Strategy gamers who like a simulated slice of real life (and I suppose I have to use that term loosely when I speak of the "business" of Hollyweird) and the ability to control lots of details like the control freaks some of us are, Hollywood Mogul 3 is such a steak. This sequel to that old Visual Basic game has a tremendous amount more to offer than that earlier game.
In real-life, I listed with a Hollywood agent when I was college. I didn't expect movie work. I was hoping for voiceover and radio work. That work never happened for me, but I was in the agent's office long enough to hear him take other calls and use about five of the top 10 Hollywood clichés. Long after grad school, I met a disappointed screenwriter named Carey DeVuono. Carey had gotten closer to the Hollywood life than I had and he gave me a lot of insights about the "management by committee" styles that forced mediocrity on so many of the films we see today. Carey wreaked revenge on the Hollywood establishment by exposing some of the flaws and some of the process in a little Visual Basic game called Hollywood Mogul.
I was fortunate enough to be able to assign myself the review when I was working at the once legendary Computer Gaming World magazine. I loved the mix of customizable activities, decision points, and cute displays on the screen. I didn't care that the graphics were crude, the screens were text-heavy, and that the program was sometimes slow. It was, in those days, our kind of game -- more steak, less sizzle.
Of course, we've seen the bulk of computer/video games move toward the sizzle side of the continuum. But thanks to a few independent visionaries, we still see a few products that are chewy, juicy, tasty, satisfying steaks. For strategy gamers who like a simulated slice of real life (and I suppose I have to use that term loosely when I speak of the "business" of Hollyweird) and the ability to control lots of details like the control freaks some of us are, Hollywood Mogul 3< is such a steak. This sequel to that old Visual Basic game has a tremendous amount more to offer than that earlier game.
Development (Getting Started)
Hollywood Mogul 3 (hereafter HM3) is considerably friendlier than its progenitor. The original game forced you to start with a lot less money and you didn't have the sense of competing with other studios for scripts, intellectual properties to be adapted, talent, and awards. Even in its default mode (not the most competitive way to play it), HM3 is more of a game than the original.
As with its ancestor, though, HM3 is highly dependent on successful stories to build from. In the granddaddy, you merely had an abstract "story committee" give you general impressions of how strong the stories were. In HM3, you can see how strong a story is in terms of: Intelligence, Plot Twists, Dialogue, Story Pace, and Genre Elements. You don't have to guess where to fix it. If anything is below three stars, I highly advise that you go for a rewrite, right from the beginning.
Also, as you would expect, HM3 offers more sources for finding those stories than its ancestor. The original had a few choices: Original Screenplay, Novel Adaptation, Stage Adaptation, etc. It also, like HM3, allowed you to type in your own original concepts for a movie. In summary, HM3 lets you choose from: Comic Books, Custom Ideas, Domestic Film Remakes, Foreign Film Remakes, Games, Graphic Novels, Magazine Articles, Non-Fiction Books, Novels, Original Screenplays, Short Stories, Songs, Stage Plays, or TV Shows.
Tip: Although it is tremendous fun to adapt movies from other genres, remember that you can't start pre-production until you have a script. Since scripts take time to write and occasionally have to be rewritten, you'll need to buy at least one original screenplay during your first month in order to have a release by November or December. Since SFX (special effects) also delay release by expanding post-production, make sure your first release doesn't require any SFX. If you don't jump right into production, the rival studios will garner all of the awards at the close of the first year (very frustrating -- I can tell you by personal experience).
Budget (Next Steps)
Once you have a script, you'll need to finalize the budget. Are you upgrading the production values (from a pull-down selection of multiples)? Are you shooting in Digital, Digital Black & White, Standard, or Standard Black & White? Will you be shooting on location or on sound stages? What quality staff, crew, and technical levels are you hiring at? The options on the Production Page even let you single out pyrotechnic effects versus make-up effects versus robotics. You can cheap out on the CGI or pay the highest possible price. And, of course, every decision costs you money "below the line."
Now, you can greenlight the production and move to hiring the all-important producer, director, and cast. The quick and dirty way to do this is to click the Auto-Cast button. Of course, this will often give you star appeal, but it also gives you less control of the budget and of the focus. Casting can be incredibly satisfying. Each actor/actress is rated from one to five stars on the basis of their perceived presence or ability in action, comedy, drama, humility, sex appeal, screen presence, work ethic, composure, and ability to take direction.
You will need to be selective in those you audition because you have a maximum of 60 possible auditions per film and 15 possible auditions per role. It's usually best to expend more auditions on the lead, love, villain, and major roles, but you'll want to keep some in reserve for the minor roles, as well.
Tip: Each role is rated for its talent focus, one of the action, comedy, or drama foci or a combination of the two. I like to audition those with five stars (sometimes four stars) in the specific focus. Where possible, I try to match the persona listed with either the Sex Appeal, Humility or Screen Presence rating. Also, where possible, I only go with four star or five star auditions. It's tremendously successful in garnering awards and nominations -- not as successful in terms of big box office numbers.
In the game, as purchased, you only get rosters of abstracted directors, producers, and talent. The good news is that the game is so customizable that you can easily replace the folder of talent silhouettes with friends, family, and actual stars. In fact, there are plenty of databases available on the web that use pictures, names, and historical information for various real-life directors and stars so that you can actually cast your favorite stars in a movie of your choice.
Of course, you aren't finished when you get the audition numbers you want. The actor or actress may have given you a five star performance, but that doesn't do you any good if the performer isn't interested, is seeking other projects, or you can't get his/her agent to sign on the dotted line. If you haven't played one of the Hollywood Mogul games before, negotiating with agents will appall you. The amount of waste built into the ego wars about trailers (especially their decorating budgets) and personal perks will astound you.
Naturally, the easiest way to acquire the talent you want is to accept the agent's offer. That's also the easiest way to create an in-game inflation that you don't want. It takes a little longer to try to find an acceptable sweet spot in between the agent's demand and your willingness to pay, but it will help you in more than one film deal if you do so. Of course, when you're dealing with the top-rated talent, it's often best just to give in.
Marketing (Waiting for Release)
Once you've cast the movie and started the production process, the only thing you can really do in those long months of production and post-production is plan for the release. You can enhance your release experience by selling off foreign rights, creating ancillary products (DVD, soundtrack disc, toys, etc.), and prepare your own distinctive look and sound for the premier screenings.
When I played the first Hollywood Mogul, I complained to Carey that VHS sales were not included in the financials. That shows how long ago I first played the game. In HM3, DVD sales are not only included, but you can create a CD soundtrack to fit the styles you'd like to hear in the movie and budget the types of features you'd like to include in the film's DVD (director's commentary, deleted scenes, making of, SFX features, etc.). You can't always decide when to make the ancillary products (action figures, apparel, computers/video games, fast-food tie-ins, and novelizations), but the types of properties you choose and the production values/budgets/star appeal you give them will determine who is "coming to you" in that line.
I also told Carey that I wished each "film" could have a distinctive title screen and soundtrack with it. Once I experienced the initial joy in seeing my custom studio name appear on screen and my own credit as executive producer, the release experience was very tame. In HM3, you can choose your own sound files (according to styles as provided in the program or creating your own custom files). The provided files are very good. I loved the machine-gun effect in the gangster soundtrack and the lovely orchestration of the historical soundtrack. There is something for everyone, even if you don't create your own files.
Even if you opt for the traditional black screen with reversed-out lettering, you can still choose from a variety of fonts to display on the screen. Of course, it only gets better if you put a picture behind the title screen. All you need is a .jpg that measures 560 pixels x 315 pixels placed in the PicCreditsBG folder. I like to do this, just for variety, downloading .jpgs from the web, scanning images from comics, graphic novels, and magazines, or merely using cropped photographs from my own files.
BOX OFFICE (Moment of Truth)
As the credits roll to a close on your premiere experience, a world map appears on the screen to inform you of the gross box office in each country. If you break into the Top 10, you immediately get a headline in Daily Flix (the on-screen send-up of Daily Variety, the Bible of show business for both coasts). Of course, depending on your cost structure, even breaking into the Top 10 may not mean you have a profitable movie, so you have to examine the on-screen financials after this presentation to see what's happened.
In the default game, you only have to have enough cash flow to keep afloat. You won't be fired like a real studio head unless you really mess up. Not only is there plenty of money to begin with, but the studio has a big credit line to borrow against. To be sure, it's no fun to create flop after flop, but this mode is forgiving enough that you're sure to have some fun with HM3, even if you never play in the most competitive mode.
And the Winner Is...(Conclusions)
-- you! That is, if you purchase Hollywood Mogul 3. I played more than 30 hours with HM3 without getting tired of trying to make quality movies without losing money. When I downloaded the user-created databases, allowing me to use the names of real talent, I played more than 60 additional hours and still resent the fact that I can't spend even more time with the game. Even then, I lost a big gamble by doing a horror film in Digital Black and White and lost several "bets" by going against the grain of "safe" genres. It took me over 20 hours to figure out how to lead all voters in contenders for the Mogie awards (and I shared that tip with you earlier in this review). Now, I'm trying to learn how to market and release my films more effectively.
Hollywood Mogul 3 proves that, as with Godfather 2, sequels can be better than the creative breakthroughs that spawn them. HM3 is precisely such a rare sequel.
Reviewer's Snapshot: 9 (a sequel that's better than the original)
Graphics/Animation: 4 (the only animation is when the credits roll)
Music: 9 (marvelous library of files for premieres)
Game Play: 8 (default mode may be too easy for some, but there's more)
Replayability: 9 (lots to tinker with, plenty to customize)
Price/Performance: 9 (outstanding at $29.99)
Reviewer's Bias: 10 (liked the original, love the sequel)