The traditional image of a studio honcho is something like Michael Lerner in Barton Fink: a gruff cigar-chomper who spends his days perched in a swiveling leather chair, occasionally pontificating about his grand vision, but leaving most of the day-to-day operations to his sycophantic lackeys. The Movies, an inspired new game created by Peter Molyneux (Black & White), turns that stereotype on its head. Running a lot may take more work than playing God—or at least the God who has to clean up after The Sims. The to-do list runs a mile long, from big tasks like watching over every production and expanding on the property to the minutiae of looking after the stars, which involves quelling fits, planting flower beds around their trailers, and dragging them from watering holes to rehab. And all of these tasks (and many more) don't even get to the heart of the game, which is making the actual movies.

You play the head of an upstart studio that opens its gate in 1920, an innocent time when audiences were entertained by silent two-reelers like your half-star barbell-lifting comedy The Baggage Boy. As the years pass, you have to manage a growing stable of actors, directors, and other staff members to compete with rival studios, increase your bankroll, and reap the benefits during awards season. This requires a lot of Tycoon-like empire-building and Sims-like personal maintenance, but your time is best spent on the movie-making feature, which could be a game unto itself. With a substantial number of shots at your disposal, you can assemble your own nonsensical features with options for lighting, wardrobe, and set decoration. Better still is a post-production house that allows you to layer the soundtrack with music and sound cues, and, if you have a microphone, homespun dialogue and Foley effects.

Beyond the game: Though it riffs endlessly on movie-star vanity, the game doesn't really evolve past the concept of a star system, so it feels mired in 1920, even as the movies themselves change complexion.

Worth playing for: Since there can't be much continuity between shots, every film plays as avant-garde, so it's fun making the shorts as abstract and ridiculous as possible. Start with the chicken suit.

Frustration sets in when: Pampering temperamental stars can be a grinding exercise in micromanagement. The more ambitious the production, the more tantrums they have.

Final judgment: There's nothing wrong with sweating the details, but hopefully the sequel will focus on the ones that make this game special.

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