Only in The Movies

By IAN MAISEL  |  August 11, 2006

Here’s one likely answer: if you’re interested in exploring the intricacies of the studio simulation without pouring 50 hours of time into painful experimentation, you’ll need to pony up for the $17 Prima Official Game Guide. In the guide, you’ll learn how to properly lay out your studio lot, how to make the characters flirt with each other, and how to create high-grossing movies in the shortest number of scenes. For example, the guide explains, audiences will pay a lot more to watch a “Making Out” scene than “Punch Wall.” C’mon, The Movies: how the hell was I supposed to know that?!

If you buy the manual and stick to its script, you can soon get to the fun part: winning awards, nurturing star relationships, and fixing up your sets before shoots. As in the actual Hollywood, the game offers an orchestra of bells and whistles when you achieve success. Similarly,  each failure is a unique stab in the heart. I don’t mind telling you that I had a hard time in the 1970s, when my carefully-groomed comedy superstars from the ’50s began to retire. Suddenly I needed to usher in a new crop of lame actors who hadn’t paid any dues – to add insult to injury, these new know-nothings refused to work unless I gave them access to stretch limos and long sabbaticals for new noses and huge boobs. What was happening to the industry?

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Take 6: The Game
In The Movies, as in Hollywood, you can’t just show up and start making movies. It takes about 10 years (in game time, although it often felt like real time) to unlock something called the Custom Scriptwriting Office. Once you’ve gained access it, you can drag a chunky blue script icon into the office and begin designing your own films – no more pre-fab scripts, Depression-era writers, and stock backgrounds. And that’s when the game’s genius sucked me right in.

There are dozens of sets to choose from, and each set has tons of different preset animations built into it. You can choose each character’s emotional state, alter the lighting, set the weather, and manipulate the camera angles. On the Urban Alleyway Set, you might have choices marked “Hysteria” or “Kung Fu Shots 1 – 3,” while in the Shabby Hotel you can shoot a “Making Out” scene (in the game’s score-keeping system, it’ll net you 80 points) and then cut to “Pick Up Weapon” (a mere 22 points). You can string together as many scenes as you like, slowly building a film over time.

Forcing virtual filmmakers to choose from a set of customizable options may have been a merely practical matter, the logical result of technical limitations. But you can also read this trope as a comment on movie making: there are no original ideas, only variations on a theme. In The Movies, when you open a set that appeals to your imagination, like “Sci-Fi, Starship Bridge 3,” you explore a menu of possible choices. One sequence, like the curiously titled “Captain’s Girlfriend,” might intrigue you, and then you start looking for other sequences that might build an interesting story around that moment.

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