Sunday, August 7, 2011

New iPhone Game = New Obsession

Whenever I'm sitting on the tarmac in Northwest Arkansas or some other place, I go through my own pre-flight check in process, before the flight attendant comes over the PA and tells us all to turn off our electronics in what's always kind of a buzzkill. 

I like to quickly cycle through the apps I have to make sure any content I'd want in flight is downloaded.

Refreshing my twitter feed, downloading the newest Sporcle quizzes, and updating the Huffington Post and NY Times, all with the idea that I need as much to do (assuming I don't have to get work done)

But last week, I was reading an article on Grantland about iPad gaming, and the article mentioned a new game, 'Game Dev Story'.

As it was described in the article:

Kairosoft's Game Dev Story, which is another older title I regret not having played sooner, for it comes packed with wit and metacritique of an industry in desperate need of both. In Game Dev Story you start a game company and go about your game-developing business.

There's more in the article, but that's all I needed to see.  I went to iTunes, and despite a hefty $1.99 price tag, it held enough promise that I thought it might be worth it.

So I bought it, and it led to an interesting race against the clock where I stared at the iPhone's screen, with the newly purchased icon safely tucked in the lower right hand corner, waiting for it to load while the attendant tried to get the door closed. 

It was a close call, but the app finished right before we had to turn everything off.

Once we hit the right altitude and got the go-ahead, I fired up my new game, and didn't look up until we were making a final descent into O'Hare.

It was another simulation game, and I was hooked.  Developing my own little fake games and managing my own little fake game developers.  It was pretty addictive.  I like to think I was a fair manager.  I only fired one little fake coder because he was bad at his job, but I felt really bad about it.

His name was Norm, and he begged me not to fire him.  But he wasn't cutting it, and even though it broke my heart, I had to send his bespectacled face out into our crappy economy.  It got even worse when I placed a fake job ad for new programmers a fake year later and Norm showed up as an applicant.  I know it's probably just a lack of space in the game that made him pop up again, but I couldn't help but wonder how Norm was managing for a year out there, applying for jobs with no hope of success (as I said, he was a really bad programmer).

But aside from forcing me to confront the harsh realities of management in a digitized way, it did get me wondering why the heck these games appeal to me so much.

I thought about the games I played in my youth, and the list is full of these Sim games.  Below, a sampling:

SimCity - Of course, who didn't play SimCity.  The SNES version got me started on what might have been a great career in urban planning, although I was always obsessed with having no roads.  We only had trains in my town, because even as a kid I hated traffic.  SimCity let me build my utopia, like a Chicago with nothing but El Stops.  Ew.

SimTower - This one was like SimCity, but in a building!  You got to build restaurants, offices, condos, and a bunch of other stuff.  You could also pick out individual people in the tower and name them.  There was a little version of me in my tower, but I think he got ticked off and closed his office when I had trouble managing elevator capacity.  What was amazing was that he did it seemingly out of spite.  What can I say? He took after his father.

SimLife - If the religious right ever picked a Sim game to protest, it would probably be this one (at least until SimAbortion gets released).  The game let you create your own species of animal, combining different parts of other animals.  Yeah, not the best game if you think we were all put on this planet by a divine creator, but it was the best game if you wanted to cross-breed giraffes and alligators.  You couldn't hide in the trees from those suckers.

SimFarm - Yes, this was actually a game.  You got to run a farm.  But you couldn't even hire illegal migrant workers, so how accurate could it have been?

The Sims - This didn't come out until I was in college, but at some point I did play it and kind of got into managing my little Sim.  I made him get up early and work out, then go to work, then eat, and then pray a girl would walk by for him to talk to.  Didn't realize it'd be a preview of real life at the time.

Roller Coaster Tycoon - Two things made this game, where you run your own theme park, hilarious.  The first was that you could make all your guests sick to the point they vomited.  The second was that if you were really good, you could design a roller coaster that would crash and kill guests.

Baseball Mogul/Eastside Hockey Manager - These two games were, simply put, the best sports games NOT named Super Tecmo Bowl.  They were a baseball and hockey simulator, respectively, and I must have played them for about a billion hours.  Baseball Mogul let you run a baseball team, and I got pretty obsessed with running a profitable team and winning every World Series.  The Phillies won a ton of games under my leadership, which for a kid growing up in Philadelphia, seemed like pure fantasy at the time.

Eastside Hockey Manager was a rough equivalent, but for the NHL.  The game was amazingly detailed, and built solely by some guy in Europe who must've been some kind of genius.  Again, many Philadelphia titles.  Those years were great for the fake fans of digital Philadelphia, although I bet they still had to contend with digital traffic on I-76 and digital flash mobs.

But I have a hard time figuring out exactly what got me into those games so much.  You sit and manage your team, your theme park, your farm, whatever, and try to make it awesome.  Was I always just an MBA pretending to be a kid and implementing sound operational processes? (The exception would be the designing roller coasters to kill people.  That is no longer part of my repertoire)

I guess maybe they appeal to me because they're puzzles, and I like figuring things out.  So for at least the next few weeks, I'll probably be obsessed with developing new games in Game Dev Story, and making a ton of fake money for my fake studio.  Maybe even enough to hire that fake Norm guy back and stop feeling bad.

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