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Games for Lunch: Game Dev Story

Posted by Kyle Orland (October 18, 2010)

Games for Lunch chronicles the first hour of a different game every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Each hour ends with the answer to the only question that matters at that point: Do I want to keep playing? For more information, check out the Frequently Asked Questions.

Developer: Kairosoft
Publisher: Kairosoft
Release Date: Sept. 10, 2010
System: iPhone/iPod Touch
ESRB Rating: N/A
Official Web site (Japanese)

In a nutshell: A good game about making good games.

0:00 This game came out of nowhere to become the talk of practically every game journalist I know over the weekend, so I felt I had to see what it was about. It seems primed to indulge my interest in the behind-the-scenes of game development, too, so my expectations are pretty high.

0:01 Charmingly old school synth music plays over the title screen. It looks like a pixelated monkey is swinging from the G in the brightly colored title. New Game.

0:02 The default name for my company is Sunny Studios. Boooring. I got with "! Soft," which is pronounced "Exclamation Point Soft," thank you very much!

0:04 "Hello. I'll be your secretary here at ! Soft." First up we need some employees. A few taps through Menu -> Staff -> Hire. Word of mouth is cheap, magazine and online ads less so. I'm kind of shocked that online ads cost more than magazine ads in this game. I'd like to believe that's true, but it seems unlikely.

0:05 Shortly, three candidates for the job appear: Ann Deroid, Gilly Bates and Biggs Porkins. Cute. They all have numerical rankings in Program, Scenario, Graphics and Sound, as well as various power levels, contract fees and salaries. What do I do? What do I need? How do I choose? Whine whine whine.

0:07 I decide on Gilly and Biggs, because I figure coders are more important than sound designers, at this point. A tiny message tells me I've unlocked the "Racing" genre. I didn't know that was something a company needed to unlock...

0:08 I watch as my employees putter around an isometric view of a pixel art office. Everyone just kind of sits at their computer, typing away and looking around occasionally "Work!" says Gilly at one point. Um... OK!

0:09 I poke around the menu a bit and decide to develop a new game, because that's the point, right? Also, what were employees doing before if they weren't working on a game? Looking at cute cat pictures?

0:10 First I have to pick a development platform. The PC has only 38% market share, but costs only $10,000 develop for. The fictional Nippon Microx SX, on the other hand, costs $200,000 for a development license. I only have $340,000 in the bank, so PC it is!

0:11 Puzzle games are more popular than any other available genre, and relatively cheap to produce. I make it an animal puzzle game, because those provide the most popularity for the lowest price, Iím told. Pretty easy call, in the end.

0:12 Finally, I can spend some extra dough on speed, quality or research. I figure PC gamers are pretty discerning, so I invest in quality.

0:13 Oh, we're not done yet... I can invest "direction points" among Cuteness, Approachability, Simplicity, Game World, Realism, Niche Appeal, Innovation and Polish. I pump up Approachability and Innovation, because that's what I would care about in a puzzle game, and I am a genius.

0:14 And we're off. Well, first we need someone to write the proposal, actually. I go with John Gameson, because he's on staff and therefore free. FREE! He says puzzle games are his specialty as he pumps some code into the game's Fun and Creativity stats. NOW we're off.

0:15 "At last, it's time to start game development. Good luck!" The secretary explains that little icons will float up from my employees, representing improved statistics for the game and also, occasionally, bugs.

0:17 I watch as the developers code away. Fun is up to 18 and graphics and sound are doing OK, but there are a worryingly high five bugs already. Creativity could use some work, too. How do I guide this stuff? Am I just powerless at this point?

0:18 A coder was just engulfed in flames, which I guess represents a coding jag where she generated four "fun" points in short order. That's great, but you really should stop coding when on fire. Stop drop and roll!

0:19 Once the Alpha is done, I hire a pricey comic artist, Jake Kirby, to design the characters. He costs a whopping $95,000 but comes with 48 points of graphics expertise. That's... that's a lot, right? Seriously, I have no idea.

0:20 I continue to watch as characters run in and out, popping up inconsequential word balloons, igniting on fire, and generating point icons. Since I'm low on funds, I sue the relatively cheap "Music Fan." B. Toven for the sound design. "Not bad, if I do say so myself," he says of his performance, which generates nine sound points for the game.

0:22 The coding finishes with a fiery creativity streak worth nine creativity points. Now it's debugging time. I watch as my team slowly pops the remaining bugs. I can keep the bugs and ship early, but I want to focus on quality. Anyway, it's only September (or M9, in game-speak). Plenty of time to make the holiday rush.

0:24 The game is done! The 30 in fun is "high" but the 26 and lower in everything else is "low," I'm told. Well... OK then. I set the title to "Puzzbeast" and ship it!

0:25 The magazine reviews are in. Two 5's, a 4 and a 3 (out of ten, I guess? I hope...) "Close. Try harder. Better luck next time. It's an interesting idea! Some people may like it." Lousy know nothing journalists! "But not everybody listens to critics," my secretary encourages. That's true... in my experience, no one listens to me. "Let's see if it sells."

0:26 A small chart shows I have 33 total fans. They're mostly young males, but a few older females show up too. The game recommends getting the word out, so I splurge most of my remaining funds on some demo distribution. I just KNOW if the people see how fun it is, they'll buy it in droves.

0:28 I'm up to 99 fans, but I have to dip into my "emergency fund" of $150,000 just to stay afloat. 11,625 sales in the first week sales isn't enough to make sales charts, but just wait till those demos hit!

0:30 I watch sales slowly decline over the weeks... dang. Meanwhile, Senga announces the "Exodus," shipping 990,000 units at launch. I am loving these awful video game history puns.

0:31 I watch money slowly roll in from Puzzbeast sales, which just crossed the 34,000. I use some earned research data to level up a couple of my employees, which increases their stats but also they're salary. Damn greedy developers!

0:34 Puzzbeast is off the market, so I decide to start work on new game. I don't have near enough money for Exodus development, so I negotiate for a Microx SX license. My animal puzzle experience has increase both of those stats to "Level 1," so I take advantage and stick with what I know. I decide to focus on speed this time, because we need funds FAST. Oh, I don't have enough money to focus on speed. Well, normal development it is, then.

0:36 I take some points out of originality and put them in cuteness and approachability, because this game needs to SELL, damn it, and no one cares about originality in the marketplace.

0:39 Puzzle and Animal both "evolve" to level two because my direction matches what they demand. Oh yeah, I know how to make some freaking cute and approachable animal puzzle games! *flex*

0:41 John Gameson says he wants to try and improve the graphics. He says it will cost $50,000, which I don't have. Dude, don't I pay you a salary. Now you want MORE? GET BACK TO WORK!

0:42 The latest issue of "Game Guy magazine" tells me the Exodus has sold 1 million units, and hints that it's still in need of a killer app. If only I had the funds to make that app...

0:44 I barely have the money to pay for a cheap character designer, but the 11 points he puts into the game's graphics seems worth the price. I can't afford a good sound guy, so Biggs Porkins fills in and contributes a surprisingly decent nine points to the sound, plus some fun and creativity too. Not bad, Porkins!

0:46 My new game has achieved new heights in graphics, but everything else is pretty crappy. That's OK, graphics SELL, right? I name the game GlitzyQuest and ship it. The reviews: 4, 3, 4, 5. And here I thought all reviewers were just graphics whores. Shows what I know.

0:48 I wait anxiously for GlitzyQuest sales to come in. The first week sales of 22,953 make it #23 in the rankings. All right, moving up in the world! Plus, I finally have some money again.

0:49 My first fiscal year is over, which means I need to pay salaries. Luckily, the government is paying to encourage developers, so they've got this one. good thing, because I am pretty broke!

0:50 With my profits, I decide to invest in some online and magazine ads. I'm up to 172 fans, spread well across all demographics. Nice!

0:51 GlitzyQuest finishes with 61,479 sales, getting me back up to $360,000 in funds.

0:52 Now that I have a development kit, the next Microx SX game costs only $50,000 to develop. Good thing the Exodus hasn't totally taken over market, since I can't afford to develop for it. I decide to stick with animal puzzles, because I donít want to disappoint the fans! I splurge on a budget increase to lead to more higher quality and faster speed... gotta compete for those holiday dollars!

0:54 I pump some extra direction points into cuteness and polish this time around. John Gameson says he's not sure he can give this game concept his best effort. Uh oh... burnout? Already?

0:55 A traveling salesman comes by, but I don't have enough money to buy the cool, game-improving items he has on offer. Man, being broke sucks.

0:57 I switch up my developers' seating arrangement, just because I can. Biggs Porkins and the comic guy don't produce very inspiring sound and graphics this time around... I'm worried I might have a flop on my hands.

0:59 Market research says my fan base is shrinking because I've been releasing too many games of the same genre and type. Come on... who doesn't love Animal Puzzle games? Also, who commissioned this research? NOT ME!

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? I know at the core Iím just manipulating a few sliders and watching numbers go up, but the concept is so directly in my wheelhouse, I'm hopelessly hooked. The catchy background tunes, endearing old school graphics and easy-to-use interface donít hurt either.

This review was based on a retail version purchased by the reviewer.

Check out hundreds of archived Games for Lunch reviews on the official Games for Lunch blog.

I've been writing about video games for 17 years now and for some reason they're still paying me

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