I'm working on becoming a game developer, and I've worked in the industry briefly. Game Dev Story, by Kairosoft, is an iPhone game that lets you helm your own studio and tackle the day to days of running a major development house. Will it stack up to real world experiences? Will I feel truly at the helm of my own development house? Well...after my initial foray into iOS gaming, Game Dev Story is easily my fast favorite, and here's why.
When you start up Game Dev Story, you get a nice little introduction from your Secretary about how to hire people...then the rest is up to you. The screen was charming enough, tapping anywhere brings up a neat little menu you can control the whole company from. The game's products are split into two types: games and contracts. A game is put together from genre, type, what platform it's going to be on plus a special focus. Contracts are short jobs with no development cost to you, that pay you when they're done (read: easy money.) A little metrics readout gave me information about current projects, the quality of your current project, deadlines and so forth. Little developers would bounce into the studio, sit at their stations and get cracking on whatever game or contract project I set. Once in a while, they get up and converse, or come talk to me (the manager) asking for permission to try risky, expensive maneuvers to improve the quality of your project. It was sometimes hard to get the more precise controls to work (spinning the metrics readout is counter intuitive...and my massive fingers had to focus to hit some smaller menu options), and the lack of tutorial meant I spent the first few years flying by the seat of my pants, discovering how to put together the AAA titles myself.
The choice to use pixel art for Game Dev Story was perfect. The employees remind me of character from older games. Little emoticons and dialog bubbles give you just enough feedback about employees condition and updates about the project. Instead of reading charts of graphs, the interface was tucked nicely into the iPhone's screen without crowding. The music is sadly forgettable, serving as a dronning undercurrent to all of the game...but the really nice thing about Game Dev Story? You can run the Music app behind it, and listen to Infected Mushroom while your team cranks out another hit. Bangorang.
For a simulation, Game Dev Story is a great break down of a complicated process. A simulation breaks down the important parts for the user to digest, and Game Dev Story takes a broad look at the process to walk the player through each step. Each game has four variables (Fun, Creativity, Graphics and Sound), and your job is to make sure each of them are as high as possible. With that as your focus, it's pretty easy to figure out what to do to achieve it: train your employees to learn more genres and types, level them up. Your goal is a game making factory, and with only four variables to balance and only one way to get/worry about all of them (hire the right people), you're not really doing all that much to aid in the development besides approving things, or ordering some advertising. The real fun comes in when your games are released, watching the sales numbers soar. It's invigorating and fun. Then, later in the game, you'll be invited to conventions to sell your games, and to the Global Game Awards. Taking first at the GGAs is technically the "goal" of the game, and I hope soon my company Ace Games will take the prize. So is it like a real studio? Yeah. You come in, sit down and work on a project, take risks, fix bugs, hire contractors, sometimes take on a contract yourself, go to awards shows, deal with new hardware on the market...it's a pretty great breakdown that fits in the palm of your hand.
Game Dev Story isn't for everyone. It suffers from "sim game pacing" and Is more about management than engaging game play; the story of the game studio is so ingrained in the features that it's hard say if Game Dev Story could stand out without the flavor. I think it benefits greatly from showing the player a boiled-down, game-goggled glimpse of what it's like on the other side of the corporate logo.
Game Dev Story is available on the App Store for $.99. The author bought and played the game till year 5, sampling all major features and events in the game.