When we were invited to Lionhead Studios to see its potential blockbuster The Movies first-hand, it was impossible to refuse.
The first thing that strikes you is the game's almost complete lack of on-screen 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 born - 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."