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Light… Camera… Action!

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Everyone loves movies. It?s getting close to the point where one could also say that everyone loves video games. So, when developer Lionhead Studios (in partnership with publisher Activision) announced that they were working on a video game that combined the two mediums, it was no surprise that everyone loved the idea. Especially this reviewer. Being what many would describe as a movie fiend, I couldn?t wait to get my hands on this movie making sim. Did it live up to my lofty expectations? Read on, and all will be revealed.

The Movies, at its heart, is a game that combines elements from both city and people simulation games. You play as the head of a new movie studio in the 1920s, and it?s your job to make sure that your studio thrives. You have to cultivate stars, directors and writers to become the most successful and wealthy movie studio in the world. You build your lot from scratch, hire your stars, then start making actual movies that can be saved and shared with others. This game has a lot of variety, and could almost be split into two separate entities: the studio/star management simulation, and the movie creation module. We?ll start with the studio, move on to the stars, and then dive into the actual movie making.

The game begins in the 1920s, and you are the new owner of your very own movie studio. The player chooses a name and a logo for their studio, and then moves right into the process of building. To operate, your studio needs two vital components: buildings, and employees. Players must hire Builders, Janitors, Actors, Directors, Film Crew, Extras, Script Writers, Scientists and, of course, Stars.

After your initial hiring, though, the number of locals interested in working for you dwindles until you start to become more successful. A really cool feature is that no employee is permanently bound to their job. If you need more Builders, take one of your Janitors and make him/her into a Builder. Even the lowliest, toilet cleaning janitor has the ability to one day be the biggest star in the world. As far as what these various employees do, well, their titles are self-explanatory. Actors act, Directors direct, and the Film Crew handles the cameras and microphones.

There are quite a few buildings that you can add to your studio as the game progresses. The Stage School produces actors and directors, Crew Facilities produce crew members, the Casting Office is where you assign directors and actors to your films, the Production Office is where all finances are handled, and the Script Office is where, you guessed it, your writers churn out scripts. In addition to these basic buildings, Lionhead included a ton of other possible buildings that you can earn over the course of the game. Makeover Departments for your slightly self-conscious actors, Plastic Surgery Centers for your extremely self-conscious actors, as well as restaurants, bars, rehab facilities, bathrooms, and trailers for your stars, just to name a few. Then you have the movie sets. Seriously, the number of different sets in this game is amazing, and as you progress through the game, they just get bigger and better. The sets are treated just like buildings and make up about 75% of your Studio Lot.

Creating movies is what the game is all about, however, and this is where your Stars really have their chance to shine. When you first start out, you have no actors- what you have is a line full of wannabes standing outside your studio. The player picks one of these people and drops them onto the Stage School and voila! You have your first movie star. The player then continues this process to create directors, extras, movie crew, and basically every other position that your studio requires.

Once you have a handful of actors and directors (directors are considered Stars, too, which in this reviewer?s opinion is how it should be), you?re ready to shoot your first movie. The Stars will vary in looks and the genres that they excel in. You can even import your own custom made Stars, which I actually recommend, since a lot of the actors native to the game are similar in appearance. The Star Creator is as robust as the Create-A-Sim program in The Sims 2, and really lets you create any type of look that you could possibly want.

Your Stars also have their own personalities. Be prepared to handle alcoholics, food addicts, appearance-obsessed divas, and some that are just plain mean. All of the Stars have a plethora of different meters that show their experience, moods, wants, and needs, such as a bigger trailer, or more people in their entourage. These are handy tools to use when choosing which Stars you want to use in your next movie, as you can easily see who is best suited for each genre. The meters will also tell you when your valuable performers are unhappy, and there are a number of buildings you can construct that will help you keep your stars cheerful.

The Rehab Center, the Plastic Surgery Center, the Makeover Department, the Restaurant, and the Bar are just a few of the many support buildings players can use to manage their temperamental Stars. Most problems can be solved by tossing them into one of these buildings. For a quick attitude adjustment, the Bar works best, as alcohol will improve anyone?s mood. Be careful to not do this too often, however, as doing this too many times will cause your Star to become dependent on alcohol whenever they get stressed out. While its fun to watch your actors stumble around the lot with a bottle in their hand, it is hard to get them to act while they are in that state.

As far as crafting your actual movies, Lionhead has created a nifty in-game movie making tool, and it?s a lot of fun to work with. When making a movie, you have two options. The first is to have your script writers write a script for you. You pick from the available genres (Action, Romance, Sci Fi, Horror, or Drama) and they will produce a script for you. If you take this route, the story, sets, etc are all determined by the game. You can send it into production as is, or you can edit it before you start filming.

The second method gives players total control of the process, and requires the Advanced Script Writing building to be present on the lot. In this mode, the player chooses which actors (and costumes) will be in the film, as well as the genre, the name of the film, and its length. Once you have selected these items, you move on to the actual creation/writing of the film. You choose which of your available sets to use, as well as the type of scene you want to shoot on that set. Each type of scene (Two People Enter Room, Discovery of Dead Body, Driving, Eating Lunch, Looking for Something, Two People Discussing, Etc.) has a number of variables that you can change to make the scene fit your story better. For instance, if two people are saying goodbye, there is a slider that you can use to change the demeanor of the performers. You can have them be angry, happy, or even have them kiss.

In addition, each scene has ?extras? that are represented by wooden mannequins that represent a particular pre-scripted action. If you want to add a particular mannequin/action to the scene, all you have to do is drag an actor onto that mannequin. Once you do this, that actor will perform whatever action is scripted for that mannequin. This is an excellent feature, as it gives you additional control over what is going on in each of your scenes. You can also add and remove props and backdrops to help add more detail and flavor to your films. On top of all of this, the game even provides a story structure guide in the form of labeled colored tabs that let you know what part of the story should come next (Intro, Problem Develops, Confrontation, Resolution, etc). These are very handy in helping novice film makers put together a coherent story.

As fun as the movie creation aspects of the game are, there is some room for improvement. For instance, players do not have the freedom to choose the angles of their shots– aside from a few scene types in which you can choose an alternate angle, you are stuck with whatever angles the developers have pre-configured. The same can be said for the actors, who have preprogrammed animations that you are limited to, however this is somewhat remedied by the inclusion of the wooden mannequins mentioned earlier.

After you have assembled your movie, you can add subtitles, music, sound effects, and even record your own dialogue. This last option, I have to say, is an awesome addition. I have watched some of the movies that have already been posted online by players, and they were pretty damn cool. The recorded dialogue sounded great, and really added a lot to the quality of the films. The game has even been coded to make the actors lip-sync to the recorded dialogue.

Over all, the game is an excellent movie biz simulation, and a great movie making game to boot. It has some limitations, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. Lionhead has made up for the fact that you can?t choose your own angles and actions by including a plethora of customization options within each scene type. This game is about making movies, and it accomplishes this goal with flying colors. The Movies is worth giving a shot if you are a fan of sim style games or a fan of films in general.

The Scores:

Gameplay ? 8 In the studio lot portions of the game, you have your standard simulation style gameplay. You pick people up and drop them where you want them to be. Icons appear on the ground to show you that the person you hold can interact with a particular object or building. This aspect of the gameplay is well put together, and a lot of fun to work with. The movie making, on the other hand, is what drops this score a bit. Don?t get me wrong, the movie making gameplay is amazing, it?s just the fact that you can?t choose your angles and/or actions more freely that brings the score down a tiny bit. Aside from that, though, the movie making is awesome. It supplies you with enough sets, animations, and props to make any type of movie that you want.

Graphics ? 8 The graphics are decent, comparable to The Sims 2. The people that populate the game are more realistically rendered than that title, but aside from that the graphics are pretty similar. Luckily, since the visuals won?t blow you away, this is the type of game in which the graphics don?t matter quite as much. The content is what matters here. The graphics are good, and are more than adequate for making movies.

Audio ? 8 The audio meets today?s standards easily. The general quality of the sound in this game is actually very good. Sound effects are all top notch, but it is the music and radio announcers that really push this rating up. The background music is basically different types of movie scores from the different eras film (romantic music, music that might accompany an action sequence, etc.). It sounds great, and is very entertaining. The radio announcers are awesome. They change as time goes by, with a 30s style announcer who thinks that films are just as passing fad, and the 50s announcer who talks about nothing but pinkos and the communist threat. There?s even a disc jockey who sounds a lot like Wolf Man Jack.

Value ? 9 The replay value for this game is extremely high, as you are only limited by your imagination. Any type of movie is possible, barring any x-rated ventures, (ed.– give the mod-makers a few weeks and I bet we will?) because the game has so many tools and options to work with. Add in the ability to upload your films to the official site, where other players can view and rate your work, and the replay value soars even higher. There is even the possibility that your film can make it onto the The Movies box office chart and win you some points that can be spent to buy new props and sets from the online Prop Shop.

Curve ? 9 This game is innovative, unique, and a lot of fun to play. Making a game in which you actually make movies was a daunting task to take on, but Lionhead did it and, for the most part, succeeded. Bottom line: This game is sweet, so it gets a high Curve score.

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