Moviehouse review — “It’s a Birdemic”

I have had The Movies and its expansion pack installed on my machine off and on since it was released in 2005. A few games have tried to take its place, but Lionhead’s charming film studio simulator simply cannot be beat. When I saw the trailer for Moviehouse I thought it could be the one worthy contender to rip my attention from this frankly ancient game, right? Unfortunately Moviehouse has more in common with Atlantic Rim (yes you can watch the entire film online, it’s that “good”) than Pacific Rim. Let’s get unintentionally filthy rich while I tell you how this game came so damned close and still somehow missed the mark.

In terms of visuals, Moviehouse feels not unlike Kairosoft’s various Tycoon titles, or perhaps The Videogame Machine. You are often looking at the same isometric presentation, with various hot spots to click on and interact with. In that way it translates very nicely to the Steamdeck.

Moviehouse is decidedly casual. Unlike its obvious inspiration, you won’t be choosing scenes or making any movie decisions beyond a handful of menu choices. Occasionally you’ll be presented with a problem that boils down to a binary choice, or you can pay 10 grand to have somebody tell you which choice is the right one, but that’s the least of your worries. Let’s walk through the process of making a movie.

Moviehouse - Let's Play the First 50 Minutes on PC [Gaming Trend]

Writing a movie starts with a script. Once you’ve hired a scriptwriter you’ll put them to work crafting your next cinematic masterpiece. Unfortunately, they kinda suck at their job. It’s ok, they’ll get better. You’ll choose a title and a genre (many of which will be locked in the beginning). Next you’ll select your script development speed – faster is cheaper, but longer time at the typewriter will yield better results at the cost of additional money. You’ll choose your writer and they’ll start to develop the script. After a short while, your writer will come back and ask you to select the setting, hero, and villain for your next Citizen Kane. At first you’ll have only four to choose from, but as you unlock more, or the ability to select from all options you’ll be able to get a bit more granular with your choice. With any luck you’ll have a few genre matches or synergies that you can hit between those three choices, which will raise the overall chances of a hit. Eventually your writer will complete the script. You’ll see how much craft and creativity your writer picked up in the process, as well as their progress on the genre, any research completed, and any additional traits you picked up along the way.

With a finished script, it’s time to film – Four Alpacas on a Yacht is finally going to see its big screen debut! Clicking Product you’ll select one of your scripts that you’ve developed. Next you’ll set a production budget. Most of these are locked to start, becoming available as you produce more successful films. A complexity/completion bar slowly fills based on my ability to hit the quality mark expected with each type, so bear that in mind – more money doesn’t make a better film. Just ask Battlefield Earth! Next you’ll set your Development Speed, and just like the script development, it’s going to extend your costs and time in the hopes for more quality. Selecting a Director sets them to work. You’ll see the location you selected appear on the screen as the script continues to develop. Eventually it’s time to cast this monster hit!

You’ll need to allocate a budget for a casting call. Especially in the beginning, you’ll end up casting the same schmos for every film. Their skills get better on your dime, and every film you make seems to star them. No audience would go for that, but here it doesn’t seem to actually matter. In fact, you can game the system, spending $0 and still getting those same two people over and over, even when they are commanding A prices and skills. With our lead and co stars cast, it’s back into the development hopper. When it comes back it’ll be to set the division of your budget between props, your cast, and your set design. Here’s where you can select any custom sets, props, and anything else you can use to raise your picture’s chances at the box office. Once the film wraps, it’s back to the trailer for distribution.

Distribution is handled by your script writers, though I don’t know why. They’ll help you find another company to distribute your film, in exchange for a cut of the profits. Once again I’m a bit lost in the details, but as I understand it the film rights and any redistribution for things like VCR tapes and DVDs are negotiated here. You’ll also either be paid up front or receive a dispensation based on box office returns. I’m intuiting some of this, and unfortunately the game isn’t helping. Lack of mouseovers, and no tutorial instructions that I could find. I figured it out, but I’m still not 100% sure that what I’m doing is that I think I’m doing.

With the movie out the door, you’ll get two sets of rankings – the professional critics, and the audience scores. I’m not sure what goes into these scores from either source as my rating has never been below a B with audiences, but having spent 10X the amount of money, and with far more skilled actors and directors, I’ve not managed to score higher than my first film that I made with little more than lunch money. No matter how hard I work, or how long I spend in development, I’m still pulling 7/10 when that first film, Clown Plane, scored a 9/10. Not sure if I got a tutorial boost or what, but it set an unfair bar going forward.

My writer makes some amazing film treatments. Want a dog that solves crime and is also battling ghosts? He’s written it. How about a pirate who solves crime in a monastery? Yarrr, we’ve got that! Want a western that takes place in space? Well, we all did but they canceled Firefly. Unfortunately all these awesome scripts are locked in your own script box – you can’t bang out scripts and turn around and sell them.

One of the ways you’ll spend your hard earned money is investment in rival studios. If you can’t beat em, buy em, right? As you invest in other companies, they’ll continue to make movies, and you’ll participate in the profit sharing. These provide a chunk of money back in your pocket every month, and frankly once you get the engine running, you’ll be making money so fast that you’ll have trouble spending it all. In just under 3.5 hours, I owned 100% of the market. That’s a bit of a disconnect as I hadn’t even graduated past 75K Indie films. There were easily several dozen cards I’d not even touched yet and I was already over a billion dollars.

Eventually you’ll complete enough tasks to move onto the next sized lot (and subsequently, the next decade). This affords you another writer and Director, meaning you can pump out more terrible films even faster, but by this point it’ll stop mattering…

The lack of mouse overs in a great many places hurts Moviehouse. When I’m casting I see a gold star on the screen. I have no idea what it does. This actor has a C and a star on that – again, no idea what that means. How much does it cost to make a prop? Why does “Repay bank loan” not go away when I have paid it off (or have I? It’s very unclear, and I can’t click on it). When I go to make a script, I can’t see what level my writer has in each genre, so it’s quitting and looking before I go back to make a script. Why can’t I select more traits when training? Why did my primary script writer revert back to 1 for their skills when I sent them to training? There are a LOT of examples of poor UX/UI and bugs that really hold this game back. The nuts and bolts are here, but there isn’t one of them that has been tightened down.

Another way you can manipulate the market a bit is by nudging your fans. You pay for it with hearts (I’m not sure how you earn these) clicking a “Play” button next to one of four options to have critics be less hurtful, increase profit margins, or other improvements to your finances or movie performance.

You have a plot card / worksheet cards section where you can research new plot devices and mechanics. I’m not sure how it works, or why I can sometimes select things and otherwise cannot. The sub-icons on these that indicate whether a genre or character is better or worse than others is so small that it’s hard to see on the screen. The Worksheet cards are rather pointless as you can just pour unlimited funds into them by the time you unlock them.

As you achieve specific milestones you’ll unlock research points. These can be used to unlock new genres, locations, archetypes, and other various genres and locale types.

I’m at a bit of a loss on how to address Moviehouse. It’s a game that should have been released into Early Access so feedback like mine could have been used to wrench on it until it truly is a worthy successor to games like The Movies. Unlimited money (when I quit I was at 1.59 billion dollars), movies and scripts on autopilot, and no rhyme or reason on the results make it hard to continue to click on things when it’s clear this game is just too early.

Executive Director and Editor-in-Chief | [email protected]

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming.

Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter.

Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 28 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes), and an Axolotl named Dagon!



Moviehouse - The Film Studio Tycoon

Review Guidelines

It’s clear that Moviehouse has the passion and levers to be a worthy successor to The Movies, but this game is completely devoid of tuning. Please, put this game in Early Access and fix it? I want it to be good, but it’s just impossible to recommend in this state.

Ron Burke

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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