Jeremy's Reviews Blog

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Movies (PC game) Review

Perhaps a move accurate name for "The Movies" would be "Hollywood Tycoon". The bulk of the game is essentially a fairly standard "Tycoon" game, where you have to build up your financial empire, in this case, by releasing movies.

There is also a movie making component, but is somewhat limited in scope. But then again, so is the Tycoon aspect.

The Tycoon Part of the Game

Basically, the Tycoon game starts you off in 1920, near the dawn of the movie era (I think it actually started earlier, but close enough). You get a large empty lot, a few buildings to place and a bankroll of $150,000.

You then hire some writers to write a script, some actors to star in it, some builders to build the buildings and maintain them and some janitors to keep the place clean.

At first, script writing is automatic. You drag your little writers into the room corresponding to the genre of the movie you want them to write, and they start writing away. They use the sets you have, sometimes using more than one different set, but usually just one. In a few months of gametime they should have it written.

Once they finish writing a script, you drag it over to the casting office. This allows you to assign actors and director to it (the extras and crew are assigned automatically). Once done, you wait a bit while they 'rehearse' the script, then you drag the script over to the begin shooting button. In theory, your little sim actors will then go to the set and shoot it automatically. But sometimes they get stressed out and you have to drag them back to finish.

Once a movie is done, you simply drag it to the "Release" room in the office. You then get taken to a summary screen, which will tell you how the movie has rated, how the actors did, let you watch it, and give you reviews of it from critics.

Movies are basically limited by the quality of the script (though with high ability ratings for the actors you can transcend this, but it's hard). And the quality of the script you make depends on which quality writer's building you have.

Basically, you repeat this over and over until you unlock the custom script writer. Then you can make your own scripts. There are some goals to the game, essentially ways to unlock some certain buildings and sets. Like release so many 1 star movies, have them make so much money, develop a certain level star.

Eventually you get a laboratory in which you can research new "packs", which are groups of themed items: sets, costumes, etc; new technology (like color film or CGI); and new facilities, like larger trailers for your stars. There's no real downside to employing as many scientists as possible, as they work cheap. So you generally unlock stuff years ahead of time.

There really doesn't seem to be much replay value in the Tycoon aspect of the game. There are no difficulty settings, no ability to change the start date, amount of cash, etc. You always get the same exact map to play on. So in basic terms, there's really only one "scenario", though it's a long one.

Thankfully though, you can "mod" the game fairly easily to change these values and the difficulty of the game. But why this wasn't built into the game itself, I don't know.

Another major downside is that there simply isn't enough room in your studio for all the building and sets you can get. Maybe 65% of them. So you have to plan what sort of movies you want to do.

You could just destroy sets when you want new ones, but destroying a building in this is not easy. You have to find a little repairmen, then pick him up and drag him over to the building you want to destroy. You will see a little bomb icon, and you have to drag him onto it. Neither quick nor easy nor intuitive.

To a large extent, how well you do in the Tycoon game depends on how much micromanagement you want to do. There is no strategy really, you just have to make sure you keep your stars moods up, get them friendly with each other, keep their image up (by giving them makeovers and surgery) and have them practice as often as possible to build up their acting ability.

So, if you find micromanagement fun, then you should like the tycoon game. Those that prefer actual strategy will be disappointed, it's a very shallow game.

Making Movies

The movie making aspect of the game is fairly fun and very easy to use, but is shallow as well.

Basically, you pick up to 3 starring actors. Then you build your movie, scene by scene.

You first select a set. There there is a long list of scenes you can pick from. People talking, people fighting, people doing various wacky things.

Once you pick the scene, it displays with the default options. You probably then will want to re-assign which actor you want to play which part in the scene. And then some scenes have sliders, which let you change various options.

For instance, for most fights, you can set how violent it is. For conversations, you can generally pick what mood the speaker and listener are in.

The problem with the movie making aspect is the limited control you have. Generally speaking, you can't pick where on the set the scene is taking place. In a few cases you get to pick 2 or 3 places, but most of the time you are stuck to one spot.

This can cause problems when you find scenes you want to string together, but occur in different parts of the set. This can be maddening because there are very obvious scenes that should fit together, but can't.

Similarly, it's hard to match actions together, particularly if they involve props (or at least guns). For instance, for the first movie I made from scratch, I wanted to have an actor enter a graveyard with a shotgun to try to save an actress from being bitten by a vampires. But woops, there's no scene to enter the graveyard with a shotgun. So I picked the scene to have him enter with a rifle. But then there was no scene for him to walk up the graveyard hill with the rifle. Only a pistol. And then I found out the whole thing was a moot point, since the only scene involving a vampire biting someone could only take place in front of the cemetery, not inside.

So I stopped trying to make up movies in advance, but simply go with the flow so to speak, and simply try to pick a set and put together actions that can fit together. And then try to explain them. This is actually fairly fun, but not nearly as fun as making a movie the way you want. (Though this is perhaps how a real Hollywood writer feels, watching the powers that be mangle his vision).

Even then, most of the scenes simply don't fit together well. There are jumps in placement. Like the actors will be at one place in one scene, then in your next scene they will be in slightly different place, or in a different pose.

Also, you have to change the settings on the set for every scene you do. For instance, if you are using a particular type of gun, like an .44 Magnum Revolver, you have to click on "Props", then click on "Pistols", then pick the .44 from the list. Or if you have a car in the scene, you have to click on props, and change the car every time. (Also curiously, this game is sponsored by Chrysler, so you get some generic cars and some specific Chrysler models. Same with phones, they are all from some company).

In some cases, you have to get rid of props. For instance, horses show up in scenes from time to time, even though when you don't think they should. Why you can't just set the prop options for a set globally, I dunno. (Other than the props are determined by scene and set, not just set)

On the plus side, the costumes you can dress your actors in is well done. There are 2-3 casual outfits for each decade, as well as a swimsuit and underwear and formal. I was easily able to duplicate what I wore in the 80s and 90s (and even the 70s, if I weren't a kid, then).

Still, some rather essential items are only available if you buy the $10 extra version. Most notably workout clothes, which is hard to work around, because there are a handful of workout scenes. If you don't have the extra version, I guess you'd have to dress them in swimwear or underwear.

Beyond that there are genre costumes: uniforms for soldiers for most the major powers in most the major wars of the 20th century; space uniforms, from realistic ones to '50s sleazy ones; quite a few aliens, including Greys; zombies and skeletons, and even a werewolf; all sorts of cowboy duds.

If you want to make risque films, then you are generally out of luck. Probably the most is the aforementioned sci-fi one, the "Space Chick". The swimsuits are basically out of Sears catalog (and are all black, so the Sears catalog for Goths). There are 2 different schoolgirl outfits, though, and a topless dancer outfit for men. While for copyright reasons there are no "Star Wars" outfits, there are some very close copies, including a Darth Vader style costume called "Papa Noir". ("Father Black", which is also close to what "Darth Vader" means in some language or other)

There are a lot of sets, done by themes (rural, urban, sci-fi, suburban, school) but some seem to be missing. For instance, you get 3 different Sci-Fi bridges and corridors for use on a spaceship, and a generic alien world. But that's it - no other part of the spaceship. No galley, no space bedroom, no landing or shuttle bay, no engineering.

Or the suburban house. There are two living-rooms and an outside street. But no upstairs, no bedroom, no study.

There are two school sets, a library and corridor. But no classroom or cafeteria.

Probably the most complete is the rural themed setting. You get a field, a forest, a shack, a shack exterior, and a shack cellar.

There are a lot of scenes, but most are geared for a very dull movie (lots of talking). There really aren't many fighting scenes. 3 for martial arts and 5 for fist fights. Each scene is essentially one move or punch and you have to string them together. Similarly, making a gunfight is tricky, you normally have to pick a scene of a person firing a gun, then pick a scene of a guy getting shot. Some sets do have more extended fights, but it's hard to know which scenes are available where. For instance, the most detailed gunfight I've seen seems to be for the Bar, which is advertised in the game as being for romantic movies.

Speaking of which, if you are one of those who is worried about games having too much sex, then you don't have to worry about this. There is very, very , very little, just some light kissing. And while some of the zombies are gorey looking, there is no blood in the game. Jack Thompson would approve of this game, I'd think.

Graphics & Sound

The graphics are very good. The little sim actors look quite real. I was able to make a very good semblance of myself (about as good as famous athletes are in sports games), and it's downright eerie seeing myself on the big screen (well, computer screen).

The sound is strange. On the one hand, it's got a somewhat interesting GTA style DJ which keeps you up on events as the timeline goes by. (Though personally I disliked the bias of the DJ, but then again, I pretty much dislike the bias of everything but South Park)

But at the same time, the mumbling dialog in the Movies you make seem to be basically one line for most scenes, and a short one at that. I was expecting something like the Sims, where they would repeat themselves eventually, but have a fairly large vocabulary of "Simlish" that they speak, depending on the action. The one female line in this game that gets repeated over and over is really getting on my nerves.

Final Thoughts

All in all, it's a very mediocre game. I pretty much expected the movie making portion to be like it was (though it's bit more limited than I thought, I thought there would be more slider choices in most scenes), but I expected there to be a real Tycoon style game, instead of just one basic scenario. It is a fairly long scenario, at least, but that doesn't make up for its shortcomings. So an okay shallow movie making game, combined with an extremely shallow and limited tycoon game. C-, or in terms here, a 6, which is probably being a bit generous, mostly because I get a kick out of seeing myself on screen.

What sort of long term potential it has really depends on how moddable it is. Which remains to be seen.