capsule review

The Movies

At a Glance
  • Feral Interactive The Movies

    Macworld Rating

So you wanna be in the pictures, eh? Here’s your big chance to be a Hollywood mogul—Feral Interactive has, at last, shipped the Macintosh conversion of The Movies.

The Movies, developed by Peter Molyneux’s Lionhead Studios prior to its acquisition by Microsoft, is a sort of tycoon game, similar to Rollercoaster Tycoon or Zoo Tycoon, with elements of The Sims liberally mixed in. What’s more, a lot of actual moviemaking goes on here too.

One word of early warning: If the game appears to “hang” on installation, don’t sweat it—it’s putting some really large files on your hard disk and doesn’t act very smart. But it does work; just be patient. It’s an issue that Feral is aware of.

The Movies starts out in the Roaring ’20s, complete with an overdramatic, tinny radio announcer and flapper fashions. You’re starting an upstart studio at the dawn of the movie age, making silent black-and-white films as inexpensively as possible in the back lot of your studio. You progress year after year, decade through decade, building your studio’s fortunes as you expand its repertoire, hire and fire movie star and director talent, hire crew and extras, and find people to take care of the lot. As your fortunes expand, so do the options you have to build the movie studio of your dreams, complete with research department, scriptwriters, bar (and corresponding rehab center), post-production facility, and more.

The game features a lot of tutorial help to get you started, which is great, as you’ll really need it. Whenever you add a new, advanced feature like a post-production studio, a sequence of movies will introduce you about what to do and set you through the process.

As time goes on and as your fortunes grow, so do the demands of the talent—they’ll start asking for pay raises as their movies make the studio money; then they’ll ask for trailers. Then they’ll ask for you to take care of their entourages. If they develop a self-image problem, you’ll need to give them a makeover. If they develop a drinking problem, you’ll need to send them to rehab. Have enough problems with one of your stars, and send him or her packing.

Hooray for Hollywood : The Movies puts you in the role of a big-budget Hollywood studio owner, and you can get up close and personal with your stars and directors, watching the action right on the set.

Taking care of the talent is pretty central to the game—making sure your directors and stars are happy directly affects the quality of the product they make, along with the capabilities of the crew and lot workers. So tending to the emotional needs of your staff, a la The Sims, is a crucial part of the game.

So is laying out the studio lot, and that requires a deft hand like Rollercoaster Tycoon 3. You’ve got to make sure that you have all the facilities you need to make movies, and keep making movies, as well as take care of your stars. The more money you make, the faster you can do things like invest in new sets, which will improve the novelty of your movies, or the development of new technology. That’s vital—use the same set for three or four films and the audiences won’t want to see the next one. You have to strike while the iron is hot.

Awards are similarly important—the more prestigious your studio is compared to other studios the game tracks, the more likely you are to have a constant supply of new talent—cast, crew and support staff. If your movies are making money but your studio isn’t very well-respected in the industry, you may have trouble attracting new talent, and that means you might have to pull off staff working on one project to work on another—making a set builder a member of the crew may get your movie into production faster, but it means that the sets will take longer to build.

This would be enough, as any The Sims or Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 players can attest to, but that’s not all that’s here. If you create an advanced script studio, for example, you can craft your own scripts, assembling them scene by scene by putting together storyboards. And you can also improve the quality of your movies by setting up a post-production studio, where you can judiciously edit and recut your movie, loop dialogue and add a soundtrack.

Yeah, you can do all that in The Movies. It’s pretty rich for a strategy game—it’s a bit like a game version of putting together an iMovie. Having said that, I don’t see that putting a huge amount of effort into how your movies are written or edited really affects the pace of gameplay at all—you can leave it up to the “experts” just as easily, and get great results. You can even export your movie to QuickTime and share it with others.

That’s one aspect that really sets Feral’s work with The Movies apart from “the average” Mac game conversion. Feral has gone above and beyond with this, incorporating Mac-specific features. You can use your iTunes library (excluding DRM-protected songs) in post-production, for example. Or you can use GarageBand. You can use sound samples from GarageBand Jam Packs, as well as iMovie effects and samples. Feral also has included Telestream’s Flip4Mac Studio software, which enables you to import and export Windows Media Video files (used for exchanging The Movies movies with other users).

Alas, all of Feral’s work in creating this Macintosh conversion wasn’t without flaw—as I wrote this review, Feral acknowledged a graphics problem that caused artifacts to appear on the screen on some Macs. Feral indicated it was working on a fix.

Micromanagement is a famous problem in Hollywood, and a lot of that is required here—you need to keep an eye on movie productions, make sure your scriptwriters aren’t dawdling, make sure you have enough groundskeepers to take care of the property, and so on. It’s busy work, for sure, but that’s what strategy games are all about.

A timeline clicks on at the top of the screen, and it’s in play, and while radio announcers chatter away, you can keep an eye and ear out on “real world” events. It’s good to keep your movies timely depending on what’s happening, as the audience will want to escape their real-life woes.

As time goes on, your talent ages—they’ll eventually retire, too. That’s one of the reasons it’s so desperately important that you at least get nominated for awards when the industry starts giving them (in 1925). Without a fresh influx of talent and development of new technology, movie critics will pan your films, they won’t generate a lot of revenue, and you won’t have a lot of respect in the industry.

The bottom line

The Movies is a fun strategy game for anyone who’s been interested in the business side of making movies. A lot of micromanagement and a few technical glitches get in the way.

At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Mac-specific features like iTunes integration and Flip4Mac Studio
    • Tons of tutorial info

    Cons

    • Buggy graphics
    • Glitchy installer
    • Lots of micromanagement
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