Peter Molyneux‘s LionHead Studios has finally released The Movies, a game in the vein of his Theme Park series. I’ve been itching to play this game since I saw it at E3 a few years ago. Yesterday I got my copy. Here are my impressions after a few hours of play.
For those who haven’t heard about it, The Movies is a tycoon-type game where you run a movie studio. Starting in the 1920s with only a few buildings on your studio lot, you hire people (actors, directors, crew, and maintenance workers to start) and build sets and enhancements to the lot.
As in all tycoon games, a lot of the game is about management as you try to keep your studio lot looking nice, keep the actors and directors happy, crank out new scripts, research new technologies and so on.
Once you’ve got a script and hire cast and crew, shooting begins. You can zoom in and watch as the movie is shot on sets around your lot. When shooting is finished the film is released and reviewed. Reviews will be based on many different factors, such as the experience of the director and actors in the genre, how well they relate to each other, and so on.
Based on the reviews, the films make money, that you use to hire more workers, write more scripts, build more sets and so on and so on.
What sets this game apart from the other games of this genre is the movie-making process. When you first start, you are making very simple films generated by the PC. Once you acquire the “Custom Scriptwriting Office” (after achieving a simple set of newbie goals), you can access Advanced Movie-Making and Post Production. You gain access to a library of thousands of scenes that you can edit together to make your own movies. Although the scenes are canned, there are so many ways to customize them that they will go a long way.
For example, each character in a scene is first represented by a mannikin. You drop your actor onto a mannikin in the scene to tell them to play that part. There are usually many mannikins in a scene and you just “turn off” the ones you don’t use.
There are also various sliders that can change the scene. For example, there’s a scene where a monster rises up behind the hero. You can set the “Outcome” slider to “Victory” or “Defeat”. Although you don’t have direct camera control, some sliders will change camera angles, dollies and cranes, etc.
You can put together as many scenes as you want, then edit them together, add sound effects, and so on. It can be a lot of work but you don’t HAVE to do any of this – you can just continue on using the studio-generated scripts if you don’t want to spend hours tinkering with the movie.
When your film is finished, you can export it (I think only to .wmv) to upload to a website or email.
As time passes in the game, you get access to new technologies, sets, props, costumes and so on. The game also has a Sandbox mode where you don’t need to worry about money, actor’s moods, etc etc. The only catch is that you only have access to things you have unlocked in the main game. So if you want to get the most out of Sandbox you have to play a game through to the modern era.
There’s also an online portion to the game. You can upload your finished movies to the Lionhead site. People can rate your films, and based on the ratings and number of viewers, you earn credits. These credits can be used to buy props and sets that you can use in the game.
The interface is VERY Sims-like and friendly, although there is room for improvement. For example, to hire a director, you need to scroll through the employee types til you find them, pick them up, and drop them into the appropriate room. Since you can ONLY add directors to that room, it would be much better to just rightclick on the room and select “Add Director” with a list of directors showing.
Anyhow, I’m all fired up about this game at the moment. The open-ness should give it some lasting appeal. I can only assume that LionHead plans to follow the Sims model of releasing content packs for various genres and so on. Hopefully they will correct the game’s most glaring error: no pirates!