Only in The Movies

By IAN MAISEL  |  August 11, 2006

Soon you can zoom in and watch your first film being made in real time. The director gets out of his plywood chair, barks incoherently into his megaphone, and your young crew stumbles around, setting up an old-fashioned movie camera in front of a crude stage set. Your freshly groomed actor walks onto the stage, lifts his fake barbell up, and lurches comically around. The director yells “Cut!”, the crew applauds, and a few scenes later you’ve got your first awful movie in the can, where it belongs.

Your first couple of hours inside The Movies offers many playful moments like this, with beautifully orchestrated sound effects perfectly matched with wacky, comically exaggerated, Sims-style animations. These small touches bring continual pleasure to the user, partly because of their crisp, bouncy execution, and party because the complexity of the game slowly expands, rotating more and more activities and variations into the game play.

The next breath-taking moment of the game occurs when you release your movie to an audience. You’re invited into a screening room. The credits roll, and the game gives your flick that old-time movie feel -- blown out, high-contrast blacks and whites; a jerky, awkward frame rate; and the crackly lines of aged film stock. I was overjoyed to watch my first movie playing and felt a real tremble of excitement with the anticipation of how far I could push the game’s tools to create my own movies.

Take 4: Callbacks
After I watched my old-school debut a couple of times, the euphoria wore off: I had to get back to learning the business. The repetitive, kooky piano music kicked out through my studio as I worked to get my start in this crazy industry. When I released a finished film to my adoring public, I was instantly gratified with the sound of a projector running at full steam. From there, I would gleefully review several pages of reports about the movie. I got to see how much experience everyone in the film gained, and therefore, what future projects they might be suitable for. I scanned clips from the newspaper reviews of my films, and it was amusing to get panned – especially if the films made lots of money anyway. The critics couldn’t stop a slickly-made star vehicle with high production values.

When a new movie was released, the star’s mood-bar would jump up and burst into the healthy green zone. He was suddenly hot stuff, and as his star rating skyrocketed, he inevitably wanted more money for his next film. If I could get him into a new movie immediately, his good mood would rub off on everyone and he’d actually put in a better performance.

Take 5: Academy Awards
The Movies comes with a hilariously inadequate 39-page instruction manual that explains virtually nothing more than you’d learn in the first two hours of gaming. Unless you can intuit the subtle mechanics of the game, the only way to play the game is to run your shit like an angry pimp: just slap everyone around and stay focused on getting paper. After all, this is Hollywood: it’s really just too fucking hard to do things the right way while also staying on schedule and turning out critically acclaimed films. While this may mirror the priorities of the actual moviemaking industry, it also seemed like a drawback: why would a company put millions of dollars into developing a game and then neglect to include the documentation on how to make use of it?

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