The broad genre of sim games allows players to mechanically engage with interesting conceits. Dense plane sims have users at the helm of everything from WWII Mustangs to modern AC-130s. Will Wright’s Sim series explores both the running of city ecosystems in SimCity, and the lives of individuals with the amazingly popular The Sims. But is the idea of running a call center one that people fantasize about? Heydeck Games thinks so, and has made Smooth Operator: Call Center Chaos to fill that niche market.
Abiding by the spinning-plates style of design, Smooth Operator is a game where players build up a tiny call center into an unstoppable force of telemarketers and customer service representatives. Players build the business offices, hire individual workers of different classes, acquire contracts and make sure that costs don’t exceed income. Each system has a variety of nuance that makes the game both strategic and exciting to play.
Players start out with an amount of cash depending on the difficulty level. They are then given an annex on an empty, level field from which to build different types of building sections. Three work space types allow for four employees each of any kind, but give bonuses to specific worker classes. For instance, you can place a janitor in the same office as a manager, but if the work space type is ‘service,’ the manager will be less efficient and in a worse mood. Players can also add food, restrooms and recreation areas to keep workers happier, more efficient and save time from them having to leave the office to seek those things. Of course, connecting the spaces becomes important. Low-level elevators are a smart move for those building up, but become clogged and cause frustration as players pack offices. Like a good war game, a quality landscape for units to work in is essential to optimal operations. The necessity of elevators makes players consider building out instead of up, but risk losing the benefits of late game unit types that have a sort of AOE effect. While a good building strategy can be developed after multiple play-throughs, the initial depth of the system is quite fun.
Buildings need workers, and Smooth Operator has them in spades. Workers are separated into operations, office and service classes, with each class having unit types. Service staff, for instance, consist of IT Staff who fix the delicate computers workers use and the tireless janitors. But getting work done isn’t as simple as hiring them and giving them a desk. Each worker has detailed stats that reflect mood, training and lifetime earning and cost. Each can have their schedule set to different times throughout the day, individual salary rates set and be given vacation time. While I love the granularity of the system, one can imagine that when floors start rising up and workers start packing in, managing them goes by the wayside. That being said, players with well built buildings and placement won’t have to worry much about micro-managing anyway.
While the game’s systems are surprisingly deep for such a low-priced game, multiple design decisions kept me from fully enjoying it. The most apparent one to players would be UI. The game uses a mouse finger cursor with a console controller. Considering that we’ve had games like Civilization: Revolution that handle dense UI more intelligently, this is a cardinal sin. While constructing the office building and hiring workers isn’t onerous, managing individual workers is, which leads me to my next complaint: managing workers. Considering the high amount of workers an office will end up with, it’s bothersome that there isn’t one screen where I can at least access the data to all of them. One that also allowed me to adjust the properties of each one would have been a blessing, as would the ability to make large scale decisions, like adjusting wages. Though I stated earlier that a well-balanced office would offset the need to micromanage, those who haven’t balanced their resources but still want to push through instead of giving up, and those who just enjoy going through things with a fine-toothed comb are done a disservice.
Smooth Operator: Call Center Chaos is an addictive, little title whose detailed systems will have players losing hours without even realizing it. It charming 8-bit art is appealing, but the management UI leaves much wanting. While the dollar price on XBLIG is attractive, for those who have the option, I would recommend that they wait for the PC version, which will not only allow easier interaction with the UI, but also contain a content update. For those who don’t have the option though, sim-lovers might be a little irritated with the XBLIG version, but not disappointed.
Here’s the Rundown:
+ Charming art
+ Complex systems
+ No outsourcing
– Cursor UI with controller
– Individual worker management is difficult
7 and 7.5 represent a game that overall manages to be worth a playthrough, just not worth the full price at launch. These scores are for games that are relatively good or even really good, but generally worth waiting for a sale or picking up as a rental when possible.
Smooth Operator: Call Center Chaos was developed by Heydeck Games. A copy of the game was provided to RipTen for the purposes of review.