the symbol that pops up. This can be a trumpet for sound, controller for fun, and more. The frequency at which this occurs has to do with how adept your characters are in the various areas that I mentioned earlier. If an employee becomes encased in flames then they are on a streak and will increase the game's stats to a higher degree. The entire process is actually quite random, but I can't help but imagine this is one thing it has in common with game developers in the real world. You can use items to manually increase the various areas of the game in development, and sometimes characters will request to work in specific areas and are then capable of increasing these by a large amount. If you run out of money mid-development you can cancel the game, but this will lower your team's morale.
Another big part of the game is in advertising. After a game is released you can track its sales progress at the bottom of the screen, and at the end of the week you recieve a report on how many units have been sold and its sales ranking in the top thirty. At the game's release it is reviewed by four critics on a scale from one to ten. While the ratings depend mostly on the game's stats there seems to be a certain random element to this. If you score an average of 8 points then your game is entered into the hall of fame and you are then given the option to make a sequel to it. Though the rating it recieves has some effect, game sales are mostly dependant on how big your fanbase is. This can be increased by paying money for various forms of advertising, or by participating in the annual Gamedex trade show. In the beginning your games will sell thousands of units, but in the end mine were reaching multi-million figures.
The game is incredibly addictive because of how fun improving your company is. As I mentioned earlier your office will be expanded twice which will allow you to hire more employees, but at this point you are also given access to new forms of advertising, and methods of hiring. Additionally, you can unlock new genres and types of games through various methods including training specific employees and merely trying out different combinations. The game is very limited at first, and half the fun is in unlocking everything. Your ultimate goal in Game Dev Story is to develop your very own video game console by training one of your employees in every job and eventually promoting them to the rank of hardware engineer. Unfortunately it isn't long before you've seen or done nearly all the game has to offer, and with the curtain pulled back on all surprises the incentive to play dimishes rapidly.
This brings me to my next point - the game gets very old very fast. While you may find yourself addicted for hours in the first session continuing can get rather boring because it gets too easy. Game Dev Story is significantly more fun when, in the beginning of the game, you're struggling to manage money while trying to make a popular new title. It is because of this that I normally only play for a in-game years before I start over from the beginning - it's just not interesting enough for me to keep going after having seen it through already. When you can pump out million selling titles every single time the incentive to keep going disappears. For a sequel I hope that Kairosoft can find a way around this perhaps by increasing the difficulty a great deal so that decisions you make aren't just important in the very beginning. Game Dev Story is an incredible ride until you 'break' the game by getting too much money.
I really like the game's presentation. It uses a pixelated graphic style that is very cartooney and resembles the old style of retro video games with the blocky two dimensional sprite based visuals and vibrant colors. The game features minimal animation as the screen rarely deviates from the view of your office. It is here that you can see your various employees as they plug away at their computers, or walk around the room occasionally interacting with each other. What's nice is the game makes use of the gyroscopes found in most phones and as such turning the phone sideways will give you a wide horizontal display. My only minor complaint here is the fact that many of the characters use the same graphic models, and in this day and age it seems like it wouldn't be too hard to change them up a bit, even if it was just a change in color palette. Overall this game isn't going to impress you technically, but stylistically it is more than adequate. I played this game on the Motorola Droid X with minimal slowdown and glitches.
Sound is very easygoing and non-threatening in this game, but it's also a little boring. The compositions are all simple in nature and made to replicate the old bleeps and blips of classic games, but I would liken most of what it has to offer to primitive elevator music. Don't get me wrong, it's decent enough, but just not exciting in the least. Fortunately the music changes each time you upgrade your office so you never have enough time to get worn out on any particular song, except the final one of course. Sound effects are done very much in the style of the music and are made to replicate how retro games sound. These aren't bad, but nothing stands out in particular. Overall I like the style Kairosoft was going for here but find the sound to be quite boring.
Controls are a sensitive area when you're talking about touch-only, but unlike many games released for mobile phones, Game Dev Story is perfectly suited for this method of input. You are given the option to either just touch menu items directly or use a virtual directional pad on the touch screen to make your choices. I find that both methods work, but I prefer to touch the options directly because using a touch screen directional pad has always seemed asenine to me. Despite the on-screen selections being rather small I've found that the controls are surprisingly responsive here and I make far fewer errors than I expected. Furthermore, the interface is quite easy to get used to and after only a few minutes you will remember where the important options are due to its simplistic nature. The game controls far better than I initially expected.
Game Dev Story has almost single-handedly sold me on gaming on the Android platform. That's quite a feat - this is one of the most addictive games I've come across in many years. It's also one of the few games for my phone that I've sat down with for hours at a time. It's a great game for sure, but don't expect to get a lot of mileage out of this one as it gets very old very fast. I highly recommend giving it a shot if you're like me and find the game industry fascinating. It only costs $3, so what have you got to lose?