The Movies

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a game by Lionhead Studios Ltd.
Platform: PC (2005)
User Rating: 7.5/10 - 19 votes
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See also: Simulator Games
The Movies
The Movies
The Movies

Do You Know, I really can't remember the last time any game has so captivated my time, my imagination and my enthusiasm as much as The Movies. I think about it when should be working. I think about it on the - train on the way home. I think about it while staring into space on the lav. I think about it when I should be conversing with my wife over dinner. I'm even thinking -about it now. I'm doing a lot of thinking is what I'm saying.

Why? Because it's the kind of game that lets you unleash your creative side in ways other than just-finding cool new methods for killing people.

The Movies is about making films. You start by creating a studio lot, filling it with a vast number of sets, hiring and firing your actors, directors, crew and studio staff, then putting them to work on film after film, hoping to release blockbuster after blockbuster, ultimately with the twin aims of making shitloads of cash and reaping armfuls of awards. Power, money and fame. It's the very fabric of life.

Just Shoot Me

There are three methods for making films. The simplest is to set a team of one to five screenwriters at work on the genre of your choice, wait for them to craft a generic (yet often surreally funny) era-specific script, then cast your stars and director, hire your crew and send them off to film it. You can watch as they go through each scene, or go back to running the studio. Then, once shooting is complete, you release the flick and wait for the reviews and money to pour in. Bl The challenges here are many. First, to make sure you choose genres that will appeal to the audience of the time ('real world' news stories flick by at the top of the screen or on the radio to give you hints as to the kinds of pictures the public are queuing to watch). Second, to make sure you choose the right mix of cast and crew - some are more suited to certain genres or have plentiful personal problems that need dealing with. And third, to keep the environment they work within in tip-top condition.

The second method for making a film is to get rather more hands-on with the production stage. You're still faced with the same managerial problems as before, but instead of just letting the crew get on with it you can access each scene as it's being shot and influence the performance via a set of scene-specific sliders. Change a leading character's walk across a graveyard from nervous to sexy if you think it will work better for the overall scene.

It's slightly more involving and gives you a certain sense of control over the proceedings, but in essence it's just a taster for The Movies' main course - the advanced movie-making tools.

And... Action!

Build a custom scriptwriting office and you're basically given free reign to create anything your imagination can conjure up. Scenes are chosen from a huge store of options, from simple establishing shots, to intricate conversations between characters, to action-packed fight scenes.

The magic comes in the order you place them, the flexibility to customise each scene by adding actors, props, backdrops, extras and the aforementioned action sliders to further personalise the performances..

Add to that the post-production options for editing scenes, adding sound effects and even recording your own dialogue and having the actors lip-synch to your words. Lionhead is keen to stress that the moviemaking tools are more than just a simple sub-game within the larger managerial sim, but instead are pretty much the very core of The Movies, with the rest of the game playing second fiddle instead.

Thing is, it's right. The tools are incredibly complex and full of subtle touches. You may be working with stock scenes, but they're so varied, so many and the tools so flexible that you'll barely notice.

What's My Motivation?

With all the fun of film-making, it's easy to forget that there's actually a very well crafted god/management game surrounding things here too. Mixing elements of Black & White (either first or second, take your pick), The Sims and any Tycoon game in the past century (except Golf Resort Tycoon - that gave shit a bad name), then ladling giant spoonfuls of the old Lionhead attention to detail over everything, The Movies ends up being far, far more than the sum of its parts.

Stars are the key to success, yet all have individual personalities that need tending to, lest you end up with raging alcoholics, morbidly obese food addicts, tantrums on every corner and rival studios nosing around waving their chequebooks.

To help, you're given rehab facilities, makeover depts and cosmetic surgery offices, plus you can hire personal assistants or manipulate the paparazzi to capture their off-moments and spread your stars' fame.

Or you can put them to work. There's something immensely satisfying about going to all the effort of scripting your film, laying out the scenes, the sets, the costumes and the actors, honing the performances right down to the most intricate of details, then turning it over to your little computer people and actually watching them go through the process of shooting each scene.

Calling Paul Ross

Then there's the online game. Well, I say game. It's more of a film-making community, where budding moguls get to upload their cinematic output for judgement by other players. The system rewards effort with online credits being awarded for each film released, credits used to purchase exclusive sets, props, costumes and other in-game items. You're also ranked against your rivals, with regular festival competitions offering extra rewards to keep things spicy. Users can post reviews, comments, suggestions, the lot.

Usually, when a game attempts to create a community around it the insular gaming crowd usually shrugs its pallid shoulders and just disappears back into its hole, letting only the dedicated mod-makers bother to make an effort. But the atmosphere around The Movies is such that it encourages interaction. The films themselves are so simple to distribute (ironically at odds with the real world) that you actually get a sense of nervous anticipation when you upload something -much, I would expect in the same way as Peter Jackson did once the final reels of The Lord of the Rings were sent off. It's done. Shooting is over. Post-production and editing is finished. There's nothing more you can do to it Your blood, sweat and tears are out there now, being watched, judged and, hopefully applauded by the general public. Waiting for the first reviews to arrive in The Movies is as much a trial on the ticker as it is in the theatre (I've experienced both and know whereof I speak). Not bad for a computer game.

I really can't praise The Movies highly enough. There's precious little to fault here -maybe there could be a touch more interaction within each scene, maybe the editing tools could offer a touch more freedom in terms of cutting and splicing: maybe, maybe, maybe...

However, it's all just minor and generally undeserved nit-picking at a game that's lived up to all of its promise, provided the ZONE office with more hours of sustained hilarity and entertainment than anything else released this year, and is quite simply unmissable if you're even remotely interested in PC gaming.

The Movies, not only our game of the month, quite possibly our game of the year. It really is every bit as good as we could have hoped for and every bit as good as the hype would have suggested. Time to grant Molyneux a peerage, ma'am.

Download The Movies


System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

Game Reviews

And the winner of best Motion Picture is... Cute Mentally Challenged Man in Heroic Battle of Adversity XXVII. That's yours. Jumping exultantly from your seat, you try not to look smug, consciously avoiding the withering stares from the other four nominees as they fail to hide their disappointment. You walk on stage, propelled by an injection of euphoria and adrenaline, ears ringing with a crescendo of applause. This is the moment you've been waiting for your whole life. Beaming triumphantly and gripping your newly acquired golden paperweight, you speak into the foam covered mic: "I'd like to thank my mum, dad, sister , brother, ummmmmm... cousins, cousin's pet badger , the taxi driver who brought me here... errr, I think his name was Ahmed. Err, umm, or was it Armind? Reginald, my secondary school drama teacher...." booohooo. Booohooohooooo, blub... Just a dream right? After all. how likely is it you'll ever make anything more cinematically ambitious than your annual three minute kinky camcordered fumble with the missus? You know, the one with the heart-stopping rollercoaster-ride of an ending where one of you puts the kettle on and asks, "Nice cup of tea?" Oooh, that'd be lovely darling.

Perchance To Dream

Well, maybe, just maybe, it's not such an impossible dream. Suppose if you will, for one dream-like moment, that you could make your own films, without having to raise $100 million first, and without acting as a semen recepticle for some grotesquely deformed sun-dried prune of a producer in order to get your big break? Well, suppose no longer my celluloid loving friends, as development giant Lionhead is on the case to make all your dreams come true (apart from the one featuring Claudia Schiffer, a Black and Decker Workmate and an industrial sized barrel of Vaseline, sadly).

But before I regale you with details of how you can become the next Spielberg, a little background information, if you please. Peter Molyneux, director and founder of Lionhead Studios and the brains behind some of the most innovative titles in gaming history, woke one January morning, sat up, sipped his tea and suddenly realised he'd had a fantastic thought. Why not create a game where you can make your own movies? What a bloody good idea, he thought. So off he toddled to work, told his cofounders at Lionhead over buns and tea about a game where you run a movie studio from the 1920s to the present day, and everyone clucked with delight. And when Peter recently took me through the game, so did I.

Where's My Motivation Darling?

First off, you need to build a studio, with each decade offering new sets of buildings and locations to film your epics in. Next, get your pissed-up bunch of work-shy writers to come up with a script. Recruit some movie stars, or simply create your own with the intuitive editor, and start imagining your film. Surely it can't be that simple though, can it? Can it? Hmmmm? Hmmmmm? Well actually, yes it can. But despite this ease of use. The Movies is looking like being one of the most free-form, exciting and compelling titles in years. However, while you'll be free to make pretty much whatever movie you want in any of the eras - although Rear Entry VII might be pushing it - there will be certain constraints and problems. First off, audience. Making a Tarantino-like bloodbath of a film in the conservative 1920s won't make you much money, or win you many friends. Secondly, technological restraints. Making Star Wars in the 1930s will be next to pointless as it'll look utterly shit, and no one will understand what a space ship is anyway.

The way that you influence the tone and direction of your movie is again, almost too easy to believe. A set of sliders at the bottom of the screen allow you to adjust certain parameters such as violence and realism. Sounds simplistic right? Well, that's what I thought too, but when Peter showed me how these variables interact with the individual acting styles of each cast member (who actually age throughout the years), which in turn combine with the near infinite amount of sets that you can build to create a limitless amount of unique scenes, it soon became obvious just how free-form the game is going to be.

I'm An Actor, Don't You Know?

Not satisfied yet, you rapacious throng of demanding games connoisseurs? Then how about the option of adding your very own soundtrack (if you don't fancy using the massive archive which will come bundled with the game)? Bet you're glad you took those recorder lessons when you were six now, eh? And as if that wasn't enough, you can even add your own dialogue. So from the comfort of your own arse, you'll be able to fulfill an ambition you've harboured since you were a pretentious, rake-like film studies student who made nonsensical films based on the ethical teachings of Kant, filled with wailing toga-wearing academics flinging their arms about in attempted profundity. Yes, finally, after all those years of hankering for another chance, you'll be able to make a film that's not utter shite.

It's still early days for The Movies, but with some stunning work being done on actor behaviour - they'll get drunk, throw tantrums, touch little boys on the bottom (I made that one up, but you get the idea), and some incredible animations and aging effects, it looks like The Movies will be yet another hit to roll off the seemingly never-ending Molyneux conveyor belt of videogame excellence.

I've Just Watched my first PC Studios movie. It's rubbish. A 1920s black-and-white grainy affair entitled Hepcat Revolution, with one strange-looking actress cavorting on screen for 30 seconds while a manic piano tinkles in the background. Honestly, even Michael Winner could do better.

This is The Movies, and it could be the best thing since bread was arranged into thin, easily-ingested portions. A mix of tycoon game, life sim and moviemaking tool, Peter Molyneux's Lionhead Studios (also about to release Black & White 2 and Fable: The Lost Chapters) may just have another hugely original, ground-breaking hit on its hands.

Dream Factory

Beginning at the dawn of the film industry, you have to guide your studio to the heights of success by making the biggest movies, gathering the largest roster of stars and collecting the most stuffed cabinet of meaningless-but-craved-for awards. Playing The Movies is a joy - everything you need to know is on-screen, and tasks, such as hiring an actor for example, are done via the mouse, picking them up by the scruff of the neck and dropping them in the Create Actor' room of your studio facility. If you're stuck what to do next, click on an actor, director, crew or staff member, and a Donnie Darko-style sparkly stream will show visually where to move them to trigger an action.

The tycoon part of the game has you building stage-schools, casting offices and sets, planting trees and flowers as well as sorting out facilities such as greasy burger vans and post-production. The Sims part enables you to make your actors better-looking by giving them liposuction or plastic surgery, sorting out their considerable mental problems and even creating your own unique lookee-likee actors using the StarMaker tool. Finally, the movie-maker element gives you the freedom to script, cast, shoot, edit and release your own mini-movies, even allowing you to record your own voices, then convert them to WMV files to share with other film buffs.

Special FX

Essential to success is research - as the timeline progresses, you can look into new technology to give your studio a crucial advantage over competitors, such as the development of sound or the introduction of colour film. The Movies also follows certain world events: for example, in 1938 you'll hear about a German bloke with a dodgy 'tash invading Poland, meaning a glut of war films.

Even at this preview stage, The Movies is a polished product, with a friendly mouse-driven interface, fantastic British sense of humour and a real depth of gameplay. Grab your popcorn and settle in for the full review next month, along with a demo of the StarMaker tool on next issue's cover discs. Cut!

The Cinema Has given us some truly great works: Casablanca, Dr Zhivago, Poultrygeist: Attack Of The Chicken Zombies! (starring Pavel Barter)... The list is endless. But it's also brought us what we rate as the best game of 2005, Lionhead's The Movies. We caught up with Sir Peter Molyneux (right) and Mark Webley, executive designer and executive lead designer of the Guildford opus, and put them in the Developer's Commentary limelight...

Developer's Commentary

  • Eureka!:

Molyneux: "I'd love to tell you that it came about from sitting down and saying, 'How can we make a successful title?', but it didn't. It was an idea that came to me one night - I woke up and thought, 'Why don't we make a game about the movie industry?' Run a studio, look after stars and create your own movies - that was the idea from the start. What happened next is that I came into Lionhead - and you have to remember we were already doing loads and nobody wanted to start another game! I just said to Mark: 'No. We have to do this.' And his first reaction, before he heard the idea, was, 'What the hell are you talking about?' But when we spoke about the idea together we both saw it had enormous potential. We both saw what we should do with the simulation side, having stars and the like, but the real issue was the movie-making side." Webley: ''Our history is Theme Park and Theme Hospital and we saw that bit but the movie-making was the interesting challenge.'

  • Roll Camera:

Molyneux: "For me, the first mmw real crack of light in the movie-making was something called the twig - the little bar that let you decide what you wanted to happen. That was the first thing we really got implemented. We had one prototype that was two cowboys outside a bar; one extreme was they slapped each other like women and the other was one cowboy broke the other's arm and then kicked him. That then lead on to the idea that we would have lots of different scenes and allow people to change loads of different elements within them."

  • The Dilemma Of The Interface:

Molyneux: "The big challenge wasn't thinking up good ideas - that's really piss-easy compared to everything else. The big problem with The Movies was always the interface. When we first started on it, everything was driven through menus and windows; so if you wanted to put a star in a movie, you'd select the movie, then click on the star and go through this big list. We realised about 18 months ago that we had this game set up, but that we just weren't involved in the movie world at all - there was no feeling that it was your own studio." Webley: "We wanted to get you close to your stars and have you care about them. You were spending so much time in a 'football manager' kind of mode and this just took you away from the studio too much.

When we sat down and watched other people play it, we realised that something wasn't right." Molyneux: "If we were creating an action game then it would have been much easier to think, 'Right, now we need a monster to come out'. But it's much harder to nail down what the real compulsive elements of something like The Movies are."

  • Warts And All:

Molyneux: "At one point in the game, there was drug addiction and sex addiction; our inspiration was the stories we'd heard from Hollywood. You don't hear them so much these days, but in the 70s, '80s and the Marilyn Monroe era, it was all about these famous people just living the most extreme lifestyle imaginable. There's lots of things we talked about that didn't make it to the game - we talked about different locations, having your movie lot in different places and having more of a town around the movie studio so that your star's entourage meant something. I'd say the endgame only implemented a quarter of what we talked about."

  • Burn Hollywood, Burn:

Molyneux: "We didn't want The Movies to mmr be an exact simulation of what the movie industry is - we wanted it to be what you and I think the movie industry is about We did do some research and I spent some time with people in Hollywood, and I came away realising that it's an incredibly complicated, amazingly mixed-up industry, and how any film gets launched is amazing. It's about who you know, who knows you, where you have a cappuccino and whether you're successful that sees which films get made." Webley: "It's not a true simulation of what Hollywood is like - there's no stuff like gaffers or Best Boys. People don't know what these things are and don't really care, so we had to pull back on a lot of things just to get the game done." Molyneux: "Yes, we decided that this would be more of a simulation of what the movies were like in the '30s and '40s, which was much more about, "Hey, let's make a movie about this book. You go write the script, I'll think about who should star in it, we'll meet next week and shoot it the week after."

  • Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich:

Molyneux: "We've had some feedback from people like John Malkovich - he played the game and really enjoyed it He liked it so much that he wanted his clothing line Mrs Mud in The Movies, and that's exactly what we've done. So as an additional download you can now have his clothing label - it's product placement, but it does show that there's interest in the game from Hollywood. Also, there's the Sundance competition being set up. That's a really big deal - there will be a panel of very famous judges viewing movies on the website, and then the top ten movies from that will get their movies made into real movie shorts and they can win a Chrysler Crossfire. They're proper budgeted movies and there's hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent on them. In that respect, I suppose we've had a lot of Hollywood respect."

  • Oscar Contenders:

Molyneux: "Every day a new movie comes up that amazes me. Do you remember the Paris riots? Somebody made a movie which was a commentary on why the riots happened, and it was called The French Democracy. It was really well made and it had a political punch to it. It was picked up by Newsweek, Time, The New York Times and MTV -this guy had created a really big story.'' Webley: "The remake of King Kong was impressive too. He did some really clever things - like with the backdrops actually being the ape's hand and the woman walking out as if the ape had put her down, and having a guy in an ape suit walking so that he looked like he was towering above the trees. It's clever ft stuff that people are doing."

  • Long-Lasting Appeal

Molyneux: "I just don't know how long The Movies is going to last It's interesting that it stayed in the charts well past Christmas - I think it's a slow-burning thing. We're doing lots of downloads and an add-on disk - we're trying to support it." Webley: "The downloadable content is giving stuff to the movie-makers, but we're also trying to expand the gameplay aspect We're not just talking more sets and more scenes - we're really going to be concentrating on the gameplay and looking after your studio."

  • Quiet Times At Lionhead High?

Molyneux: "The days of having a studio which would have a year of insanity and then months of peace are long gone: we've moved on to what's going to come next in The Movies, we're working on a new title and another that will be announced reasonably soon. There's about 220 people at Lionhead - we may have finished three games all at once, but you can't just have 220 people sit around doing nothing for three months because it costs millions of pounds. Everyone's working hard on new stuff at the moment - we've actually just come out of a design meeting to do with a game which I'd love to tell you about - but I can't...

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