The Movies Review


November 19, 2005 by

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You have a plot of land, a briefcase full of money and the desire to become the largest and most successful Hollywood studio around. You know how to make a good movie and look after your stars. Now is your opportunity to fulful this desire and make your dreams come true.

This is the core idea of Lionhead Studios The Movies; a simulation management game that puts you in control of an entire movie studio, allowing you to not only manage the construction of new sets or hire new actors and cast them for the most appropriate movies, but also create your very own Hollywood blockbuster titles using an intuitive yet easily accessible movie creation software that can prove to be an addictive experience - if you have the time and patience to devote into this expansive game. Its a game that borrows plenty of ideas from previous games in the same genre, weaves in a bit of its own magic, and creates a game that provides a largely addictive and enjoyable experience.

But while the games concept and execution is largely impressive, the game also suffers from a number of problems that prevent the smooth operation of your studio, resulting in frustration and the loss of interest when your actors fail to arrive at the correct set or when you simply cannot attract enough staff to effectively manage your studio. Its the type of game that begins with relative ease and control, but once your studio fills your entire land allocation, the demands of the building repairs, staff management and movie creation begins to become a bit hectic, lowering the overall enjoyment value and heightening the frustration levels.

The Movies can be essentially divided into two different gameplay types; theres the management side, which involves managing the construction and repairs of buildings and sets, hiring, firing, training and casting actors and directors and attending to the numerous demands of your highly paid superstars. On the other side, the ability to create your very own movie from the surprisingly straightforward and versatile movie creation software offers a much welcomed change from the often hectic gameplay found on the management side of things.

First off, well take a look at the games studio management side, which takes up a large portion of the gameplay time. Upon beginning a new game, a helpful tutorial system supports you through the early stages of building and hiring, which proves to be a worthwhile addition as the immense variety of options and actions required to keep your studio running in proper order can be overwhelming at the beginning. Whenever you feel that you are able to manage the studio on your own, you can easily turn off the tutorial aid by simply heading into the options menu at any time.

Managing your actors and directors proves to be an experience similar to that found in Maxis and EAs The Sims. You need to ensure that they eat adequately, do not become an alcoholic, keep their stress levels under control and satisfying their stardom with comfortable quarters to rest their weary heads whenever they arent shooting a movie. You also need to ensure that they practice their acting or directing skills regularly, which can be performed in the areas of action, comedy, horror, romance or sci-fi. The regularity that the actor or director is involved with a type of movie will determine how experienced they are with that specific genre, resulting in better performances in movies. Another factor that affects ones performance during a movie is how good their relationship is with others who are also involved in the movie. The better the relationship, the better the overall scenes will be. To heighten the relationship between your actors and directors, you need to get them talking. To begin with, they will only talk in public places, which is then followed by more private locations like the pub and restaurant. While the idea is a neat addition to improving an actors performance with fellow actors, the execution of building relationships is rather poor and time consuming, involving little more than repeatedly moving a character next to another in order to get them talking. When you need to do this ten times or more for each character to make them become mere friends, the entire process becomes nothing more than an annoying chore.

Although actors and directors are your two key employees, there are also countless other behind-the-scenes people who are required to perform different jobs for your studio. You need builders to construct and maintain your buildings and sets, janitors to clean up the mess that your stars create, scriptwriters to create scripts for your blockbusters and scientists to research new technology to continually improve the quality of your movies. Thankfully, these characters do not require the high maintenance attention that your actors and directors demand, allowing you to focus your time and energy on those who are in the public eye.

The games management side focuses on the pickup and movement of icons and characters throughout your studio. To cast for a script, you need to pickup your actors and director and move them to the appropriate section of the casting office. This is also done for a large majority of the actions performed in the game, which is surprisingly effective and easy to learn.

The other aspect of The Movies is the creation of your own movies. A full-blown movie creation program is on offer for creating your own masterpiece. Creating your own movies proves to be more than being able to let your imagination run wild; the movies you create often receive better reviews from the critiques and ultimately earn a higher income at the cinema than what your employed scriptwriter can create. The downside to this, however, is the usual time required to create each movie. Rather than simply issuing your scriptwriters with the order to whip up a new creation, you need to spend some time and gather your patience to create each individual movie. Thankfully, you are never forced to actually create your own movie if you do not wish to, saving those who have no interest in doing so a considerable amount of time. However, if you are interested in creating your own movies, the movie creation program is certainly a worthy experience, with the technology that is available to you improving as time passes.

Creating your own movies can be as simple or as technical as you wish. The game offers a large variety of different scenes and actions that require nothing more than dropping them into your movie and then assigning the appropriate actors and props. Putting the movie into post-production allows you to add special effects and voice-overs. There are plenty of other features and abilities of the movie creation mode that simply cannot be covered within this review properly due to the sheer size of it.

Once you have made your own movies, you can then save them to your computer in a .wmv format, which can be played using Windows Media Player. From here, you can either distribute them to your friends or upload your creation to the internet for viewing and submit them to Lionheads online service which is currently holding regular competitions for quality movie creations.

The Movies also offers a customizable mode known as the Sandbox, which allows you to slightly alter the game to make it easier. You can set the starting year of your studio, which can be anywhere between the 1930s through to 2000, choose how much money you wish to begin the game with, decide whether you want your movies to be made instantly without spending gameplay time with actors and developers working on the movie, force your starts to never misbehave and decide whether you wish to begin a new game with a ready built studio, amongst other options. Its a nice little addition that solves problems that can be frustrating at times.

To top off all the hard work that you pour into your studio and move making, the regular awards ceremony, which is very much like The Oscars, gives awards for various aspects of studio management and movies, including best actors, best upcoming hopefuls, most prestigious studio and so on. Earning awards not only gives your studio more fame, but it also unlocks bonuses that stay active until the next awards ceremony. These bonuses vary according to the award given, such as improving the learning time for an actor in each genre.

Possibly the most amusing aspect of The Movies are the radio hosts, which change accordingly as time moves on. Each decade or two offers a unique radio host who resembles the society in the time period that you are in. These range from an anti-movie radio host in the 1930s through to a thoroughly humorous and random host in the 1980s. Each host offers a unique personality that is easily remembered as you progress through the game due to the comments that are made by each host. The inclusion of these radio hosts is a fine addition to the game, offering pleasing variation that evolves with the time era appropriately.

The Movies is visually clean and simple, offering visuals that are simple in design yet effective in presentation. Characters offer a solid level of detail, as do the buildings, sets and various objects that fill your studio lot. The visuals are in line with present-day titles that are in the same genre, however, some jerky animation is somewhat disappointing.

In the end, The Movies concocts a mixed bag of impressions. Some elements of the game, in particular the create-your-own movie ability, are presented in a pleasing manner that results in the game being an addictive experience. At the same time, however, a number of small problems prevent the game from being enjoyed to its max. Although the game is certainly far from perfect, what is available is a worthwhile experience that should be enjoyed by any gamer who has an interest in the simulation management genre or the artistic flair of creating your own Hollywood movies.

Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.