Another year in cinema has passed us by. It hasn’t been the best year for it, with a fairly lack-lustre build-up to the Oscars ceremony which ultimately led to the show receiving its lowest ever TV audience. Sadly, a lot of it has been over-shadowed by all of the uproar in Hollywood surrounding the supposed inappropriate behaviour of many of the leading names in the industry, as well as the never-ending barrage of Trump comments, and it has tainted what could have been a better celebrated year for the medium. Luckily for us, for the last 15 years we have been able to enjoy the film producing side of the industry with Lionhead Studios’ The Movies, a very unique title released in 2003 for PC and Mac. No such scandals to be found in this release!
Where to begin… 3 aspects to the game. Building your studio, think Sim City on a far smaller scale. Rather than building blocks of apartments and commercial zones, you’re deciding on what sets and utilities are needed more than others. You have the micro-managing of your stars, both actors and directors to take care of. This is very much like The Sims. Keep them happy, make them famous, give them the salary and material junk that they want, and they’ll keep performing for you. Then you have the real bread and butter to the game, where all dreams are made and shattered; the editing room. Post-Production. The place where you can truly leave your own personal stamp on your soon to be released
Oscar Stanley winner.
So the game could be seen to be an amalgamation of The Sims series, Sim City, and Windows Media Maker. An odd combination which works well, maybe more so due to the unusual mix involved. You play the role of a budding Hollywood mogul, looking to break into the big time during the early period of cinema. As a result, silent black & white movies are the order for the day to begin with. With limited technology to start your career off with, it may feel a little restricted at first but perseverance is the key. If you stick it out, and watch the decades pass, you’ll be presented with the opportunity to research various technologies to help along the quality of your releases. Color film with reflex cameras shooting on a 35mm film arrive in the 60s. Pyrotechnics and monitor cameras arrive toward the tail-end of the 70s, whilst the 80s usher in the golden age of digital sound and 70mm. When you finally reach the 90s, you’ll get to play with the now over-used technology of CGI! This isn’t even taking into account the vast amount of sets and costumes you’ll unlock as the decades go by, and all of the props too.
The entire business surrounding the shooting and post production of your movie is unlike anything you’ve seen in a video game before or since for that matter. Sure, some games have ‘movie editing’ options in them which give you a basic overlay to drum up some half-assed thing that only means something to you for about 30 seconds, but nothing has come close to what The Movies has to offer. You need to decide what sets you’re going to use, which stars to be your leads, which director to have at the helm. You need to get your script-writers together to write the next Spartacus. You might even give it a go yourself and do some story-boarding so you can see first-hand just how important your choices are, and how they influence the entire production. Make sure you assign the right costumes and ensure you have the relevant extras on board. You need to fix the lighting, maybe add a bit of rain to help the mood of scene, and inevitably this all adds up so you now also have to factor in the cost of the budget you have assigned to the flick.
And that’s before you get into the post production sequence. Once you’ve wrapped up shooting the movie, you’re not done. You now have to consider the music, sound effects and speech for the movie. An extremely cool feature is for you to cut scenes you’re not entirely happy with after seeing them in the editing room. So if you want to shorten a scene, or change the order of them, go for it. You can even add subtitles and on-screen titles. You can EVEN add your own dialogue to the actors! If you want your gangster to use a Mancunian accent, by all means the choice is yours. And it can be YOU laying down the lines. Record your voice as a sound file on your PC and insert the clip into the game, and hey presto, you really have become the star of your own movie! Of course, you may want to forgo the ability to manually create your movie, and leave it in the hands of your production team, but the game will automatically degrade your final cut, meaning you won’t make as much money as you could have had you put the effort into your little creation. Make the most of your movies and own them like the mogul you are.
Genres are quite a big part of the game, with consideration to real world events becoming something worth keeping an eye on. You don’t want to be making action movies when there’s a big war on for starters, who wants a reminder of the horrors of the real world in the cinema? On the other hand, the Great Depression rears its ugly head and suddenly everyone just wants to smile; bring on the comedies! You can also encourage your stars to become somewhat typecast by allowing them extra time to train on the sets. Your budding starlet who can’t keep away from that saloon set very well may become the next John Wayne. Don’t expect them to set box office records by suddenly casting them in a romantic movie however.
The building of facilities within your studio lot is a fairly simple process. If you have the money, you choose what to install. It’s kinda cool to hover your mouse over each building so you can see the rooms contained within, which you will eventually end up filling with the relevant staff. Whilst you need the essentials like the staffing office, casting office, crew facilities, production office, et al, the real fun comes in buying up sets. You could have a wild west bar, a sci-fi corridor, a bombed war-torn street, an urban hotel room, a shack, graveyard, beach, road, alleyway, starship bridge, rooftop, a bank, the list feels endless and you really do begin to feel like your options are truly limitless. There is a point in the game where you do reach an end to the research and technology and then it’s up to you if you want to keep playing on with the vast amount of features available to you, but it could become a bit samey unless you really lose yourself to it.
I suppose the part that I found hardest to gel with in The Movies was the management of your stars. It feels a bit too close to the way The Sims plays, and it can get frustrating trying to keep all of these different personalities happy while you’re trying to add the finishing touches to your latest production but hey, I guess that’s Hollywood. I just never enjoyed this part of the game though, much preferring the movie production side of it all. There’s just too much of all of that watching ‘mood’ bars, and making sure they’re green so you can just get on with something else finally. I’d have been happy letting the little people live their lives quietly, simply waiting around to do my bidding, but no, we have to make sure they get a nice trailer otherwise you’ll have a Julia Roberts on your backlot. She’s the worst actress in history if you didn’t already know.
Once you’ve finally finished every bit of your film, it’s time to release it to the masses. And brace yourself for the critics. If you got it all right, they’ll gush with praise. But maybe you let the egos of certain stars take over the production, in which case their shoddy performance will stand out like a sore thumb. Your effort will be graded and naturally, the more successful it was, the more funds you’ll have to put into your next blockbuster. There’s a great satisfaction when you nail down the formula and find your options opening up for your next attempt.
I forgot just how good the game was until I went back to it for this piece. It is very unique, very welcoming, and very passionate about its subject matter. Nothing has come close to the concept used here since it was released 15 years ago and the industry is crying something like this. We’re tired of the same ol’ FPSs, and yearly sports game updates, and the over reliance on violence to make a quick buck. Bring back our sim management games and let us feel the power coursing through our veins as we click that mouse to decrease the salary of that pouting movie vixen!
By the way, I managed to get through this without insinuating the obvious; you are effectively Harvey Weinstein here. But let’s be realistic, any game featuring voice-over work by the son of Clint Eastwood surely can’t be that bad?