Only in The Movies

By IAN MAISEL  |  August 11, 2006

When you are first starting out in The Movies, you’re forced to pay professional writers to turn out material for you – like some first-time director who’s arrived in town without a decent Rolodex. Inevitably, the short, automated films that follow yield nothing worth watching. The films that the game churns out are wretched – nonsensical amalgams of odd behavior on random sets. Like, y’know, Waterworld. But, if you’re willing to put a couple of hours into learning the game’s movie-making simulator and can accept the creative challenge of working with its simplistically bouncy, cheeky character animations, you can produce real animated movie shorts with storytelling depth faster than any pre-packaged animation tool set to date.

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Click the screenshot to watch a scene from BBC's The Office re-enacted using Activision's The Movies
Take 3: The Game
The Movies understands Hollywood’s keen interest in making grand first impressions. As the curtain goes up, you’re wooed with a seductive set of startup screens. After the game maker’s logo tips over and spills a bunch of  blocks onto the floor in the satisfying clatter of dumping open a toybox, you hear a projector slowly whirring to life. A grainy, old-fashioned filmstrip countdown sequence is followed by an exuberant blare of trumpets announcing your stupendous arrival at a new Hollywood back lot.

The dream begins with a mellow, loungey jazz song and bubbly game options menu on the left. Animated snippets from the game run in a preview reel on the right, hinting at what awaits you: Amidst a barroom brawl, a white woman strangles a black man sporting an exaggerated Afro. A stiff-looking zombie swings out of graveyard coffin and runs straight for the camera. An intensely-mustachioed starship captain takes charge of a high-stress situation while his lieutenant indifferently chats on his cell phone in the background.

On the back of the box containing The Movies, there’s a small image of some studio buildings, but that vision doesn’t convey the tender joy of the first scroll around your studio’s grounds. You begin the game as an omniscient presence drifting around a Hollywood back lot. The pink roof and cream stucco exterior of the staff office are deliciously oversaturated; the framed movie posters on the front gate are meticulously designed. The radio cranks out a jaunty ragtime tune as you follow the tutorial, which is narrated in a sensuous woman’s voice and accompanied by cartoon bubbles of text. To set up a studio, you plunk down foundations for new buildings – accompanied by a massively satisfying thunderous crash and cloud of dust. Your godlike architectural decrees are followed by the can-do hustle of a building crew that scrambles from all directions to apply new walls to your framework. You can hear their little hammers maniacally tapping as they raise your new facilities.

With a slight touch of the scroll wheel, you can seamlesly pan the camera down into the line of aspiring actors in front of your new casting office. It’s hard not to break into a smile as you click on a 19-year-old actress and witness her surprise as she’s jerked off the ground with a cork popping *bop!* noise. She hovers helplessly a foot off the ground, frantically scrambling her arms and legs in a futile attempt to escape from your omnipotent grasp.

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