The Movies is a fantastic game from innovative developer Lionhead Studios. This is a tycoon style affair where the player must build and manage a movie studio starting in the 1920´s and run it successfully through to the modern day. The Movies is hugely ambitious in intent; a quirky mix of tycoon building and movie making which is tremendously enjoyable and will keep you coming back for more.
As the studio owner you must first choose a name and logo for your studio. The action kicks off in the 1920´s and you have to build an empty lot into a multi-million dollar making enterprise. To begin you must build a script writing office, stage school and a few other bits and pieces to keep your new staff happy. The controls are of the simple click and drag variety and the tutorial will introduce you to the basics in a pain free way.
The game is divided neatly, the tycoon building and managing of your studio is very well realised and this forms the bulk of the game, however there is also a powerful set of movie making tools which allow you to write, cast and film your own scripts and then add music and subtitles in post production. The beauty of this is that the film making part of the game can be handled by your staff, so the action is fully scalable you can choose your level involvement with the film making, churning out your own masterpieces one after another, or leaving it to your staff and concentrating your powers on building the most prestigious studio possible.
The game play is excellent, with the studio management proving to be an exercise in timing and resource management. Can you make sure the script is cast correctly, has all the crew it needs and doesn´t overlap with another production? Can you keep your precocious actors and directors happy while they slog on an 18 month shoot? Can you balance the PR and marketing, stop your actors from becoming alcoholics and build a trailer fancy enough to satisfy the number one star in the world? There´s only one way to find out.
The art style of the game is cute and there are lots of comedic touches. The lot building and management is fairly easy although trying to fit all the available sets into your lot is like a complex jigsaw puzzle. The real difficulty comes in with the sheer range of factors involved in producing a successful film. In this sense the learning curve of the game is beautifully balanced and even tied into the history of the movies, you begin with simple three scene films for one actor on dull sets and advance through the ages to bigger and better sets with visual and sound effects, huge casts and all sorts of other concerns such as marketing. The measure of your success is the awards ceremonies held every five years which laud the biggest achievers in the industry.
Now as a tycoon game The Movies works very well, the level of polish is higher than most and it would work as an enjoyable game even without the direct movie making side of things. However in The Movies you can make your own films. When I first heard this I was extremely sceptical about what could be done with a set of generic shots, but you can also choose the set used, the backdrop, the actors, the costumes, the props and within each generic shot there are a host of weather, angle and mood choices. When you combine all this you end up with a surprisingly good movie making tool and the guys at Lionhead have really done their homework as you could re-create most of the classics in abridged form using the scenes they have provided here.
It is time consuming to write the scripts and partly the set up of this interface is to blame, you have a large bank of scenes to choose from but how to categorise them was clearly a problem and it is not uncommon to spend ages scrolling up and down because you can´t remember the less than intuitive name of the scene you want to use. You also have to specify the details or run the risk that your staff will decide to dress the star in a sci-fi costume for one scene during a horror film or have everyone fighting in World War 2 with laser guns. Despite the small irritations the custom script writer is fun to use and watching the final release of your vision can be really gratifying. The Movies website is full of examples of films people have made using the game and one about the Paris riots was even shown on MTV.
Graphically the game is really pretty and the organic feel of the controls and visual effects is great. The overall level of polish is really impressive, the hud is simple and easy to understand with visual effects which direct your eye around the screen and context sensitive pop-ups wherever you hold your mouse.
One of the reasons the game feels so authentic and works so well is the use of sound. Firstly there is the radio announcer who changes with the times, so you start with a fantastically foppish 20´s guy complaining about the death of theatre and go all the way through communist hating 50´s guy to laconic 80´s guy and so on. The background music is all deeply reminiscent of cinema epics through the ages and best of all for me are the simple sound effects such as the sound it makes when you pick up a person. The sound design for this game is really top class and there is no doubt it adds to the overall feeling of polished presentation.
The Movies is really a great PC game with huge replay value. It cleverly combines familiar elements of control and game-play with innovative and fresh ideas. Lionhead are often lauded for their innovation and ambition but sometimes the end result falls short of expectations well that isn´t a criticism you can level at The Movies. This game deserves to be successful and Lionhead are one of the few independent developers left trying to give gamers something new in the face of the chart dominating EA sequel license orgy so buy the game. There can´t believe I made it all the way through a review of a Lionhead game without mentioning Peter Molyneux...ah damn it.