The Movies

The Movies
3.5
Platforms: PC
Publisher: Activision Publishing
Developer: Lionhead Studios Ltd.
Genres: Strategy / Business Simulator
Release Date: November 8, 2005
Game Modes: Singleplayer / Multiplayer

9Well this is an odd bundle of something.

The Movies is three games in one, or more accurately, two games and an editing program. It’s a tycoon-style strategy game that puts you in charge of a movie studio, and a Sims-style people simulator that forces you to satisfy the needs and egos of your stars to keep them sober and producing quality films. The moviemaker is pretty much its own thing, only required to make the highest-rated movies but it has little effect on either of the other two parts of the game.

The Movies is purely a sandbox game. There’s little structure, or any missions or scenarios. You can set some starting parameters—year, amount of cash, whether you want a pre-built studio or not so you can just focus on making movies—but you’re always trying to maintain your studio and make money.

Unsurprisingly, you make money producing movies. Though the structure of constructing a script, rehearsing, assigning directors and actors, and sending them off to shoot the film is similar to a little-known gem called Hollywood Mogul, Lionhead deserves a lot of credit for developing a unique interface. You spend a lot of time dragging people (with a funny “thwack” sound) to and from locations to drop them on objects to perform actions. Once writers create a script, you drag it to production. It’s harder to describe than it is to actually utilize; this is one simple, polished, sophisticated, and terrific interface.

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It’s too bad it’s attached to such a simple game. The Movies tries so hard to appeal to the masses that there’s almost no challenge. The tycoon game is easy. Making money is merely a matter of making sure there’s a steady stream of cheap and crappy films in the pipeline. (Hey, it works for Roger Corman.) It omits other interesting parts of the movie business—marketing, in particular—and instead opts for Sims-style people management.

This makes some sense. Obviously, juggling egos is a full-time job for people in Hollywood, but in The Movies, it’s annoying. This type of “Sims-Tycoon” combination has been done recently, by Playboy The Mansion. And both games suffer from similar problems. A game that focuses on celebrities or interpersonal relationships—say, The Sims Superstar—is fine because that’s its shtick—it’s a game about satisfying their wants and needs. But when you put that on top of a tycoon game, even one as simple as The Movies, it becomes busywork and gets in the way of what could be an interesting tycoon sim.

4As dull as the people management is, the movie making feature is fantastic. While you don’t have to create your own scripts, it’s the easiest way to goose their rating, and therefore the amount of money they’re likely to make at the box office. The Movies isn’t sophisticated enough to actually rate your skill as a moviemaker, so it looks at the component parts of your film to gauge its quality. This leads to the rather depressing notion that having big stars, expensive sets, and fancy costumes denote quality.

The script serves as a template for how to shoot the movie (you have a very limited ability to change a scene while it’s being shot). You choose the set, the props, the actors, the costumes, and pick from a large number of set shots. You chain them together into something not entirely unlike a movie. It’s not easy—it takes a lot of work to make something even remotely coherent. After the film has been shot, you take it into post-production and can do additional editing.

This lets you shoot more scenes than you’ll need, and edit them into your own version of Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. (Or in the case of one of my creations, the world’s first lesbian western alien zombie mummy musical.) While your movie’s being shot, you’re still somewhat at the mercy of the Sims part of the game; you can turn off some parts in order to focus on making movies, but there’s still too much game lurking in the background.


System Requirements: Pentium III 700 MHz, 256 MB RAM, WinXP

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