Micro-management is also not a bad thing. Some of my most content - and most (I admit) analistic behaviour when in front of a screen has been selecting how many trees to put around Fern Chappell’s trailer, even though she’s only ranked 29th in the league table of hot Hollywood stars. Or, for example, when picking which picture to balance precariously on the mantelpiece in the pivotal sitting-room scene where the romantic, suave Tom Overton sweeps his leading lady, Isabelle Harris, off her feet and into the sunset. Or, to name a third example, adjusting the colour of my star Director’s watch to see how the public reacts. Each of these is important, in its own special way, as a contribution to your actors, actresses, movies and studios star ratings - and thus, important for succeeding in the glamorous and hedonistic world of The Movies.
The Movies is a simulation of the (gasp) movie industry; a tycoon game without the Tycoon in the title, and models Hollywood from 1920 to the present day and beyond. You play the role of studio head, and cast your autocratic eye over every aspect of the process: young whippersnappers queue up at your stage school, eager for a celluloid chance - you hire them, are able to give them a makeover, change their name or appearance, cast them in movies, serve them up as paparazzi fodder, lead them to win awards, make them stars. You write scripts, and can change and modify every part of the process to your heart’s content. The Advanced Movie Maker is an interesting tool for Machinima fans on its own that brings virtual filmmaking to the masses - in The Movies, it’s slightly deflated: just another enjoyable part of a spectacularly enjoyable game, even though the changes you make to your creations aren‘t reflected, sadly, in the in-game rating system.
Apart from the aforementioned Advanced Movie Maker, there’s little innovation in The Movies. It does nothing new. If that sounds like a criticism, I’m not sure it should be. There’s a lack of innovation but this is far, far overcompensated by the way the game is executed. Graphics are not spectacular, compared with some other recent 3D fare of similar position and scale but the colourful, sun-drenched structures and imaginative sets play off the expressive, cartoon-esque staff members and lush, tropical palm trees that you can use to beautify your studio. The lack of eye-popping visuals is not a worry when everything has been designed to make you smile. The only problem I could raise with the graphics, apart from the fact they don‘t make my PC steam, is that they sometimes struggle to catch up and fill out the textures when you‘re quickly zooming around your studio. But, in that case, you really should be taking more time to admire everything. Sound, equally, is stellar: the in-game radio station has a host of DJ’s who reflect the era. You begin with a pompous theatre actor who has no time for the ‘passing fad’ of the cinema, listen through the Cold War years to a patriotic American army-type who despises all Communism, and wind up with the dulcet tones of English Hughie, played by none other than Jamie Cullum. Their babbling is interspersed with generic tunes that are energetic enough to recognise but not obscene enough to interfere with your gameplay, or your own mp3s that can be imported in via a folder in My Documents. One disappointing aspect of the sound is the lack of speech from your staff. They converse in a sort of Simlish language that’s punctuated by various squeaks and noises, even during filming. You can record custom lines via a microphone for your characters, but the absence of any recorded material other than anonymous giggles grates a little as you craft your masterpieces. One sure sign of a quality game is the feel of the buttons: The Movies has an excellent, intuitive and well conceived interface that revolves around just two buttons on your mouse, and every click is satisfyingly clunky. It doesn’t feel light or hollow. You can trust that click, and that’s the way to judge a game.
So, it looks nice, and sounds convincing. But how long will it last? You begin in 1920, and I’ve found that the replay ability of The Movies is excellent. There are sets in abundance, enough to make Universal Studios or Warner weep with jealousy, and the constant progression of time helps the game zip along at a helpful pace. Your stars are constantly evolving: going back to Tom Overton, who wooed the world with his romantic movies in the '30s, he is now 60. Put his wrinkles (unless you’ve given him a nip and tuck, in which case he can corner the Michael Douglas and Pierce Brosnan end of the market) to good use, instead, in a horror film, and he’ll cause people to faint in the aisles. The trends of the public are also changing: they want comedy to lift them out of the Depression, and sci-fi to excite them during the Space Race. They’ll also complain if you use your sets too much and they become stale, so rotation is necessary, especially because you can’t fit all of them into your studio lot. You have scientists who beaver away to research the next best thing before any of your rivals - a total of nine other studios who compete with you for awards. Any question of The Movies being able to last, especially since the basic premise of write a script, film a movie, rake in the cash is relatively formulaic, is dashed by the sheer amount of change and variation that occurs over Hollywood’s golden years that always keeps you on your toes.
I touched upon the importance of Star Ratings earlier, and, apart from money, they’re the driving force of the game. If one of your pictures is successful, the director and cast will experience a rise of their star rating. This will lead to their fame increasing, and come the awards ceremony - held every five years - they will, hopefully, reap the benefits and bring home trophies. Each of these brings a unique reward to your studio, be it the freedom to make your stars overeat and binge drink without fear of addiction or the ability of your scientists to research faster. Rewards bring further boosts to your star rating as you climb the studio charts. This mechanism, whilst appearing initially formulaic, acts as a catalyst for you to make a success out of your stars and your studio. You watch as they slowly get silver-haired and wrinkly-faced, learning more about their personalities and yearning for them to become the number one star in Hollywood before their well-earned retirement.
Come the end of those golden years, however, and you’ll find yourself grasping at the occasional straw. The heaving line of potential sirens and stars dries up, as does the available research possibilities. Towards the end of the 20th century there’s something slightly prosaic about the game - a feeling that you’re no longer pushing boundaries, but rather churning out films on a treadmill. I didn’t expect to feel this way as the game progressed, but I found myself losing interest as my original group of star talent retired. I’d hired young, enthusiastic men and women, but they seemed to lack the spark of my original troupe, who’d served me well from 1920 up until 1970. Perhaps it wasn’t their fault; perhaps I’d simply become slightly jaded with The Movies despite all of the early promise and excitement. I can hardly blame Paul Colbert - who, by the way, is no Tom Overton - if it’s me whose at fault. Perhaps, equally, this is where the Molyneux spark could have made the difference, rather than being confined to the movie making tools within the game that, really, are only effective if you’re going to upload your movie to the thriving online community.
In many ways, The Movies is like many films down the years: trying to ascend to certain heights, and almost achieving them, but just missing out on the greatness and legend that I sorely wanted it to achieve. It’s endearing and attractive, the gameplay is addictive for the majority of the time and it absorbed me into its miniature world of satire and fun: in what other game would a Hollywood star visit the restroom to, and I quote, ‘curl one out?’ It’s this attention to detail that makes the game sparkle, as well as the insane and off-the-wall movies you churn out with accountant-pleasing regularity. It’s just a shame that it’s missing that all-embracing spark of greatness that previous Molyneux projects have achieved, and in that sense, it’s a disappointment. In every other sense, however, it’s a success: fun and easy to play, yet offering a real challenge to try and master every nook and cranny of every aspect of film making. I can recommend The Movies without hesitation for the feelings of unbridled joy it’ll give you: your first top-ten movie, your first award, your first year attaining the heady heights of the number one studio in Hollywood. It’s just a shame I can’t say it’s a real first itself.