As part of the Steam Sale, I acquired a copy of Game Developer Tycoon. What attracted me was the Theme Hospital-like feel to the game which I’ve lost many hours to over the years. Once again, I’m late to the party (ten months late) but I’m glad I bought it – it’s another game I could easily lose many hours to if I don’t watch my step.

The Premise – starting in the early eighties (let’s say 1984 because one year in game time elapses before the release of the NES/TES), you’re a game designer operating in your garage (or Doc Brown’s garage…) making titles after the Great Video Game Crash. Your character clearly knows a little of programming as you have the basics of coding a game from scratch but as the game progresses, you need to put time, effort (and money) into researching the latest developments in video gaming.

Controlling the game is deceptively simple as the characters barely move, except to scratch their heads and to bash at their keyboards. When a title is being developed, you have a series of nine sliders to adjust to determine how much effort goes into the nine parts of making a game. Once you feel you have the right balance, the game is released, reviewed and hits the sales stands. Using profits gained, you can plough more money into further game development until the time is right to expand your fledgling empire to make bigger and better titles on the latest machines as they are released.

As your company grows, so too do the options for making games and researching new technologies. There are opportunities to participate in gaming events, to make your own consoles or MMORPGS or to take on sideline work and earn some pocket money (and research points). You can work with some of the gaming greats as well as training up n00bz.

And that’s pretty much it – it literally follows the KISS method (Keep It Simple, Stupid) of gaming but keeps you coming back for more as you try and make the next big thing. But don’t think you can make a bunch of Super Mario clones and hope for the best… You don’t need to have an in-depth knowledge of video gaming to fully interact with the game but it can’t hurt as you will know the types of games that work with particular machines and when to design and release them. The game will give you a potted history of gaming during the 30 years or so that a game will run for (good thing your character isn’t a Peter Molyneux clone, imagine all those overflowing ash-trays).

The other thing to note is that through Steam, there are a number of mods available for the game to keep it interesting and just that little bit different.

Graphics: as I say, on the crude side animation wise but pleasant to look at. Some pimping would be nice but it’s not essential as it doesn’t break the game. As a casual/sim, it doesn’t need particularly sexy visuals.

Sound: Jaunty little tune which doesn’t seem to get annoying, the popping of the research bubbles is nice but again doesn’t really need to be sound-tastic.

Replayability: I’m on my fifth company… The game has a nice facility whereby the hints you gain in the previous game can be carried over to the new one which gives you the option to learn what makes a good game and what doesn’t or you can play from scratch every time. That’s a massive plus. It can get a little boring staring at a relatively static screen much of the time though you don’t want to distract yourself too much.

Lastability: With the mods, there’s a chance to keep the game fresh or at least keep things interesting. And the sheer number of research options and game categories will allow players to experiment a lot with differing types of games.

What I’d Want: The ability to design coverart for the games – sometimes that can determine whether or not a game is a good seller. But I can imagine that’d be tough to weave into this particular version of the game. For a sequel, I’d really like some more alternative history potential. For example if you make a killer game for the G64 (C64 equivalent), that can help save the company and branch out into the future. Also the ability to make console exclusives and celebrity endorsements (John Madden, Wayne Gretzky etc) would be a nice touch.

Overall: worth the cash, particularly if you like something quirky, not too involving but still guilty of “just…one…more…turn”.