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When I'm not smashing
through tables, one of my greatest strengths has grown to be management
simulators. My ability to get inside an industry and make it work as a
game has been well-honed over the years by numerous wrestling games and,
most recently, the music simulator Popscene. Despite a muted
reception amongst action fans, the latter still reigns as my most
successful game outside of wrestling (both commercially and creatively).
It kick-started a whole new era of well-presented projects, and now the
trend comes full circle with the inevitable movie sequel: "Popcorn".
Boasting all the usual improvements that come with time, it promises to be
infinitely superior to its musical predecessor...
As the title suggests, Popcorn
is very much a sequel to last year's Popscene. Everything, from the the
presentation to the concept itself, harks bark to that first instalment.
Although ignorant men will attribute that to "laziness", it's actually a
deliberate attempt to produce a consistent series. Afterall, this is simply "Popscene
goes Hollywood" - and any attempt to avoid that would do more harm than good.
That said, the game has taken strides towards establishing its own style. Most
noticeably, the blue & white colour scheme of Popscene has given way to a
black & white variation for this game (which is surprisingly superior!). Even
the logo, despite its similarities, has made its own statement with a movie reel
motif running throughout the background. What remains are a series of pleasantly
familiar screens that let us dive straight into an exciting new concept...
The game even manages to make the concept
surprisingly familiar! The tried-and-tested formula of "entertainment versus
artistry" returns for this version, and once again manages to capture the
essence of the industry in question. In the same way that Popscene
required you to produce material that would then be fulfilled on stage, this
game asks you to write a series of scripts that will then be brought to life on
screen. A project consists of 5 such scenes - each of which are rated in terms
of entertainment and artistry. Writers and directors are responsible for those
qualities at the scripting stage, whilst actors and performers serve the same
purpose when it comes to filming. It's a simple but effective system, which is
tremendously satisfying to watch unfold. Lest we forget, the movie business
hasn't been successfully simulated in over 20 years of game development - so
it's a triumph of game design that we have anything remotely coherent...
In true MDickie style,
even the process of writing is a graphical experience! Upon selecting to write
(or re-write) a scene, your choice of writer and director are whisked off to a
humble office to toil over a computer. Their resulting script is then revealed
with the combination of stars and hearts that we saw in Popscene (based
on the talents of those involved). However, you can only go through this process
once per week - and even then it's unlikely that you'll stumble across your
perfect script right away. As in real life, writing is a terribly gradual
process - whereby you slowly mould a project worth shooting. For the sake of the
game, there's even an element of risk involved - as each re-write replaces your
existing material (regardless of whether it was superior or not!). Impatient
players will find themselves crippled by dire scripts, whereas those willing to
invest in the process will emerge with award-winning material...
The writing process is the
backbone of any project, because it dictates how good the resulting footage
could possibly be. Once a scene has been delivered, you can then go out on
location and try to do it justice on camera. If the writing process was
graphical then this one certainly is - allowing you to compose your perfect
scene by interacting with everything from the camera and atmosphere to each
individual actor! You move each character anywhere you want and decide what
stance they take, before adjusting the lighting and pointing the camera at your
ideal shot. The game then takes a precise screenshot of the action, which will
then serve as a symbolic reminder of the scene. During this process, the scene
is treated to the same rating process that you saw at the script stage - as you
anxiously wait to see how your footage has turned out. The performing skills of
the characters involved dictate how entertaining it will be, whilst acting
skills are required to hold up the artistic end of things. Again, it's a gradual
process that will require numerous takes before the perfect cut is in the can...
Of course, all of the characters
that get the above work done need to be hired as surely as you assembled a band
in Popscene. Once you've established yourself as a producer, you have 7
other slots with which to construct an 8-man crew. That may sound miniscule
compared to the hundreds of people that go into making a real movie, but it's
all part of the game's quest for simplicity. Here, your "crew" consists merely
of writers, directors, and the cast of stars that will make it all happen. Any
remaining roles are dealt with symbolically elsewhere in the game. You'll
appreciate the concise roster when it comes to things like financial breakdowns,
which can remain as graphical as they were in Popscene - with a clear
diagram displaying how much each character is draining from your weekly
Tale Of The Tape
As ever, deciding who to employ
is no empty gesture. There are well over 100 characters in the game's universe,
and each one is unique in terms of appearance, personality, and talent. Many of
the attributes will be familiar to fans of previous games. "Popularity" and
"Reputation" indicate their star power and credibility respectively, while
"Attitude" and "Happiness" indicate their mental state. New to this game are
"Directing" and "Writing", which govern their ability to deliver the respective
content - while "Performing" and "Acting" serve as the on-screen equivalent. Of
course, no one man is perfect (and they certainly won't have time to play all
roles!) - so you'll soon be constructing an ensemble cast that can share the
responsibility of getting the job done...
Let's Do Lunch
Getting the characters on board
can be a game in itself! The infamous contract negotiation screen from previous
games has made an inevitable return for this outing. Although it may look
similar in most ways, the change of concept has steered things in a
different direction. It's best described as an amalgamation of both Popscene
and Booking MPire, as you negotiate salaries as well as royalties. You're
free to mix and match each figure (in addition to a juicy signing-on fee) in a
bid to secure the services of your ideal character. However, the movie business
also gives them more to complain about than ever! In addition to the standard
objections about working conditions, these prima donnas can also voice concern
about the quality of your project. As in real life, you can forget about signing
a major star if you haven't got a script worthy of their talents...
Dressed To Kill
Once you do have a character on
board, you can get your money's worth by adjusting everything about their act -
from their demeanour to their costume. Despite the game's managerial roots,
Popcorn is actually the most graphically impressive game yet - and features
the debut of a brand new character model that's been refined from head to toe!
You can enjoy dressing these skeletons with any combination of hundreds of
textures - many of which are also new and improved for this game. We even have
the return of the "plastic surgery" option from Popscene, which allows
you to change a character's build and facial features in an amusing little
cut-scene! Of course, there's also the legitimate editor to unlock - which lets
you go beneath these cosmetics to build your own stars from scratch. Such
all-conquering powers need to be hard-earned in the game though...
If that's not enough, you can
customize a character further by assigning props to their hands. Like the
weapons from a fighting game, these range from guns to all manner of blades -
and even domestic items like cigarettes and beer bottles! Far from a gimmick,
these accessories have a very real effect on your project. As in real life, a
distinctive prop is designed to boost a character's entertainment qualities at
the expense of acting and sophistication. If you're intent on making an action
film, you can load a scene with cheap gimmicks to play to a character's
strengths (or hide their weaknesses). Everything comes at a price though, so a
reliance on props will soon do more damage to your bank balance than a Samurai
Game Of The Living Dead
In addition to props, you can
also sell your soul to the art of make-up. The gore that happened accidentally
in other games is now an official option that you can assign to characters as
surely as any other part of their costume! As with the props, this gimmick
boosts entertainment further yet at the expense of artistry - and makes those
cheap action flicks all too tempting. Quite what you use the effect for is down
to your imagination. It can either be used to portray a battle-scarred hero or a
blood-stained corpse. In fact, the all-over scarring is so good for an "undead"
look that I even added a zombie walking animation to complete the illusion!
Considering how superfluous most
of this on-screen activity is, it's surprising to see how much detail has gone
into the visuals. In addition to brand new models and textures, we also have the
best animations yet to go with them. There are literally dozens of different
stances and gestures - covering everything from fighting to fornicating! Yes, to
my eternal shame it's possible to make porn films in this game. If you like your
romance a little more subtle, however, you can settle for innocent hugging and
kissing interactions. The more unusual animations even extend to things like the
Superman flight pose - which actually floats in mid-air, allowing you to
position the actor anywhere in 3D space! All in all, it's possible to put
together practically any scene you can imagine - with hilarious consequences
that can be as fun as the game itself...
Set To Go
In addition to the new and
improved characters, and everything that goes with them, we also have the most
impressive line-up of locations seen in any game yet. Although many of these are
effortlessly borrowed from previous projects, at least half of them are brand
new sets specifically designed for this game. And, naturally, they're the best
efforts yet - featuring much improved modelling and texturing all round. The new
sets range from the indoors of a prison, apartment block, and cafeteria, to the
sprawling outdoors of a suburban street, highway, and even an alien planet! They
certainly pushed my modelling skills to the limit, and the results are right
there on screen to bring variety to your projects...
Back To The Future
Even the old locations have been
re-mastered for use in this game. As you can see, the bar now features a pool
table - which is even accompanied by a pool cue prop to hold. There are also
several other tiny modifications such as improved textures here and there.
the most familiar of sets can take on a new life with the introduction of
"extras"! When scheduling a location (which you do as surely as you scheduled a
venue in Popscene), you can specify whether to invite extras to the set
or not. The location will then benefit from a few cardboard cut-out's lurking in
the background. As with props and make-up, doing so boosts entertainment yet
again at the expense of artistry - only on a more universal level rather than
from character to character. It's an equally expensive way to work too, as it
doubles the cost of arranging a location...
The Suggestion Box
Wherever you go on location, the
project always leads back to your office. In addition to being the site of your
pre-production work, this is also where you grant an audience to your employees.
In what has become a staple of my management games, the weeks are interspersed
by a wide variety of meetings and suggestions - to which you can answer in
either the affirmative or the negative. With this game, those suggestions can
range from how to play a given character to more intrusive demands such as
re-writing a scene or changing the course of the project! Any plans you had of
becoming a control freak are thwarted by the fact that each knock-back damages
an employee's happiness and attitude. If you keep shooting somebody down then
they'll eventually grow to resent your leadership...
Meet The Parents
Of course, the most important
"meetings" you have are with the bosses of each studio. In an effort to mirror
Popscene's universe, here we have a selection of 6 similar organizations.
They're a clichéd bunch, but as far as a game is concerned they're distinctive
enough to do the job. "Class Act" is the firmly established home of movie
veterans. "Magic In Motion" is the blockbusting home of popular culture.
"Blueprint Productions" is the sanctuary of understated artists that are serious
about their films. And the big 4 are completed by "Raw Reels" - which, by
contrast, is the home of tawdry action flicks. In addition to those, we also
have the obligatory "Film School" and "Deceased" pools. Naturally, you start at
school - where you must toil with very few resources until you deliver a project
that shows potential. Thereon, you'll be invited to discuss terms with one of
the major studios - each of which have their own unique benefits (both
creatively and financially)...
The struggle doesn't stop once
you land a deal though! Once a studio has invested in you, it won't be long
before they expect to see results. As surely as you have meetings with your
employees, these studio bosses keep you on track with suggestions of their own.
These demands can range from hiring a character of a certain quality to steering
the project in a certain direction (or simply completing the damn thing!).
They're not messing around either. Failure at this level could result in them
terminating your contract and busting you back down to a student. Not all
meetings are a matter of life and death though. Once you're on the radar of
popular culture, you should be bombarded by lucrative offers to lend your name
to all manner of products - from games to magazine articles! The system has
evolved for this game though, taking on the same structure of a character sale
from wrestling games like Booking MPire. You can turn down an offer in
hope of getting the agent to raise the price - but push your luck and the deal
might fall through completely...
The Sound Of Music
Your studio boss is also on hand
to help you arrange content for your projects. In addition to scheduling sets
with you, he also oversees the inclusion of music in your scenes. No stone is
left unturned is this game, as you even get to choose one of 10 unique tunes to
form the soundtrack of your movie! Like everything else, they're not just for
show either. Music has a very real effect on a scene - bolstering either the
entertainment or artistic qualities. It's expensive stuff though - costing a
six-figure sum to buy the rights to a new track. As in real life, however, you
can often recoup your musical expenses by selling the soundtrack once the movie
In addition to buying
soundtracks, there are 6 other unique "resources" that can bolster your
production. They're similarly expensive, but they can make all the difference
between an amateur effort and a professional production. There's the relatively
superfluous "Costume Designers" option, which allows you to change your
character's costumes and apply make-up. Similarly, there's the "Prop Department"
which grants you access to the many accessories. The cosmetic resources are then
rounded off by "Lighting Equipment", which lets you adjust the atmosphere in
scenes (raising artistry in the process). The other half of the selection is
made up of bureaucratic options that keep your business on point. "Script
Advisors" and the "Editing Suite" remove the crippling risk involved when
re-writing and re-shooting scenes respectively. Meanwhile, "Legal
Representation" helps you stay on top of your finances and keeps you winning in
court. They're all highly expensive services though, which only the wealthiest
of film-makers can afford to enjoy...
Coming To A Theatre Near You
Those production values can be
enjoyed by all when your movie finally gets its release! Upon completing a
project, you're treated to a nice little cinema cut-scene that actually shows
the action unfolding scene by scene. It's no more entertaining than a stilted
GIF animation, but under the circumstances it's a resourceful way of celebrating
a film's debut. It's also your first chance to see how the movie plays to an
audience, as each scene is greeted by varying degrees of cheering and applause!
By the time the credits roll, you should get a sense of how the movie is going
to be received...
If the preview screening didn't
make things clear enough, you can get the official verdict from the film review
that follows! Building on the Popscene version, this nice little gimmick
evaluates your project as best it can. Naturally, there's only so much that a
blind game can say about a project that doesn't actually exist - but under the
circumstances it does a surprisingly good job. There are more lines of text than
ever before, and there are more variations too - as the reviewer talks about how
well the movie lived up to its script potential, etc.. The new option of "genre"
even seeps in, as they take into account whether you were aiming for an action
flick or a serious drama. The review even takes a stab at the credits - as it
accurately calculates who wrote, directed, produced, and starred. All of which
leaves you with one overall 5-star rating, which will determine the movie's fate
in the outside world...
Top Of The Pops
If your movie was well-received
(and has the backing of a major studio), you'll be keen to see just how well it
does in the weekly box office charts! Building on the satisfying system from
Popscene, this game once again keeps track of dozens of different projects
as they compete for the number one spot. Your chances are improved here though,
as it's now possible to release multiple projects rather than one at a time. You
can even re-release an old project on DVD and try your luck in a completely
different market! At the end of the day, it's all about the money though - as
you wait to see whether or not a movie will recoup its astronomical cost. Each
week, these various sales are paid into your account (depending on the royalties
you negotiated). Those profits are then offset against the cost of your crew and
other expenses, leaving you with a clear indication of how much you're
News Of The World
These weekly reports make up a
large part of your day, as you're even treated to the latest news from all over
the world. As in Popscene, the major events in both your career and those
around you are reported in an authentic newspaper mock-up. There are literally
hundreds of events that can have an impact on the industry - ranging from the
fluctuating status of a character to the latest studio transfers. All of which
help to ensure that the game's universe evolves as surely as it would in real
life - with unknowns rising to fame and established stars falling from grace!
Quite where your career falls on that scale remains to be seen...
Sometimes the latest happenings
transcend the page and become all too real in the courtroom! The amusing court
case feature from Popscene makes a welcome return in this game, as you go
to war over employment rights and intellectual property. Although the process is
almost identical, it does benefit from some improved texturing in the courtroom
- and a whole variety of animations for the defendants. Instead of standing
there like dummies, they can now adopt any one of half a dozen different
gestures that help them plead their case. Also new to this game is the "Legal
Representation" resource that gives you a much stronger chance of winning, and
makes the process slightly less random...
And The Winner Is...
Naturally, the award ceremony
gimmick returns too - which is even better suited to this movie setting! So much
so that it was necessary to add a whole new range of categories. They now extend
from "Best Writer, Director, and Actor" to "Best Film" and even "Best Studio" -
which benefits the whole roster upon victory. All of which make the awards much
more interesting, and give you more chances of winning. The "Best Film" category
is especially satisfying because it features real scenes from your movie in the
nomination process! Even the fictitious CPU projects get a random screenshot to
represent them. As with the new court cases, the awarding process now features a
variety of animations too. Both host and victor can use any one of half a dozen
different gestures when delivering their lines. One other tiny adjustment is
that the person presenting the award steps back and lingers in the background
like they do in real life!
Board Of Film Presentation
These latest games have all
prided themselves on superior presentation, and this game is no exception. In
fact, it even manages to surpass its pioneering predecessor with all manner of
details. Even the loading screens enjoy several variations - ranging from a
simple quick message to a full-blown mock-up of the "film classification" screen
when loading a movie! It's a great little touch that keeps the movie gimmick
rolling along nicely. Speaking of presentation, this game's theme song is also
of note. It's by far my most sophisticated composition yet - featuring sweeping
strings for that cinematic atmosphere! It doesn't sit in the background quite as
innocently as the laidback beats of Popscene, but for once the tune is
good enough to warrant centre stage...
Copyright © MDickie 2000 - 2007