Feature: The great clash of cultures

By Neil Merrett

Game Dev Tycoon on PC – released 2015, Greenheart Games

It was a contest as old as time itself, primordial in its origins yet timeless in scope.

Two men with vastly different technology upbringings and intellectual needs, drawn against each other in outright battle over an age old question – are great men either PC or console gamers?

In hindsight, Game Dev Tycoon was never designed to be played competitively, or to resolve deep tensions between men old enough to know better.

Functioning simultaneously as a mix of business simulation, potted history of the industry and jovial strategy game, the title at its best is wish fulfilment for the type of games you wish could have adorned your consoles and home computers back in the day.

From the era of DOS games and the Nintendo Entertainment System in the 1980s up to modern smartphone advancements and, the as then unreleased, PS4 and X-Box One systems, the game challenged you to build up an empire from a 1980’s bedroom coder to become a multinational gaming giant.

Starting with a single bedroom-based developer, players selected a jaunty title, genre and platform, before building a game by prioritising the amount of time and effort you wanted to go into visuals, sound and level design.  

Good design choices were rewarded with an oddly satisfying colour coded creativity bubbles that largely denote the quality and money that a title will generate. A lack of bubbles, relative silence and eventual bankruptcy await lesser designers.

As you research new genres, platforms and game engines to build a name for yourself, the title soon allows you to build up entire offices of development staff to make games worthy of your creative titles, whether it be racing RPG hybrid called dragon rider, to 3D adventures like psychedelic samurai dino pimp – a major seller in an alternative 1998.

Of course the games are not really made, with satisfaction largely coming from review scores and seeing your bank balance shoot ups to fund the next game engine or deranged ego-project you can think of.

For two friends trying to ignore the outside world for a day, Game Dev Tycoon  served a very specific purpose of settling who was right and who was wrong over what makes a great game.

Was it the classic console populist favouring the easy to pick up, seemingly shallow action-led titles, or the PC ubermensch who believes complexity and depth can only be dominated by titles with an instruction book as long as War and Peace

Over the numerous games we played, I was perhaps not the finest advocate for console gaming, not always surviving the three decade span of in-game time that you initially play through.

But it was enjoyable nonetheless, even if my biggest triumph was a million selling time travel beat ‘em up I would have dreamed of in my teens, while my opponent built a high-tech future office specialising in console development and high-concept massively multiplayer online games.

The online era was a cruel mistress.

Yet during one ultimately doomed playthrough based on surviving as a small team of a handful of developers in a cramped office, a revelation of the sort that occur sat on sofas for hours hit.

Up to the late 2000s, games really had to just get bigger, more technically advanced whether as sequels or new titles, there was little room for nostalgia and building on older techniques from the 2D era of gaming.

The team at Scumsoft inc. were never going to survive as the market demand for so-called triple AAA titles in the era of the Playstation 2 onwards saw reviewers and players deserting what they new to be a sinking ship.

And so my opponent went on succeeding, researching and preparing himself for the growing technical demands of PC and online gaming.

But defeat was not always such a bitter pill to swallow.  In  reliving each era of games and trying to recreate well-loved experiences from the past, Game Dev Tycoon serves to remind you of the wealth of approaches to what we now consider great games, even to ten years ago.

Whether glorious failures or endless cash in sequels, handheld and even phone-based games, to surprising licenses based or comic characters or downloadable titles providing serene Scandinavian reflections on love, life, mental health and the brilliance of yarn.

As an individual experience, rather than a pissing contest, Game Dev is a warm, somewhat throwaway view of the great, bad and odd experiences of playing games.

But in its own simplistic way, it is also a great reflection on the games we love, hate and vaguely remember back in the day – reassurance perhaps that the seemingly endless hours lost in a title may have not been an entire waste, even in crushing defeat against the PC Ubermensch.

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