The Movies

Review

posted 12/6/2005 by Dave Gamble
other articles by Dave Gamble
One Page Platforms: PC

For me, it started way back in the mid-70's, playing a BASIC game called Hammurabi on the Cincinnati Public Schools mainframe.  Hammurabi was one of the earliest resource management games, and although it was only 50-some lines of code, it was pretty sophisticated for the time.  As the player, you had to decide how much of your grain to plant each year, how much to feed to your people, and how much to store.  These were life and death decisions as far as your loyal minions were concerned, and it often only took one bad year to devastate your tribe.

Hammurabi was the direct ancestor to the multitude of resource management games we've seen over the years.  As the capabilities of our hardware have improved, so has the complexity of the games.  Amongst the latest iterations is Activision's The Movies.  Imagine (or don't - I'm going to paint the picture for you anyway) a combination of Hammurabi, SimCity, and The Sims, throw in Hollywood-style egos and ethics, and you will have some idea of what The Movies is all about.  As with most games of this type, The Movies is essentially an electronic playground, offering you the freedom to do with it as you want.  You can concentrate on the business aspect, trying to build a financially successful movie studio, or you can concentrate on the art of movie making.  You can rule your stars with an iron fist, or you can pander to their every avaricious demand.  It's your playground, and you decide how to play on it.

The sophistication of The Movies is a far cry from the relatively simplistic world of Hammurabi.  You, as the studio head, are responsible for the hiring and firing of not only the talent, but of the hundreds of workers that it takes to run a first-class movie studio.  You will be hiring the janitors that keep your studio lot looking spiffy and clean, thereby attracting more potential employees, as well as hiring the builders that create the sets, buildings, and facilities that are required to create the next big box office hit.  You will also being hiring actors as leads, extras, or even directors.  You will have to hire script writers and film crews.  All of these people expect to be paid, so you'll have to keep an eye on the finances as well.  Of course, in Hollywood nothing is ever easy, and you will find that giving one unhappy star a raise is likely to cause resentment in the others.  Damaged egos are a great excuse to deliver sub-par performances on the set, as well as spending a bit too much time in the bars.  It is your job as the Head Dude to keep all of the workers, from janitor to box office darling, happy and productive.

Of course, that's just the grunt work.  The real fun is making movies.  After all, that's why you started the studio in the first place, isn't it?  You open your studio in the 1920's, the early years of movie making. Your first movies will be short, silent films, shot on grainy, scratchy, black and white film.  These are early days for you financially as well, so you can't afford a top-notch script writing facility.  You have a simple script writing function to perform: select the film genre you want written from a list including horror, sci-fi, comedy, romance, and action.  Put your scriptwriters to work on it, and in just a few days (measured in real-world minutes) you'll have a completed script.  By this time you should also have had your builders create the appropriate sets that you will be filming on.  You should also have hired your first few actors and a director, and spent some time allowing them to practice your chosen genre on the film sets.  An easy to follow tutorial guides you through the motions required to perform all of these actions, and the game is pretty verbose with helpful advice balloons as you progress beyond the tutorial.

Once your script is complete and you have your talent ready, you move your script to Casting.  Here you will assign the lead and supporting actors, and the director.  The assignments of the film crew and extras are typically done for you as those roles are for the most part completely fungible.  This balance between requiring the player to decide things that are significant to the game play versus having to render a decision on banal minutiae is maintained nicely throughout the entire game.  Once you've finished with casting, the movie can be moved to Production.  The crew, actors, and director will meet at the set and shoot the film.  This is all automatic, but you can zoom down into the 3D set to watch the film being made.  This is worth doing now and then, simply to see the level of detail rendered by the game.  I love watching the guy with the clapper board thingy lean out in front of the camera and do the clappy thing to start the scene.  Wish I knew what that's called, but...

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