The Movies Updated Impressions--The Movies Hits Postproduction

Activision and Lionhead Studios are busy polishing and balancing their ambitious Hollywood game, and we get the latest look.

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Using Hollywood terms, you might say that The Movies is in postproduction at this point. In other words, all the features and content for Activision's and Lionhead's ambitious game about running a movie studio and making your own movies are now finished and in place. However, what the companies are doing now is testing and balancing the game before its scheduled ship in November. We recently got to check out the latest progress on the PC version of the game, and it reinforced our belief that this is one of the biggest and most original games of the year.

The starmarker lets you create incredibly detailed faces, which is perfect for those close-up shots.
The starmarker lets you create incredibly detailed faces, which is perfect for those close-up shots.

The Movies is such a large game that it's hard to describe. Part of it is a simulation/strategy game, where you start as a budding movie mogul in the 1920s and must build your studio lot, research new movie-related technologies, commission scripts, distribute money and resources, hire actors, and make and release movies up to the year 2005. It's also a game that lets you take direct control over the making of a movie, and you can create a script, choose the scenes, cast the movie, select the costumes, shoot the movie, edit it, and mix in your own music, sound effects, and dialogue. You can then take your finished movie and share it with the rest of the world. And while the studio lot of The Movies may remind you a bit of The Sims, especially since tiny people walk around, going to their jobs, you don't exercise direct control over them. Instead, the stars of your studio walk around with wants and needs that you must address in order to keep them happy; but at the same time, you don't want to overindulge them.

In our recent look at the game, the first thing we saw was the new starmarker feature. The starmaker will be offered as a preorder bonus to customers, but it will also be part of the regular game. If you get the starmaker ahead of The Movies, you can get a jump start on creating your own movie star, who will automatically appear in the game once it ships. The starmarker is a bit like the create a Sim feature in The Sims 2, only a lot more powerful. You select a gender for your star and customize their look. The facial customization is incredibly deep, as you can tweak virtually every aspect of their face, to the point of creating mirror likenesses of real people. And while you can't adjust a person's height, you can adjust their weight and their age. Aside from the physical look of your star, you also assign other attributes, such as their genre strengths, which determines whether the star works best doing action, drama, comedy, romance, or something else. Additional attributes will determine your star's mood and stress levels, which will affect how susceptible they are to getting bored or into trouble.

You can direct the intensity of a scene by adjusting the slider.
You can direct the intensity of a scene by adjusting the slider.

Once you have created your star, you can switch the view of the studio lot, where you play The Movies from. As the studio mogul, you can determine which buildings to erect on your lot, though there will certainly be a method or pattern to follow. For instance, you'll definitely need facilities for writing, casting, and editing; and, of course, you'll need sound stages for sets. But you can also construct other buildings, such as a restaurant and bar where your cast and crew can eat (there are even VIP areas cordoned off for the stars, or for when you want to treat someone special). You also need to hire everyone who works on the movie lot, from the stars and crew to the janitors, and more. You'll probably want at least four or five stars minimum, but you can have upwards of 30 stars, as well as numerous movies in production, though that will be a lot for you to manage.

Action!

Creating an actual movie is a multistage process. First, you need to decide what kind of movie you want to shoot. You assign a writer to script it, though if you want to have an award-winning movie, it'd be best to assign a group of writers to write it and give them lots of time to polish it. Once the script is complete, just click on it (a completed script appears in the game as a physical object, so it's easy to keep track of) and drag it off to the various production facilities. If you want, the game can automatically assign stars, a director, and a crew, or you can assign the talent yourself. Then it's time to shoot the movie, and once again, you can let the game handle it, or you can take control and, in effect, direct it yourself. Once the movie is shot, it's edited together in postproduction, finished, and shipped off to theaters. The movie will get reviewed by the critics, who judge the movie on a number of criteria, and the movie will generate revenue for your studio. Your goal is to try to become the top studio in town, and that's determined by a complicated formula that weighs the amount of money you have, the quality of your movies, and more. The more prestigious your studio, the more attractive it becomes for famous stars, who will then want to work for you.

The cast and crew of a movie take a breather.
The cast and crew of a movie take a breather.

In addition to making movies, you can research new technologies that help you make better movies. Since the game starts in the 1920s, there are a slew of technological innovations that you can unlock, starting with sound and advancing to better types of film stock and more. If you're the first one to research these advances, you can get a jump on your competitors by making the first movies using the new technology, which increases the quality of your movies. Meanwhile, if you neglect research or can't afford it, you will eventually get the technology anyways, since some other studio will research it and the knowledge will propagate to the other studios. And yes, you will have to worry about money, because if you go into debt, you will be very limited in what you can do until you get out of debt.

You'll also need to make sure to keep your actors happy--but not too happy. Like real-life stars, your actors will want the best treatment, and this means you've got to be careful of how you treat them. Actors, like movies, are rated on a five-star system, and the more stars a star has, the more prestigious and famous they are, and the more easily they feel slighted. For instance, give a two-star actor a higher salary than a three-star actor and the three-star actor will have a fit, which the roaming paparazzi will be all too happy to capture on film and publicize to the world. Meanwhile, you've got to make sure stars work well together, because if they hate each other, that lack of chemistry will show up in your movies, dragging them down. You can't predict how stars will react to one another because that's randomly generated by the game, but you can try to make them get along--perhaps by making two warring stars have lunch together to see if they can patch up their differences.

Off-screen chemistry goes a long way to affecting the quality of a movie.
Off-screen chemistry goes a long way to affecting the quality of a movie.

Finally, Activision showed us finished movies that were made using The Movies. The good news is that if you want to focus only on making movies to share with your friends, there's a mode that turns off the simulation aspects of the game. In effect, you're given a virtual studio, with all the sets and actors unlocked, and you can use it to create machinima. The latest "masterpiece" from Lionhead is "70's Guy," a hilarious riff on Shaft, about the adventures of a swinging hipster in the days of disco who constantly tries (and fails) to pick up women using lame pickup lines. That, and other movies that we've seen thus far, have us excited at the prospect of sitting in the director's chair and taking our own crack at moviemaking. The Movies is a game we've been waiting eagerly for since it was announced in 2002, and we're continually impressed by what we've seen of it. Activision plans to ship the PC version of The Movies this November.

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