Sunday, May 30, 2010

M.U.D. TV Review

M.U.D. TV, developed by Realmforge Studios and published by Kalypso Media.
The Good: A number of shows and demographic groups, custom games, multiplayer, occasional humor, editors for shows and characters
The Not So Good: Simple superficial gameplay, tedious item archiving, lacks personal customization of shows, scattered feedback, lots of waiting
What say you? A lack of depth and variety hurts this television management simulation: 4/8

There are three shows I regularly watch on television: Lost (R.I.P.), MythBusters, and The Soup. I guess I don’t have time (I do review a lot of computer games) to invest into paying attention to more things, so the best solution is to play computer games about TV. Enter M.U.D. TV, a game where you run a TV station, hoping to maximize revenue by creating shows that appeal to your viewers and advertisers. The simulation genre has been waning in recent years, with a distinct lack of “Tycoon” products that used to dominate the PC marketplace. Will M.U.D. TV march it back to the forefront?

M.U.D. TV features pretty decent graphics for the genre. The game has opted for a cartoon aesthetic, giving the characters in the game gigantic heads and tiny bodies (just like real celebrities!). There is no variety in the office locations they inhabit, however. M.U.D. TV uses pre-rendered movies for the shows on your channel; they use repetitive animations for each genre, and you certainly won’t be actually watching your programs. It’s nice the game is presented in 3-D, but it would be a more efficient simulation with 2-D menus instead of having to walk around the skyscraper to complete tasks. On the sound side of things, M.U.D. TV uses Sims-like gibberish for speech and background music appropriate for each of the shows on your stations. In the end, there is nothing wrong with the presentation of M.U.D. TV, but nothing spectacular either.

In M.U.D. TV, you control a television network bent on world domination through quality programming and mind-numbing advertisements. The game features a single player campaign that offers standard objectives that can be matched using the custom game options, so there’s no reason to play through the more restrictive scenarios as the story is essentially non-existent and of no importance. There are a lot of options available to customize your games away from the campaign: you can direct a public or private channel and specify the number of viewers in each demographic, initial funds and available formats, skyscraper size, length of the broadcast day, use of daily events and sabotage, and winning conditions (involving money or viewership). Games can be played against the AI (during the setup process, the AI will use the text chat to send insults…pretty cool) or online with multiplayer against actual humans. The basics of M.U.D. TV are taught across the three tutorials, which take entirely too long to complete and are dull at best. M.U.D. TV does allow you to customize the game with unique characters and programs to show on the tube, a nice feature. Despite the throwaway nature of the campaign, I was pleased with the features M.U.D. TV brings to the table.

The interface of M.U.D. TV tries to make the process of television production as inefficient as possible. Everything could have been accomplished from one screen instead of requiring your character to move between non-labeled rooms throughout the building. Immersive? Yes. Tedious? Heck yes. You’ll need to visit your office to set the schedule, the archive to save new material, the cube farm to hire additional employees, the kitchen to extend the work day (by one measly hour), the writers room for new scripts, the studio to make new shows, the post production room to improve existing programs, the newsroom (for news!), and the research lab (for research!). And you’ll also need to go to the lobby to hire talent, buy new shows, and purchase advertising. I think the tedium is intentional, in order to slow your progress down for more manageable multiplayer, but it’s still a pain to develop a cohesive plan economically. Why do I need to go to the lobby, put shows in my briefcase, go up stairs, transfer them to the archive, go to my office, and then set the schedule? The game would be much better if your time slots, demographic groups, show types, and advertising contracts were all directly related on the same display.

Programs come in four flavors: shows (reality and game, I think), series, movies, and news. Each format has eight sub-categories that appeal to multiple demographics. You can purchase terrible shows from the lobby or develop your own once you have the money for a writer’s room and a studio. You can’t, however, customize your shows during the game with unique names or automations. Everything expect for movies can only be shown once (re-runs, anyone?), so you had better make significant amounts of advertising revenue before time is up. Your options are very limited at the beginning of the game, since you only have enough money to purchase one-star shows. Eventually you’ll be able to afford employees to improve the shows, and potential workers are rated in several areas: creativity (good for writers), intellect (post producers), ego (directors), charisma (actors), humor (showmasters), and seriousness (newscasters). As long as you stick to the simple relationships between stat ratings and proper jobs, the quality of your programs will be maximized.

Most of your money is earned through advertising. A contract specifies the number of days you have to complete the objective: have a specific number of viewers in one or several demographics view the commercial. Most ads must be used more than once to fulfill the requirements, and this repetitive requirement is made more difficult since you can only play one commercial per show (not exactly realistic). Unfortunately, the game never informs you if a commercial failed (or succeeded, for that matter) to get the required audience, and failing a contact actually costs you money: you must actually watch the programs and wait for the little green check or red “X” to appear. The lack of usable feedback is a prominent quandary in M.U.D. TV.

The television audience is divided into eight groups that attempt to offend everyone equally: nerds, old people, intellectuals, housewives, macho men, emo kids, hippies, and yuppies. Each of the groups like specific shows (clearly indicated) at specific times (not as clearly indicated), so M.U.D. TV is simply a matter of choosing the right shows for your advertising. It’s as simple as that, and because of this simplicity, M.U.D. TV retains little to no long-term interest. The lack of feedback also hurts: the game never says why you have zero viewers during an otherwise well-programmed show; you must watch the competitors and try to figure it out on your own. The game also requires heavy use of time acceleration: once you set the schedule for the day, there’s nothing to do but sit and wait. Not exactly exhilarating gameplay.

M.U.D. TV is too simple for its own good. All you have to do in order to succeed in the game is to pick or develop the right shows for your advertising contract demographics and put them on when those demographics are watching TV. That’s all. This makes the game repetitive and generally uninteresting as a whole; you’ll play it for an hour and see that each day you have to do the same thing over and over again, since none of the purchased shows are saved for the next day (ever heard of reruns?). This is a game that makes heavy use of time acceleration: as soon as you make your schedule for the way, all you can do is sit back and wait to see if enough viewers tuned in. M.U.D. TV makes some realism concessions, like having only one commercial during a 90-minute program (wouldn’t that be nice). You are required to play this one commercial during multiple shows before the time limit runs out in order to earn your cash, something that the game doesn’t make readily apparent during the drawn-out tutorials. At least M.U.D. TV gives you a multitude of options for creating custom games, although the campaign lacks objective variety. You can also play the game online in competitive multiplayer, which is nice. The interface needs to be better, as it’s too cumbersome to coordinate your broadcast schedule, available shows, appropriate demographics, and advertising requirements. The game also requires you to hold all of your assets in an archive, seemingly for the sole purpose of making you click a couple extra times and waste precious energy. The tedium and repetitiveness required to become successful at M.U.D. TV is simply not worth the effort. The game is too easy, since successfully relating advertising to programs is a trivial process. Despite some nice features, M.U.D. TV doesn’t offer the variety and challenge required to make it a long-term gaming prospect.