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To be perfectly honest, just managing your stars is work enough. Not only are they neurotic, insecure and fiercely jealous of each other’s salaries, trailers and entourages (which you had better set about providing), they also need regular image updates and help with alcohol or eating habits. If you’re a studio boss in the classic David O. Selznick mode, you can even control their hair, make-up and dress to the Nth degree (real men will head straight for the auto-makeover option).
Three things ensure that all this is more fun than it otherwise might be. Firstly, there is a real sense of achievement when you get your first few movies made. You keep your fingers crossed when the ratings come through, wince at the critical reviews, and thrill when it hits the box office with a splash. After a while, the novelty wears off a little, and its then you notice the game’s very British sense of humour: the excessively lavatorial notices when a star wanders off into the rest room, the oddball comments from the radio announcers that perfectly lampoon the anti-cinema snobbery of the 20s, or the McCarthy paranoia and moral hysteria of the fifties. People had fun when they made it, and wanted you to have fun when you played it.
However, the best thing is that the game is informed, through and through, with a real love of old-fashioned Hollywood magic. It’s there in the symphonic themes, the titles, the creaky old Flash Gordon sets and western saloons, banks and street scenes. If you love the movies, you’ll love The Movies. It’s as simple as that.
But is it a love that lasts? As a Tycoon game, The Movies does have its problems. Like Theme Park before it, there’s a time when the thrill of new movies, new sets and new stars wanes, and it isn’t helped that after thirty years or so of game time, the whole thing starts to snarl up. Your stars become a little too difficult, it seems impossible to keep them working or help them build relationships with each other – one of the essentials of decent movie-making, it appears – and the game gets stupidly stingy with new recruits. You might think wannabe stars would be queuing up all the time, but you’re wrong, and other essential workers are just as difficult to find. It’s quite possible that I’ve been doing something horribly wrong, but this problem isn’t even realistic. When the Hollywood studio system was at its height, few stars had careers playing basically the same roles that lasted for decade after decade, and there was always a new wave ready to replace them. So why all the shortage of talent looking for work?