The Movies

Platform(s): PC, Xbox
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Lionhead Studios

About Tony "OUberLord" Mitera

I've been entrenched in the world of game reviews for almost a decade, and I've been playing them for even longer. I'm primarily a PC gamer, though I own and play pretty much all modern platforms. When I'm not shooting up the place in the online arena, I can be found working in the IT field, which has just as many computers but far less shooting. Usually.

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PC Review - 'The Movies'

by Tony "OUberLord" Mitera on Dec. 1, 2005 @ 12:17 a.m. PST

Imagine you could make any movie you wanted to. Imagine you could pluck someone from obscurity and make him or her the hottest star in Tinseltown. Imagine that you had control of an entire movie studio, competing with others to create a string of box office smashes. Imagine being able to use your judgement alone, deciding whether success lies with epic action pictures or lots of low budget hammy 'B' movies.

Genre: Simulation / Tycoon
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Release Date: November 8, 2005

Buy 'THE MOVIES: PC CD-ROM | PC DVD-ROM

The Movies is a unique title to really quantify in terms of the almighty score fraction. In most titles, you can take the existing content, and with that as a factor, see how well the gameplay itself stacks up to it. In the case of The Movies, the gameplay itself is stellar, as is the included content. However, as wildly as your imagination can run with an idea for a movie, there are many areas where the included content simply stops short. Even so, The Movies is a ridiculously ambitious idea that is pulled off with a very fair amount of quality.

You see, in The Movies, you are a budding new studio owner just starting off in the 1920s. Initially, the game is played not unlike a title from the Rollercoaster Tycoon series of games, where you must first set up your studio by constructing various buildings, sets, and objects. The buildings are where your studio is run from, and they range from stage schools to hire and fire your actors and directors, to restaurants and bars to ease their stress levels, to rehab facilities to cure them of addictions to said food and drink. Staff areas to hire janitors, builders, movie crew, scriptwriters, and researchers must also be built to ensure your studio has the proper mix of professionals to get your movies off the ground.

As dumb as it sounds, The Movies can be best described in two parts, the times when you aren't making movies and the times that you are. Your studio is a complex beast of a big, square piece of land filled with its own needs as well as the needs of your (sometimes overly demanding) actors, actresses, and directors. Buildings and sets require pathways placed between them for easier access and transportation, builders to keep all of your buildings well-maintained, and janitors to clean up after the mass of employees that you will end up having. The area will need to look suitably Hollywood, so it is a good practice of a studio owner such as yourself to plant trees, grass, and flowers that border immaculate buildings, concrete pathways, and statues.

Your actors, actresses, and directors in The Movies are all very individual people that you must tend to on a unique case-by-case basis. There are many wants and needs that each will possess, such as their fashion, image, salary, trailer, stress or even outright boredom. They expect to progress as their careers do, so it is a good idea to ensure that as your stars become beacons among the Hollywood masses, to make sure they have a fancy trailer adorned with beautiful cars, regular appointments with the surgeons to get nips, tucks, and liposuction, and a bountiful salary that most people could only dream of.

When their needs aren't met, they become less happy, measured by a bar with two lines on it. The first bar is their happiness bar, and any time their mood is above it, they will be performing at their best. The second bar is just the opposite, and anything lower than that means that they will be performing at their worst. In between, they are just content, and while that isn't a bad area to be in, it also means that much less money will be grossed at the box office for whatever production they are in.

Everyone on your studio lot in The Movies has experience levels. Your staff members are the most easy to examine, as they really only have experience in the one area they are employed in, unless you swap them around for some reason. Scriptwriters gain experience in making better scripts, janitors clean faster, movies crews learn their equipment, and builders can spruce up a set in the blink of an eye. Conversely, new hires will perform much less efficiently until they learn the ropes.

However, your actors, actresses, and directors have experience levels based on the five genres in The Movies: Action, Horror, Sci-Fi, Romance, and Comedy. To boost these levels, they must either take part in movies of the genre or simply practice on a set that matches the genre you want them to better themselves in. When you consider that your people have their own needs to tend to in addition to their experience level, and the fact that they have finite lifetimes and will eventually retire and take their expertise with them, you begin to see how deep the management of your studios personnel can get. I once hired an actress who, at the age of 21, was an expert in horror films and had a prodigal resistance to all forms of stress. Bless her heart, she was one of my biggest stars in the horror film blitz that was the 1960s.

As far as the timeline goes, The Movies really only "progresses" from 1920 to 2005, the present. Events of the world affect what genres of movies are in demand, so it is a good idea to make movies that dance around the wants of the movie-going public for maximum earning potential. At first, your studio can only make silent movies using grainy black and white film and low-quality music, props, and effects, but as your studio ages, the film quality increases, the costumes and props become more elaborate, and the sets available to you increase in both complexity and quality. To help things along, you can employ researchers in your laboratory to work on advancing your tech, whether it be on mainstream movie sets and costumes, dabble in the cult classics category, or simply bump up your technology a notch. Yes, you too can have a studio that pioneers high-quality color film and stereo sound as early as the 1940s.

Now, there are two ways to make a movie. You can tell your scriptwriters to go and ply their trade, wait a while, and get a script where the only input you have is about its genre, actors, and director. After the rehearsal process, the movie begins shooting and you can literally watch the staff go from set to set and act out the various scenes as they are recorded. Of course, half of the time, you have more important things to do, but still it's a nice touch of detail to be able to zoom in and actually see the movie progress and watch the scenes unfold in real time.

The other way is to actually write the script yourself where you have a much higher, but not ultimate, degree of control. You first name the movie, the characters, pick the genre, and the overall costumes of the main characters. Then, using an interface similar to products such as Adobe Premier, you add scenes, music, sound effects, voiceovers, and subtitles. The scenes must be picked from sets you currently have on your lot, of which there can be quite a few, depending on how well you have laid out your studio and how complex you like it. Each set has an admittedly large but not all-encompassing amount of actions that can occur in it, but you cannot place the actors simply anywhere you want. Still, the amount of actions you can pick per set is a good amount, and with the mod community potential, one can only guess that the sky can be the limit.

The actions are somewhat set-specific and there are usually about 30-40 per set, each with their own selectable camera angles, special effects, lighting, backdrops, and prop customization. The term "pre-set actions" may cause a knot to form in your stomach, but in all honesty, there is such a diverse amount of them that it rarely becomes a problem. In each scene, costumes can be customized from the default you set to allow for you to really tweak each scene to fit the story if your super spy goes from the forest to a rooftop brawl.

Once your movie is made, you can not only save it and view it on your computer at any time, but you can also elect to upload it online for public rating and viewing. Making a movie that gets viewed and rated highly nets you credits which can be redeemed for additional downloadable props from the website. Even though that particular feature isn't in place yet, the community effort is getting fairly large scale. To see for yourself (and to get a feel for the overall quality of the movies themselves), check out the site at http://movies.lionhead.com/charts

The Movies isn't a game that really puts its graphics or sounds as a selling point on the box, but it fails to disappoint in either category. The characters all look believable down to facial expressions, and they move much as a real person would, with perhaps a slightly cartoony edge. With very few exceptions, the buildings, objects, and the sets in particular are all nicely detailed. There are no graphical effects that stand out and make the player cry with joy, but at the same time, for a game in its genre, it easily stands out as one of the higher visual quality titles.

As you progress, radio deejays create breaks between songs that sound reminiscent of the period of time you are currently in. You'll have the smooth talking deejay of the '60s, the stuffy movie-hating, theater-loving man of the '20s, and so on. Characters in the game speak gibberish much like in The Sims, so while there are few real examples of voiceovers, you can still understand what they are saying based on the emotion and urgency with which they say it.

Overall, The Movies is a title that is only limited by two factors, your imagination and the ability of the title to match it. Granted, the actions you can choose from aren't as flexible as one would like, but the sheer volume of them means that most movie ideas can be made with a few additions to the mix and creative use of the engine. The core gameplay that surrounds much of the game is very entertaining and as addictive as expected; grooming your actors to be experts in a couple of genres and become top stars is a very compelling mechanic. The Movies does have its shortcomings in that the amount of customization does in fact have an endpoint, but other than that, the title is one that is compelling to both fans of the sort of "theme park" simulation games and those who have always been interested in making movies but lack the budget and time to create their real-life counterparts. It may not be perfect, but for the most part, it's close enough to be believable, at least from a Hollywood point of view.

Score: 9.3/10


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