The Movies Review

I mentioned it in my preview, and I’ll mention it again here – Uwe Boll is a hack.  Not just an Ed Wood hack, but a full on Paul ‘Weak Sauce’ Anderson type hack.  And again, it is commonly accepted that Uwe Boll should be eaten alive, slowly, by a plague of angry locusts.  Since so many agree with me about Mr. Boll, it is fair to say that all of us have though about ‘fixing’ any of the multitude of broken movies in the box office today, or simply making our own from scratch.  Your prayers are answered.

The people at Lionhead Studios have obviously thought about making movies quite a bit over the last six years, and The Movies is the culmination of their efforts.  In The Movies, you get to run a fledgling movie studio starting in the year 1920, and progressing until modern day.  The empty studio lot is yours to control, as are the actors, actresses, extras, directors, and janitors therein.  The lot is your canvas. Will you create the next Stealth, losing over $109 million dollars, or can your movie gross the $600 million that Titanic pulled in at the box office?  Ultimately, the tools are in your hands.

The graphics in The Movies are surprising.  The minimum requirements are fairly low, but that doesn’t mean the graphics suffer for it.  If you want a sample of the level of detail in The Movies, look no further than the free StarMaker program that was recently released on the Lionhead website.  You can customize your cast in thousands of ways, making each one unique.  As you move through the decades, your stars will all but demand wardrobe changes.  Each wardrobe has a daywear set, an eveningwear set, period costumes (think Robot from Lost in Space), set costumes, and more. 

Similarly, your sets start off very basic, but over time become very complex.  Your first set is a basic one-room outdoor porch.  It is absolutely pathetic when compared to your first war set – a war-torn replica that could easily be something out of Saving Private Ryan.  The best part about the sets is that they evolve over time.  When you make a Sci-Fi set in the 40s, it looks like something out of the original Flash Gordon or Lost in Space.  The costumes look cheesy, as do the sets.  Later on, you’ll get a more modern looking set that looks like something out of Star Trek: The Next Generation

As you move through the decades, the sets get more complex.  There are a total of 45 sets unlocked with research and time, with Lionhead promising more just after release. You can dress your own sets with props to add to the ambience of your movie.  You can also add weather effects such as rain or fog.  These modifications can range from placing a shotgun on a table in the background, to changing the car used in a chase scene.  While I don’t see any support for uploading your own items, you can upload your own backgrounds.  It is only a matter of time before the mod community figures out how to drop in custom everything-else. 

Time affects the graphics in The Movies.  Your actors and actresses can get a little soggy around the midsection, or age and gravity might send a former vixen’s jiggly-bits southward.  If you don’t have enough people working the upkeep on your lot, you’ll see your grass begin to brown.  Even your portable toilets might begin to emit a foul green cloud.  This game is absolutely slammed to the gills with detail.  If you don’t believe me, you should check out some of the fantastic movies being hosted on such sites as The Movies Planet, or the recently launched official site. 

The Movies gives you the chance to make your own movies, so it only makes sense that you can add your own sounds and music.  Once you have built a Post Production office, you can drop in your own sounds.  The Movies supports .ogg and .wav files – you simply drop them into the My Documents/The Movies/Sounds folder to make them selectable.  Once added, you can use them by simply dragging them into the scene. 

In a similar fashion, you can drop in your own background music.  The file has to be a 16-bit PCM .wav file, and can be mono or stereo.  You can use any frequency from 44kHz to as low as 22kHz.  There is a limit however, you can only use 40 second clips at a time.  Those wanting to use a soundtrack they didn’t make on their own will find that they have to split it into 40 second sections.

When you integrate your own voice work, the actors and actresses will automatically begin to lip-synch the voice work.  It adds a layer to your movies that hasn’t been matched by any other title.  The best part is that you can simply plug in a microphone and record within the game, so you don’t have to prepare audio outside of the game.  There are quite a few music tracks that you can use, but it is nice that you are not limited by them. 

The music tracks keep pace with the game.  In 1920, you’ll get old-time flapper-era music.  The local radio announcer even talks about how movies are ruining the cinema.  As soon as we broke ground, the local radio station announcer made mention of my new studio with a hearty, “Well, it would appear we have a new movie studio in town”.  It’s great!  As you progress through time, more and more period-specific music is unlocked.  There aren’t any licensed tracks, but that doesn’t mean they are filler – I’ve found these tracks to be more than adequate for my masterpieces. 

The controls are very similar to previous games we’ve seen.  In this case, the control in The Movies is very similar to that of THQs Full Spectrum Warrior – always slightly removed. 

Controlling the camera and moving about the lot is fairly simple.  If you have played any top-down title in the last 10 years, you know what to expect here.  The real control starts when you begin making your own movies.  You can select from literally thousands, if not tens of thousands, of scene/set combinations.  You can use sliders to adjust the ambiance of the area, but you can also use them to adjust the tone and outcome of each individual scene.  Do you want the tragic ending where the hero carries the dead heroine onto the bridge of the starship?  Do you want the comedic ending where the hero gets a slap across his face for his efforts?  Do you want the triumphant return ending?  Each scene is permeable in this fashion, giving each a whole new feel.  Want to give it a foreign film feel?  Drop in some subtitles for your movie. They don’t have to match…its not like they ever match in the real thing.

While you can’t drop into the Director’s chair and individually manipulate every aspect of your film, the sheer number of scenes you can create will give you an approximation to what you are looking for, with some exceptions.  There are no Top Gun type sets, or full-on space battle sets.  That said, you can certainly recreate The Godfather, but this time making part 3 worth watching.

It is very hard to encapsulate The Movies.  If you took The Sims 2, added in the building and construction aspects of Rollercoaster Tycoon, and shook it up with a dash of financial control, you’ll have a good idea of what The Movies might be like. 

The Movies kicks off in 1920.  You have $150,000 dollars in seed money to build up your new movie studio, and the first step in that process is naming it.  Your freshly-named sandlot is not going to get any movie action, so putting up a Stage School was top priority.  To build things you simply click on the cement trowel, and select which item you’d like to create from the expansion tree.  Hiring employees for your lot is equally simple on the surface.  Pick up the jobless hopefuls and drop them into the appropriate box in the building.   In reality, it is far more complex.  When hovering over hopeful candidates in the queue in front of your various buildings (depending on the job they would like to be chosen for) and you can get a birds-eye view of how they are likely to perform.  You can learn their name, age, a bar showing their looks value, their physique, their experience with the various genres, and any negatives that they may possess.  Keep in mind that you will need to keep with the times, so hiring a bunch of people who are good at comedy might hurt you later when World War I breaks out and people begin to be interested in Action movies. 

Your actors and actresses can’t sit idle for too long.  You’ll want to get your builders to fabricate sets to put those budding stars to work either making a movie, or practicing for the next one.  Once you put those slackers to work, you need to hire a Director.  Just like your actors, you’ll need to be aware of the skills and habits of your director.  Unlike your actors, you can rest in the knowledge that your director never has to be in front of the camera, so their looks don’t matter. 

Once you pick up some crew and toss out a few more support structures, it will be time to build your first script.  You’ll put a few screenwriters to work by dragging the writer to the individual box for the individual genres – action, horror, sci-fi, comedy, and romance.  Each genre has a general template that you can either follow, or toss out the window.  For instance, the romance genre has a generic template of intro, meeting, problem, time apart, reunion, argument, and resolution.   Action would consist of an intro, skirmish, investigation, fight, preparation, battle, and resolution.  These basic scene selections would make for a fairly short movie, only two to three minutes.  You can click the + symbol next to the template scenes to add more scenes.  You can keep adding scenes until you’ve gotten your movie just right.   Do you want your hero to be picked up by his neck and drug into the rafters of your sci-fi set?  How about we make our hero grovel in fear as the alien brandishes some sort of laser pistol?  This might be a good time to set your kung-fu rabbit into action.  Do you up the intensity of the scene and make confrontation between two stars vicious?  How about upping the intensity of your love scene?  It is obscene to even think this review could remotely begin to describe the number of possibilities built into the game.

Once your script is complete, just drop it into the ‘Begin Casting’ slot.  Once your film is cast, it is time to ‘Shoot it.’  You can make a choice here – hands on, or hands off.  You can let your director handle the movie, and his skill, the sets, the novelty, the chemistry of the actors involved, and many other variables will result in the .25 to 5 star rating of your movie. 

Once I released the movie via the production office, I got to look at the industry reviews.  It seems that my initial attempts at moviemaking were met with derision and contempt.  My half-star movie had most reviewers snoring in the aisles, and my actors were harangued for their inept performances.  Time and practice would solve the issues they cited with my movie – my team just needed more time behind the lens, or in front of it.

The movies you make have an effect on your staff.  Their stress, wages, experience, star rating, and much more are tied to the movies and their outcome.  Some critic reviews mentioned how great my sets looked, while others commented that the novelty of this movie was fantastic.  All of the nice reviews ended there – this is where the fangs came out.  Comments such as “The overall quality of the acting in this movie is appalling!” and “All of the actors had one thing in common, they were all useless!” filled the latter half of my review sheet.  Each review had an effect on my crew and property such as “Movie’s success relative to its quality” or Overall Novelty Value.

As real world events unfold, such as the first flight around the Earth in a plane, your audiences will become more interested in particular genres.  Additionally, as time passes, you will unlock new technologies that will expand the sliders and what you can do with these new technologies.  Imagine a sci-fi scene with an alien chasing your hero down a corridor.  Now imagine how that scene will look when you have learned how to make thick fog to cover the floor.  Technology can make a 2 star movie into a 3 star movie, just for the wow factor.  It will make your costs go up, so making sure you balance costs vs. new gadgets.

Once my first movie was in the can, I became a recognized member of the movie industry.   As a industry member I was able to see a chart rating based on the overall status of my studio by clicking the star in the upper right corner of the screen.  This gave me breakdowns of financials, the ratings of my stars, the success of the movies I released, and how I compared to all of the other movie studios in town. 

Star Power:
Making sure that your stars remain happy is important.  There is a bar under each actor portrait that allows you to see at a glance the general feeling of your cast members.  If you right click on the portraits, it expands out and shows you the star rating, salary, self image, tendencies, and more of each star.  The easiest way to upgrade a stars look is to drop them into the image makeover room.  When you go to the makeover room you get a screen with sliders that will allow you to change their hat, glasses, necklace, cardigan, shirt trim, ring, dress, shoes, haircut, hair color, eyebrows, makeup shape, makeup color, iris color, lipstick, facial hair, tattoos, nails, and more costumes than you can count.  Just to give you an idea of a level of depth, you have 87 haircuts, 6 hair colors, 22 eyebrow shapes, and 14 makeup shapes just to name a few of the details you can adjust just in this one genre and era.  If you don’t want to tweak your character that much, you can use an auto-makeover function to give your star the boost they need.

Just like in real life, your stars bicker like two year olds with a shiny red toy truck.  If you pay one actor more than the others, you’ll find that your actors start to get upset.  As their star power rises, they will expect the raises to follow – keep this in mind when you budget their salaries.  Your stars can also become bored if they don’t have anything to do, or overstressed if you are overworking them.  This can, of course, affect their performances on screen.  You’ll also have to manage their relationship with other stars.  If a relationship between your stars is going well, you’ll find that their acting is dynamite.  Unfortunately, when they break up, their acting together could be compromised.  It is always a good idea to keep a good stable of actors, just so you can make sure that the spurned lovers don’t have to work together. 

As your stars and your lot grows, you’ll find yourself in the running for awards every five years.  You don’t stand a chance against the veteran studios for several ceremonies, so enjoy the popcorn and know that they’ll get theirs eventually. 

There are a few aspects of The Movies that will fall short of the mounds of hype that have been piled on to this title.  The first is that you cannot take direct control over your actors or your director and simply “act out” your movie.  Instead of that, we have an incredible amount of pre-structured scenes to choose from.  Realistically, this should satisfy nearly every player, but some people will not be satisfied until they can create their magnum opus in rich and perfect detail.  This game will give you a close approximation, and for the rest of us, that is good enough.

Another aspect of The Movies that may hamper you is that the overall learning curve of this game is initially high.  You will not be making any kind of decent movie until at least 1940, and even then we are talking about a 2 star movie at best.  You won’t see a movie like Saving Private Ryan for a long while.  There is such an incredibly powerful engine underneath the surface that it will take you a while before you’ll be able to harness it to make something worthwhile.  It is easy to be overwhelmed in all that you can do.  Granted, if you are inclined, you can simply skip this and have your script writers keep running the show.  This way, you can play the game like a simulation title.  

The true frustration of The Movies comes from lack of personnel.  Often, I’m trying to cast my screewriters as extras or turning them into janitors to clean the place up.  It just seems that there is never enough people, and you end up robbing Peter to pay Paul.  It doesn’t work well for your movies as any area you ‘borrow’ from has to suffer during production, and the performance of your janitor is probably not the solid foundation for a 5 star movie.  It would be nice to have a gaggle of people trying to get in – you end up just hiring every person that shows up eventually, just to keep the machinations of the set moving forward.

The final aspect of The Movies that would unfortunately be hard to replicate is the financial aspects of your movie release.  Put plainly, I have not found any way to lose money on my movies.  Regardless of the fact that I strung nonsensical scenes and bizarre acting together, the movie still made just slightly less than my best efforts.  There are machinations behind the scenes such as acting prowess, director skill, variety of sets, and genre interest that determine the star rating and financial potential of your movie.  As I said before, it would be impossible to discern whether or not a movie is a flop without an AI so advanced that it would cripple even the most powerful machine.  Did you like Donnie Darko?  How would the game know that this movie was good or bad?  What about The Terminator?  A robot from the future?  Puhleeze!  It would just be impossible to replicate accurately, but I would have liked to have seen at least some movies lose money.  Unfortunately, as long as you are making movies in a genre that the public is semi-interested in, you’ll be flush with cash.

The Movies has a primary ‘storyline’ of roughly 25 hours.  In 25 hours you can take your first movie studio from 1920 to the present.  The good thing is that starting over will mean a whole different stable of actors and award opportunities.  I didn’t particularly like the movies of the 1920s through the 1950s, but after that you can start to make some fantastic movies.  If you aren’t into the management of a movie studio, however, you can simply select the sandbox mode.

The sandbox mode allows you to select almost any starting variable including the timeframe, whether the buildings are constructed instantly, how much money you start with, and more.  Here is the catch – you can only access content that you’ve played through in single player.  Once you’ve played through a particular time period and completed the research, it is unlocked in the sandbox. 

Once you invest the time in single player, the game’s sandbox mode allows you to create movies at will, and with any technology appropriate for the time.  Any movie I could create in the limited time I’ve played the game will be pathetic compared to the movies we’ll see uploaded to The Movies official site over the next few months. 

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 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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