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Matt Keller
15 Dec, 2005

The Movies Review

PC Review | Could you be the next Hitchcock, or are you more of an Ed Wood?
For a long time, Peter Molyneux and his Bullfrog studio were at the forefront of the so-called God game, with titles such as Populous, Theme Park and Dungeon Keeper. This trend continued with Molyneux’s new studio, Lionhead, and their first release Black and White. Lionhead’s latest foray into the genre is The Movies, which they hope will be to Hollywood studios as Theme Park was to…well, theme parks – that is, allowing you to run your own Hollywood studio, as well as letting players make their own movies. Initially designed by Peter M. himself, The Movies has been handed down to longtime Bullfrog contributor and Lionhead luminary Adrian Moore. Though not without its problems, The Movies does a good job of giving players an idea of what it'd be like to be a Weinstein for a day.

The Movies is broken up into two fairly distinct portions; running the studio and making the movies. These portions are so distinct that they almost two separate games. The game offers two distinct styles of play as well – you can play in a story mode of sorts, which starts in the 1920s and follows the development of the cinematic medium all the way through to the current day. Sandbox mode lets you set the time period, number of studios and technology available at the start of the game and let's you run the studio without the pressures of awards and technological developments, allowing a greater focus to be put on making films.

Upon starting the game, you'll be presented with a short tutorial on the basics of running the studio, such as building sets and hiring staff. As the game progresses and you get more technology, tutorials will also pop up to assist you with your new abilities. You won't get any tutorials for movie making until you get your Advanced Movie Making studio though. Once you've passed through the initial tutorial, you'll need to build the basic parts of your studio lot, a set or two and hire a few staff, and you'll be on your way to making movies in no time. The game does hold your hand a lot through the first few decades, but there is a whole bunch of stuff the player needs to nail to really succeed in the game.

Where's Jane Fonda when you need her?

Where's Jane Fonda when you need her?
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Starting the movie making process can happen in two ways; you can dump a few writers in scriptwriting building and have them churn out a script for you, or you can use the advanced movie-making building (which has to be unlocked) which lets the player choose the sets, screens, actors and specific actions used in each scene, as well as the length of the movie. Players must choose one of five main cinematic genres; action, romance, comedy, horror and sci-fi – at any one time, genres will have different audience interest levels. Once the script is written, the player must put it in the casting office so that the director and actors can rehearse the script, and then start shooting. When the movie is shooting, the player can double click on the camera and tinker with the scene on the fly – this is the only way to alter the picture prior to getting the advanced movie maker. Once the movie has finished filming, you can run it by the critics for reviews. The critical process is really quite mechanic, which is especially painful when making your own movies – you can only make scripts with as good a star rating as your top scriptwriting house (the better ones have to be unlocked through achievements), and films are rated on things such as star power, genre fit, novelty value and technology. After reading the reviews, you can put the film into general release. Of course, as time goes by, you'll be able to unlock the publicity office, which allows you to give your movies press, and assign and advertising budget, which will increase the movie’s box office take.

The other major aspect of your film's quality is the actors and directors. Your stars are a picky bunch, and there's a lot of micromanagement involved in keeping them happy. They'll start off fairly happy with a low salary, no trailer and so on, but after appearing in a few movies, they'll want pay rises, fancy trailers and an entourage. When your stars initially join your studio, they'll have practically no experience in any genre, though occasionally you might find a naturally talented individual who'll be gifted in a particular genre. To enable them to gain experience, you have to either force actors to practice on sets, or have them star in some movies – keeping in mind that constant work is going to raise their stress levels, which may result in substance abuse problems which could force you to put them into rehab. As stars appear in more movies, their star rating increases, and they gain popularity. Of course, being in movies is not the only factor – press exposure (from press conferences to being caught drunk or doing naughty things by photographers), the size of their paycheque and entourage, their appearance (which can be maintained naturally by exercise or by surgery with your studio’s clinic) their relationships with other stars and the size of their trailer also contribute to this. Managing your stars is an arduous task, and it only becomes harder when they get to retirement age, as you've got to always be working on the next big star to ensure your studio can compete with its rivals.

What-a-scoop!!

What-a-scoop!!
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It’s not just your stars that get old and have to retire – your buildings, both sets and studio facilities must always be maintained and kept fresh, meaning that you’re going to have to demolish old sets and build new ones whenever the novelty value and state of repair begin to fall. Novelty value is basically tied to how much you use that set, as well as how suited that set is to your particular film; surprisingly enough, it actually has a fairly large impact on the star rating of your film. This becomes almost impossible about a quarter of the way into the game as your unemployment queues completely dry up, making it impossible to assign new repairmen, janitors and hire new stars – the only way to fix it up is through a custom .ini file (not even the version 1.1 patch fixes this).

Every five years, an awards ceremony will be held, kind of like the Oscars or Golden Globes, with honours being given to the best director, best actor, highest ranked film, highest ranked studio, best employer and so on. If you've done well enough to gain some of these awards, you'll be given status boosts and special perks that'll last until the next awards show. Rewards are really useful and include things such as faster research, unstressable workers and guaranteed popularity for your releases, regardless of genre interest. After each awards ceremony, you'll be reminded of the achievements you need to complete to obtain each rewards certificate. These usually involve getting a certain star rating for an actor or director, holding X amount of dollars in capital, releasing X number of movies and so on. Each time you complete the list of achievements and gain a certificate, you’ll receive a bonus in the form of a new set or office building which will assist in furthering your studio’s cause for media domination. The main mode runs for 100 years, which takes about 15 hours, but players can choose to continue after this point in a style similar to sandbox, with the various awards shows and things still running.

The actual movie making process is what makes up the other half of the package, and it's really quite deep, with the game offering up a large smorgasbord of tools to create their own machinima masterpieces. Basically, players select if they want a predefined or freeform story structure, then drag and drop the set and shot type into the film’s timeline. After selecting your scenes, you can go hog wild in altering the sets, costumes, characters, lighting and camera angles. Unfortunately, the prop system appears to have not made it into the final release, but will be released on Lionhead's website shortly. The player can alter the mood and direction of each scene using the game's slider system; e.g. if you have an action scene, the level of the violence in the scene can range from tame to ultra-violent. Once you've completed the basic structure of the film, you can drag it into the post-production building to add subtitles, sound effects, music and even voices (provided you’ve got a microphone) to the movie. After your cinematic masterpiece is completed, you can share it with your friends or upload it to Lionhead’s robust community for The Movies. With a simple, yet robust movie making system, The Movies should prove to be a reasonable tool for machinima fans for some time to come. The only unfortunate thing is if you decide to make your cinematic masterpiece within the main story mode, you’re going to be severely punished by the game’s very mechanic reviewing system. There's also a fairly distinct disconnection between making movies and running the studio – you're really going to just want to do one or the other. While it’s kind of realistic (studio execs and the people who make the movies rarely see eye to eye), it's not really serviceable in a gameplay sense.

Who needs critical acclaim when you've got MONEY?!?

Who needs critical acclaim when you've got MONEY?!?
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The Movies features relatively simple presentation, with an entirely mouse driven interface (though there are a few keyboard shortcuts). The game's look is quite similar to The Sims, in that it takes a realistic, but slightly exaggerated approach to appearances and character design. Don't expect fancy particle effects and normal mapping though – The Movies offers serviceable graphics that look reasonably nice up from a distance, but slightly dated when zoomed in. The game is capable of running on a relatively low spec machine (we had it running well on an old Athlon 1333 MHz with a GeForce 2 after the release of the 1.1 patch), but players should be warned that the game seems to slow down drastically towards the end of the century, regardless of the number of buildings and actors on the lot. The game features a radio which informs the player of current events, such as war, famine, recession, depression, politics and such, as well as playing a few instrumental pieces which are appropriate to the era – the 40's will have more of a jazzy overtone, while the 70's music consists of Hendrix-inspired guitar riffs. Apart from the studio’s announcer (who serves to warn you that you're wasting time), most of the game's dialogue is inspired by Simlish, though not as distinguishable and thought out.

In the end, The Movies is a quality experience that achieves just about everything it set out to achieve. The tycoon element of the game is highly addictive and fairly respective of what it’d be like to run a studio, with a few compromises to make a decent game. The movie making side of the game is quite deep, and should serve those who wish to use it well, especially given the dedication of Lionhead in supporting the community with new content and rewarding gamers who make quality films. The main problem with the game has to be the level of micromanagement, as running the studio and keeping the stars happy becomes hectic quite quickly. Nonetheless, gamers looking to test their movie making mettle or just wanting a new tycoon-style experience this Christmas can't go wrong with The Movies.
The Score
The Movies is an addictive tycoon style game which also caters to those with a bit of creative flair. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related The Movies Content

New details on The Movies
20 Jun, 2005 Lionhead get a lot of e-mails on their upcoming movie-me-do. So they've answered them. Here.
The Sims 2 Review
01 Nov, 2005 Get ready to be immersed yet again.
7 Comments
8 years ago
my brother has this game and he loves it but i dont like it at all especially when you start in the 1920's. the start of the game is to slow i reckon. and good review
8 years ago
You can jump into the sandbox mode and start in the current era with all of the tech available if you want - you don't have to go through the main mode.
8 years ago
^
yeh i know but not my type of game in other words.
8 years ago
^
i agree. it looks pretty and all, but i've never been able to get into these sorts of games. i've played a couple similar before, usually for a marathon session in a single day, and then never play them again.
8 years ago
I'd love to just make movies with it, I don't think I'd ever touch the career mode.
8 years ago
I have read other reviews on this game, and it does look like one of those games that I would play through career mode once and then play a couple hours of sandbox mode and that's it. But since I got my new computer working I might go buy it. Plus my dad said since me and brother did well in our school/uni marks he would pay for all the computer instead of most of the computer icon_razz.gif. So I have $400 to spend!
8 years ago
i can play the rollercoaster tycoon games for a bit (then it gets boring) but i could only play this game for about 1 hour and havent played it ever since
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  Out Now
European Release Date:
  Out Now
Publisher:
  Activision
Developer:
  Lionhead Studios
Players:
  1

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