Developer: Lionhead Studios
Release Date: June 6, 2006
In the gaming community, there are certain leaders – certain captains of industry, if you will – who are hailed as paragons of that hobby. Masters of their craft, they are the ones to whom new generations of game makers look for inspiration and guidance. Their projects have been routinely lauded as works of genius, and their promises of things to come seen as prophecies of a better gaming world. Will Wright is one of these men. Peter Molyneux is, well, not. It isn't that his ideas are any less grand than Wright's. It isn't that his games are in any way inferior. Ironically, Molyneux's downfall is in that he wants too much too fast, and his games simply never live up to the majestic tapestry woven in their press releases. While nearly every single one of Lionhead's products has been superb in execution, none of them has fulfilled the expectations set out by Molyneux himself.
Both great games, Black & White (with its promise of nearly unlimited god powers and pet tricks) and Fable (touted as a vast Morrowind-dwarfing non-linear world) were nonetheless disappointing when compared to their ideal feature-intensive forms. This propensity of Lionhead games to be somewhat less than expected, though, is more evident than ever in Lionhead's last full release, The Movies. Again an outstanding game when viewed separately from the long list of promises made by the arguably over-enthusiastic Molyneux, The Movies was to be a game in which the player was thrown by his haunches into the director's chair. Almost any imaginable movie was to be possible, and a stunning array of costumes, sets, camera tricks, and user tools meant that an entire series could be built completely from scratch, voiced over, and uploaded to a worldwide movie database. Finally, the dreams of every aspiring filmmaker could be realized, be he a Woody Allen or a Brian DePalma.
Unfortunately, the initial release of The Movies was not the product so sorely longed for by the machinimaniacs whose fancies the idea had tickled. Beset by bugs and almost completely devoid of any plausible way to add custom content, films made by the game were invariably consigned to the realm of slapstick and camp. An even greater disappointment was that, while there were a fairly large amount of sets, scenes within them were not nearly as director-driven as had been insinuated. Only certain actions were available, and even these were hindered by the extremely discouraging static camera system. The final crushing blow was delivered by the actors themselves, whose hyped-up "sliding emotional scale" was instead only a selector switch between three or four preset and completely over-the-top reactions. While the game was a smashing success in its implementation of a single-player simulation, it was also a mournful failure as a tool of creation.
Luckily, it seems that Lionhead is aware of its shortcomings. Enter The Movies: Stunts and Effects. In an attempt, presumably, to overcome many of the disappointments of the original game, S&E is a smashing success. While certain problems still remain, many of the most stymieing difficulties have been well-addressed. The Movies may not be the perfect outlet for burgeoning Aaron Spellings, but it is nonetheless a fantastic addition to the original.
Stunts and Effects is ostensibly based on an element sorely missing from the original. While there was a certain amount of pratfall and comedic face-plant, the first iteration of The Movies was strangely devoid of the exaggerated explosive-fueled excitement of the action movies so popular in American culture. While the player was able to create a near-perfect replica of Chuck Norris, and even make Morris engage in limited Kung Fooery, it was impossible to have the mullet-laden hero dive from a helicopter onto a roof, roll from the roof, and plummet 50 stories into a retractable awning. This was, most certainly, a glaring oversight. In an attempt to repair it, Stunts and Effects adds a slew of new scenes, most of which have an eye towards extravagant action. Car chases are of course added, as have a limited number of car accidents (replete with face-through- windshield ejection). In an attempt to add the few scenes from "The Matrix" not already available in the original, helicopters have also been added as hovering set pieces. Add to that the generous helping of explosions, fires, and falls, and the set is dressed for a full-on production of Super Awesome Action Army (my flawless action/romance).
The new sets are no less impressive. While there are still far too few of them, and the expansion does nothing to address the player's inability to add custom 3D sets, the several that have been added are excellent in design and function. In fact, a number of "trick" sets have made the cut, including a small stage-like blue screen, a much larger special effects green screen, an interesting city mini-set (great for aerial shots and monster flicks alike) and track with a scrolling backdrop, perfect for car chase side-shots. A number of re-skinned sets have also appeared, adding a few new options to the list.
Another important addition to Stunts and Effects is the new weather effect system. Set along a sliding scale (still not a true slider), the effects can add either a light mist or a torrential downpour to a scene. Wind can also contribute to the ambience and can be made to swirl leaves or trash. Complementing this are the surprisingly useful new lens effects, which allow the director to add droplets of water or mud to the screen, and can even create a screen layover that is reminiscent of a robot's HUD or a sniper's scope.
Perhaps the most important addition, though, is the modification to the camera system. Unlike the scene-murdering immobile camera of The Movies, the Stunts and Effects camera allows the user to not only adjust the angle of filming, but also to select two points between which the camera can now move as if by dolly. While the scenes are still preset and unchangeable, the simple addition of camera controls opens up a panorama of new possibilities, allowing armchair Spielbergs to create, finally, the shots for which they have so longed.
The sim aspect of the game has not gone without attention, either, with the new job opportunity of stuntman opening up to prospective employees. These employees can step in to spruce up action movies, and they can protect the actors from injury. While the actors themselves can perform stunts, there is a distinct chance that they will be injured, causing the overall quality of their movies to drop. This can subsequently tank a studio, so any action movie made without stuntmen can be a serious gamble for a growing studio.
Stunts and Effects puts in place so many new features and fills in so many of the holes left by the original game that to continue playing The Movies without it is nearly senseless. The new scenes, sets and camera effects make this so. Add in the newfound ability to adjust camera angles and weather effects, and you have what is truly one of the best add-ons I've ever played. The ability to make movies with the impact of a few blocks of C4 is only hampered by the failure to answer a few problems that plagued the original. There are still too few sets, too few scenes, and there is still no way to reliably add new custom user content. Nonetheless, The Movies: Stunts and Effects is a welcome addition to the original, and is a must for lovers of Machinima.
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