Everyone who has fancied themselves gamer have at one point dreamed of crafting their very own video games. After all, with so many games sopping in the juice called suck, their ideas would succeed because they know games better than some passionless suit, right? Kairosoft tests your game design, marketing, and employee management skills with Game Dev Story, a $3.99 universal iPhone and iPad game. You play the role of a game development company president who attempts to transform a small, indie company into a gigantic AAA level studio over two decades while staying within budget and appealing to the whims of game players and reviewers.
You begin Game Dev Story by naming your company and hiring coders, musicians, visuals artists, and other who will take your genius video game idea and turn it into an actual sellable product. These individual talents are typically one-trick ponies who specialize in one area of game design, but you can level them up to be more productive worker bees (with the trade-off of higher salaries). You’ll do the majority of the work in-house, but you can also hire freelancers to handle the load.
The PC is your initial platform of choice, but you’re presented with the option to program for numerous home consoles that parody real-world gaming machines both past and present–but it comes at a cost. For example, if you want to program for the 16-bit Senga Exodus, you have to purchase a license. These licenses don’t come cheap (and can eat a nice chunk of your budget), but should you craft a hit title you can expand your base and rake in big bucks. Even better, you can rewrite history; you can, for example, keep the Senga Uranus on the market with a string of hit titles. Should you conceptualize the right title.
And this leads me to my biggest gripe: Game Dev Story stifles innovation. My idea for a ninja puzzle game was deemed poor after completion and received crap reviews from the gaming press. On the other hand, my idea for a ninja action game was far better received and generated lots of income. After some semi-deep thought, I concluded that this could’ve been meta commentary on the game industry itself. Still, I was quite disappointed that I had to stay within the safe confines of the video game industry and gamer interests in order to make my company grow. Experimentation was very much discouraged, so I started making very similar games over and over again. That got old fast.
Game Dev Story features cute and colorful 16-bit graphics that look like they were pulled from a SNES. They do a good job of individualizing each worker as they rattle off code and get in a zone by catching on fire. The environments are simple offices that become more expansive as your rent bigger space to house your employees. Game Dev Story makes small use of the allotted space; it takes up just have of the interface, revealing its Asian cell phone origins. Chipper 8-bit music backs the simulation, which is fitting considering the simple visuals.
Game Dev Story is a fun, engaging title, but after a few hours of repeating the same formula, you’ll want to set it aside a bit. But until you reach that point, you’ll have a blast rewriting history and, eventually, creating your own video game console. For $4, this little dose of video game history is well worth the price of admission.