GAME DEV TYCOON / Greenheart Games / PC
One thing that has to be adressed right out of the gate with Tycoon -- it bears major similarities to the earlier Game Dev Story, to the point where the word "ripoff" is not uncommonly used in describing it. I haven't played Game Dev Story as of this writing, but just from watching Youtube videos of it, Dev Tycoon is definitely at the very least a clone.

But let's hold up just a second before passing judgment. Greenheart Games -- which consists of two guys working out of a garage, much like the starting state of their game -- openly cite Dev Story as an inspiration. In fact, here's the exact quote from their website:

Game Dev Tycoon was inspired by Game Dev Story (by Kairosoft), which was the first ‘tycoon’ game we enjoyed playing on the iPhone; however, from the start, we wished the game would work and look differently. We wanted a game development simulation which would be less random, more about your choices and a little more realistic.”

Of course, copping to copying something and then charging money for it anyway doesn't really make it much better, if at all. But I'm willing to give the little guys the benefit of the doubt on their claim that it's basically a re-imagining of the same idea but with tweaks to suit their personal preference, all-new art and music assets and dialogue, and with more overall depth and game length added. It's still a very gray area, for sure. Kinda in the same territory of selling an unathorized fan modification of a game. If EA had done this I'd roast them, but two bros working out of their basement with no budget gotta get off the ground somehow I suppose.

And here's another important fact -- if you're running Windows 8 or later, this is available on the Microsoft Store and Steam, while Dev Story is not. So, moving on to the merits of the game proper.

Dev Tycoon starts you off in a garage somewhere in the early-mid 1980s, when the PC and the C64 were the gaming platforms of choice. Rather than mechanically making games in any way, it's a pure business sim and resource management game, similar to your numerous other Tycoon games.

Games are made automatically for you simply by choosing variables -- what platform to publish to, the genre and the theme to start, with more coming later as technology develops and you sharpen your skills. So your first game is likely to be a matter of simply choosing, say, PC, RPG and Medieval from your menus, then you kick back and wait for your dood to program it. You gain experience from making your game, then the magazines will give it reviews. The reviews contribute to the sales, which bring in the vital income you need to keep feeding yourself and cranking out more games. You do get to choose the name of each game, however, which is really half the entertainment value of the whole experience.

The game spans 35 in-game years, and time is always passing as you're making games and doing research to learn new techniques that allow you to make even better games. As time goes by, the release schedule of fictional systems roughly mirrors the history of actual systems and handhelds, with a few left out (an Atari 2600 stand-in is conspicuously absent, for example). Previously useless knowledge of gaming history actually comes in really handy here, as by thinking of the hits of the past you'll usually be well rewarded by making your own equivalents.

The two-man garage outfit that made the game had their Graphics and Music slider down most of the way, apparently ... the presentation is about as basic as can be, though I do like the Michael Jackson-y tune that plays when things are going well for you in the early going. The condensed video game history lesson that unfolds as you play is entertaining on its own merits, but a little more color and charm in the environments and animated characters would have gone a long way here.

A little more gaming history may have been wanted, however, as it eventually runs into the same problem that many strategy games before it have, going all the way back to the original Civilization and SimCity. It's best in the early going, when there's relatively few variables to manage, and gradually becomes more tedious and unmanageable as your little empire grows and you've got piles of shit all over the place to keep track of. Eventually you'll have to move out of your garage and into an office, and this is where the game starts to become a little more trying than fun. You have to hire and micromanage employees, worry about manually marketing and hyping games (I was forever forgetting to go into the hidden "marketing" menu during game development cycles), worry about having stuff in the pipes for the annual E3, etc. The commitment to incorporating all these aspects of running a game company is admirable, but I felt that hiring staff should have allowed for a lot of this stuff to be automated to at least some degree.

Another issue was that game themes were handled somewhat poorly. You're given four random themes at the start of each game, and researching them is equally randomized. So, for example you could start out with Zombie, Dance, Fashion and Business ... and the next two down the pipes are Surgery and Vocabulary. Not a great selection for the early PC / NES years. You can really get hamstrung if this random draw comes out the wrong way, and it's a little ridiculous that you can't simply just pick your own topics to research.

Though not original, it's a neat premise and has that addictive quality (at least until things get too sprawling and unruly). It also seems to have delivered on its promise of having more depth than Dev Story, though some charm was also lost along the way. But it's not a terrible choice for a time-killer that's friendly to mobile devices and doesn't pester you with microtransaction crap, and if you've been with gaming since the '80s you'll get a lot more out of it.

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