Unique and underrated
Some gamers like to mix a little creativity in with their gaming experience: if you are one of them, you will embrace The Movies right away.
Picture this: You’re the head of a movie studio in Hollywood at the very dawn of the industry, and all the history of film is ahead of you, yours to create and transform as you please. You have to choose wannabe actors and nurture them to become the next superstar, build sets, hire scriptwriters and release movies, all the while taking care of your beloved studio lot. Eventually, you start making more money, earning more and more critical praises, and can get to make increasingly long movies, eventually penning masterpieces that will stay in your audience’s minds forever, and reaping all the benefits on the way to become Hollywood’s most succesful movie studio.
You start out with practically nothing. Well, an empty studio lot, and a reasonable amount of money. The game offers the option to start out with a very hands-on, clear tutorial that will teach you the basics of the game: hiring movie crew, janitors, scriptwriters and construction workers to work on your studio lot. There are also a couple of essential buildings you will need, all essential to the process of making movies: the stage school where actors get hired, the script office, the production office where you release movies and get them reviewed, etc… The starting tutorial is really good at showing you what building is for what purpose, and you quickly get the hang of producing movies, anticipating public trends and making the right movie in the right genre. It also teaches you a very important thing: taking care of your stars.
The pure magic of creating movies far outweight any bad aspect of the game, but you have to love and embrace it.
Stars are at the center of the game, and they fall into two categories: directors or actors, which is very interesting because, when someone applies for a job, you have to carefully choose the right position for them: for example, if they are are easily stressed, they’re better off as actors because directors get generally under a lot more pressure. You’ll spend a lot of time catering to your stars’ every needs and whims in order for them to become the next superstar: getting them trailers, facelifts, assistants, new wardrobe, etc… are all very important in the game, and, as there is a five-star system attributed to your stars (the highest their star ranking, the better your movies will make at the box office, but the higher their demands as well), it’s a big challenge in itself to get a star to the famed five-stars status. Especially since they eventually retire soon after hitting their 60s – which is a nice touch, since you have to continuously find and train new talent.
One of the fine points of the game is also one of its most boring: stars can be trained in any of the five genres. A comedy actor will be bad in an action movie, and vice versa. They need to train at any of the numerous “sets” on your lot in the genre you want them to get better in. This can mean a ridiculous amount of time and resource since, akin to the Sims – to which the Movies borrow more than few concepts – , you have to pick your star up, put them back on the set, then wait for them to finish their training and gain a tiny notch, then put them back on the set again. If you have more than three or four stars, you’ll quickly lose track and end up with stars roaming around with their finger in their nose. It would have been better to set a level that you want your star to attain, and then let them train at their own pace, taking a break by themselves to relax at the bar or the restaurant – but beware since they can become highly addicted to both, and it can become a problem when shooting a movie.
Speaking of which, while the SimStar aspect of the game is fun with all the little variables that you have to tweak to achieve a good star rating, this is not where the real fun is in the Movies. To shoot a movie, you have two options: hire AI scriptwriters to write a generic, nonsensical piece of crap, or go to the Custom Script Office and write one yourself.
Although this aspect of the game doesn’t much affect your results in themselves – a script you write yourself will pretty much do as well at the box office as a generic script from your writers – this is where the real fun begin. You choose your stars, your genre, the title of the movie, and are then launched into a vast, comprehensive interface that lets you write custom scripts. It has loads of richly detailed tutorials that you should really take the time to check out. From there, you can choose and customize each scene in the movie, first by choosing a set. There’s a satisfying number of them, from the Urban City to the Battlefield to the Alien Planet, and each of them has scenes from which to choose from: a character coming through a door, a character chasing another, people dying, etc… A great deal of care has been put into details such as costumes and props, but all in all there aren’t that many useful scenes you’ll end up using, especially since most scenes are present on more than one set. Despite this you’ll find it an extremely gratifying experience the first time you’ll place one of your creations at the top of the box-office, and when you’ll get the Best Director award for five years running. As for the sound, there are no dialogue, but you can record your own and have the actors lipsync them – a nice touch.
One of the most glamorous aspects of filmmaking is the Oscars: in the Movies, you get your very own brand, and it can be as glorious and stressful as any high school ceremony you’ve attended. The awards are also useful: each award you win gets you, for the following year, a special bonus like twice the learning speed for actor training, or cut in half the salaries of stars, or making your research team work faster. It gives you a direct incentive to produce quality movies in an environment where, otherwise, you could easily string bad productions after bad productions in a meaningless effort to make more money – which may be what some film studios do today.
There are a few glitches in the game though, the most glaring being that, contrary to what you would expect, you get a load of highly motivated personel applying for jobs at the beginning and, as your studio gets bigger, this pool of would-be workers become almost non-existent. It would make more sense for a prolific studio to have a gigantic line-up in front of their stage school. Maybe it’s been addressed in a patch, maybe not: in any case, it made it very difficult to progress through the later years. Although not a glitch in itself, directors, because they are present at every scene of a movie contrary to an actor, tend to flip out and lose it way too often when shooting longer movies, and most of them become dependent to one substance or another. But if shooting movies is what you want, there is a grat sandbox mode where you can remove all the variables and just concentrate on the movie-making process.
All in all, as a film buff, this game is one of my all-time favorites, and there are a lot of hardcore adepts who custom-create masterpieces that you can view on Lionhead’s website. The pure magic of creating movies far outweight any bad aspect of the game, but you have to love and e
mbrace it. Then, you’re likely to spend hours tweaking scenarios and inventing stories and, because I love that so much, I can’t give this game anything else than a 10. Otherwise, it plays as a rather good babysitting game, not unlike the Sims, mixed with a really nice competition and business game in the tycoon tradition and as such, I give it an 8.
The Bad: Content of movies not truly linked to its success; Training system can be tedious and is a bad example of micro-management; All in all just a few interesting scenes to choose from; Chronic personel shortage