Late to the party as usual, I’ve just today started playing Game Dev Story on my iPod. And what a charming little game it is! In no time at all I had started a new and tiny studio called TeamWork (also the name of my Skate 3 team, for what it’s worth) and we were working on, as I recall, a puzzle game about animals, cunningly called Puzzimals (yes, I italicised my imaginary game).
The game itself involves a lot of time watching virtual little people programming and making sound assets and so on for you game while a percentage indicator creeps up toward completion and while your company hemorrhages funds. There are lots of numbers to watch increasing (like creativity, fun, bugs, your employees’ energy levels, …) and a profusion of little “events” that constantly happen (you level one of your employees up, a saleman drops by, you try to find someone new to hire). Such that you’re always kind of busy, but also more or less just watching the virtual game being created.
Having developed four games with my studio now (including Manimal and Ninjaed – is naming the best bit of the game?) I’ve now had at least a small taste of how it feels to play. And it feels great.
At present I’d rate the most interesting and pleasing element of my experience as being the sheer mediocrity of my company and its games. We do kind of okay, but nothing amazing; we barely have any money; my staff members are constantly developing hare-brained schemes to improve the games that then backfire; there’s a vague waft of depression in the office. In short, we are not a shitty game developer, but we are by no means good either. We just exist.
It’s a special experience to be mediocre – it’s an experience that is essentially absent from the narratives of most games, particularly once you move from sports games (though even there you’re encouraged, implicitly, to adjust the difficulty to suit you – Game Dev Story has no difficulty setting). In general when we play games we see a story of exceptionalism of one kind of another – exceptional killers saving the world, exceptional people leading exceptional lives.
And then there’s TeamWork, the little game developer that kind of could, kind of couldn’t.