A simulation game called Middle Manager of Justice will be the next game to come out of Double Fine, a celebrated independent studio based in San Francisco. We've been spending some time with the game before today's announcement and are more than pleased with what Double Fine has been up to since the release of Iron Brigade and its successful attempt at crowd-funding a brand new adventure game, simply dubbed "Double Fine Adventure" -- for the moment.

In Middle Manager of Justice, you'll be tasked with running the front desk of a regional branch of Justice Corporation. You'll hire, train, and outfit heroes, as well as create new facilities to house and motivate your heroes. It's a lot of work.

Functionally, Middle Manager plays like a simulation game. Presented in a top-down view, you'll be spending most of your time inside the regional branch, setting up missions or desk work for your heroes. When a hero finishes a job, he'll earn cash, which you'll, in turn, use to buy or upgrade existing facilities or spend on training or combat equipment like, say, defensive gear or ice cream.

There's a lot of sub-systems bolstering the core training and upgrading components, most of which are timer-based. When a hero levels up, he earns three training points. You can train for strength, overall health, and intelligence.

The former two can be trained in a gym, which you'll have access to right out of the gate, while the latter is given by the you, the middle manager. Strength and health bolster combat. Intelligence, on the other hand, gives you the ability to research new gear and access new, and effective, special abilities that can turn the tide of battle pretty quickly.

It's important to note that the timers on training become increasingly longer as heroes level up. You can speed up this process by spending the game's secondary currency, which can be acquired with real-world money or by taking special one-off missions. This second currency, dubbed "Superium," is also required for the purchasing of new heroes.

Don't freak out: the IAP balance is weighed heavily in the player's favor. As you fight random bad dudes, you'll eventually bring on a boss fight. These bosses dish out a ton of Superium for your hero-hiring and training needs.

Project lead Kee Chi tells us that nailing this balance has been a big deal. "It’s been really important to me throughout this project that we allow all players to play the game as much as they want."

"The core experience of the game should be fun for the non paying player as well as the paying player. The game needs to be fun for everyone," he exclaims.

"You can always earn coins and Superium through many avenues in the game, but if you do choose to pay for IAP, you can power up your heroes quicker, get new super heroes earlier and experience the content at a faster pace."

Timers and other set-and-forget mechanics work well on iPad and iPhone, allowing you to pick up games in bursts while on the subway, during a break, or on the toilet. As you'd suspect, Middle Manager's timers keep moving while the app is closed, but they also move faster if the game is open.

This is because the game wants you to be an active participant, to keep making choices as you would in a, you know, regular game. The combat also requires you. You'll need to be around to activate special powers or use items when appropriate.

Another observation: unlike other free-to-play titles, Middle Manager is built in a way that allows you to spend in-game money without feeling bad about it. If you buy gear or a healing item, you won't be setting yourself back on a facility upgrade. You can keep pursuing these macro goals while still accomplishing micro goals. These goals have meaning, too. Dropping dough on a gym upgrade, for example, gives you faster equipment so you can get to missions more efficiently.

"I wanted to make sure that the player interaction and the macro choices that the player makes matter in the game. From choosing which kind of hero to recruit next (power oriented, intelligence oriented, or defense oriented), which rooms to build first (ability training room to focus on the hero powers, or the lab to focus on researching items), to deciding which of your super hero abilities to bring into battle," Chi tells us.

Of course, this entire experience is wrapped in Double Fine production. Middle Manager doesn't take itself seriously, which is great. The art direction is as off-the-wall and welcoming, too. Look around this post, and you'll see what we mean.

Middle Manager represents a lot of firsts for Double Fine. This is its first iPhone and iPad game, as well as its first free-to-play title and simulation game. From our hour or so with it, it appears as though Middle Manager won't suffer from being too new or maybe too ambitious for Double Fine. From all appearances, it'll be a good game that's balanced in favor of its soon-to-be fans.

  • bramblett05

    When does this come out I want it

  • ducksFANjason

    This looks great and I'm interested in seeing just how much they stick to their word of letting the player play as much as they want. My major complaint with timer-based freemium games is that they tend to reach a point where they become somewhat oxy-moronic: the game entices you to play until it fickley decides you can't play any more, at least until the timer is done.

    I really hope this game stays true to it's word and makes the timers a non-issue, though if that's the case, then what purpose do they serve? I guess we'll see.

  • jcifrit

    Sounds great! I'm looking forward to this one!

  • http://twitter.com/Leonick91 Hampus Jensen

    Can't we please just have a nice simulation game without hour long timers to incentives using real cash to get somewhere?

  • GameTaco

    I'm actually okay with timers, as long as they don't get too out of hand. An hour or two is fine, but once it goes beyond, say, four hours, it hits a point where you stop playing a game and are just planning your day.

    I liked how Puzzle Craft did it, as bonuses that you get every 1-2 hours rather than outright content barriers. I've also somehow gotten hooked on Fantasica this weekend, which while also timer-laden, gives you enough different things to do at one time that you can juggle a few different tasks at once while waiting for another timer to cool down. There are no cooldowns that go beyond an hour to my knowledge.

    I can count on Double Fine to do it right, with goals of making things move faster while the app is open and making currency abundant enough that you don't find yourself clinging to every individual unit for dear life until you accidentally spend it on a mis-tap that doesn't have a confirmation prompt. The trick is to make sure that there is nearly always something to do other than sitting around, waiting for the next timer to expire.

    Basically, games like Middle Manager and Steam Bandits Outpost give me hope regarding the future of free to play simulation games. These are games developed by game developers, not businesses with a design team and a formula for projected success. And hey, if I like it? Heck yeah I'll chip in a few bucks.