Mobile phone games are trivial and pointless. The genre hasn’t sufficiently advanced since Snake 10 years ago – when I excitedly found Snake 3 on a handset a few weeks back, it was a total letdown, silly 3D movement and all.
That’s what I thought about the state of mobile gaming for some time… until I found Game Dev Story for Android a few days ago. Where other popular games like Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds introduce a single physics mechanic then bang on about it for 30 levels, Game Dev Story actually contains something worthwhile.
The game is a loose simulation of a game development studio – starting with a few programmers and artists in a back room, you make your way through video game history, developing games to beat the budget and please the public. You can choose to make games in a multitude of genres and themes, with more combinations being unlocked steadily as you progress.
Beyond the fairly simplistic gameplay, which is mostly just making executive decisions on staffing and development via a menu, there are clever ways to get ahead — some combinations of genre and theme work better than others. There are ‘hacker’ characters that’ll lend their elite skills to your team. New video game systems will be released, offering new possibilities for development if you can afford the steep license fee. You can even make your own console, assuring a steady stream of income and a lasting impact on the virtual world.
The feedback provided is beautifully done, with each step being reflected in the company’s fan numbers, trade show attendance figures and ultimately that most precious prize – reviews scores and sales. The rewards are given out slowly; you watch first as your game’s fun, innovation, sound and graphics scores tick slowly upward, receive release scores from the world’s most finicky gaming magazines, and gradually sales ramp up. It’s an addictive process that you’ll find yourself repeating for years in the game world.
It’s this slow release that makes the game so impossible to put down, like eating a packet of Skittles or Malteesers one by one. Sure, it’s mostly empty calories, but the periodic sugar injection will really keep you going on a long train-ride. And for a man stuck writing a review on a long train-ride, that means a lot.