The Movies

The Movies: homage to Hollywood, or a parody in the form of a management sim?

The flimsy sets held together with gaffer-tape we can accept. The queue of desperate hopefuls pleading for a moment of fame outside our agent's office raises a smirk. Even funnier: our blockbuster production haemorrhaging resources because the lead actor is a drunk.

But enforcing the application of The Hero's Journey to churn out user-created epics... that's more than parody. It's cynicism.

The Hero's Journey is an infamous device used in Hollywood scriptwriting classes, a five-step plan at the heart of every formulaic film.

On the wall of Lionhead's spacious boardroom, that formula is laid out pat. A hero of humble origin (part one - Departure) is forced into a great journey or quest (part two - Initiation). The quest can be physical or internal (part three - Dragon Battle).

He meets his ideal partner along the way (part four - Romance). Then it's the finale, and the return home (part five - Return).

"The Hero's Journey will ruin films for you," chuckles Lionhead's supremo, Peter Molyneux. "You can't look at anything without comparing the story to the steps in the plan."

The Hero's Journey is the reason The Movies can work. Lionhead's huge team of artists fill a cavernous hanger of an office, a good football pitch's worth of cubicles and curious animation folk, and they're busy prepping hours and hours worth of sequences based around the steps of The Hero's Journey, applied to every genre.

It's an ideal modular template into which we will be free to plug in our chosen stars, props, sets and scripts, simply by dragging them off the lot, and onto the stage.

That freedom was put to the test in a movie-making competition between Lionhead's staff. "We got a lot of homosexuality. I mean, a LOT of homosexuality," says Peter, slightly bemused. "I don't know what that says about Lionhead."

He shows us a highly rated entry: Happy Gays, complete with a breast-obsessed Fonzie and a rambling, barely audible amateur voice-over.

There's another revelation at the heart of The Movies. It's the realisation that management games don't have to be about endless screens of statistics, economics, and balancing columns of figures.

"I was playing The Movies a couple of months ago," explains Peter, "and I realised that all I was doing was flipping between chart after chart. I wasn't actually seeing my studio. We had to sit down and completely redesign the interface."

Now management is physical, more hands-on. Information appears as interconnected bubbles - and only when you request it. You don't just order stars onto a set, you drag them out of rehearsals and onto the stage. Movie scripts are physical objects, as are sets and props, even the staff.

Drag one piece on to another for surprising reactions. Handymen and starlets go well together. So do best boys and your leading man, but that's Hollywood. Scripts and handymen. Writers and booze. The potential for self destruction is... enormous.

In turn, that should birth something special. The Hero's Journey is about to begin.

The Movies is out for PC in the autumn. A release date for the PS2, Xbox and Gamecube versions is yet to be confirmed