Saturday, April 28, 2012

Game Dev Story (Android)

Rating: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun and addicting with nice pixel artwork and a little humor thrown in
Cons: Middle to end-game could use a little fleshing out

Game Dev Story is a wonderful gem of a simulation game from Kairosoft, the same company that makes Dungeon Village and Pocket League Story. This is one of those games that is both simple and complex at the same, with addicting gameplay that keeps you coming back for more. It's hard to tell what's updated or different between versions as the game doesn't appear to have any type of change log, but the current version being reviewed here is 1.0.7, which is 5.4MB in size and requires Android 1.6 or later.
In addition to the Android port reviewed here, Game Dev Story is available for Apple iOS devices like the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. I play Game Dev Story on my Motorola DROID 4 where it works flawlessly. If you would like to test the game out before buying it, you can find Game Dev Story Lite on Google Play (formerly the Android Marketplace), and that will let you play the first two years of the game for free. You can't level up your employees very far or unlock many of the game types in that short period of time, but you can kind of get a feel for the game before forking over the rather modest cost of $2.50.
In Game Dev Story you assume the role of the president of an up-and-coming game company. You get to hire and fire various staff members and train them, advertise your company and it's games, create various types of games and eventually even make your own game console. It's all fairly simple to accomplish, but gets increasingly complex as you attempt to master the intricacies involved with it all. Nearly everything is done using the simple but effective touchscreen menu system, and the menus aren't really deep or unwieldy.
You start off with a couple of low quality staff members and $500k. You get to name your company, maybe hire a couple of staff members to fill your two empty seats (highly recommended) and then get started. There's not really much of a tutorial, though the game does present you with a few informational pop-ups to point you in the right direction. You start off with 5 different genres of game you can create, and 8 different game types. These numbers increase dramatically as you progress through the game and unlock additional genres and types, and combining the right combinations to create amazing games is the key to success.
Some combinations of genres and game types will be more successful than others. A Fantasy RPG for example is a good combination, while an F1 Racing Shooter game is probably not going to do as well. Of course late in the game after you have a lot of really highly trained staff, pulling off an odd combination is no longer an issue. It seems like no matter what kind of game you make, it always ends up as the #1 seller, gets rave reviews from the critics and sells a lot of copies. That's my only complaint about Game Dev Story -- when you make an Audio Novel about Golf or a Card Game about Architecture halfway through the game, you really shouldn't be bringing in Game of the Year awards.
In any case, after you chose the genre and type of game you get to choose a staff member to write the game proposal. 40% through the development cycle the game reaches Alpha testing and you choose another employee to focus on game graphics. When you reach 80% it's time for Beta testing and yet another employee choice to focus on sound. You can choose different employees for each, or choose the same one for all three if that staff member meets the requirements. Only employees that have started the Writer job can write game scenarios, only someone who has been a Designer can focus on graphics, etc. Note that this is only for the main choice points, as any character can work on any part of the game during the normal development cycle.

The names of things are a little bit humorous as well. Take the original Nintendo (NES) for example; one of the consoles in Game Dev Story is called the Intendro IES. You also have the Sonny PlayStatus (Sony PlayStation), the Senga Exodus (Sega Genesis), the Microx 480 (Xbox 360), etc. Characters are the same way, examples being Gilly Bates (Bill Gates), Donny Jepp (Johnny Depp), Walt Sidney (Walt Disney) and Lady Googoo (Lady Gaga). The bits of parody and humor in the game add a little something special, and it's something Kairosoft has continued in at least one of their other games (maybe more, but the only other one I currently own is Dungeon Village).
Every character has points in each stat; programming, scenario writing, graphics and sound. As your game is developing they all sit at their desks plugging away at finishing the game, and as they do so little icons appear over their heads. If it's the sound icon then your game gets some extra points into sound quality, if it's the gamepad icon then it gets extra points into fun, etc. Creativity and graphics are the pieces to your game development puzzle. Some jobs have higher innate stats in certain areas than others, but the effects add up as you master more and more jobs. Eventually all my employees were Hackers with hundreds of points in each stat.
The more points a staff member has in a stat, the more he contributes to the game. While a novice code writer with 18 points in programming may toss a point into your game's fun rating every so often, a hacker with 600 programming may toss in 20 points at a time sometimes. This is why dumb game combinations can become huge hits and rake in piles of money; the end game needs a little work. Your employees won't only contribute to the game though, they can also introduce bugs and develop research data. Bugs just sit there accumulating until your game is finished, and then your employees squash them and develop an additional point of research data for each one. You can ship your game out before all the bugs are gone, but it's nearly always pointless as the bug squashing doesn't take long and it's nice to have the research data anyway.
Research data is used to level up your employees, and it costs varying amounts depending on which level of which job the employee currently has. Leveling up employees can unlock new game types or genres, and can increase their stats a bit, but it also increases their salary by like %20. The most important reason to level up an employee is to max out their jobs at level 5 to unlock new jobs. This is how you get a Hardware Engineer job so you can develop your own game console later in the game. After mastering Hardware Engineer, you also unlock the Hacker job -- which allows a lot of stats in all four categories for your employees. In addition to leveling up your employees, you can also train them by spending cash to make them watch anime, go to a concert, sit in meditation or even take a trip somewhere. This also nets them stat improvements, but the benefits cap out at different points depending on which training method you use, what level they are, etc.
After completing your game, a little pop-up appears with scores from four different game critics. This should give you some idea as to how well your game will be received, but like I said earlier you'll get great scores from any random thing with enough stat points for your employees. Getting an average score of 8 out of 10 (32 points total) will make your game enter the Hall of Fame, which means you can produce a sequel for it later. Sequels begin with additional points in the game stats to start with, so they're usually a little easier to get high scores with. You can keep making sequel after sequel as long as each one makes it into the Hall of Fame.
You can also invest money into various forms of advertising. These range from simple magazine ads, to sponsoring a blimp to writing on the moon. The cheaper forms of advertising will raise your company's fame with different demographics. It even keeps track of your fan base in a nifty chart with 5 different age groups for males and females. Every so often the chart even changes as the oldest age group (41+) falls off the chart and a new group (5-12) appears at the top. The more fame you have, the more people look forward to your games being released and the more copies they will buy. Getting each demographic into the 900 range will go a long ways towards making sure you sell a lot of games.
Each week in Game Dev Story takes like 10 seconds in real time, so playing through the 20 year main portion of the game doesn't take an exceptionally long time. The first time I played through it I was just killing time in the waiting room at the dentist's office and I got about 5 years in, but by that point I was hooked. I played it during my next couple half-hour car trips and then finished off the last couple of years when I got home. You can keep playing indefinitely after year 20 but it no longer adds to your score. The main point in this would be to level up the different game genres and types, as those will carry over when you start a new game.
There's more little things to this game that I could sit and ramble on about for another few pages, but suffice it to say that if you're a fan of simulation games then you are going to love Game Dev Story. Even if you're not a fan you may like it anyway, it's really quite fun. I wish they would have done something about the end game though, because after a few play-throughs with every random Action game about Checkers selling like hotcakes, you really start to lose interest. It's absolutely terrific for the first few play-throughs though, and unlocking all of the different genres and types of games will take you a while.
The sound effects are simple and the background music is mostly the same piece looped over and over again, but I usually have the volume turned all the way down anyway so it didn't effect me one way or the other. The graphics are kind of nice with the entire game boasting some unique looking old school pixel art. Game Dev Story is presented in an isometric view and the graphics are pretty clean and detailed. My only complaint here is the fact that there is no landscape mode when I turn my phone on it's side, and even in portrait mode there's a lot of empty space on the screen both above and below the gameplay area.
At the beginning menu, you have the option to turn a virtual gamepad on. If you do this, it moves the gameplay area up to the top and eats up all of the empty space. There's really no point though, as the gamepad just controls the menu navigation which is just as easy to touch as the pad is. I would have much preferred a larger gameplay area, but it's just a minor quibble. Maybe the small pixel art wouldn't look as good if it were blown up to a larger size, who knows. In any case Game Dev Story is one of my favorite games to play on my phone, and is actually the very first paid game I ever purchased for it. If you're undecided, play through Game Dev Story Lite for free a couple of times and you'll be hooked in no time.

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