I've always been of fan of tycoon and simulation games. No matter what job is being shoved in my face, I'll likely find something to enjoy in it. I've been a one-man demolition crew in Demolition Company, lorry (Did I just say 'lorry'?) driver in the SCS Software games, manager of a nice few spots in Vegas in Vega$: Make it Big!, a ruler of a Banana Republic in the Tropico series, amongst too many others to mention. For a long time, however, I always wanted a game that give some sort of experience that reflects, at least to a degree, game development. That game is Game Dev Tycoon... or at least for the most part.
Before I get into the gameplay, I'd like to mention the more obvious things first. The sound is flamboyantly "meh". The music is mediocre and repetitive. I recommend turning it off. The only other sounds are mostly just little boops and bings. For whatever reason, I like these boops and bings, probably because they're boopy. And bingy. And I like boopy and bingy things, dammit.
The visuals are equally as simplistic, looking like a slightly more simplistic version of The Sims Social on Facebook. While there's something to be said for simplicity, these visuals get kind of tiring to look at after a while, which is simply made worse by the fact that there's only three locations in the game. You'll be staring at the first location for about an hour, the second for about two to four hours, and the third for however much longer you play the game. The character models mostly wear outdated clothes and some have weird hairstyles. The best way to describe the visuals is 'indie', which is basically a way of saying, "You can tell these guys didn't have a bunch of artists." For a two-man development team, I'd say the visuals and audio are servicable. They work with the gameplay, but they don't exactly complement it either.
Now to talk about the meat of the game which is, as in most cases (save for those Dear Esther kind of 'games'), the gameplay. The game starts you off in what I estimate to be about 1980 or 1982 in a garage by your lonely little friendless, necessity-less, ageless lonesome. Well, at least there's a DeLorean behind you, but you're too busy trying to set the world record for "longest time sitting in a chair without getting a blood clot" to walk over to it, get in, then go 88 miles-per-hour in that sumbitch. That takes effort and you'd also have to start the timer over for the world record thing. So, you know, screw that DeLorean.
Anyway, you basically start designing games revolving around a small number of topics. As you put these games out, you earn research point and money, both of which are necessary to creating a successful development house. Research points are used to research technology, new topics, and improve the skills of yourself and the employees you're later able to hire. Money is spent on developing games, engines, and is also needed to improve your employees' skills. It is also used for research, development, maintenance costs for MMOs, etc. Basically, these resources are REALLY FRIGGIN' IMPORTANT, BROFIEND.
Now, each game you create is made with three development stages. Each stage has you adjusting sliders to best fit the game or, more specifically, the genre that you've chosen. Put the sliders in the ideal position and you have a much greater chance of getting a higher average review score. Now, before I continue on and start talking about review scores, let me just say that sliding sliders around isn't the best mothersliding way to go about this, or at least it isn't what with the way they've implemented it. You see, most of the games you create will be self-published, save for the few publishing deals you make to try to make enough fans to make self-publishing medium-sized games profitable. Because it's self-published, you don't have publisher release dates constricting you, yet the game acts like you do in a weird way. So, let's say you're looking at one of the development stages and, for world design, you decide to have your game be open-world, have realistic weather and a dynamic world. Now you have to invest more time into world design in order to make the world design work 100%. If you're self-publishing, why can't you just push the release date of the game back until you've worked enough on world design? Why do you have to take time away from making the graphics and sound better for the sake of world design? It'd make sense if you were working under a publishing deal, but you aren't. So it's illogical. Case concluded.
Now, I mentioned review scores in the previous paragraph. Review scores are the be-all, end-all and if your game is reviewed like the turd it is, it'll sell like the turd it is. So you better hope the reviewers become incompetent and rate your turd highly or you're out of work, bucko. My problem with the review scores is simply the way they're handled. Basically, the game pre-calculates a total score for your game based on a bunch of behind-the-scenes crap (which can be read about on the game's wiki), then divides that total score into four numbers on a 1 - 10 scale. However, these scores are always right by each other. You can't have one reviewer give the game a 5, then another give it a 10. On the other hand, I have to complain about this: Getting a game with four 10s is hard. Pretty much every time I get really high numbers, one of the scores screws me over, usually by giving me a 9 while the other 3 give me a 10. Trying to get a game with an average review score of 10 feels nearly impossible and revolves around luck for the most part. Needless to say, it's really rather annoying.
I'd also like to say that the most employees you can have at any one point in time, excluding the R&D people, is seven. Seven game developers. I understand that they did this in an effort to allow for easier management of individual employees, but come on, man. Seven employees can't create two large-sized games in a year. Just saying.
I have to criticize how creating game engines work in the game, as well. After you do enough research, you can create a new engine. Unfortunately, you can't update the engine you have to, say, support open worlds. If you want an engine that supports open worlds, then you're gonna have to create a brand new damn engine. It's for this reason that your company isn't going to be a constant innovator in technology. It kind of sucks. Oh, and you can't use another company's engine to create your game, save for the first 10 minutes of the game before you've built your own engine. Yeah...
A big problem I have with the game is it's user interface. It feels incredibly touch-screeny. Honestly, I would've preferred a more informative, PC-centric interface because this really doesn't relay enough information to you easily. If the game wanted to make managing employees easier, it picked the wrong way to do it in some areas. Also, while the game lets you see the list of games that you've made (though I would appreciate information such as: The publisher, the audience you targeted, amongst others), it doesn't offer that for consoles. Once you discontinue a console, you'll never again be able to see how much it sold, the year in which it was developed, how much it cost to develop, how much it made, etc. There simply isn't enough information presented to the player and that's a damn shame.
That's another big problem I have with the game: There's simply not enough. There's not enough information, game consoles, employees, or ways to manage the company. You can't put your games into beta or have play-testers, or anything of the sort. You also don't have to worry about competition, though you can sabotage "competitors" at some points in the game. What effect that has, however, is not made clear. These "competitors" literally have pretty much 0% effect on how you run the company. You also don't have to buy your IP back if you created a series using a publisher. You're not able to buy dead IPs from a company and try to create your own game in the series. And I have to hit on that "only seven employees" thing some more. I'd like to create a huge developer with 200 to 300 employees. When it comes to topics, the game doesn't allow for a more in-depth decision on them. For instance, I had a developer that created exclusively simulation games on the PC. A lot of those simulation games were sports games, though not entirely. I instead had to create games with other topics because the game has decided that, well, creating two sports/simulators in a row is just boring because, you know, they're the same two games. Yes, because my tennis simulator and my football simulator are the same two games. With topics like 'sports', I'd like sub-topics for a number of sports (which includes crew! No love is given to crew, I swear). Same goes for post-apocalyptic; there could easily be nuclear/zombie/plague/biblical post-apocalypses, amongst others. Also, the topic you've chosen doesn't affect how you move the sliders. So a military simulation requires just as little effort put into dialogue as a hunting simulator. How very disappointing.
Anyway, while I have a looooong list of complaints with the game, I still like it a lot. It's addicting as you try to create that perfect game and watch your sales and profits skyrocket. Ultimately, it's still a shallow experience that has a lot to learn before it can really be considered an in-depth tycoon game.