Have You Played… The Movies?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

“I think we made a terrible mistake with The Movies,” says Peter Molyneux in this interview, because of course he does, but I’m not sure I agree with his assessment. The Movies wasn’t frustrating because it was frantic, exactly, but because it too often dragged you away from the creative promise at its core in order to nanny the egos and alcoholism of actors.

Hey, maybe that’s what its really like in Hollywood.

Before release, Molyneux made The Movies sound perfect for me, because of course he did. I was into machinima at the time, noodling about with community-made Unreal Tournament tools and downloading awkward, poorly-animated videos from nascent creators via FilePlanet. I loved the idea of a game that combined the satisfaction of Theme Park-style management with a creative suite that let you more easily make your own short films.

In practice, The Movies doesn’t quite deliver on either: that creative suite is limited in terms of what you can make, and the management game splits your time between being the fantasy of heading a studio and the tedium of nannying people. I think Lionhead hoped they might marry the charm of Bullfrog management games together with the more human and relatable aspects of then-recent The Sims, but the ball and chain slows down the fantasy of the game too much.

But the other way in which I disagree with Molyneux is that I don’t there is any “terrible” mistake here; The Movies isn’t a great game, and it doesn’t live up to those Molyneux-painted dreams, because of course it doesn’t, but it is still a good game and an interesting, more modern, too often forgotten partner to older, better Molyneux work.

The Movies doesn’t seem to be available to buy digitally anymore outside the US, but second-hand copies can be found cheap. I’m not selling mine.

30 Comments

  1. BooleanBob says:

    I haven’t, and I’m really not sure why. It looked pretty fun – the concept is an easy sell, a real match made in heaven for the classic Molyneux interview pitch – but my computer wouldn’t run it at the time. I wonder if it’ll ever wind up on Steam or GOG.

    • BlacKHeaDSg1 says:

      After checking forums/twitter/fb profile, sadly they care only about Fable …

  2. Smoky_the_Bear says:

    I agree with some of this.

    The movies was great until you got so far into the game. The sense of humor was great and the premise drew you in.
    I do agree with Molyneux on the main point though. Sadly the game degenerated into a game of “spinning plates”. Constantly having to increase actors ratings, hammer out new scripts, build new stuff seemed like a constant and unrelenting clickfest that saw you going bankrupt if you weren’t playing it at a similar speed one would do with competitive Starcraft.
    I think you are right though, remove some of the tedious micromanagement (where’s that actor gone?………oh, he’s taking the worlds longest shit…..again), and maybe the feeling of juggling too many things at once would have been reduced somewhat.

    • djbriandamage says:

      Well put. For me, the game would have been more enjoyable if there was less focus on managing the lot and more on managing the people and projects. The personalities and auditions and productions were all a lot of fun to work with, and the machinima tools were great, but when I started having to position bushes and toilets my interest tapered.

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      distantlurker says:

      I had no problem with the micromanagement, hell, I really enjoyed the frantic pace of the game.

      The BIG MISTAKE you’re looking for was the fact that if you just tried to play the game and do a decent job, you wouldn’t win anything after the first few years.

      Without an internet guide showing you the predetermined route to perfection you’d never have stumbled upon in a hundred playthroughs, your studio would be mired in mediocrity for the last half a Century.

      • colw00t says:

        I really enjoyed the Movies but it was definitely a couple of balance passes (or one good fan-patch) away from being “right.” The core concept was fantastic, it was just wonky.

      • Smoky_the_Bear says:

        The pace was definitely offputting for me so, no tbh, that was the BIG MISTAKE, in my opinion. I don’t see why a game like that needs playing at 100 clicks per minute. Never felt that I couldn’t achieve anything without an internet guide with the right script and buildings etc although I will agree, you needed to be lucky.
        Having the right buildings at the right time was something that was difficult to judge (and mostly learned through experience) but a lot of the problem was you just didn’t have time to think or experiment. Everything had to be done at a frantic pace that just kept increasing exponentially the further you got into the game.

        I pretty much was able to do well up to a certain point around the 1970s if I recall correctly, after that I always ended up restarting because honestly the game became very unenjoyable for me once the lot was filled up and I had a gazillion staff to deal with. Throw town planner into the mix, having to decide what to knock down to replace with newer stuff constantly just added to the misery.

    • draglikepull says:

      Agree. There were some great aspects to the game, but it bogged down in micromanagement. I liked laying out the lot, picking scripts, and so forth (and I loved watching the movies play out), but there are just way too many minor details to keep track of. Also, the game moves really slowly. I don’t know if I ever got more than 10-20 years into a game, so I don’t even know what the mid-to-modern era sets or movies look like.

  3. Chalky says:

    I really enjoyed this game, it’s such a shame it’s not available any more because god knows what happened to my ye olde cd-rom copy.

    • bptrav says:

      That’s funny because one of the supposed “advantages” of physical media is that you will be able to play your games 10-20+ years later without worrying about DRM, download servers, etc (according to the anti-Steam/digital people). That all goes out the window if your disc gets lost/thrown away/scratched though.

      I can still re-download Half Life 2 on Steam as many times as I want, and that’s an older game than “The Movies”. I could even recommend it to a friend and they could easily buy it still.

  4. Phinor says:

    I have played, and I would absolutely love to play it again but as you said, the whole package (game+expansion) just isn’t available digitally at all and dirty physical copies of the expansion seem to be very rare too. Expired license issues? I’d buy it instantly if it was released again on Steam for example. Probably my favourite Molyneux game despite the fact that I played Populous 2 on Amiga back in the day. Ok, fair enough, Theme Park is right up there with The Movies but I prefer the theme of The Movies by far.

    • Cei says:

      Odd, I have The Movies and its expansion in my Steam library. Looks like it has been removed from sale though.

      • Phinor says:

        I think it was never available on Steam outside of North America, and even in North America it was removed years ago but obviously if you were lucky enough to buy it early on, you’ll keep it forever.

        Also: I’m jealous.

        • Cei says:

          I’m in the UK? ;)

          According to Steam, they were bought 7/2/2008.

          • Phinor says:

            I can’t find any reliable documentation but maybe it was available in the UK as well? I don’t remember ever being able to access the Steam page from Finland but of course I could be wrong there too. Regardless, it’s been gone for a long time and this should be unacceptable. It might be number one on my “bring the game back” list especially now that GOG has brought plenty of good games back already.

  5. fickelbra says:

    My friends and I got a lot of fun out of just using the movie making capabilities. We loved making avatars of ourselves and making completely stupid movies with our voices overdubbed. Definitely a game I’d love to see again.

  6. Cei says:

    I enjoyed The Movies on the whole, it was a really nice concept and I heartily enjoyed the building aspects, along with hiring star power and slowly developing a nobody in to a superstar.

    What I didn’t like was somehow trying to keep churning out endless movies with no breaks, ever, on basically the same sets as tech development took too long. I agree that it turned in to ludicrous micromanagement that became impossible to keep up with..which ended up with me quitting out of the game in frustration.

    I’d like to see a sequel actually, one that fixes these problems.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      Yeah this was the problem. To stop from going bankrupt it was necessary to constantly be filming movies and writing scripts as well as levelling up your actors and directors. It really gave you no time to enjoy the creative aspects of the game which was a shame.

    • Sucram says:

      Enjoyed it as well and it would have been nice to have seen a sequel.

      Reading previews I honestly expected The Movies to be a massive hit. The concept was great and being able to share the films online seemed like it would spark some viral popularity.

      As it was the game seemed to fade into obscurity fairly fast. It did have balance issues, but nothing a patch couldn’t have fixed.

  7. Tomo says:

    Yes I have, and I absolutely loved it. So much so that I finished it in 2 days.

    It was a while ago, but I thought it was brilliant. Every bit as good as Theme Hospital. I loved managing the movie stars, creating my studio, watching actors ham-up each movie with each new set.

    It’s one of the most underrated games ever made for me.

  8. Gothnak says:

    I sit next to the guy who made it if that helps? :)

  9. Drake Sigar says:

    The focus seemed too split between managing a movie studio lot and creating your own movies, and ended up not doing either particularly well. Still had a lot of charm though, the actors could be named and they aged over the years so you’d have to find different roles for them. Creating your own movies was easy if limited, basically baby’s first machinima. I spent a lot of time in the vibrant Lionhead community forums reviewing other movies and hold the people in high regard. Nowadays the website has sadly been dismantled and re-purposed as a Fable platform.

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      mecreant says:

      I’ve always felt that the movies should have been two separate games that could be played independently or joined together. That would have allowed them to fully flesh out both aspects of the game and create a real classic.

  10. Sparkasaurusmex says:

    This is one of my favorite games ever! I reinstall this every couple of years for some marathon sessions. I really wish there more games like it. Brilliant mix of tycoon, time management and design type games. I really wish there was a sequel that improved on the movie making part, allowing more creativity in the actual movies.

    Games like Game Dev Tycoon (or whatever it’s called) are close, but they lack the charm of The Movies and also have very little creativity involved in making the games (really there’s none). I also love designing the studio layout.

  11. coppernaut says:

    When this came out, me and a friend had so much fun and laughed our asses off making a gangster movie with this game. Good times. We didn’t get much else out of it.

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    Neurotic says:

    Ah ha! Perfect opportunity for me to drop a link to a piece I wrote on old Peter of the Molyneux for our own friendly gaming blog, xp4t.com. I’m not really one for the old self-promotion thing, but I know that people do love to hate on the man so, so perhaps I’m doing a public service? Here it is anyway, but be warned: I really like the man, and his games, and so you’ll need lots of ire to make a dent: link to xp4t.com

  13. FMAN71 says:

    Although the single player was lacking, I loved the Movie Making!!

    I made several short films 10-20 minutes long using the movie making tools. The expansion pack was key because it let you make cuts and gave you greater control over the camera so even though the animations were limited you could tell a story in unlimited ways using the editing tools.

  14. Billards says:

    Anyone want a fun bit of triva? No? Too bad.

    Some of the employees take their names from then-PCZone contributors who previewed the game during development. I think there are some names from other PC magazines in there too. Anyway, there you have it.

  15. Jackablade says:

    It’s kind of surprising that we haven’t really seen anyone else have a crack at a concept like this. Running a film studio seems like it has an enormous amount of potential as a setting for an economic strategy game.

    • Vurogj says:

      Well, there is Hollywood Movie Studio, which is spreadsheet-y film studio game. Sadly, the one-man band failed a kickstarter for a 4th game in the series in 2013 and isn’t really interested in sharing the load.
      Also Showtime, which is up on Steam, but I think the dev has gone for the “meh, this version wouldn’t be cost-effective to improve further, better roll onto the sequel”, so also be aware.
      Oh, and having dug a little, theres (another) one-man band making Movie Business, which would be great if this was 1999, as that’s what the game looks like.

      Get those three people in the same room and there’s potential…