gbrading's Movies, The (PC) review

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Shout 'Lights, Camera, Action!' and roll film, all at once.

The film industry may be massive and sprawling today, but it is important to remember that it wasn't always that way. The rise of Hollywood is a story of style, money and glamour, mixed in with some fantastic cinema. So, here is a tycoon game which allows you to play through that rich history of film, from the roaring twenties all the way into the 21st Century. Also, I don't know about you, but I have always wanted to have a game in which I could make the most wild, dramatic and cinematic films imaginable, and then watch them to my hearts content. I am pleased to say that The Movies answers this burning desire well, and though there are some minor qualms, they are extremely easily overlooked.

The premise of The Movies is remarkably simple. You begin in 1920, where you set up your movie studio, build the facilities and sets, hire staff, and then throw open the gates and let the talent in. You can then begin work on you first feature, and watch as your cast and crew rush around to different sets, filming scenes, whilst also occasionally relaxing with a break in their trailer. You are given a view above the studio very similar to that of Rollercoaster Tycoon (from which you can zoom in and pan around), and if you have played that game, the principle mechanics of The Movies will resonate clearly. The general aim is to eventually build your studio into the biggest, richest and most successful company in Hollywood, keeping your staff, actors and directors happy, maintaining repair on the facilities, and successfully producing high earning motion pictures to rake in the cash and keep the public satisfied.

There are two very clear cut aspects to The Movies. The first is the typical tycoon game that has spawned a multitude of copycats over the years, and can more than often in some titles feel stripped back and unsatisfying. Thankfully, the tycoon aspects of the game are extremely strong. Everything from hiring staff such as builders and janitors is simple, as is constructing buildings and sets along with hiring more complex staff such as film crew and scriptwriters. One nice touch is that although people who think they have the qualifications necessary for a certain job will queue outside the appropriate building, any given person can be tasked to perform any action. Thus, it is possible to employ a director or actor as a temporary janitor, though doing so will lower their esteem and probably result in them leaving the studio. For the purposes of an easy life, everyone other than your directors and actors (including extras) do not age, and are all employed at the same pay-scale. Budgeting is also easily handled, thanks to the studio expenditure graphs, where you can also set the salaries of your actors, et cetera.

Looking after actors and directors is a bit more complicated. Each individual actor or director has a happiness threshold, which is calculated in terms of how satisfied they are in terms of studio facilities, their salary, their personal trailer and entourage, their "star rating" (basically how famous they are, ranked across all stars in all of the studios), their appearance and style, and how well they think the filming of their latest production is going. They also have a bar devoted to how stressed they are. If they become stressed, they may indulge in one of their vices, such as over-eating or drinking. Stressed actors perform scenes worse, and take longer to do anything, whilst unhappy directors lower the quality of the picture, so it is vital to keep the talent happy. If they are always kept in the newspapers (by having the paparazzi take photos of them doing stuff, or by promoting their latest film at the Publicity Office), and are appropriate fed, watered, housed and attended to, most stars will remain contented with their lot.

Creating films is as easy as eating a piece of cake. Creating good films is slightly more challenging. To make a basic film, you start by getting your scriptwriters to decide what genre of film they are going to write, either Horror, Comedy, Action, Romance or Sci-Fi. They will then set about writing the script, give the production a title, and deciding what scenes to shoot. You then take the script to the Casting Office, where you can assign your actors and directors. They then rehearse, after which they commence filming, by running all over the studio, filming the individual scenes. After filming ends, the completed film can then be taken to Post-Production, where effects and music can be added, and to the Publicity Office, where the film will be hyped to the public. Finally, the film can be released, and various different publications will review it, and give their rating. All of these factors will eventually affect how much money the film makes. It is also possible to make entirely freeform films of your own design, or alter the script, by dropping it into the Custom Scriptwriting Office, where you can choose from almost limitless possibilities concerning what scenes to shoot, how the actors should behave, what costumes they should wear, what the lighting should be like, and everything else conceivably imaginable. Technically, a film can last as long as you want, but be warned that shooting a film longer than ten minutes might take upwards of twenty years to complete. All of this is done in an accessible way, and handy tutorials are also provided to explain some of the more complex features, both in Scriptwriting and Post-Production.

Another fun aspect of the main campaign is the Lionhead Motion Picture Awards Ceremony, held every five years from 1925. This is basically the game's version of the Academy Awards, where the best in moviemaking, acting and studio management is rewarded (such as Best Direction or Highest Charting Movie). There are a number of awards with associated rewards attached, which will slowly grow in number, as new categories are introduced. You will be competing against a number of rival studios (such as Lionear Productions and Old Rope Cinema) for the awards, and also for a higher prestige ranking in studio and start charts. If you keep your stars happy, have a good income and a decent output of films, you can expect a good rating. The basic rule is that higher your ranking, the more awards you will win, and the more staff you will be able to recruit and retain.

Graphically, the entire game is on a par with The Sims 2 which is perfectly sufficient, though the people themselves often look rather too symmetrical across their faces. Music is almost completely perfect. The main campaign has music from the station KMVS, with a variety of hosts across the generations, all of whom embody their particular era superbly (for example, William MacDuff is the host in the 20's and 30's, and is always derogatory to the film industry since he was a theatre actor). All of music the station puts out is the same as that which you can use to score your films, which was entirely inspired by pre-existing film scores (such as a tune which sounds remarkably like Indiana Jones). There are lush, sweeping orchestral crescendos, light Jazz and Honky Tonk, and later some Rock and electro Funk, all of which fits in just right.

Though both the moviemaking and tycoon aspects of The Movies are great, they don't especially fit together well. It is altogether possible to go through the entire campaign without producing any films yourself, simply leaving it to the whims of your scriptwriters and directors. When producing a film during the main game, you will often feel as if you are wasting time, since your films invariably take longer to film because they are more complex. Making films in the sandbox mode can remove this fear, but then the tycoon aspects are all but removed to concentrate on filmmaking. In conclusion, The Movies has come as close as any game ever has to making a freeform film production game. It is a solidly entertaining experience, with massive replayability and a lingering appeal that will always see you coming back for more.

That's a wrap people. Take five.

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