Anyone with a creative bone in their body has at one time or another thought about making movies. Some people fancy themselves as script writers, while others think they are destined to be the next Spielberg. Thanks to Peter Molyneux's Lionhead Studios you needn't bother even leaving your chair to fulfil your dream, as The Movies takes movie making and crams it into a sim, encompassing a huge range of tasks involved in not only movie making, but also studio lot development and management. The movie business is a risky one, but The Movies is a blockbuster.
The Movies eases you into things very nicely, with the initial hour of play acting as a very handy and informative tutorial. You'll set up your studio lot and make your first movie, all the time following instructions given by the game's narrator and on-screen prompts. It's the perfect introduction to the game, holding your hand, but never too much. Later on things become pretty manic, but even newcomers to the management sim genre will be up to speed by that point.
Starting in 1920, your goal is to make successful movies and in turn create a thriving and well respected movie studio. There are two distinct sides to the game, with your time being split between movie development, and staff and studio management. Actors, directors, extras, film crew, writers, maintenance staff, researchers and more must be hired and continuously kept happy. To do so your studio lot must be kept tidy, made attractive and offer amenities and services. Things start off simple, but soon take on new levels of chaos, with alcoholic actors, self hating actresses and lazy, good for nothing janitors all making the art of movie making far from simple.
Things start of simple though. Once a writer finishes a script it can be sent to casting, where you assign a director, cast and crew. The cast and crew rehearse before moving to the movie set for filming, with the movie being released to the public once shooting has finished. It's no more than a few clicks and drags, moving people and objects from place to place (helped by the intuitive and well designed menus and control system). These early releases don't cut it though, and movie audiences demand more: Bigger sets, more diverse scripts, skilled actors, professional direction and more.
So, you get your actors working overtime, moving from one film to the next, filming the movies that your script writers are churning out, one after another, building the stats of each person involved in the process. But things go wrong; your director decides to become an alcoholic so production is halted while he's in rehab; your overworked janitors can't keep the lot clean and tidy, so the rest of your staff become depressed, not helped by the fact that they aren't working due to the prolonged absence of your only director.
With your studio not exactly setting the movie industry alight, you're not finding it easy to recruit new staff, so you get desperate. A movie extra from an earlier film showed some potential so you give him a huge promotion; he's directing your next picture. It is of course a huge disaster and the movie is mauled by almost every critic. This is in no small part due to the amateurish direction and the fact that none of the crew like each other due to the rather strained working environment over the last year, but the movie gives the entire crew some experience, and the next movie will be better.
Eventually you'll have enough staff to be making numerous movies at once and as time passes you gain new sets enabling you to make new, exciting movies. How much influence you have on each movie also increases over time, eventually giving you control over scenes themselves and actor performances. If you want to you can control almost every aspect of the shoot, from set decoration, to camera angels - you can even add subtitles and record your own dialogue if you like. You don't have to get into the nitty-gritty of it all, but it helps to improve the overall quality of your productions (although adding your own audio and subtitles won't make your movie any more appealing to the in-game movie goers). You do, however, have to pander to your stars' needs, whether it's plastic surgery, a new trailer, a personal trainer or another tantrum saving expense. If you get really fed up with them you can fire them, sell them to a rival studio, or just wait for them to get old and retire.
You can't just churn out movies on a whim either; the current mood of the movie going public plays a big part in the success of your releases, so it's vital to pay close attention to what is going on in the world, or what is going to happen. Release a sci-fi movie the week a huge science story is in the news and you'll be rolling in money, but if the world is looking for some light-hearted relief your movie will flop. It's this kind of touch that sums up what it's like to play The Movies. You are constantly on your toes, trying to do ten things at once, all the time trying to manage things so your movies turn out as well as they possibly can. It's good addictive fun.
This is a sim game so it's not stunning to look at, but it still looks very good. All the buildings and sets are modelled with some excellent detail, and while actors could do with a few more polygons, they are animated well and give good performances in their movies (obviously depending on their acting skill). All the menus are designed well and every aspect of the game's appearance seems polished. When your studio begins to grow, and you've got sets and buildings covering every inch of your lot, things do start to chug a little, but you can decrease the overall visual quality if the slowdown becomes too much for you.
The Audio is just as good, with catchy music (which changes as you move through the years) and plenty of professional voice work. While your actors don't speak real words in your movies (they use a Sims like gibberish), the game's narrator, radio broadcaster and award show hosts do. A few more tunes to listen to wouldn't have gone amiss and an annoying momentary game-freeze bug becomes a little aggravating, but it's nitpicking when the game's presentation is so strong overall. Some people might also be disappointed that you can't simply make movies. Even in the Sandbox mode, which lets you alter some settings to make the core gameplay less challenging, you have to go through most of the movie making processes.
The Movies is ambitious, but Peter Molyneux and his team at Lionhead have pulled it off. The game will take you a fair amount of time to run through (although this depends on how much time you spend perfecting each movie), but even then you'll be tempted to do it all again, using the knowledge you have gained from your first attempt to become an even bigger success. Advanced movie making will extend the game's lifespan indefinitely if you're into it, even allowing your movies to be saved and uploaded to the official website for all to see. There's no doubt that The Movies is one of the most entertaining PC games of the year and must for budding movie makers and sim fans alike.