Originally released in summer 2001 as Gadget Tycoon, Factory Mogul is a light business simulation with a "wacky" veneer, giving you an opportunity to renovate a dilapidated factory and become a captain of industry. It's flawed on many levels--it gives you both too much and not enough to do on separate occasions and has a clumsy interface that makes accomplishing tasks more difficult than necessary. But it has some charm, and the budget price is suited to the amount of fun it provides.
Though mostly unassuming, Factory Mogul does have one striking feature: Its theme song might be the worst theme song ever. It's a B-grade Euro-disco track featuring a dramatic female singer and lyrics full of four-letter words and references to sex and debauchery. In its bizarre way, the song sets up the premise. You have acquired a run-down factory and must find a way to create a successful business. You can choose one of three products in which to specialize: toilets, inline skates, or robots.
The game offers three modes of play. You can choose one of the included missions--each one gives you predetermined goals, like having to reach a particular research level or income level. You can choose the sandbox mode, in which you choose a product to develop and manage everything without competition. And you can play multiplayer games over a LAN or the Internet, though the game doesn't include a built-in matching service.
The basic game follows a fairly linear path. You begin with your unsightly site and then hire researchers. Depending on which product you choose, there will be a varying number of components to research. Toilets and skates have three components; robots have four. Each component has different levels to research. For instance, you can focus on making your toilet seats more attractive or more high-tech. Or you can focus on making them both more attractive and more high-tech. Higher-level components cost more to produce but also make your product worth more. If you are the first company to research a certain component, you'll own the patent and earn money until another company completes that research, at which point the patent goes into the public domain.
Once you've researched at least one level of all the necessary components, you can begin production. Production requires a fair number of employees, maintenance men to operate your assembly line, and a supervisor to get the whole thing working. To produce a level one product, you need to hire only level one workers and buy level one machines. If you plan on moving into higher-quality products, higher-level employees and equipment will be necessary.
To sell your product, you'll need to hire a sales manager. And an advertising specialist won't hurt either. Each employee has specialized tasks. Your human resources representative can poach employees from other companies or raise the morale of your stressed-out workers. Advertising executives can boost product awareness with "emotives" (typical buyers) or "technies" (cutting-edge consumers), and you can advertise with an airship if you really want to boost your visibility. Spies can steal research and commit industrial sabotage, while lawyers can protect you when your competition decides to employ its spies against you.
There's a whole lot of stuff to do in Factory Mogul, but because the game has such a strict structure, you'll often feel as if you are following a predetermined path, even in the free-form modes. Your factory is a static place, and though you can upgrade the objects, you have no choice in its planning or layout. Desks are already in place, and you can only upgrade them. Moreover, the game moves fast, and there's no way of slowing it down. Information comes quickly, and if your employees are unhappy, or your machines are breaking down, you often can't respond quickly enough.
The interface makes accomplishing goals more difficult--or at least more confusing. Each workstation has three tabs, which correspond to the employees, their available actions, and the equipment they are using. There are few macro commands, so you must give orders to each employee individually, and when you are quickly trying to set up a research project or a production line, the amount of clicking necessary is frustrating. Not nearly as frustrating as setting a production amount or giving a raise, however. There's no way to type in numbers, so to give raises or increase production numbers, you must either click hundreds of times or hold down the mouse button and hope you can stop the rapidly spinning numbers in some proximity of your chosen figure.
The lack of a context-sensitive help feature makes some choices baffling, and the game's occasionally bizarre terminology is often hard to make sense of. For a game that is obviously hoping to attract a wide audience with its colorful graphics and goofy descriptions, the game is surprisingly obtuse about certain concepts. The business information itself is particularly dry, and even the tutorials don't do a good job of explaining how the game's abstracted supply-and-demand model works.
With a bit of playing, though, it starts to make some sense. You'll have a decent time clicking around your employees and watching how they spend their workdays, which usually involves playing computer games or sleeping. The game looks generally good, though the viewable area is so small that important areas are obscured by the important menus. Your whole factory could easily fit on the screen, and yet you'll need to scroll around constantly to give commands. A series of hotkeys make jumping from area to area easier, but the fact remains that it doesn't seem necessary at all.
But Factory Mogul's problems seem less important because it's not aiming too high. It's enjoyable to a degree, it's budget-priced, and it has system requirements that were surprisingly low when it was originally released last year. If you can get past the theme song and the awful interface, Factory Mogul provides some brief and innocuous fun.