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Played: November 7th (1 hour 20 minutes)
Platform: Inform 6 (Zcode)
Unofficial Score: 8
You're a producer at AXL Games. Today is the day your game goes gold, but you've overslept! Rush to the office, get your developers paid, coordinate QA and marketing efforts and do it all before time runs out!
Even without recommendations, Game Producer! is one I have been looking forward to since I saw its blurb on the IFComp info page. When I first started programming as a hobby, way back in Ė yikes, nearly two decades ago Ė I wanted to work for a game developer. The NES was king, and my dream job was to work as a programmer for Nintendo. Iíve gone on to work as a programmer (and I can relate to nutty deadlines, crunch-time overtime, and the quirky workings of other departments), but not in the video game industry. Game development is still just a hobby.
Game Producer! is a caricature of resource and crisis management on the last day before a new video game is supposed to go into production. It doesnít require an insiderís knowledge, though. The puzzles are exaggerated too, making it familiar territory. You are the producer. Your choices (aka, your ability to solve as many puzzles as possible before the time runs out) highly affect the gameís success after release.
Itís a pretty generous time limit. This, according to the ďgame_guide.txtĒ, is all that changes when you make a difficulty selection near the beginning. Thatís good, because it was a question I struggled with (I didnít read the guide until afterwards). I didnít want the puzzles to be too easy, but I didnít want them to be too hard (which might have indicated a lack of good in-game clueing). It seems that the puzzle difficulty doesnít change, and since itís just right as-is, that was fine for me.
It helps to remember not only what the Big Man tells you, but also which tasks youíve already completed. This can be a little confusing on a second play-through. I would have liked to see an in-game notepad, where the PC automatically records (and checks things off) a ďto-doĒ list. This might have made the game a little too easy, and maybe it was a conscious decision by the author not to do that. I played through twice, needing the first time just to get familiar with the puzzles and how to solve them. The second play-through lead me to whatís probably the ideal ending (you canít beat 99.2% on GameRankings.com Ė itís a site I use frequently), and two million copies sold ainít bad! I did use strategic saving and undoing, but I think thatís natural when playing against a ticking clock. (If only that would work for real deadlines.)
The included ďgame_guide.txtĒ (not a walkthrough Ė those are included, but I didnít need to peek at all to finish) is charming. It discusses the design of Game Producer!, and then goes into a FAQ-like section about some specifics. Itís a little spoilery, though, and probably best read after playing.
The game seems pretty bug-free, but a few quirks manage to be scuffs in the polish. Too many line-breaks and missing ones here and there seem to be what Iím noticing most in this yearís IFComp entries. I know itís just a formatting thing, but it throws off the flow. ďX meĒ gives the default ďas good-looking as everĒ response. A few pieces of missing scenery can be found Ė things described in a room but not actually present in the game. Something on your keychain only appears if you look at the keychain, even though it was presumably there all along.
The game seems to have just one ending, but the details change depending on how much was accomplished before the deadline (and even then, a bit of randomness plays a part). Although it might not be a popular opinion among IF players, I think I prefer a single ending. Maybe it defeats the point of interactive fiction, but I really like to know that Iíve finished the game as it was meant to be seen. The differences really give Game Producer! quite a few variations to this single ending, but itís still just one ending. I think the point isnít whether the game was a success or a failure, but whether the player is satisfied with the result. As is pointed out in every ending, you still get paid, and the next project is right around the corner.
Game Producer! has a nice structure and puzzle design from an author who obviously knows how to design with the player in mind. An ď8Ē on my scale is ďvery goodĒ, and thatís an apt summary of Game Producer!