With The ever-increasing convergence of films and games, it was only a matter of time before somebody made a game about the movie industry. Following a slew of abysmal game-to-film conversions, the chance to redress the balance has been taken up by Lionhead. Appropriately enough, the first public showing of The Movies came in London at BAFTA, as part of its Interactive Festival held in February. In front of an audience of game and film industry luminaries, Lionhead boss Peter Molyneux unveiled the latest build, which he and his team had been assembling until 3am the same morning, a year to the day since development began. Over the course of an hour, Molyneux explained the concept behind the game while his able assistant Adrian Moore put the embryonic code through its paces, the pair of them visibly relieved that it managed to hold together.
Lights, Camera, Action!
First impressions hint at the trademark Molyneux simulation, and if we were being flippant we could lazily describe it as 'Theme Movies'. However, as Molyneux explained, there's far more to The Movies than merely a Hollywood-flavoured Theme Park, although studio management does play a key role in the core game. Spanning over a century of film, from the early days of silent movies to the near future, the idea is to build and run a successful studio, turning a profit by releasing commercially viable movies.
Clearly, the variables involved in that formula are vast. As Molyneux admits: "How any movie is ever made, I'll never know. It's a system which absolutely terrifies me - it's quite bizarre." The same can be said of his game, although it can be broken down into three basic elements: building the studio, creating and managing your stars and making movies. The first part will be the most familiar to seasoned gamers, and as Molyneux admits, the similarities with Theme Park are evident. Buildings vary from restaurants to swimming pools to the ubiquitous trailers where actors while away the hours between takes.
Naturally, a smaller trailer will be less expensive, but this may only be a shortterm saving. Attempting to house your egotistical lead actor in a caravan more suited to a weekend in Colwyn Bay may cause repercussions that can jeopardise your movie.
This is expanded further in the second area of the game, which should appeal to those drunk on the mindless minutiae of strangers' lives, poring over celebrity gossip rags in search of a cheap fix of scandal to blot out the inevitable inferiority of their own meaningless existence. Films would be nothing without stars, and The Movies enables you to groom young starlets from the nascent days of precocious talent, through the inevitable sexual and narcotic indiscretions to the bloated plastic surgery excesses of their diminishing usefulness.
Using the morphing technology from Black & White, the facial appearance of stars will be tweakable in the extreme, enabling you to create a stable of stars based on your real-life favourites. The BAFTA demo boasted Nicole Kidman and Keanu Reeves, with a legal loophole ensuring that as long as you type the names in yourself, Lionhead is absolved from all misrepresentation. It hopes.
Shaving Ryan's Privates
And finally - and perhaps most interestingly - is the making of the actual movies themselves. Numerous decisions have to be made here, such as what genre to opt for, bearing in mind the real-life timeline that exists throughout the game. Attempting to make Star Wars in the 1920s may be ambitious, but it's also likely to confound the critics. And while introducing an on-screen kiss in the 1930s might be hailed as a risque stroke of genius, having your lead actress taken roughly from behind during the same period may see your studio closed down.
As for the practicalities of moviemaking, you will need the requisite actors, sets, technicians and people to operate cameras and sound, the quality of whom will affect the eventual outcome of the film. For instance, hiring a cheap soundman will result in your film being blighted by the perennial howler of the boom looming into view. Likewise, if you fail to keep your camera technology up to date, your modern flick will be screened in grain-o-vision. And the films in The Movies are more than mere concepts - we're talking watchable short films that can be emailed to friends or posted on a bespoke awards website, with the awards then imported back into the game.
The Movies is a somewhat bewildering concept to take in, and as you'd expect from Lionhead, it's an extremely ambitious project. If even half the ideas it's mooting work out, it should be a truly unique piece of software. As for providing an enjoyable, playable gaming experience, that will probably depend on what aspects are of particular interest to the individual player.
That Reminds Me...
Traditional management fans should enjoy the strategic and financial aspect of building the studio, whereas the creation of stars will be meat and drink to keen enthusiasts of The Sims. The parallels are clear to see, with dressing the stars up in various costumes an integral part of making movies. As Molyneux admits: "The Sims is a great inspiration. It's completely changed the profile of people playing computer games. It's a great example of allowing people to express themselves creatively and uniquely."
As for the films themselves, fans of cinema should be in their element, with opportunities to create homages to all your favourites, as well as home-grown avant-garde classics. Molyneux also predicts that more 'specialist' movies will be forthcoming: "I think we're going to see thousands of movies floating round the Internet, all totally unique, some of which I'm sure are going to be absolutely in the worst possible taste. I know there are going to be tons and tons of obscene movies coming out on the Web. One of the costumes is nakedness, which you can use if you want to - you can also enhance certain parts of the body, both male and female. That's going to result in some pretty bizarre movies."
While all the examples we saw were under a minute long, Molyneux insists that it will be possible to create a full-length movie, with the option to include your own voices for some truly creative output. There's even talk of attempting to get an entry in the Sundance Film Festival - certainly the machinima phenomenon (as covered in last issue's Special Report) will benefit from another way of producing quality CG movies.
"I think a lot of people will buy it for making their own movies, but then they'll get hooked on the game," says Molyneux. "The concept is pretty mass market because everyone knows the movies, but I'm trying to make a game that's as playable as The Sims and Theme Park." And one that lets you make amateur porn films.
If You've ever walked out of a movie seething with unbridled anger that you've just forked out the best part of a tenner for two hours of vacuous rubbish, then The Movies could be just the thing you've been looking for.
The game sees you taking control of a film production company between the early 1900s and 2010, and allows you to make your very own films, though as lead designer Adrian Moore explains, these won t always be full length. "To play the game you need to make mini movies that are 2-10 minutes long, but if you're just interested in making films then you can make full-length movies."
Since we last caught up with the project, The Movies has made some pretty major advances, especially in the graphics department. Our biggest advance in the last year has been a facial animation system for the actors, which means they can convey emotion as they act their scenes," says Adrian.
We also now have a full 3D engine which allows the player to zoom right into ground level and experience life in their studio, plus a new lighting engine that creates some great shadow effects. A quick glance at the screenshots on these pages confirms just how much progress the team has made in a relatively short space of time, with sets and characters now featuring a far more lifelike look and feel that'll add enormously to the believability of your movies.
But how will the movie creation process fit into the game's wider gaming mechanic, in which you have to run every aspect of a film studio? "You can have as much or as little freedom as you choose, states Adrian. If you want to focus on other areas you can simply commission a script, green light it and the movie is made without any input from you. But there is the facility for the player to control every single aspect of the filmmaking process if that is what they want to do. It depends on whether you're making films to win the game or for your own pleasure."
With the freedom to convincingly realise your visions and create celluloid masterpieces (or teen horror movies), you'll also have the chance to test your acting (in)ability by adding your own dialogue. And thanks to another newly implemented feature, your recorded words will be lip-synched perfectly by each actor.
But all that's just for starters, as Adrian claims that The Movies will also feature some highly advanced Al that'll allow your actors to intelligently interact with their sets. Actors will always behave in an appropriate manner to the setting thny'm in. so if you put thpm on a rooftop set they'll jump from roof to roof, put them in a bar and they'll play cards or brawl, and put them in a bedroom and well, I'm sure you can imagine that," Adrian explains. They also learn from experience so if you continually cast them in horror films they'll get better and better at that genre.
Your actors will also rack up experience every time they rehearse or are cast in a film, though some will be more temperamental than others. As such, you can expect to see hissy fits and flying Evian bottles as overpaid luwies storm off to their trailers mid-shoot because they can't find their motivation, or turn up half-cut with talcum powder spread liberally over their nostrils. Wait a minute, that's not talcum powder...
We've been excited by the prospect of The Movies for quite a while now, but with all of these improvements and innovations hopefully embellishing what was already looking like a potential blockbuster, our expectations have risen yet further Just think, in a few short months, you may never have to fork out ten quid to watch a bad film again. Oh no - you'll be able to make an even worse one in the comfort of your own home instead.
Now Not Even Virtual Actors Can Escape The Ravages Of Age
Plastic surgery. Botox injections. Nivea Visage. Paper bag over the head. The actors in The Movies may well have to resort to all four at some point in their careers thanks to the implementation of Black & White 2's creature aging technology into The Movies, which will see the game's stars change and age with every passing year. Our artists have created a database of 50 different male and female heads. You can mix each head with any other to create a truly unique face," explains 3D programmer Jean-Claude Cottier.
The artists have also created an aged version of each generic head, meaning we can age any of our faces automatically by using a linear blend between the young texture and the old one. Wrinkles form, liver spots appear and skin tone fades. We also make the eyes look older - less shiny and cataracts start to form - and their teeth become more yellow.
Add lip-synching to the mix and a full array of facial expressions and you're looking at some of the most lifelike characters every seen in a game. Throw in a splash of incontinence and a bit of dementia and the vision will be complete.
Since We last previewed it five issues ago, The Movies has undergone a major edit, with old code now littering the cutting room floor at Lionhead Studios. So when we were invited to see this potential blockbuster first-hand, it was impossible to refuse. The first thing that strikes you is the game's almost complete lack of onscreen icons. We've taken them away and replaced them with little bubbles that appear when you hover your mouse over something, explains Lionhead's founder and head Peter Molyneux.
We call them intelligent Tool Tips. In most games, you end up playing the whole game in the menu because that's where all of the information is. These Tool Tip bubbles mean you can play the game in the real gaming world, as they give you all of the information you need in the main part of the screen.
To prove his point, Molyneux hovers his mouse above a wannabe actor queuing outside a Stage School in a pre-built movie studio. Within a second, two bubbles sprout from the man, describing his strengths and weaknesses, as well as details about his temperament and appearance.
We want to make sure that anyone can pick up and play this game as quickly as possible, so we've added guiding streams that show you the most sensible thing to do with each character," Molyneux explains as he picks up the wannabe actor with a single mouse click, a subtle guiding stream meandering its way from the hovering man to the Stage School. These streams show you the best thing to do with each person. But you won't have to do what they tell you, as you can also do mad and crazy things with any character."
In this instance though, Molyneux follows the guiding stream into the Stage School, which features three separate rooms for creating star actors, extras and directors. With another single mouse click, he drops the character onto the Create Star room, and hey presto, a new star is bom - with no casting couch involved.
What's My Motivation?
Of course, once you've created your stars you have to maintain them - something that's easier said than done. With each and every character in The Movies carrying unique personalities and attributes, juggling the needs and wants of your star actors and directors is a near full-time job in itself.
Some stars will be very difficult to manage and you'll need to give them loads of pampering. As soon as they get pissed off, they start developing addictions or refusing to work," explains lead designer Mark Webley. Some stars will demand to be kept looking young and beautiful by having cosmetic surgery, or maybe you'll need to reinvent them," adds head of studio, Gary Carr.
Ultimately, your stars will be the main focus of the game and by helping them maintain good moods, you soon find yourself reaping the benefits at the box office - a happy actor gives a far better performance than a miserable one.
Just like in real life, the press plays a major role in giving your stars and movies exposure too, be it positive or negative. To demonstrate, Molyneux zooms into his studio lot, where a paparazzo is stalking his new star waiting for a photo opportunity. The more successful your studio, the more paparazzi will hang around your movie lot, explains Carr as we watch the trailing photographer take a snap of its prey. The thing is, you can manipulate your stars to be in certain situations to get them or your movies more exposure. You can pick up the paparazzi if you want and drop them where you want them, say near a restaurant where your leading stars are having a drink together. The game's as much about manipulating situations as it is about making movies. Next, we're taken on a tour of the Advanced Movie-Making screen, the place where your celluloid masterpieces will be forged. When you want to make your own movies, we teach you some of the secrets that the movie industry uses, Carr continues. One of these secrets is called The Hero's Journey', a template that most Hollywood movies use.
Just like The Hero's Journey, your movie will be broken down into several segments that chart the key events that happen to your main character. However, how and what you film for each segment is completely up to you. With a collection of literally thousands of scenes - each replete with a slider that enables you to change both the outcome and camera set-up for each and every one - the movie-making options available to you are immense. Add to this the ability to add your own perfectly lip-synched voiceovers to characters, who can depict genuine facial emotions, and you're left with what's looking like being a hugely powerful, versatile and what's more, superbly entertaining movie-making tool.
Without doubt, The Movies is shaping up beautifully, a game that could be as intuitive and accessible as it is powerful and compelling. With just a few months left before its release, you'll soon be able to see for yourself whether or not it can deliver on its clearly titanic promise, and enable us all to make everything from m schlock action thriller to cheesy sci-fi on our PC. Roll on Casablanca II: The Revenge.
Download The Movies
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode