Becoming A Star!
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The Movies is kind of a combination of The Sims and any of the endless empire building games out there. Clever and with endless replay value, the game does a good job of capturing some of the magic of making movies.
You start out in 1920, at the very dawn of real film making. You have a suitcase full of money and an empty lot, and need to transform it into the MGM or the Warner Brothers or even the Sony Pictures of the future. The first thing you do need to do is build a couple of basic buildings where you can hire people. Once you do, actor hopefuls and others will start lining up.
When you see someone in line, you can get some basic characteristics and information on them, such as how much they like to drink (a problem which may cause a major issue later on) and how easily bored they get. You also get an idea about how attractive they are. If you think they can be a major star you drag and drop them into one room. If you want them to be an extra, you drop them in a separate room. Extras don't demand huge salaries, but appear in many of your movies and gain experience for them too. Eventually you may want to promote one of your extras to full star status.
You also need to hire janitors to keep your studio pretty and construction people to keep up maintenance on buildings and to construct your sets. Sets that are falling apart don't look good on film, and the critics will notice. And you need to hire film crew members to run the camera, sound and lights. It may be a bit of gamble, but if you have a hunch about one of these worker types and want to make them a star, you can. People who want to be stars however, won't take any other job since they are prima donnas.
Making the movies is pretty simple at first. You simply hire script writers who bang something out in the horror, sci-fi, romance, action or comedy genres. Then you drag the script into the production building and select who will be the stars and the director (yes, you need to hire and maintain directions too). The extras and film crew will automatically show up if you have enough of them. Then everyone practices the film and when they are ready, you give them the green light and off they go to the sets.
Building sets is probably one of the things you will be doing a lot of. You see, each time you build a new set the public gets very interested in any movie you make with it. After a while they will lose interest (I have seen soooo many films using the western saloon) and you will need to build more. Also, certain sets like war torn streets are paramount if you want to have a good action move. And of course no sci-fi picture would be complete without your space ship interiors. Eventually the sets get really fancy, with cars your actors can sit in while the scenery rolls by to give the illusion of movement.
The "movies" you make are fairly primitive at first. None last more than a few minutes, and most don't really make a lot of sense. They are also filmed in scratchy black and white footage until technology improves. To improve the technology you have to hire researchers who work in the lab making new costumes, set blueprints and film technology. If you are the first studio to say, invent color film, then expect all your movies to do amazingly well in the theaters as people rush out to see them.
The stars are difficult to work with for the most part. The more famous they get, the more outrageous their demands become. Some want personal assistants, some want trailers, some want food and some want alcohol. Still others complain that they are not working enough, or working too much. If they get really angry, they won't work and this will delay production of any active movies starring them, and really piss off everyone else who is standing around not doing anything.
This in a roundabout way brings up one of the biggest flaws of the game. You can't delete anything on your lot once you put it down. Say it is 1925 and you build a rickety trailer for one of your stars. That trailer is going to be there forever. Even if it is 1985 and you have access to much better trailers for your stars, you can't delete the old one. It's the same with sets. Even if you have a western set you have not used in 30 years, you can't clear it out to make room for something better. It just keeps sitting there pulling your maintenance people off of more important assignments. And your lot eventually fills up. Come on, let me delete stuff. I know unused sets don't sit around rotting in Hollywood. They get struck down when they are no longer in use.
UPDATE: An alert GiN reader sent us a note explaining how to undelete buildings. If you grab one of your builder people you can drag them over to a building you don't want. We did this and could see that that there was an option to repair the building, something we had done in the past to quickly fix up a set we needed for a film. However, if you look around the side of the building there are two other little icons. We thought these were more repair buttons but one lets you move your set and the other lets you destroy it to get back some cash. Now that makes a lot of sense! It is still bad that this is not well documented and a quick check of the message boards shows others with this same problem, but at least you can get rid of your older stuff if you want. Thanks Rob!
I rated the game as Easy, because it is not difficult to keep your studio afloat. My studio was fairly bargain basement for years and still made millions of dollars. I even won a couple of Oscars, which gives you certain advantages like the ability to pay your stars less money or to let them drink all day without getting addicted. However, if you want to be the number one studio or have the number one actors and directors, you are going to have to really work at it. I am not sure what the exact formula is, but over time I was eventually able to have the top actor in the world, though dealing with him was a pain. I never got above the third best studio, but managed to make tons of hit movies.
There is a second part of the game once you buy a production studio. Then you can make your own movies instead of relying on a seemingly random script. Here it is pretty amazing to see what your virtual actors can do. You basically have a huge slate of things you can tell your people to do, like enter a room, punch another character, laugh, shoot a gun and much more. You can string together a huge story and make a movie of almost any length. Oddly enough, whenever I did this they did not do so well in the game. I guess I am not a good director after all.
However, the online community seemed to like my creations. You can upload your movies to a really bit online site at http://movies.lionhead.com/ and watch what other people have made. Some of the movies are really amazing, much more so that I would have thought possible with just some computer actors. And that more than anything else will probably give The Movies staying power.
The Movies earns 4 out of 5 GiN Gems. And that's a wrap!
John Breeden II is the Chief Editor of GiN. While a forward thinking man he admits to a fondness for older video games. You should have seen him at Videotopia. John can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org.