So-called business simulations were a mainstay of the German computer games market of the 80s and 90s. Most of them are forgotten today., on the other hand, has taken permanent residence in players' collective minds. It hardly takes much investigation to know why. The game stands as proof how Rainbow Arts was the place at the turn of the decade where most creative and talented minds came together, making this company the incubator for much of the local industry of the coming decades.
First and foremost, there was Ralph Stock. Before this, he had made three technically competent and somewhat entertaining, but design-wise slightly clunky adventure games.was where he made his own legend which he would re-visit repeatedly in the following years. He was supported by newcomers for graphics and sound who would go on to make names for themselves later on as well.
For a business simulation,with its cartoony style didn't just look and sound amazing, but the real revolution was in Stock's design. Tables and numbers became (almost) a thing of the past! At least in the gameplay sense. Instead, the game follows a paradigm which makes almost too much sense for it to be trivial. Any abstraction into numbers, menus or otherwise is just done away with. Instead, you control a small avatar in third-person adventure style walking between the relevant offices of your TV station and those of the related service providers.
You need fresh material to broadcast? Off to the movie dealer to fill the shopping bag. Commercials? Quickly sign some contracts at the agency. News? Let's see what the ticker has to offer. And don't forget to drop by the concierge once in a while to learn the latest rumors. Each action is immediate and receives its own face and backdrop.
The same is true for the most important indicators of success. Although the office computer of the protagonist does contain some tables full of numbers if you are inclined to learn the details, this is never really necessary. The programmes of your own station and those of the competition are visible on a small screen permanently located on the bottom. Likewise, a second (reverse) screen shows a representative population of the viewership sitting on their living room couch. This information, you will soon learn, is sufficient to gauge your performance.
What further helps it the game's theme which can considered universally appealing. Where other companies made their games about logistics, purchase prices and sales prices,is all about entertainment. Television entertainment, something which every potential player has some personal experience with and can relate to. Where every player has his or her own personal preferences beyond cold business calculation and maximization of profit. Real film and series titles as well as the descriptions written with an excellent ironic edge in places help as well. All of it unlicensed, obviously – which didn't prevent a commercial release at the time yet.
In spite of immediacy, accessibility and renunciation of many details, the game isn't less complex than the average genre entries, which usually just hide their simplistic internal simulation model behind loads of numbers. Nevertheless,is more easily won than the typical game of this genre. How does this fit? defines the threshold for success to a reasonable height. The corridor of success is not too tight and random luck plays only a minor role. Once you have found a good programme scheme, it is sufficient to basically repeat it in spirit until the game is won. No major roadblocks will ever occur. Which won't stop you from playing anyway, which should tell you all you need to know about the game's qualities.
isn't perfect. The fixed programme scheme with its compulsory slots for news and five minutes of commercials per hour cannot be customized. This may rub players the wrong way after some time. Though the official sequel showed a couple of years later that such an enhancement of the gameplay isn't trivial to balance out, because such additional degrees of freedom should be usable in meaningful ways.
The main point of criticism has to be one technical limitation, however. It is a pure single player game, in spite of basically being made for direct competition. You will even run across the other two heads of station on the corridors (triggering funny speech balloons), but there is no split screen, null modem or any other option to put a second mouse into action.
It becomes even more absurd when you realize that some existing gameplay features only would really make sense in such a competitive situation. Auctioning off particularly profitable movies? Never necessary, just like launching your own productions, because the basic programming material is more than sufficient to beat the computer-controlled competition. The (in-) famous master key granting access to the other stations' offices, for example to spy on their programme planning, isn't a whole lot of fun with computer players. Sabotaging their studios doesn't trigger much schadenfreude, either. Though all of these remnants do point towards bigger initial plans.
And still, none of the similar games which arrived later managed to make this obvious jump forward. Stock himself re-used the formula (Mad News, Caribbean Disaster) and also other designers let themselves be heavily inspired (Der Planer, Dime City). Though none of those ever managed to hit the same sweet spot of accessibility, complexity and plain fun. As entertaining as some of these spiritual sequels may be, the original remains a class of its own!