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ups: Cool film history subjects, all the social intrigue of the Sims with none of the wetting incidents or kitchen fires.
downs: Tweaking scripts and films doesn't affect film rating in game mode, some annoyances in tedious management, too difficult to attract employees.

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The Movies Review
game: The Movies
four star
posted by: Sarah Wichlacz
publisher: Activision
developer: Lionhead Studios
ESRB rating: T (Teen)
date posted: 12:36 PM Wed Jan 18th, 2006
last revision: 12:35 PM Wed Jan 18th, 2006

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Click to read.Peter Molyneaux is known for big ideas that don\'t quite work out. His games are ambitious beyond belief, and during their (lengthy) creation they tend to spur on the creative imaginations of gamers and developers. Previous major efforts from Molyneaux include Black and White and Fable, both of which are popular games that both disappoint and delight: After several years of hearing how amazing and revolutionary a game is going to be, the finished product can never live up to the hype. Fortunately, even Molyneaux\'s half-realized game design ambitions are worth playing.

The Movies is another ambitious project, but benefits from a general lack of over-hype: With The Movies we pretty much get what we were promised. Players take charge of a budding film studio in the 1920s and manage it through present day. Along the way you\'ll mold stars, create legendary directors, and put to celluloid the classic films of your fictional day. Overall, The Movies is successful, and the resulting game is a great take on the \"sim\" genre.

The Movies is broken into two major gameplay elements: Managing your studio lot and making films. Arranging the layout of your studio affects the efficiency of your workers and actors. You can micromanage details such as lot beautification and your stars\' wardrobes. The sets you build on the studio directly affect what kind of movies you can make, and since audiences tend to enjoy variety, having multiple sets for each genre is helpful. The layout and overall beauty of your studio helps keep workers happy and also attracts new workers and budding actors to your lot.

The filmmaking portion of The Movies is less integrated into the gameplay proper. There are tools to micromanage each film in great detail, from directing actors to writing entirely customized dialog. For the most part, this kind of micromanagement is not helpful in the game itself-- beyond making sure there are plenty of scene changes, no amount of rewriting, scoring, recording dialog, or tweaking actor performances will help your movie gain better relations. These elements are really intended for the sandbox mode, in which you might create a film to amuse your real-world audience.

The Movies is very much a \"sim\" style game. The advantage The Movies has over other sim games (Sim City, Sim Ant, Sim Theme Park, etc.) is the implementation of a historical narrative. It is one thing to build a city that\'s \"like\" New York City, or to create the world\'s greatest ant colony, or even to manage a single \"regular\" person\'s life through birth, job and grave. But it is quite another thing to become a part of the worldwide cultural phenomenon that is the film industry. Rather than somewhat aimless goals and boring characters, The Movies is populated with all of the excitement and intrigue of Hollywood. Actors develop drinking problems, directors throw tantrums, and you must constantly gauge public opinion and interest in different genres. In times of war, people love comedies and romance movies. When times are good, sci-fi and horror flicks sell tickets. You can stake your claim on groundbreaking special effects, or focus on building a particular actor or actress into the star of their day.

The popularity of your movies and studio is based on a number of elements. Again, lot arrangement matters, well, a lot. On my first play-through, I ran into major bottlenecks because of poor studio infrastructure, and it affected the interpersonal relationships of my employees as well as how the audience perceived the clout of my studio. A well-designed studio can draw actors from other studios and will help your movies get better ratings and win awards.

Even with somewhat shoddy lot design, it was not difficult to make money and stay in production. What became very difficult was finding more employees to hire. At the outset, there are several folks loitering around your various \"employee making\" facilities. However, it becomes very difficult to get new people to come, so once your studio gears up, the biggest limiting factor to your success is often simply finding more employees. This is a frustrating situation, and it hindered the development of my studio. Even when great care is given to the studio design and movies are doing well, it is way too difficult to find employees.

Your actors and directors also affect your movie ratings. You must help them stay interested in their work, give them makeovers to keep them hip, and help them develop relationships with each other. To these ends, you can allow them to socialize over a nice dinner, or you can place them in the bar and allow them to cut loose. Of course, once you introduce the drink to your actors, they will likely need to be rehabilitated for the inevitable alcoholism that follows. Audiences love all of the gossip and news created by dynamic actors and directors, so the most important thing is to try to build strong bonds between your stars and to keep them active.

While the simulation game is much more enhanced if you love films and film history, the sandbox mode is just the thing for budding directors. The Movies was built all along with an eye on the machinima community. Machinima is the practice of using game engines to create real-time animation, and there have been a few very popular machinima projects (most people are familiar with Red vs. Blue, the popular series created using the Halo games).

In sandbox mode you can start in any time period with as much money as you want. This means that you can simply focus on making films. The tools for editing your movies are robust and allow you to do everything you need to create a machinima masterpiece. You can even record dialog to add voices to your movies. Once you\'ve got your film all finished, you can release it in the real world on the Movies website. There is an integrated publishing system that allows you to post your movies online for others to see.

This feature is very cool. There have been some interesting movies posted, including one about the recent French riots that got a lot of publicity. But this is a double-edged sword: The Movies is actually very locked down regarding what you can do with your movies. Posting the files is only allowed on the game\'s website, and don\'t expect anyone to release DVD compilations of their Movies-created movies without the express permission of Activision. To some extent, this goes against the nature of machinima, which has done a lot to enhance the relationship between creator and consumer.

The Movies is a great game. It makes the sim genre more compelling by taking such a dynamic history as its subject matter, and the act of running a successful movie studio is immensely satisfying. This is one of Molyneaux\'s few games that are not ruined by overinflated expectations and insane ambition. The Movies does what it does very well, and it provides a solid experience combined with creative play tools that should lend it a long life and plenty of replayability.

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