Quill18, a YouTube’r that I watch occasionally, uploaded a short “Let’s Play” video of an indie game called “Game Dev Tycoon” about a week ago. The game was developed by Greenheart Games and was released about six months ago. A preview “Lite” version had been available for about six or eight months prior and a free demo version is currently available. The full version of the game is $8 and is can be purchased directly from the developers for Windows (up to Windows 7), Mac and Linux. If you are running Windows 8, you can purchase the game from the Windows Store. It will be available on Steam sometime in August. The developers promise Steam keys to current purchasers once it become available on Steam.
I haven’t been paying nearly as much attention to the indie scene as I used to and was simply amazed at the quality of the game. Keep in mind that “the indie scene” is only a comparatively recent thing in my mind. For a big chunk of the game’s time, the field was dominated by indies and major publishers were few. It is only recently that the field has become dominated by major houses and indies have become a bit of a backwater.
The game starts in the mid-1980s. In reality, video games predate that by close to 10 years and I don’t want to think about the number of quarters I shoved into “Pong” in the late 70s or into the likes of Pac Man and Donkey Kong in the early 80s. You are an aspiring game developer working out of your garage. Your aim is to dominate the video game market by releasing hit games, becoming a AAA game producer, developing and licensing your own game engines and eventually developing and selling your own hardware.
You have 30 years to reach your goal, but failure,in the form of bankruptcy, waits for the foolhardy. Along the way you will get to see some of the more notable (or forgettable) systems that have come and gone, choose platforms that meet your development and audience needs and crank out games of various types and genres. Easter eggs abound. For me, it was quite the trip down memory lane, although I am sure that younger gamers will look on a lot of this as being ancient history.
Story: 9.5 (“story” is a stretch – there is none; “premise” would be more accurate)
Overall: 9.5 (not an aggregate or average)
Story: there isn’t much to tell beyond what I gave in the description. There is no story, just a premise for why you are doing what you are doing it. It’s a very good premise and the game supports it in every way. It’s simple, to-the-point, mostly believable and engaging.
Graphics: this is not a shooter or adventure, so don’t expect anything flashy. Simple 2D cartoony animations is about the extent of it. But it doesn’t require anything more, so that 7 is mostly just a heads-up that you shouldn’t be expecting anything eye-popping. The graphics fit very well with the rest of the game and it shouldn’t strain even a budget system.
Gameplay: there is a lot going on behind the scenes. You choose how to best allocate your development time into game engines, story-writing, quests, sound, gameplay, and the like. You will need to hire employees to help you reach your development goals and allocate their time and skills appropriately. You can focus on design features, go tech-heavy or try to strike a balance between the two. Choose your style, genre, platform, audience and engine components and crank out those games. Very straightforward, but not quite as simple as it sounds.
You will receive messages in the form of pop-ups that tell you about trends in the gaming world, new platforms being introduced, old platforms being retired, where you are in your development cycle and so forth. The low gameplay score is the result of the incessant pop-ups. Just when you’re ready to do something in-game, there is a pop-up that needs to be cleared so that you can continue what you’re doing. All in all, I found it extremely annoying to the point where it had a significant impact on my enjoyment of the game. For the most part, the news pop-ups occur at exactly the same points in time each time you play, so a suggestion to the developers would be to make the pop-ups appear the first time they are supposed to, but make them less intrusive in subsequent games (because there will be subsequent games – that 10 in Replay is there for a reason).
A second, and much more minor complaint has to do game responsiveness, or the lack thereof. Even though it’s likely that most players will be using a mouse to play, there is no right-click option. Everything is left-click and it is sometimes easy to miss your target. At times the game became very unresponsive. I had to dump out with the three-finger salute several times because the game stopped responding to the "<ESC> key. It didn’t happen very often and it mainly occurred when I was wanting to quit the game, anyway, but it unnecessarily raised the frustration factor.
Aside from the major and minor gripes, the rest of the gameplay was very smooth and very simple. This is not to imply that making it through the entire 30-years is simple (it isn’t), but it’s a sim and there is quite a bit of a learning curve on what’s OK at which times to keep yourself afloat, but that’s one of the major appeals of the game. It will certainly present a challenge the first two or three times you play through it. The subsequent challenge will be to repeat or surpass your earlier performance without becoming formulaic.
Sound: I’ll try to be fair on this. My wife found the sound to be exceptionally annoying. After an hour or so of playing, she would invariably come close the door so she didn’t have to listen to it. On the other hand, it didn’t bother me in the slightest. The music and sound effects fit very well within the context of the game and just kind of fade into the background. There is not a Grammy-winning soundtrack to be found here and it is repetitive. Like me, the player will probably just filter it out since they are engaged with the rest of the game. Like my wife, anyone else in the area might take issue with it. There are basic sound controls (master volume, music on/off, and sound effects on/off), so it’s not like there is nothing to be done for the rest of the house. Just be warned and maybe keep a set of headphones handy. All in all, the sound worked very well within the context of the game.
Replay: The game is not likely to become anyone’s obsession. It’s not horribly long. The whole 30 years can be knocked out in a handful of hours. Expect a lot of “What do you mean I’m bankrupt?!?” and reloading until you get the hang of it, though. The developers are continuing to make tweaks here and there, so I suspect that a lot of other people’s issues will get resolved before the team moves on to their next project. But in its current form, the game will definitely grab your attention, hold it and keep you coming back.
Overall: This is a great little game. If you’re into sims, you’ll get many hours of entertainment for less than the price of a matinee movie ticket, a late-release DVD or even a current-release CD. The game will keep you engaged and has a wonderful “just one more” feel to it that will keep you playing. In the words of one of the in-game reviews, “Quit reading and start playing.”