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New Year, New Games

January 3rd, 2006

I enjoyed the nice, long holiday time off from work. Ten days went by in nothing flat, and although I didn’t accomplish everything that I intended (for instance, I didn’t even touch my Warhammer 40K army, I did do quite a bit: rebuilt my Lego “Monster Manor” model to add more rooms and a graveyard; installed a DVD burner (tricky, thanks both to my fear of opening my PC and to the complete lack of pertinent info on the Sony support site); and take down the Christmas tree for another year.

Vic and I are starting the new year with a new game, or rather, a new twist on something we’ve been doing for a long time. It began innocently enough some ten years back on one of our neighborhood walks, with Vic finding some loose change in our path. It became an informal game to be able to claim that one of us had picked up a penny, a dime, or for heaven’s sake, a quarter in our daily travels. (I actually found a ten dollar bill at Wal-Mart earlier this year, but that’s a lone exception.)

Of course, a penny by itself is no big deal in anything other than bragging rights, and I’ve often commented that all of the change we’ve found over the years (ten dollar bills aside) wouldn’t amount to more than a few bucks. Well, we’ve decided to put that to the test, and so, beginning January 1, we began segregating our found money in its own jar. So far, with the penny I spotted today at lunchtime, we’re up to 27 cents. Not bad for three days’ work.

The other game I’m playing right now is for the PC: Activision’s The Movies. It’s one of those tycoon simulations, and it allows players to run their own movie studio from the silent pictures era to the present day.

While I’m not a huge fan of tycoon games–they pay far too much attention to the micromanagement of such items as trash pickup–the real appeal here is the ability to “shoot” one’s own movies, using a huge library of built-in animations, costumes, props and sets, and to edit them with a simple interface. One can even add music, captions, and lip-synched dialogue. Many of the options must be unlocked through simulation play, but once they’re available, they can be used in “sandbox” mode.

As of last night, my studio (Majestic Pictures) was up to 1940, but we were well ahead of the curve in terms of technological research. However, while we’ve got a few of the top stars, we (and by that, I mean “I”) kinda suck at making movies.

One amusing thing about the game is how well it simulates real-life movie studio experiences. For example, I attempted to use the movie maker software to write a custom “script”: a horror epic called “Queen of the Cursed.” It wound up taking years to shoot, tying up my major stars all the while, and costing a fortune. It was eventually released to little acclaim, and, due to some inattention on my part, included some Ed Wood-esque continuity gaffes when the vampire and the heroine switched roles.

Then last night, I went on a set-buying binge, paying no attention to my expenditures until I suddenly realized that I was almost out of cash. The studio went into debt, which would’ve been fine if the movie currently in production hadn’t been suddenly suspended due to petulant stars walking off the set. Hemmorhaging money, I had to cut salaries, sell bathrooms (!) and generally let the studio lot go to pot while trying to convince my tiny actors (one of whom is, thanks to the “Starmaker” software, a reasonable facsimile of myself) to stop drinking and get the hell back to the set before the whole enterprise collapsed.

Thankfully, since then we’ve had a few hit films and I’m holding steady at about $250,000 in the bank. I hope that before long I’ll be making big-budget, sci-fi romps. At least, so long as the tiny me doesn’t decide to sulk in his trailer.

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