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"Make game of that which makes as much of thee."
- Omar Khayyam


For the past 10 years, fans and foes alike have had strong opinions about my work with games. Now I'm giving you the chance to put your money where your mouth is and do a better job! As the title suggests, Under Development takes you behind the scenes of game development and puts the controller in your hands at the industry's most pivotal moments. Spanning over 30 years from 1981 to 2011 and beyond, it's my tribute to the art form I grew up alongside...


Breaking The 4th Wall
There were 2 concepts that I felt compelled to get out of my system before it was too late. One was a game about a game character who doesn't know he's a game character (which was largely dealt with via the metaphor of The You Testament). The other was an equally mind-bending game about making games! I suspected fate would conspire to make me do it one day, and here we are. Ironically, it's actually a subject I couldn't broach until I stepped back because - as we'll see - it's deeply rooted in the real world and infringes a thousand too many copyrights to go commercial...


Nothing New Under The Sun
When I first embarked on this project, I assumed it would be completely original. But alas, it transpires that a couple of like-minded souls ventured there before me. Game Dev Story is a charming little phone app that closely resembles what I originally had in mind, and the PC itself has the largely text-based Game Biz series. As with the wrestling games, then, my contribution won't be to "invent the wheel" so much as attach it to a powerful engine and drive it as far as possible! Regardless of the existence of other games, mine was made in isolation of them and most certainly takes things in a different direction. A step closer to the mainstream, perhaps, because in my hands game development is a fully immersive 3D experience. In fact, it already has something on my previous games because a lot of effort has gone into producing faithful, photo-realistic versions of the hardware - and even the hands that touch them are now noticeably more detailed...


Six Of The Best
Underneath the detailed new visuals, the game itself is deceptively simple. The engine is driven by 6 basic statistics that are largely consistent across projects, hardware, and characters. Design translates into gameplay and reflects how fun a game is to play. Programming, by comparison, is a measure of sophistication and results in a game that will stand the test of time. Visuals are separated into 2D Graphics and 3D Graphics, with the latter taking a long time to become the common feature that it is today. It does still feature in 2D games though, where there can be the "suggestion" of 3D via isometric displays, etc. Likewise, 3D games are not without the 2D workload of texturing and presentation. The content and visuals are then topped off by Sound and Music, which again are distinct but equally important qualities that no decent game can overlook entirely...


Weapon Of Choice
Each piece of hardware is increasingly proficient in these 6 categories, and any games you make will be limited by those statistics. As in real life, then, the key to success is migrating to the right system at the right time. It's a gamble though, because "software development kits" are increasingly expensive - and no machine is guaranteed to be successful. One of the interesting things about the game is that it simultaneously recreates history and re-writes it at the same time! Consoles that dominated or bombed in real life may have their fates reversed in this game. There are also lots of other developments that you must adapt to - such as fluctuating manufacturing costs that affect your profit margins. If you switch to a console when cartridge prices spiral out of control, you may be left pining for cassettes and floppy discs. There are over 30 different systems in all, carefully distributed over as many years - each representing its own era. In fact, this industry sim is potentially so long that it's the first to be played on a timeframe of MONTHS rather than weeks! You can also choose exactly which date your game starts on, so you can fast-forward to eras of personal interest...


Work Force
The corresponding skills of your team are required to get the best out of the hardware in each category to create a functional game. This is where the game departs from my previous industry sims in 2 crucial ways. One is that you'll notice that the meters are now graphical as well as numerical - which helps you assess the situation at a glance. Secondly, there's a greater disparity here than ever before because it's perfectly possible to be talentless in most (if not all) of the other disciplines! Very few game developers are multi-talented, so a productive team consists of up to 6 specialists. You could, of course, multiple that figure by 10 in real life - but the game uses a lot of symbolism to keep things simple. Each character in your office gets to make a contribution each week, so the more hands you hire the quicker each aspect of the project will take shape. Expansion isn't necessarily a recipe for success though, because humans are the least predictable thing about the game and office politics is as much of a minefield as ever! Although game developers aren't as well known as their counterparts in other professions, I've done my best to include some famous faces such as Peter Molyneux and Shigeru Miyamoto who you can aspire to work with. In keeping with the balls-out copyright infringement, they operate under their real names too - which is a shame because I enjoy fabricating fake names! As ever, there's also a comprehensive editor where you can make your own changes...


Play Games To Make Games
In case you were beginning to fear that "symbolic" game development might be a dour process, one of the game's redeeming features is that you actually PLAY games to make games. Every effort put forth by a chosen character triggers a charming little retro sub-game where you clock up points in a specific category. There are 8 different ones to enjoy - ranging from classics like Tetris and Space Invaders to my own creations such as Moksha and Sure Shot. I must say that making each one was some of the most fun I've ever had as a game developer. Reverse-engineering those classic concepts and re-interpreting them in the space of an afternoon was a real test of my skills. It's an absolutely perfect fit for the concept too. Firstly, the difficulty of each game reflects the skills of your chosen character - so there's a genuine sense of struggling with a talentless team. Furthermore, the scale of each game expands to match the hardware you're working on - so simple sessions on an Atari 2600 evolve into high-scoring escapades on a Playstation. This, in turn, reflects the fact that game development becomes harder and more time-consuming as technology progresses. But if all of this button bashing sounds like an inconvenience in your quest for progress, you'll be pleased to know that it's perfectly possible to "simulate" the work being done at the click of a mouse...


Getting Real
My original idea for a game about making games wasn't symbolic at all and literally involved you mixing and matching elements of my own work to create playable games. Of course, it wasn't long before I dismissed that as impractical! What we have instead is actually more meaningful than I could have ever envisioned because it's deeply rooted in the games we all know and love. As your project develops in each field, your efforts are matched up to a real game - a screenshot of which magically appears on your device for you to marvel at. The game features an exhaustive list of over 500 games from the past 30 years - and there's even an editor to help you insert your own. One of the many games within this game is simply the joy of seeing which classic title your ingredients have cooked up! There's a genuine sense of progressing from simple Atari 2600 games to sophisticated 3D programs - and it happens right before your eyes with every improvement you make. I must confess that there's a significant bias towards older games simply because they mean more to me (and because modern ones are so undeniably charmless!). This game is fully customizable, though, and is as good as you make it. It is my hope that fans will quadruple the library of software with their own screenshots and data...


The Name Of The Game
A similarly nostalgic pleasure is when you have your screenshot and must then match it up to the correct box art from real life! This is portrayed as a metaphor for "marketing", whereby you must suggest the correct identity to your boss from a choice of 3 random ones. It was intended to be a test of your gaming knowledge, but you'd have to be devoid of common sense to make a genuine mistake! It's a charming sequence though - especially since your character marvels over the finished product in his hands once you've reached that stage. In real life, this was one of the defining moments of my own career and I recreate it for you here. A nice little touch is that the game will automatically rename dated titles to reflect the date that YOU discovered it. So if you discover WWE 12 or Madden 92 at an earlier or later date, it will be named accordingly. As with the hardware, another interesting thing about this game is that you can pull games out of context and make them earlier or later than in real life - especially when they're timelessly simple such as Tetris or Angry Birds. In fact, a good case in point is my own games - which hover around Playstation status and can be discovered 10 years before I made them myself!


Rave Reviews
Fun though it is, identifying a project is also a necessary step towards releasing it. Once you have established the identity of the game you're working on, it's essentially "locked in" and you can proceed to polish it without worrying about it transforming into a different game. You can then release it when you've done the best you can - at which point the gaming press will scrutinize every aspect of your work! As with Popscene and Popcorn, this is an insightful process that genuinely reflects your efforts in each area - even citing the member of your team who was responsible. A unique feature of this game is that the reviews also place each project in the context of what the latest machines are capable of. A game that once got rave reviews in the early 80s will - quite rightly - be dismissed as unacceptable in the 1990s. This influences the overall score reviewers are prepared to give it, which in turn determines how strong a start it can hope to get off to in the charts. As in real life, it's possible to succeed without the blessing of the press - but their judgments will always have an affect on your reputation. For the purposes of this game, the publication in question is a real one called Edge - a highfalutin British magazine that focuses on game development as much as games themselves. As with the many other instances of copyright infringement, I hope they'll take their inclusion as the supportive gesture it was intended to be...


Fame & Fortune
At the end of the day, all of your efforts boil down to how many people are prepared to part with their hard-earned money to own your game. More factors are at work than ever in this game as you walk the thin line between success and failure. As in real life, the public's perception of what is or isn't important changes over time. Originally, good old-fashioned gameplay is most important - but this is gradually supplanted by the sophisticated programming of computer games, the superior 2D graphics of console games, the popularization of 3D graphics in the mid-90s, and even the flirtation with music that we have experienced in recent years. Whichever aspect of a game is deemed most important at the time will affect whether your creation fits in or not. Furthermore, each character has a "Reputation" measured by the heart running up the side of their 6 main stats. This is the equivalent of "Popularity" from my other games and indicates how famous or well-respected they are. And as ever, this is the most significant factor in how much they are likely to earn. It's also how valuable they are to you, though, because each quality of the project is multiplied by the reputation of the character that produced it. If you can claim that your game was designed by a famous developer such as Shigeru Miyamoto or Peter Molyneux, the name recognition alone will be lucrative - even if their work doesn't quite warrant it! Similarly, it's also possible to be a talented game developer who nobody cares about (ahem) - so there's a balance to strike between productivity and public perception...


Paying Your Due
The success of a game is further filtered through which system it was released on. A piece of hardware needs to have at least a million "active users" for it to be considered a success. Anything less than that will dilute your game sales accordingly. Platforms slowly rise and fall in popularity over time, so you have to choose when to jump on the bandwagon and when to move on. As mentioned earlier, the chosen format of your hardware also affects your profit margins. A popular game on the ZX Spectrum may only be shifting $5 cassettes, whereas its equivalent on a console may be moving $20 cartridges. The scale of your ambition affects whether your work is personally satisfying or professionally lucrative. In this game, you also have to deal with fluctuating tax rates, rent, and repair costs - so there's a real sense of the economic landscape changing over time. A nice little touch is that these developments are literally reported in the news if you pay attention to the ads in the corner!


The Major Players
Of course, the biggest factor is the success or failure of a game is which publisher you release it with. As in my other industry sims, you begin life at the independent level - which is depicted as "bedroom coding" with Blitz BASIC here to reflect my own real-life status. Although it's possible to make a living releasing games independently, it's significantly less lucrative and you'll eventually find yourself pining for an opportunity at one of the 8 major companies. With the games industry, it was infinitely more painful to limit myself to just 8 because I could have literally had as many brands as there are characters! But since dozens of characters have to exist under each banner, that was never going to be practical. My inclusions were largely decided for me by which brands are required by the hardware, so the core consists of Nintendo, Sega, Atari, Sony, and Microsoft. These are then complemented by 3 relatively "neutral" brands such as Capcom, Konami, and Electronic Arts. Trust me, there were dozens of alternatives fighting for those 3 spots! As with the games, I'm sure modders will have fun making their own additions...


Company Policy
The companies don't differ in status as much as they did in previous games - other than where you work affects which talent you have access to. Instead of fluctuating "Popularity" and "Reputation", this game acknowledges that most companies are essential the same and gives them different "philosophies" instead. One of the reasons I was big on including the hardware manufacturers was that it's genuinely possible to sign "exclusivity" contracts whereby Nintendo employees only develop for Nintendo products, etc. Other philosophies include paying more generous advances or royalties, signing employees to longer or shorter contracts, and all manner of other ways of approaching the business. When you come to sign with one of them, you now have more to consider than just the size of your pay packet. Unlike in previous games, these unique features change over time - especially when the management changes - so it's worth keeping an eye on which companies are reportedly the best to work for...


If Walls Could Talk
An innovation on previous industry sims is that each company is now visibly different as well as professionally different. Each label has its own unique combination of wall and floor textures, which gives you the impression that you've migrated to a different location. The logo is also featured more prominently above the door. More importantly, the contents of the office have stepped up a notch as well. The photo-realistic hardware exposed the weak texturing everywhere else and motivated me to create a nice new leather chair and wooden desk. Each workstation is also adorned with its own little details such as game boxes and posters - which genuinely reflect the popular titles of that time...


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BrianWattsVA
BrianWattsVA

Can't have copyrighted trademarks in your game unless you have written consent from EA mate.

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