The Movies Review
By Chad Montague |
The demand for actively creative games is likely to get larger over time. There are a lot of creative people out there who would like to express themselves in games, but don't have the technical know-how (or gigantic budget) to do it. I'm one of those people. In fact, you could go so far as to say I love creating things in games. I've been a creative person my entire life -- for which this job occasionally awards an opportunity -- and love it when I can express that. The great part is that tools for this kind of creativity are getting better. Look at titles like The Sims, RollerCoaster Tycoon, and the upcoming Spore for examples. Peter Molyneux and his development team at Lionhead obviously like a lot of the same things and can see the profit in them. Thus they started development on The Movies, a game that they hoped would be the next huge seller across the world. Not surprisingly, that game has a lot of the elements that made both The Sims and RollerCoaster Tycoon so successful. While some of these elements haven't turned out to be the most efficient (or fun, really), the core ideas are unique and create an experience much different than your average title. For players that appreciate different aspects of tycoon and creative gaming, The Movies is going to be hard to beat this holiday season.
At first glance, The Movies is a simple tycoon game that starts you off with next to nothing aside from an empty lot in Hollywood in the 1920s. From there, you'll have to hire staff, construct buildings, and hire stars to direct and act in films all the way up through the present. You'll face rudimentary money management and plenty of planning as far as placing buildings in your lot. But hiding underneath this well-groomed exterior is a pretty powerful system for creating some fairly complex movies. The films use canned animations on a variety of sets with plenty of extra props to add flair. This certainly has limitations, but Lionhead has done a pretty commendable job creating a system that's pretty easy to figure out, even if it takes an anal nature to get things perfect. But I'll get into that more in a bit.
The Movies offers different ways to play which will appeal to various types of gamers, but playing the main campaign game will unlock all of the extra sets, props, and technologies. Once unlocked, each item can be used in sandbox mode as well, which offers the same tycoon style play, but with extra options to keep the difficulty down. There'll probably be cheats that will unlock most of these features at some point without having to play the campaign, but barring that occurrence, you'll actually need to play through the various decades of technological knowledge to unlock secrets of good cinema.
How you play through the campaign is really up to you considering it's nearly impossible to actually lose, though it's not guaranteed that you'll actually win. You'll have a huge sum of money to play with and can basically move at your own pace, meaning you can have a huge stable of actors or simply a few that you really take care of (which is much more relaxing). The trick is not to care that your studio isn't at the top of the charts. Once you start caring, and you begin hiring more stars to pump out more movies, the game overwhelms with a swell of micromanagement that erodes some of the fun.
It's not really the core ideas that create problems (in fact the core ideas are where the game succeeds) -- it's the artificial limitations that Lionhead has imposed. The biggest of these impediments is on the number of employees that you can hire. While you really wouldn't want to hire more than 12 stars (they're a huge pain in the ass to manage), you do want to hire more maintenance workers, janitors, entourage, extras, script writers, scientists, and crew members to do the dirty work in your studio. The limit simply places an unwanted focus on employee management. So, when your studio gets big enough and your stars are demanding an entourage (which must be taken from available employees) the studio suffers. Buildings begin to degrade for the lack of maintenance workers, movies might not have enough extras or crew, and trash doesn't get picked up efficiently. It just doesn't make sense when there should be an unlimited supply of potential employees.