Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Sunglight Games
Publisher: KISS ltd
Review code provided free of charge by the publisher.
If there’s one thing that you should know about videogame development it’s that you should never annoy a programmer. They are a nervous species prone to bouts of insane violence and absurd shyness in equal measure. That fact, though, doesn’t really have much to do with Game Tycoon 2, a sequel to a game I never played that was released way back in 2003. Still, it deals with videogame development, and how can I not find that interesting?
It attempts to capture a reasonable amount of the process. It’s tempting to just leap in and begin developing games in a bid to earn those big payouts, but that won’t work. First you’ll need to sign a contract or two with either a distributor or a publisher who’ll determine the type of game and the platform. There’s plenty of information you need to consider when signing a contract, such as the deadline for actually creating the game, the minimum quality level expected, the share of the profits and whether the genre and platform suit your current suite of researched or bought technology. Distribution contracts require you to package your game and order up stock on your own, but publishers obviously handle that themselves. Publisher contracts come in two forms; either you just need to submit the completed game, or you’ll need to sign, submit a concept and then put in your finished work, earning a chunk of cash at each milestone to help fund the project. At any point should you fail to uphold your side of the deal, be that through missing the deadline or not achieving a good enough quality level, you’ll be hit with a hefty contractual penalty. Naturally this system trades fun for realism; by having to adhere to contracts you frequently can’t make the titles that you want to make, and instead have to simply develop whatever the contract demands, although some of them are quite lenient, like giving you the option to forge any genre you want so long as it’s on a PC. Later on, though, you will get the option to run your own server and sell games through that, tossing aside the need to sign up with another company.
With a contract in place you’ll know what you need to get working on, and to do that you’ll need to hire some staff from the local university located on the world map. Each staff member has a few important stats; their speed and work quality, whether they’re freelance, project based or permanent employees and their salary. Once you’ve employed a team you get to control a few things, including how many hours a day they have to work and how much holiday time they get. You can also promote staff and send them off for training to improve their stats. Or you could just fire them all, I suppose.
In possession of a contract and some staff you can get around to making a game. Well, almost. You’ll need to delve into the research menu and start building up a collection of technologies that you can use to create a game, starting with things like simply text output, keyboard control and beeps, and working up to photorealistic graphics with surround sound and huge multiplayer options. These options can be added to a game on an individual basis, or you can make your own custom engine which cuts down development time and costs, but isn’t quite as flexible since you can’t hand pick which technology and feature should be added. You can even let other companies buy your engine or license it, and indeed you can buy an engine yourself if you want to get started as quickly as possible.
Okay, now you finally have everything sorted you can actually start developing a game. This begins by simply creating the concept, which involves picking a name and genre. After that you’ll get to select what attributes you want to focus on. Depending on the genre of game you selected each of the four stats will have a few points already assigned to them, and you’ll be given a further four points to invest where you want, therefore for an RPG you’ll probably bump up the story while a racing game needs better gameplay. The only stat that is something of a mystery is labeled Speed, and for the life of me I still can’t figure out exactly what it means. With that done you can move on to other things, such as selecting the type of technology you want to employ when developing the game, the platforms it’ll ship on, the amount of languages it covers, the resolution level and even how long the beta phase should be. As you adjust the options the predicted costs of the project will be displayed along with the completion date. With all of this information you can create massive triple-A titles packed with the latest technologies that will retail for the full $60, or bust out budget titles that sell for much less. After that it’s on to the project board where you can assign staff and then begin the actual development work on the game. It’s a simple system that naturally has the side-effect of never letting you get even remotely invested in your company’s projects. Every game you create is just a few pages of vague stats that you’ll fire through in about a minute or so, although you do feel somewhat attached to your first few big projects where you sink serious cash, technology and time into making as you want to them to succeed.
With a project fully complete and ready to go things get even more interesting. With a publisher you simply head back to the lawyer’s office on the world map, flip over to your contracts, find the correct one and then submit your game to the publisher. If you’ve chosen to sign with a distributor, however, things are a tad different as you instead head for the warehouse. Here you get to actually package your games up, first selecting which titles you want to put in the box, be that your latest masterpiece or a compendium of previously released games. You can then opt for the style of manual you want to put in, too. As the game progresses you get access to increasingly cooler stuff that you can shove into the box, like stickers, t-shirts and more, basically letting you build up a collector’s edition of sorts. Want to release your totally-not-copyrighting-infringing Elder Scrolls series into a single collection? Go for it! And why not toss in some insane tat as well and charge even more for it all? Of course the more you buff up the package the more production actually costs, so you need to weigh up the cost of actually manufacturing against the pricetag you decide to set for it the game. Finally you choose what sort of copyright protection you’d like to stop your title being pirated, the quality of the cover and the quality of the manual, and how many you want to be produced. You’ll also have to keep an eye on stock levels, too, in order to ensure you always have copies sitting in the warehouse. Having said that, once you get larger and start producing a lot of titles keeping track of stock all the time can become a drag. It’s tempting to just buy a crapload of stock simply so you don’t have to worry about it.
Once a game finally gets released you’rer introduced to the game’s blessing and its curse; the lack of information. On the one hand the fact that Game Tycoon 2 doesn’t insist on holding your hand is admirable. Trying to figure out how to actually be successful requires some trial and error as you juggle how many staff and projects you should have on the go at once, what technology should be used, when to double down on a big project etc.. That’s perfectly fine, but what isn’t is when your game gets released and given a low review score with absolutely no method of finding out why. Despite having been apparently reviewed you’ll never be able to access any of those reviews to find out where things are going wrong or even get feedback from customers. In fact review scores almost seem entirely random at times as you can be absolutely sure of doing everything correctly and yet still get a low score, and yet the next time you toss out a cheap, badly made game simply to fulfill a contract and try to bolster the coffers it gets received far better and earns you a pile of cash. Yes, in the real world pure chance is a factor in review scores as so much can contribute to them, but not this badly.
That’s hardly the only area in which the game can be can problematic with both its interface and the information it provides. For example new platforms are released and taken off the market as time goes on which creates an interesting system wherein you obviously want to try to take advantage of a popular device. And yet the game provides no way to analyse any of the data and thus heavily investing in any platform would initially seem silly, at least until you realise that their success and failure is actually based on history and therefore is the same every time you play. According the developers there’s already an update being worked on to randomize this to make the game more interesting, so hopefully we’ll see some times for actually trying to figure out which platform will be worth your time and money. The game does inform you of certain events occuring, like other companies releasing games or technology research finishing, but not of others such as advertising contracts expiring. In fairness the developers have already made a few major steps toward improvement since release, sticking in a menu system along the top that lets you jump to all the different locations without ever having to return to the world map if you don’t want to, so hopefully as time progresses everything will get cleaned up.
There’s other stupid stuff that doesn’t make sense. There’s absolutely no way of working out how investing in extra goodies in a package or perhaps upping the quality of the copyright protection and game cover could potentially increase sales, so you just throw money at the production and hope that it’s feasible. Likewise you can spend a small fortune on advertising a couple of your games and your company in general, perhaps opting for a PR tour or a booth at a convention, but have absolutely no way of figuring out if you ever saw a realistic return. There’s no data to check out, and you can’t extrapolate the numbers either since there’s simply too many variables at play. All you can do is throw advertising cash at one of your more lavish projects and simply hope it isn’t a waste of your resources.
A small attempt at giving you some basic information is provided in the form of a magazine which lists the popularity of platforms and genres. This at least lets you aim your production in a general direction, giving you something to go on when picking and choosing contracts. Still, for a game of this nature I just want so much more information to be available, although I suppose that might scare off some potential players who don’t want to deal with such things. But then, they don’t have to. Such data can be hidden away for the more diehard to process. Right now while you can find out what platforms and genres are popular at that very moment in time, the chances are they have lost that popularity by time you finish developing a game. Some graphs that let you track rises and falls in popularity would at least let you attempt to judge whether a wave of love toward one genre or platform might not last much longer, or whether it’s worth the financial risk.
Through all of this you have to deal with an interface that constantly wants you to jump back and forth between screens. A lot of it is in a search for realism; you develop a concept on the computer, then click through the project room where you assign staff to the game and begin its creation. Again, the new bar at the top of the screen helps to a degree, but the game still has a rough interface.
There’s some other things thrown into the mix that should be mentioned to. You have a home of sorts that you can furnish with bits and bobs bought from the mall using the personal salary you set for yourself, which is a neat touch if an almost entirely pointless one since you can’t actually do anything with it. You can also visit the bank to take out a loan or attempt to invest some cash in the stock market, a risky proposition that can either leave you hurting badly or give you a nice cash boost. It’s a complete crapshoot, however, so unless you have big sums of cash just lying around there’s very little point in bothering with it.
There’s a tutorial mode to help guide you through the basics of the game before moving into a singleplayer campaign where you’re given a series of objectives, like selling X amount of copies of one game, for example. The tutorial suffers from some awkward English and a lack of voice-over but it does a reasonable enough job of imparting how most of the core mechanics work. As for the missions themselves they mainly exist to provide some semblance of focus, something which doesn’t exist so much in Endless mode which simply gives you a company and lets you get on with it. Still, I’d say that Endless mode is the most appealing aspect of Game Tycoon 2.
Presentation is also a problem as the developer’s tight budget becomes very apparent. The main menu displays three atrocious looking characters that you can use as the figurehead of your company. Thankfully you’ll never need to actually look at them outside of the menu, however, as the rest of the game attempts to cover up its vastly outdated graphics through the use of simple static screens. Even these don’t like anywhere near as sharp as they should, though. On the other side of the presentation the music is just….oh, god, it’s just terrible. I can’t even begin to describe. It almost sounded like a porn flick at times.
Game Tycoon 2 is another of those games where you can feel the potential running through almost every facet of it. The developer’s desire to include so many aspects of videogame creation, from signing publishing contracts to handling staff and advertising your games, is completely admirable. It does, however, seem that they bit off more than they could chew in their attempts to create such an inclusive simulation. They even threw in elements like the house and stock market that simply don’t need to be there. The time used to create them could have been far better spent working on everything else. Still, though, with all of its problems you can feel that potential lurking in the background, and to the developers credit they seem genuinely determined to improve their game. The first major update after release has already helped make the interface a little more usable, and there’s quite a few other plans already in place to make Game Tycoon 2 a better experience for everyone. But of course that’s all a big maybe that might occur in the future and a review needs to tackle the right here and now. Right here and now, then, Game Tycoon 2 is massively flawed. If you love the idea of a game development simulation it’s worth getting, but only if you understand what you’re going to get. Consider waiting for a reasonable sale, too, or until several major updates have hit.