Any actual game developers should suspend their disbelief now. GDC starts out with your newly appointed secretary (cue raucous laughter from indie start ups around the world) asking you if you’d like to hire some staff for your clean, cute and isometrically presented offices. There are explanations for all your in game options but your secretary will hold your hand through most of the game and keep you up to date with movements in the game market.
From here you go about making games. You hire and fire employees such as coders, designers, writers and sound engineers. You promote your company (which you get to name whatever you like) and its games (again you can call them anything you want which is in itself hilarious) with animal costumes, blimp sponsorship and lunar writing. You level up your staff by sending them on a walk, to play pinball or on a relaxing spa break. You buy licences for the major consoles in the market (which starts circa 1985 with the likes of Intendro IES and ends after about twenty years of game time has passed with the Microx 480) and you make games for them.
Starting out with game development is a doddle. You pick a genre (such as Action, RPG or Board) and match it to a game type (such as Ogre, Time travel or President). You will be given the option to use your staff to write the scenario for the game or, for an additional fee, to hire a consultant to do the job for you. About a third of the way through development (alpha stage) you need to engage in the same process for the graphics engine and then just over two thirds through dev time (beta stage) you pick a sound designer. You even get to ‘crunch time’ when your staff work furiously to get all the bugs out of your latest masterpiece. You can choose to release a game with bugs intact to save time but you risk releasing a ‘Drop-in Old New York’ and being slated for releasing a buggy mess.
If you can properly match the genre and the type (mini skirt trivia?) then you get additional focus points to allocate to your title. Game Kid games might require high fun and cuteness to target its younger audience whereas the Sonny Playstatus2 followers might prefer a more realistic and serious mushroom racing game.
The bane of your life will quickly become the faceless reviewer. They sit there on their lofty perches critically judging your latest educational poncho game for being ‘a little on the short side’. Games are marked out of 40, Famitsu style, and if you manage to get a high enough review score you can develop sequels to that title for any platform. Cue “Spelunking 8”, a horror racing epic (39 out of 40) that sold nearly a billion units. Linked to reviews are the four areas you can focus on for your games. Gameplay, creativity, graphics and sound. Make one area good enough and you’ll get the public buzzing. Max them all out and you might get chosen as a pack in game for a new console.
There is so much to do and discover that the suggested 20 year cycle just isn’t enough. You can choose to start again with your current stat upgrades or continue indefinitely until you discover how to develop your own Potato Chip, BD-Rom Portable system (the Mother ******) or until you manage to hire Shigeto Minamoto, Stephen Jobson or Grizzly Bearington on your staff payroll. It is seriously addictive stuff. Levelling your coder up to become a star director, hoping that you win Game of the Year at the Gamedex awards for “London 2012”: your marathon shooter classic, waiting for that crucial development boost (acquired with research data that you win by fixing bugs etc) from Lady Googoo to drive up the creativity on “Flock Band 5” – a music convenience store arthouse best seller.
Every action in GDS is met with a (hopefully positive) reaction. If you make intelligent game design choices your staff will become enthused and when they are enthused they work harder. This is represented by each staff member becoming literally ignited in flames. The visual feedback is encouraging and this carries through to all of the other tasks that you can undertake in the game. Poor decisions in the game will make it harder for your staff to succeed. Nobody wants to play a historical train game (apparently) and the input output stimulus are well matched enough that sensible decisions will greatly affect your studios fame and its bank account.
GDS lets you do most of the things you would want to do if you were in charge of a real development house. Hire booth babes? Check. Move to big offices? Check. Spend all your money so you can’t afford to pay your staff and you go bankrupt? Check. It also lets you do lots of things you would never even think you had to bother about. Making sure your fan base doesn’t age too quickly, avoid focusing too keenly on one area of the market to keep your horizons broad and most importantly make sure you actually release your games (Polyphony) so that your fans don’t lose interest in you…
The interface is completely touchscreen friendly. The music is passable but you’ll come to love the sound effects. The presentation is charming. You’ll come to care about your staff and you'll need to get your next game into the hall of fame. You’ll begin to lose interest in real life, your friends will stop inviting you out and if you commute you'll miss your stop. GDS is that good. It’s difficult to explain why you grow to care so much for your tiny development team. They are beleaguered by power blackouts that drain some of the points from your current game, they get tired if you use them too much for specific tasks or over-train them but despite all that they come into your office every day with a cheery hello and enthusiasm for their jobs. But all the while you’ll want to please the reviewers, excite your fans and make the next big thing.
It is hard to be totally impartial if you love the games industry because there are so many brilliant winks and nods along the way that you can’t help but smile when you find out that the Senga Uranus has a bigger market share than the Sonny Playdion. GDS is a perfect game dev sim. Kairosoft have matched the genre and the game type expertly and created a brilliantly entertaining system seller.
DISCLAIMER - In order to be impartial for this review NTSC-UK shared GDS with a non gamer to get some third party perspective. Their comments included:
“It’s really good – I like how you can call your games anything you want.”
“I was really ****** off when I changed Donny Jepp’s job from a producer to a coder and now he’s rubbish.”
“I finally won game of the year for Super **** Head.”
“My girlfriend stole my iPhone from me because I locked myself in the toilet to play it.”
We concluded that they enjoyed the game as well.