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Written by  :  General Error (4364)
Written on  :  Apr 01, 2007
Rating  :  3.67 Stars3.67 Stars3.67 Stars3.67 Stars3.67 Stars

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Fun and surprisingly deep, but somewhat unpolished

The Good

The Truth About Game Development is very simple and easy to grasp, yet it takes some time to find a reasonable strategy. Just as Nolan's Theorem states: "All the best games are easy to learn and difficult to master." Together with the game's short duration -- completing it takes not much more than five minutes -- it is a perfect game for the casual coffee break gamer. Although it always invites you to this well-known "just one more try".

Of course, being a part time developer myself, I greatly enjoyed the unusual "meta-game" theme of this game, and the style in which it is presented: Funny, sarcastic and exaggerated, yes, but it's not just a joke: It really offers some insight into the mechanisms of today's gaming industry. Of course, due to the simple nature of the game, what you'll learn is quite limited (and probably you had known it anyway), yet, some of the random events are not trivial and explain, for example, that new, original features take time to implement and are always risky, so if you're a producer and want to play it safe (and save money), you should better ignore any creative ideas of your "slaves".

I also liked the combination of strategic simulation and realtime interaction with your workers -- which, of course, is limited to just killing them -- and this quite meditative gameplay, watching those poor workers trudging up and down the platform, wondering whether you should kill one of them or wait with it -- or even raise the wages? Hmmm...

The graphics are simple, but quite well-done, a nice mixture of bleakness and cuddliness. The classical background theme also adds to the atmosphere -- mostly, I should have to add, more in the "dislike" section.

But the best thing is that the game quite unexpectedly has a positive message. (Spoiler warning!) Being the mean and ill-disposed freak that I am, I started playing by killing LOTS of workers just to make them go even faster. This quickly resulted in an all-out revolution and a completely crappy game, so then I killed a bit less and at least was able to finish the produced game, yet it really sucked. After some more tries, I realized that the best way to get a good game is to treat your workers humane: Pay them well, and kill off as few as possible.

At the beginning, I just thought of this game as some funny casual game without much behind it. But it turned out that it has more to offer, that it requires some strategy, and that it promotes an ethical behaviour. There are not many games which do that. (And no, I won't mention any well-known classic role-playing game here ;-)

The Bad

When playing The Truth About Game Development, one should not forget that it has been written as a part of Petri Purho's "done-in-under-a-week" series. The limited development time is quite noticeable on several levels.

For example, there are some minor bugs, mostly concerning sprites -- a black rectangle where the workers come from at the beginning, and the workers sometimes also have a black rectangle around them (some sprite alpha thing, I'd guess). Finally, the sprites sometimes look in the wrong direction -- going up the platform while looking down. As I said, that are only minor bugs, but they're still irritating -- and I'd add to Nolan's Theorem that a really good game mustn't have any irritation whatsoever.

Furthermore, the simulation, strategy and interaction are quite limited, so that after grasping the basic concepts of "goodness", there's not much replay value. I would have liked to see some more options for tweaking -- not a lot, mind you, just a bit to get you experimenting a little more. Different kinds of workers, perhaps (programmers, graphics and sound artists); some more ways of interacting that just killing (selectively offer higher wages); some locality like if you kill one worker, his neighbors will work much faster but not everyone etc.

And I would especially have liked to see more random events. There are about four or five in the game, so you've seen them all after playing two or three games. The same is true for the review messages at the end of the game, etc.

But all these limitations are due to the short development time and are excusable. There's just one thing that really gets one my nerves: The background music. Yes, for the most part it fits very well and creates atmosphere, being calm and a bit gloomy -- but then it rises to some dramatic crescendo which really has nothing to do with what goes one in-game, so in the end, I just turned the volume down -- which, of course, takes a bit from the game's atmosphere. Which is very unfortunate.

The Bottom Line

The Truth About Game Development is an unusual meta-game, a sarcastic and humorous "game development simulation", which per se makes it stand out from the mass -- this is an idea I had not encountered yet. This idea has been implemented quite well -- the game mechanics are easy to understand, but it's less easy to get a good score; the gameplay is smooth, and the graphics are nicely drawn, creating a gloomy yet not depressing atmosphere. I'm a bit ambiguous about the game music -- it's mostly fine, but this out-of-phase crescendo part made me turn down the volume.

Unfortunately, as the game has been implemented in just seven days, the game is quite limited, there are many shortcomings and even some minor bugs.

With some more work on it, wiping out those bugs, perhaps adding some more features and changing the background music, this could have been a great game. As it is, it is still an impressive work -- an original, enjoyable game, great for your daily coffee breaks, offering some insight into modern game development mechanics -- and even a positive message!