Interviews

Looking back: The Movies

The story behind Lionhead's movie mogul sim that proved there's no business like showbusiness

The cinema has given us some truly great works: Casablanca, Dr Zhivago, `Poultrygeist: Attack Of The Chicken Zombies! ...the list is endless. But it's also brought us what we rate as the best game of last year, Lionhead's The Movies. We caught up with Sir Peter Molyneux and Mark Webley, executive designer and executive lead designer of the Guildford opus, and put them in the Developer's Commentary looking back limelight...

The Eureka! moment

Molyneux: I'd love to tell you that it came about from sitting down and saying, 'How can we make a successful title?', but it didn't. It was an idea that came to me one night - I woke up and thought, 'Why don't we make a game about the movie industry?' Run a studio, look after stars and create your own movies - that was the idea from the start. What happened next is that I came into Lionhead - and you have to remember we were already doing loads and nobody wanted to start another game! I just said to Mark: 'No. We have to do this.' And his first reaction, before he heard the idea, was, 'What the hell are you talking about?' But when we spoke about the idea together we both saw it had enormous potential. We both saw what we should do with the simulation side, having stars and the like, but the real issue was the movie-making side.

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Webley: Our history is Theme Park and Theme Hospital and we saw that bit very clearly, but the movie-making was the interesting challenge."

Roll camera!

Molyneux: For me, the first real crack of light in the movie-making was something called the twig - the little bar that let you decide what you wanted to happen. That was the first thing we really got implemented. We had one prototype that was two cowboys outside a bar; one extreme was they slapped each other like women and the other was one cowboy broke the other's arm and then kicked him. That then lead on to the idea that we would have lots of different scenes and allow people to change loads of different elements within them."

The interface dilemma

Molyneux: The big challenge wasn't thinking up good ideas - that's really piss-easy compared to everything else. The big problem with The Movies was always the interface. When we first started on it, everything was driven through menus and windows; so if you wanted to put a star in a movie, you'd select the movie, then click on the star and go through this big list. We realised about 18 months ago that we had this game set up, but that we just weren't involved in the movie world at all - there was no feeling that it was your own studio.

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Webley: We wanted to get you close to your stars and have you care about them. You were spending so much time in a 'football manager' kind of mode and this just took you away from the studio too much. When we sat down and watched other people play it, we realised that something wasn't right.

Molyneux: If we were creating an action game then it would have been much easier to think, 'Right, now we need a monster to come out'. But it's much harder to nail down what the real compulsive elements of something like The Movies are.

Warts and all

Molyneux: At one point in the game, there was drug addiction and sex addiction; our inspiration was the stories we'd heard from Hollywood. You don't hear them so much these days, but in the '70s, '80s and the Marilyn Monroe era, it was all about these famous people just living the most extreme lifestyle imaginable. There's lots of things we talked about that didn't make it to the game - we talked about different locations, having your movie lot in different places and having more of a town around the movie studio so that your star's entourage meant something. I'd say the endgame only implemented a quarter of what we talked about.

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