Movies, The Download (2005 Strategy Game)

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The Movies is an original strategy-simulation game that calls on players to use both their creativity and their management skills. Developed by Lionhead Studios (led by visionary designer Peter Molyneux), the game puts players in charge of their own Hollywood movie studio, with authority over everything from project approval and budgeting decisions to conception, scripting, directing, and editing of the movies the studio produces.

The business sim aspects of The Movies put players in charge of developing the studio and keeping it running smoothly. Beginning with an empty lot, players build their business by purchasing the facilities and equipment they'll need to produce a feature film, from actors' trailers and wardrobes to stages, lighting, and cameras. They'll have to decide which movies are made, how much is spent on the productions, and even how they'll treat their star actors. Will they abide distracting on-set romances and childish tantrums for the sake of the art, or send actors packing when they don't recognize the producer's ultimate authority?

The movie-making aspects of the game are designed to give players realistic cinematic tools and near-complete creative freedom. Inspired players can take charge of every step in the process: hiring the talent, approving the script, shooting the scenes, and editing the final product in post-production. The game's 3D actors, props, sets, and editing tools are designed to allow creative players to take extensive control over every shot and put professional polish on their final film.

Whether players prefer to spend their time schmoozing the front office or shooting on the soundstage, in the end, the studio will live or die by the financial success of its movies. There is lots of money to by made by following trends, sticking to popular genres and actors, and staying on schedule, but a well-run studio can stay afloat with independent films and pet projects as well. Even if the player takes no direct role in the creation of the films themselves, responsible budgeting and proper marketing can make nearly any movie profitable.

For those players who would rather pour themselves into the movie-making gameplay without worrying about all the paperwork, the game also features a sandbox mode, which gives them freedom to use any of the studio tools without worrying about balancing the budgets or winning the box office. Films created by players in the game can be uploaded and shared on the Internet, so virtual producers and directors can share their favorite creations with a real live audience.

We all have that supernerdy friend who can rant forever about all the inconsistencies and blasphemy in the Lord of the Rings movies. Why is he so well informed? Because he spends all day watching the extended editions while wearing a Frodo costume and a special collector's edition replica ring. All that ire masks a deep affection--so think of me as that guy as I pick at The Movies like it's a week-old scab. I'll say it loud and clear: The Movies is one of the most addictive and enjoyable games you'll play this year, full of stuff to do and packed full of rewards as you live out your Tinseltown fantasy.

The premise: You take the reigns of a classic Hollywood studio, guiding it from the genesis of the movie industry to the present day. You get two modes--a pure sandbox mode and a story mode that doles out rewards for accomplishments like creating powerful stars and laying out your studio well. It's pretty hard not to enjoy the steady stream of new sets, costumes, and talent.

But it's almost too much--as great as it is to zoom in and ogle the action, the constant demands of your studio and stars frequently play out as simple harassment. This game deserves to be savored, yet you find yourself constantly hounded to create more staff, handle your stars' needs and Sims-style relationships, maintain your buildings, and more. The game desperately needs an option to let you play at a slower pace.

It could also use a more realistic staffing engine. When you have $5 million in the bank, you shouldn't be prevented from shooting a movie due to a lack of extras--but The Movies walks that exact line of logic. Ridiculous, considering you can get real-life extras to work for tuna sandwiches. But all manpower is finite here, right down to the janitors and handymen--of which you rarely have enough. If you have the money, shouldn't you be able to hire as you please?

The tools come up somewhat lacking, too. So much goes on at any given time that it really calls to attention the lack of meaningful filters. Why can't I separate actors from directors? Why isn't there a hotkey to cycle through the talent? Why can't I access the build menu from the overhead map? Why can't I see a star's abilities on the salary screen? Why can't I queue up build orders while the game is paused? Why can't I divide the bazillion costumes in a way that doesn't force me to click through each one to find what I want?

I've got about three notebook pages full of niggles and annoyances, including one bug that irrevocably stops production on a movie, though your money continues to drain. But every bitter little jot on those pages is a love letter in disguise, a glowing compliment just dying to be given. I'm just hoping for a patch or expansion to help make The Movies love me back--because in spite of its flaws, I can't get enough of it.


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