The Movies E3 2004 Impressions

Famed designer Peter Molyneux shows off his eagerly awaited moviemaking game.

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When Peter Molyneux speaks at E3, people definitely listen. After all, Molyneux does have a legendary reputation in the industry, since he designed a slew of classic games like Syndicate, Dungeon Keeper, Populous, Theme Park, Black & White, and more. But it also helps that he’s arguably the most sedate and urbane speaker in the industry. The combination of his soft speaking voice and English accent is a welcome change from the deafening noise of E3. We’ve been on the receiving end of Molyneux’s E3 presentations before and have always come away impressed, but we have to admit that The Movies promises to be his biggest game yet. In essence, The Movies is like "The Sims Meets Hollywood." It’s an amazingly deep and open-ended game that will let you indulge the movie director lurking in you.

In the game, you’ll run a Hollywood movie studio from the early 1900s to just short of the present day. One of the great aspects of the game is that you can decide your level of involvement, so you can limit your role to that of a studio mogul who's making broad decisions about how much money to spend per movie or you can dive into the minutia of moviemaking, which includes everything from selecting costumes and props to blocking off the camera angles for shoots.

The Movies takes place on the studio movie lot, sort of like how The Sims is set in a neighborhood. You can build a variety of buildings on your lot, including a stage school, where you can send promising young actors to sharpen their thespian skills. You can also construct a crew school, where you can train the behind-the-scenes technicians. Additionally, you can set up a script office, where you can hone movie scripts that are in development. Of course, all these cost money to run, but the results will be better-produced and better-acted movies.

You can gauge the health of your studio by just seeing the number of people milling about. If there are lines of people waiting to be hired, it’s a good sign that you’re doing well and that folks in Hollywood want to work for you. But if you’re doing badly, you’ll have a hard time scaring up talent.

As a movie mogul, one of your jobs will be to deal with celebrities--and all the baggage that comes with them. Molyneux showed us a drunken celebrity staggering in costume all over the studio lot. Obviously, this was a problem, so he picked up the celebrity and threw him in rehab. The game switched to a close-up view of the actor in his skivvies, and in rehab, you can treat the actor for a wide range of issues, including drugs, alcohol, weight, and anger management. So if he’s overweight, you can click on the weight loss button and--using the morphing technology from Black & White--you can watch him slim down in real time. However, treatment requires both time and money, so you’ll watch the production costs on your movie increase the longer your talent is in the clinic.

And in another example of celebrity headaches, you'll have to manage the egos among your superstars. Molyneux showed one of his superstars throwing a tantrum because he was given a rickety wooden trailer. The actor was surrounded by his entourage and was jumping up and down like a child. Meanwhile, a nearby photographer was snapping photos for all the tabloids. Molyneux solved the problem by dragging the actor to a modern trailer, but that can cause more problems, because if one star gets a plush trailer, the rest of them want one too.

Once you get all your talent issues resolved, it’s time to make movies. On Molyneux’s studio lot, there were three movies in production: a sci-fi film, a car chase movie, and a “pretty rubbishy” Western. Unfortunately, the costumes were all wrong for the period, so he stopped filming and switched to the costume interface. There will be literally hundreds of different costumes in the game, and like the objects in The Sims, each costume (along with every item and prop in the game) will possess a unique set of properties that can influence the game differently. In other words, if you drop a gun onto a set, the actors will know that it’s a gun, so they'll know that they can use it to shoot one another. And if you place an actor in a duck suit, the actors will know it’s a duck suit and will react accordingly to it.

Molyneux added that he was going to fully support the modmaking community, so players will be able to create their own costumes, props, movie sets, and more, which can then be shared with the community at large.

When you direct a movie, you’ll use a set of sliders to control the action, and Molyneux used the car-chase scene to illustrate this. By using the sliders, he adjusted the speed at which the car careened around a corner. At slower speeds, the driver recovered quickly and roared down the street, but at higher speeds, the driver spun out of control and slammed into a fire hydrant.

But perhaps the best part of the demo was the sci-fi movie. Molyneux showed us the finished results. The action starts off with a female crewman tied to a post while the mask-clad villain gloats. She cries for help, and the heroic captain enters the room, armed with a ray gun. Both he and the villain face off and hold an “I am your father”-style conversation that is pretty funny to watch. Finally, the hero shoots the villain with the ray gun, and the villain staggers about in elaborate, over-the-top death throes. The scene then shifts to the bridge of the hero’s ship. The elevator door then opens, and the captain and his newly rescued female crewman are making out. The entire thing reminded us of some strange Buck Rogers meets Star Trek hybrid.

Molyneux explained that you can edit your footage in postproduction to add all sorts of musical tracks, subtitles, sound, and visual effects. It’s fairly simple to do, and once you’re done, you have three different formats (DivX, MPEG-4, and a proprietary format) in which you can save your movie so that you can easily e-mail it to friends. The game even has an elaborate critic system that takes into account everything in the movie to give you a series of newspaper reviews.

From what we’ve seen, we can’t wait to get our hands on The Movies. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like we can expect the game to ship anytime soon, as Molyneux expressed some dissatisfaction with the current interface. It’s clear, though, that The Movies is going to be one of the big games of the show, and the fact that it’s going to ship for the PC, GameCube, Xbox, and PlayStation 2 will guarantee broad interest for the game. We’ll hopefully get some play time with The Movies during the show, so check back with us for updates.

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