• Production Line review by Rick Moscatello

    Great if you like this sort of thing

    Most games today are ultimately simulation games, games which model some sort of activity. Even a “first person shooter” like DOOM is just a simulation of “guy with lots of guns killing demons on Mars” if you put much thought into it.

    Of course, most such arguable simulations are of things which sound like they might be fun (ok, actually killing demons is probably not going to be fun, but bear with me), the real test of a game designer is to simulate something which doesn’t seem fun, and make it a joy (DOOM makes killing demons fun, right?), or at least interesting, to play.

    Production Line is such a designer’s test, as it simulates the building of an automotive production line, from setting up the axels to final inspection. The game designer here passes the test, doing an amazing job in many ways, but falling a bit short in one critical area, but let’s hit the good stuff first.

    A tutorial jumps you all the way in feet first, the only way to go since you have to be able to build an entire car to accomplish anything at all in the game. Your basic production line is a series of assembly areas, from chassis to engine to accessories (among others), and all car models are built on the same assembly line.

    That’s the basics, but you’ll quickly see logjams form on the line. Putting in one component might only take half as much time as installing the next—so you should double up areas to install the second component, so the both of them can handle the influx of partially assembled cars.

    Now you have twice as many cars flowing out from the second component, probably creating a new jam. There’s only so much space on the factory floor, what else to do to increase efficiency?

    A very extensive research tree answers that question. You can specialize, for example, breaking down the chassis into three smaller, faster, areas: axles, undercarriage, and fuel tank. You can specialize further, for example the axles area can be broken into front and rear axles and the drive shaft. You can also increase efficiency in other ways, for example researching more robots.

    Eventually you’ll hit another wall: resources. You need to have the axels on site to install them, after all, and you’ll set up conveyors initially to transport them. You’ll research faster conveyors and other ways to get those resources where they need to be more quickly, and eventually you’ll just start building the axels on site to speed things up further (and to save a few bucks from not having to buy them elsewhere).

    You also have to sell the cars; the game handles this mostly abstractly with one big showroom, but you’ll still have to pay attention to model, price, and features your car has. Yes, you’ll be building different models of cars (using a different set of researchers than your usual guys, in a “design studio”), from compacts to trucks to luxury supercars. But it’s the features where cracks start appearing in the design.

    You’ll typically be playing against AI opponents, although it’s handled abstractly. Their impact on the game is they research and instantly install their new components on their (abstract) cars. As more of this is done, customers will demand your cars have the same features. So, you might suddenly find yourself dropping what you’re doing to research, say, air conditioners, then putting up a new air conditioner area on your assembly line. If you don’t have the features everyone else has, your cars don’t sell (or sell only at a steep discount).

    While this is part of the premise of the game, some features require a ridiculous amount of work to install, very significantly changing your research plans and ripping up a big part of your line (at considerable loss) and rebuilding it (at considerable cost) just to keep up. As an added annoyance, as soon as you start adding features to your cars, all the cars built or further down the line become obsolete.

    Once your line is really humming, you’ll find you’re making more cars than there are customers…so off to research marketing departments, and then the concepts of print and other campaigns, to bring in new customers.

    There are a host of other aspects to the game, such as loans, power generation, complicated conveyor design…if you’re looking for depth in this sense, the game has it.

    While your assembly line can be very long and complex, the design is so elegant that you’ll have no trouble keeping track of it all, and you’ll find yourself spending much time examining assembly areas to see if they’re spending too much time waiting for cars or resources quite often, as well as simply studying the whole line to see where cars are lined up. It’s all done very well, but there is one big issue here.

    As the great designer Sid Meier said, a good game is all about making decisions…and there aren’t that many here. All lines go in the same order, the relative assembly times are the same every game, you’re always starting with an empty warehouse floor, and the AIs seem to research their techs in the same order as well. The only decision that you ever really make is “do you want to be more efficient or less efficient?” and it’s usually a simple decision.

    The end result is while this is a deep and generally well designed game…every game plays pretty much the same. I’ve played three games, and while I’m getting better every time, the only difference between one game and the next is I’m not repeating mistakes I made earlier; someone could literally write out “this is the exact line design to succeed” and it would work for every game. Yes, there are scenarios, but the variations here (“sell 3000 budget cars” or “sell a certain number of mid-range and expensive cars”) only reinforces the limitations of the overall design. You could have some choice regarding features, but you’re usually just going to play catch-up with the AI (“do you want to catch up, or fall behind?”), so it doesn’t add as much decision-making as one might hope.

    I concede much of the game is done well, but bottom line things get repetitive a little too fast for my taste. Still, there are many good ideas executed very well here (just not the most important one), and so if you’re looking for an unusual sim, this might well be worth your surplus gaming dollars.

    Overall Rating: 71
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Production Line review by Rick Moscatello started by Doom View original post