Review: PDAMill Tower Mogul

People who have read more of my reviews may know that I also like to review older games which I’ve discovered on my journey over the internet. One of these games which can be considered as a classic, is Tower Mogul by PDAMill. When I searched for some top 3 or top 10 lists where people answered the question what their favourite game was, Tower Mogul popped up quite often. Most of these lists were, like Tower Mogul itself, not very recent, so I thought it would be good to take a look at this game and see how it can compete with games that are released today.

In short, we will find that this simulation game, in which you have to construct a tower, attract people (called “Virts”) to your tower, protect it from disasters such as bomb threats and fires, as well as ‘simply’ balance the hotel units, offices, service units, shops and other available units, is still a very recommendable game this day with good graphics, efficient (menu) navigation and interesting, strategical gameplay.

By the way, in order to fill up the space to the left of the screenshot it may be good to mention that PDAMill has recently ported several of it’s games to the Windows Mobile Standard platform (SmartPhone devices without touch-screen). Tower Mogul is not one of these games, but there are many Gamebox games on the list as well as their new games Pachinko Go! and Glyphos.

Main menu

Upon starting the game you will see the main menu (like the image above). On the background you see what could become your tower, along with 4 items you can tap.

“new game” obviously starts a new game. You get to enter the name of your tower, which – I believe – is only used to identify your game when saving/loading. Then you need to select the difficulty you want to play. Beginner mode is recommended for first time players, and probably for second and third time players as well. When I started in Hardcore mode, I got a fire almost right away and because I wasn’t able to install a maintanance unit in my tower yet, the entire tower burnt down to the ground. I imagine that it takes a fair bit of experience to take such unexpected events into account while constructing your tower. The last mode, Sandbox mode, is only unlocked when you finish Hardcore mode with all 5 stars, and I believe that in Sandbox mode you can play with all units available to you right from the start.

In the main screen, “load game” brings you to a screen with one of four save slots. The tower name and ranking indentify your different savegames but it would be nice if the save date and time would also be displayed so that you can always see which savegame is the most recent since this is often the one you’d want to play. Obviously you’d most often want to overwrite the oldest savegame with the least progress, so it would be good to be able to identify savegames by save date. Below you can see the “load game” page along with the “save game” screen that is pretty similar, and which can be accessed from the Home bar in the game.

The next item is Options, and it will be discussed next. Obviously the last option in the Main menu lets you leave the game.

  

Options

Sometimes the Options section can only be discussed after explaining the game itself, but I think here it is OK to show the Options screen first. The settings come in three categories: Sound, Game and Other. The sound can be disabled, which I always do with every game, but you can also pick any of the four available soundtracks.

Game Controls allow you to enable or disable the grid in the game. The next setting can prevent your device from “going to sleep” (turning off the screen) when you don’t take any actions for a period of time. This way, you can leave the game running for some time as you earn some money and recover from building that beautiful (but oh so expensive) service for the Virts (people in your tower). The “Show Scroll Areas” setting gives you a small bar at each side of the playing field, which you can tap with the stylus to navigate over the screen and make different parts of your tower visible. Of course you can also navigate with the D-Pad and, if you have the small preview of the tower visible in the bottom right, by moving the selection window on that preview section.

Other options include two settings to improve gameplay for slower devices. I don’t think any of the recent devices should be considered a “slow device” taking into account that Tower Mogul has been around for a few years already. But if you do have the feeling your device doesn’t have the power for this game, disable the “Show special effects” and “Show Tower Virts” (or one of the two) settings to improve performance.
Finally, if you want, you can enable a battery meter which is of course always useful if you are in an environment where you can’t charge your device, so you set a rule for yourself to – for example – stop playing when you have approximately 30% battery left.

Okay, now that we have that behind us, we can get started in the game. So choose “new game”, or “load game” if you’ve saved a game before.

Tutorial

If you start playing Tower Mogul for the first time, you are presented a tutorial which introduces you to the first basic actions. You get to build your first lobby and you’re shown that these are required before you can build anything else (offices, hotel rooms, etc.) on top of them. After the tutorial, you’ll have to do everything on your own. There is a tutorial section available through the Home menu though, and it will show you four pages with helpful information. I think that it’s good for new players (and readers of this review who are not familiar with the genre) to read those instructions before playing/reading on.

The first page gives a general introduction, and the second page tells you about the game controls and status bar at the bottom. We will discuss those later as well, but basically the information is all in this Tutorial text.

The third page has an explanation on the buttons in the toolbar, and it is recommended to pay close attention to these. You need to be able to access the Builbar, minimap, statistics and unit info very quickly, so any seconds you spend on thinking “which button does what” is a waste of your time and – possibly – money.

The final page has some tips, but don’t expect any hints that provide you with a good strategy right away. I’ve read in the past that if you want a decent population quickly you should start by building offices since they attract Virts. However, you’ll also want to have hotels since Virts that rent a room will have other preferences than company employees, so they’ll use different services in your tower. PDAMill really wants the player to find out good strategies themselves, and I indeed think that that is the best way to learn how to master the game. If you run into any problems or need specific help on improving your Virt count for example, you can visit the PDAMill forums.

  

Tower rating: goals in the game

We’re getting more and more into the game. Let’s now discuss what you will have to do in Tower Mogul. The goal in this game is to build a tower that is as successfull as possible. This will most likely mean that your tower is high, wide, and attracts a lot of visitors (Virts). You’ll have to spend a lot of money to achieve that, but luckily any unit you build contributes to your “Total Money” in a direct or indirect way. It can be direct because Virts that sleep in your hotel room pay rent, just like people that have their office in your tower. But there are also toilet units, service elevators, security units etc., and while they don’t contribute to your bank account directly, they help keeping your Virts happy. And happy Virts means more Virts who are willing to pay more money in your tower, allowing you to build more new exciting units.

But not all units are available right away, you will have to unlock them step by step. Your tower has a rating, which is displayed in the bottom left corner. You start with a one-star tower and have to work your way up to achieving a five-star rating. To increase your rating, certain goals have to be met. Tapping the star rating displays your current goal, and be prepared to see the requirements increase in difficulty every time your tower rating is upgraded. The first goal is simply to reach a certain population (amount of Virts) but after meeting that requirement, you will also need to have certain services in your tower. Those services (a Security center and Maintenance Facility) are very fundamental to building a tower in which your Virts will feel safe and secure. They can be seen as ‘preparations’, and while such requirements can be considered too hard in the beginning of the game, they are required in a tower that is meant to be taken seriously.

However, both the security center and the maintenance facility aren’t cheap, so here it is important that you already have a good amount of offices and hotel rooms to get the money flow starting. You’ll probably even have to build more offices and hotel rooms first before you can start to think about saving for the security center and maintenance facility. Fortunately, achieving a two-star rating unlocks several new units that can be built. Using those units you can give your Virts a large offering of services and – for example – mix single person hotel rooms, twin hotel rooms, and deluxe hotel rooms. Be sure to always keep your floors connected through staircases and elevators though, since your Virts will become unhappy if they can’t easily reach their hotel room. Also, it is important to have service elevators for your service staff, so that they can reach all other floors from the floor where their service unit is located.

As you will probably understand, all things discussed above concern only a small amount of the strategical decision you’ll have to make in order to build a tower that remains profitable. After all, if your tower doesn’t bring in enough money at this moment, you won’t have the cash to improve it and make it more profitable for the future. Most often though, you can just watch your tower for some virtual days (time goes by quickly in the game) and see how the rent comes in and your “Total Money” amount increases. After waiting a while you’ll be able to expand your tower again, but you’ll always have to decide if you’re going to build a few offices or hotel rooms (which are relatively cheap) or keep saving for the more expensive units.

Navigation

When you get to the playing screen, you may think that there is quite some place that you can buil on right away. However, as you progress you will quickly find that you need more place to expand your tower. Therefore it is crucial that you can easily navigate across the screen. You can do this with the D-Pad buttons easily, and this is my navigation method of choice.

The two other ways use the stylus. In the Options you can enable the “Show Scroll Areas” setting, which will place the cursor crosses in the corners of the screen. Tapping on the outer edges of the screen will move the screen into that direction. See for example the white highlight at the bottom, which appears when I tap the stylus in that area. The other navigation method is with the minimap (the 6th button on the toolbar). If the minimap is enabled, you can simply drag the square around the minimap to change the currently visible part of the tower.

Home bar

In the toolbar at the bottom (which is introduced in the Tutorial section), there are 7 buttons. From top to bottom they are: Exit, New game, Load game, Save game, Options, Tutorial, and Credits. The credits are displayed below next to a screen with the Home bar opened. Also visible in this screen is the minimap, which shows the current tower in black. As you can see, there is plenty of room to expand the tower!

 

Build bar

The second button on the toolbar opens the Build bar. The arrows allow you to scroll through the available units that can be built. When your tower has a one-star rating, only the currently visible units are available. When a two-star rating is achieved, the amount of available units is doubled. However, there are also several units added to the items in the first row. You can get to these items using tap-and-hold on an item with an arrow. For example, doing tap-and-hold on the third icon (the Lobby, which needs to be on the ground as basis for your other units) allow you to build restrooms, and later parking spaces for under your tower.

In this buildbar, the first item allows you to destroy units you’ve built. Tap-and-hold on the item to change between “destroy units” (yellow) and “destroy transits” (red). You can also construct floors with the white construction unit here, but I’ve found than if you start placing a unit on a new floor, the floor is constructed automatically for you, so in most situations you don’t need to construct the floor yourself.
The second item in the buildbar allows you to place transits, but you can’t place them too close to each other. Also, only 6 elevators are allowed in an elevator shaft. So you’ll want to be careful placing your elevators strategically so that people can easily reach their rooms, offices, and stores. Also it is essential to have service elevators available in, for example, your Housekeeping units so that your service staff can actually get away from their units and reach other floors.

I’ll leave the other units for yourself to explore. Often similar units are grouped together, such as the hotel rooms (which are available when the Housekeeping unit it tapped-and-hold).

Statistics

I’ll skip the Pause, Play, Fast forward and minimap buttons because they are pretty self-explanatory, and the tutorial already has them covered. So then we get to the statistics. They come in three tabs, one for Advisers, one for Income, and one for Graphs.

The advisers give you tips which vary in usefulness. For example, the Mayor below tells you something that can also be seen on the Rating screen. However, the tip Gino Vinelli gives here is very important because it is the way I found out that fires need to be taken care of by maintenance Virts, and I don’t have to wait until I can build a fire department or something like that. So it pays off to go see your advisors once in a while. And hey, which Tower Mogul wouldn’t be interested in some FREE advice?

On the Income statement, you see your income and expenses listed nicely, but I haven’t used this too much. I don’t care about what I’ve spent in the past, I only want to know how much cash I have now, and how I can spend it best. So, let’s move on to the Graphs tab.

The Graphs tab has two views, which can be toggled by tapping the Population or Money checkbox. The graph that will appear shows you how your money has come in and went out in the past time, and of which Virts your population consists. In the screenshot below, I won’t focus on building offices for a while. Offices bring in Virts quickly, but for a well balanced tower (and better income later on) it is good to have residential virts and outsiders as well. (I’m not sure what Miscellanious Virts are). So to attract residential Virts I will build more hotel rooms, and for outsiders I will build a lot of the new units that come available when the two star rating is achieved. (So no need to focus on this too much when your tower has only one star, a bit later in the game you will have plenty of ways to attract outsider Virts!)

  

Unit Info tool

The next button lets you take a screenshot of your Tower, and places it in the Tower Mogul installation folder. The final button, the Unit Info tool, is a great help in managing your tower. As you can see in the first screenshot, it will give your units a color that represents their status. Green means good, yellow is average, and red means trouble. So anything that’s not green might need your attention! The elevator shafts always have yellow and red colors so you can disregard those. A smart way to use the Unit Info tool is to combine it with the minimap, which will conveniently show you the green and yellow (and possibly red) areas in your tower. The black areas correspond to service units, and since the happiness of your staff doesn’t have any role in Tower Mogul, they won’t get a green, yellow or red color.

With the Unit Info tool, you can also select any of your units to view it’s properties. For example, after you’ve built more elevators in a shaft, you can use this to reposition them, to make sure your Virts can easily move from one floor to another without traveling too much. Another example is the twin hotel room unit info, which allows you to change the rent. This way you can increase your income, but of course your Virts will be happier with lower prices. There’s a simple button that allows you to apply the rent to all similar rooms, but unfortunately this setting doesn’t apply to new units. So if you build a new twin hotel room after setting the rent for all rooms to 3500, the next one you build will be rented for 2500 again. Obviously, the comments section tells you what you can improve to increase the happiness of your Virt in that unit (the Unit Evaluation bar). Sometimes you will see a Virt complain, for example if a unit is not easily accessible.

  

Gameplay

So, how is actual gameplay like? I’d say that it’s pretty good. You start with a fair bit of money so you can build lobbies, service and normal elevators, offices and hotel rooms. This will get you started and get you some income. You will find that you need to save some money quite often to be able to expand your tower, but that’s nothing but realistic.

Also realistic is that your tower can be attacked by terrorists, power outages can occur, and fires can start somewhere in your tower. Obviously, such disasters need to be taken care of quickly. Fires will move on the the rooms next to it, and the floors above and beyond. So, unless you want to leave every other floor empty to prevent fire from expanding, you’ll need to have maintenance units. The service staff can then take care of your fire. (A tip which I read on the PDAMill forums: pauze the game, destroy the rooms around your fire to prevent it from expanding, and then let the maintenance staff do their work. This will limit your damages!) Obviously, in the screenshot here I didn’t do good at crisis management, so pretty much my entire tower burnt down. You’ll be left with units that can’t be used and need to be destroyed before new units can be constructed. So, don’t let this happen to you!

Navigation and menu structure is easy enough so that you can focus on actual gameplay, but you will sometimes have to search for a unit in the Build bar. By now I know that the Lobby, restrooms and parking units are the third item in the build bar, but I sometimes do have to look for the gift shop or minimart.

Tower Mogul includes a good amount of extras that help you during your mission, such as the minimap, advisers, stats, and a lot of information already present on the screen.

So, I think that Tower Mogul is an excellent game if you’re a fan of this genre. Obviously simulation games on the desktop pc are often more advanced, but this PPC game has – in my opinion – plenty of elements that need balancing and strategical decisionmaking. The buttons are large enough to use with the stylus, you can fast forward the game if you just want to wait untill money comes in for a little while, and vital information is placed on the screen efficiently and well visible.

The only thing I found annoying was that I can’t set the price of my hotels, offices, suites, etc. in advance. The “Apply rent to all twin rooms” setting discussed above only works for units that exist already, so every time after you’ve built one or more units you need to go into the Unit Info screen and set the price for all similar units again.

Product information

PDAMill Tower Mogul is available for $ 14.95, and a trial is available here as well.
The trial stops after reaching certain goals, and after purchasing the full version you will need to manually copy the savegames to the new installation folder. They are called “new1.tms” up to “new4.tms”, and you also need the “tm.ini” file from the Tower Mogul Trial folder. Just move them over to the new Storage Card/Program Files/Games/Tower Mogul/ folder. You’ll have to manually uninstall the trial.

Currently only WM devices with touch screen are supported, but PDAMill has recently been porting games to the non-touch-screen Windows Mobile operating system so perhaps this game will be supported on more platforms in the future as well.

For questions and tips, you can visit the PDAMill Tower Mogul forums (or e-mail them for Support issues).

Compatibility note: PDAMill has a notification on their website about version 1.5 of the game, that says:

We have recently received reports that many HTC Titan/MOGUL devices running Windows Mobile 6 may not run Tower Mogul correctly. If you own one of these devices, have purchased the game, and it is not running correctly, please email support and we will try to resolve the issue as soon as possible.

So do keep that in mind if you have such a device. I didn’t have any issues playing this game on my HTC TyTn II.

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