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Preview: Computer Tycoon (Steam Early Access)

Introduction
That was a worthy challenge, for certain. Economic simulations are a nice little niche, a self-sustaining genre if you will, that I really enjoy playing from time to time. Didn’t expect Computer Tycoon to go so further into details, yet it was a pleasant surprise nonetheless. As the Steam debut of a single talented individual called Andris, Computer Tycoon aimed high and didn’t miss its target. Progorion is the game’s publisher and they already had a presence on the platform, with a casual game/translator between English and Spanish. So educational value seems to be a defining factor for this dev team.

Story
In Computer Tycoon’s current Early Access stage, the Historical Mode is not implemented. Players shall instead learn the ropes through the Random Mode and I mean it, since even the tutorial hasn’t been fleshed out yet. Andris explains that since it’s an ongoing process still requiring constant improvements, a crash course into the game’s mechanics shall suffice for now. You’re encouraged to explore the options for yourself, learn as you play and from those potential failures, you will gain experience and eventually regard obstacles as merely an incentive to better yourself and the fictional IT&C company that you’re leading. As the newly appointed chief executive officer of a company whose name, brand (no logos yet, just colors) and business practices rely entirely on the player’s choice, there’s not much I can write about in terms of a standardized storyline.

Most economic sims follow the open-ended method in conveying their story, no matter how flimsy it may be. Currently, Computer Tycoon is all about that random or sandbox mode in which you are not restrained by anything but your own creativity and business acumen. Savvy or ruthless? It’s up to you to keep the company afloat, making a decent profit and changing the world of electronics while you’re at it. That isn’t even an exaggeration since the ultimate invention that you may research and develop in-game is one of my favorite topics: technological singularity. Human consciousness melding with Artificial Intelligence and thus creating a new chapter in world history. Rather than seeing it in the simplistic perspective of machines surpassing their creators, humans will embrace the change eventually. Rejecting it is not an option.

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Transhumanism, the boundaries between robotic labor and slavery, the self-aware AI taking over or not, Moore’s Law going sideways. These are either dreams or nightmares about humanity’s future. It just depends on who you ask. Many tech geniuses are present in Computer Tycoon, at least in the form of easily recognizable avatars for your competitors. Household names such as Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, John McAfee, Paul Allen or Steve Wozniak. Only good ol’ Bill Gates is missing from the picture and you’d have a full dream team of industry giants which shaped technology into what it is today. It was only natural for a game focusing just on the computational segment of electronics, to honor the pioneers, the few determined nerds which took seemingly ludicrous ideas and turned them into both financial successes and ubiquitous objects, crucial for humanity’s never-ending progress.

Graphics
I had my “suspicions” about Computer Tycoon’s graphics engine and I was right. It is indeed a Unity project and Modb confirms it along with the settings menu and the flawless performance on all tested resolutions. Didn’t encounter a frame rate drop or glitch. This isn’t a simulation that’s leaning heavy on the looks department, yet you’ll never see me complaining about staring at pie charts and especially at maps. Cartography is fun, trust me. You will be given the chance to develop even the HQ and the nearby industrial park linked to it. More like a logical chain, actually. We’re talking of factories, marketing, R&D and last but not least, the leisure buildings ensuring well rested and motivated employees. So there is some 3D acceleration with appropriate assets, not just 2D maps and lots of fictional reports. But you don’t play economic sims for “shiny graphics” and you know it. Gameplay complexity is everything to a genre which takes role playing to a new meaning.

Audio
Only a mildly annoying soundtrack is available so far in Computer Tycoon. No voice acting or any sound effects. Yes, it’s an early stage and it can still include more sound assets by the time it shall reach its full release. I don’t think there will be any work for the voice actors though, since the player can’t interact a lot with his AI-operated competition. More on that in the gameplay, just keep in mind that you’re fully excused for muting the sounds and blasting your favorite tunes. That’s what I did. Better than listening to a couple of elevator songs being played on a continuous loop.

Gameplay
What’s an economic simulation without tough competitors to remind you that you’re never good enough for the game? Well it would probably be like capitalism if it relied on the barter system. As basic as it useless. “Survival of the fittest” translates perfectly in the world of business. It may be the brain and not the brawn that wins the fight, but neglecting the body and overworking yourself, is nothing but a quick route to an early grave. That’s what happened to a certain Steve. You know who I’m talking about. The man that changed the way we interact with personal computers, smartphones and a few other devices which had saved his company from bankruptcy more than once. Steve was a smart man when it came to always being a step ahead of his competitors but in the end, he was dumb enough to reject conventional treatment in favor of “alternative medicine”. You can’t beat cancer with a vitamin smoothie. My point is, Computer Tycoon has an entire segment of its gameplay dedicated to the well-being of the company’s CEO, both physically and mentally. “A healthy mind inside a healthy body” as as anonymous phrase would have it.

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Stress can kill even the best of us. This is just a facet of financial success. Or failure, since nothing in this title can guarantee that you won’t fail the first few times you start a new game. As long as you learn from those mistakes and never repeat them, Computer Tycoon shall award thinking outside the box. Speaking of boxes, it’s not coincidence that the Historical Mode shall have its start date set to 1974. The golden age of the home computers was on the horizon and crude prototypes were starting to appear, first in boardrooms and then on store shelves, once streamlined enough for the consumer market. That’s were you, the CEO, comes in. Steering where the company’s heading to, is just one step. You will have full control over the technologies being tested, the machines, their components being assembled and the marketing campaigns surrounding those end products. I could go on about it for a few more pages, but I’m certain that you can discover all features once you play the game for yourselves.

Verdict
Suffice to say, I am impressed by this simulation and I see a lot of potential for it once it leaves Early Access. I do expect some fierce “fighting” with the competitors and an interface overhaul along with comprehensive tutorials that might introduce the genre even to players that still refuse to play it, out of fear for its steep learning curve. All in due time, I’m certain. Congratulations, Andris!

All the screenshots you see above, have been taken by me in-game through the Steam Overlay.

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