Thursday, 17 January 2013

Why the latest PS4 and Xbox 720 rumours are wide of the mark

There have been a lot of rumours over the past couple of days about the hardware that's going to be used inside the PS4 and  Xbox 720, and the brilliant Lee Bradley pointed me towards the two sets of figures that are causing plenty of debate.

VG247 is reporting that the PS4 will have 1.84 Teraflops of computing power thanks to an AMD A10-based APU, and that the next Xbox will have 1.23 Teraflops of grunt thanks to an AMD Radeon HD 8770 graphics chip.

NowGamer reckons the next PlayStation will have "an APU with a fast GPU" that'll have 3.2 Teraflops of power, but the Xbox will outstrip it with 4.2 Teraflops delivered by three System On Chip units working together.

VG247's story sounds plausible, but NowGamer's is wide of the mark. Here's why.


It's long been rumoured that the PS4 will be built on an APU, and it's easy to see why Sony wants to go down this route. AMD's APUs, or Accellerated Processing Units, combine a processor and a graphics core onto the same chip, and I've previously praised them for offering reasonable application power and good gaming ability at low cost.

AMD's current top-end APU is the A10-5800K, which includes a Radeon HD 7660D GPU. The graphics core uses the same naming convention as AMD's current discrete cards, but it's based on the architecture behind the older Radeon HD 6900-series. The HD 7660D has 614.4 Gigaflops of power, while the whole chip has 736 Gigaflops.

That's a country mile behind the 3.2 Teraflop figure that's doing the rounds.

AMD has announced the successor to the A10-5800K, so it's plausible that Sony might use hardware based on the A10-6800K in its next console. The new part's GPU will apparently be based on the forthcoming Radeon HD 8000-series graphics cards.

Bear in mind that the HD 7660D GPU was based on the HD 6900-series, and then look at this chart: several high-end 8000-series GPUs, apparently designed for OEMs, bear the Tahiti codename, which debuted in the HD 7970 and HD 7950. It's hardly a stretch to see AMD recycling last year's discrete graphics cards into this year's APUs.

Plenty more evidence suggests the 3.2 Teraflop figure simply isn't anywhere close to reality. If true, it'd put the PS4's graphics core smack between the outputs of the recently-leaked Radeon HD 8870 and 8850. However, those two cards have TDPs - Thermal Design Power, or the maximum power draw of a chip - of 160W and 130W on their own. That figure doesn't take into account the power needed by the processor, and reports have said that the A10-6800K as a whole will have a TDP of just 100W - the same as the A10-5800K.

AMD has traditionally cut down its GPUs in order to fit them inside APUs. The HD 7660D inside the A10-5800K may have been based on 6900-series cards, but it included just 384 stream processors. Even the most modest of those discrete chips, the Radeon HD 6930, included 1,280 stream processors and had a 186W TDP. The HD 6970 had 1,536 and a 250W TDP.

There's no way an APU could contain a graphics core of that power while also packing in a processing module too: the power requirements don't add up, and the heat generated would be too much for a console to bear. There's a reason discrete cards, with more than 1,000 stream processors, are sometimes nearly a foot long, while the 384-stream processor APU can be contained in a single die alongside a CPU.

Another major concern is cost. The A10-5800K launched at £100, and there's no reason for AMD to deviate from this blueprint for the A10-6800K - low cost is one of an APU's big advantages. To find a discrete AMD card that launches for that price, you've got to go a long way down the range. The HD 7850 cost £190 new, the HD 7870 was £275, the HD 7950 was £340 and the HD 7970 was £432. Even now, they're not much cheaper: around £150, £200, £250 and £320 respectively.

Sony might price the PS4 highly for the console market, but that level of GPU is way out of its league. Sony would be able to buy the cores for cheaper than retail prices, sure, but it's also got to factor in the rest of the APU, memory, storage, a motherboard, a Blu-ray drive and a high-end case - as well as its profit margin.

Conventional desktop PCs that use the A10-5800K rarely cost less than £400, so it makes sense that Sony - saving money using its own manufacturing facilities as well as its buying power - would build its next console around one of these more modest parts. Last year's APUs are good enough for console-level gaming; I've no doubt that next year's APUs would get the job done, too.

It's arguable that producing the world's best APU and giving Sony exclusivity would be an awful economic move for AMD - a company that's not having the best of times when it comes to finances. And it's not as if Sony's got the cash to buy AMD's exclusivity, either.

After all, why should customers buy any of its forthcoming discrete GPUs if Sony is selling an entire console that's just as quick for little more than the card alone would cost, and how would customers react if its best APU wasn't available to build inside PCs?

AMD's hardware partners would be up in arms about it, too - they'd presumably want to stuff the chip inside laptops and desktop machines. Its graphics card partners would want to know why AMD was ruining their sales for the sake of a console, too.

Xbox 720

The 4.2 Teraflop figure for the Xbox 720 is similarly silly. NowGamer says the next Microsoft console will be based on three SOC modules, with one based on the Radeon HD 8850 GPU and two using HD 8900-series cores.

Even downclocked, the combined power could be enough to hit that mythical 4.2 Teraflop figure, but I still don't reckon it's plausible - again because of heat and cost.

These high-end cards are traditionally some of the largest around, and leaked information suggests that 8900-series OEM parts will have TDPs of more than 200W, with the HD 8850 coming in at 130W. NowGamer's article reckons that Microsoft's cut-down cores will see the machine having a 300W power brick, which trumps the 175W brick included with the Xbox 360.

If these rumours are true, that's one power-hungry console. And then there's the price: last year's HD 7950 cost £340 when new and, while there's no way Microsoft would pay that for each GPU, consider that it's allegedly putting three graphics cores into its next console. Then consider the cost of every other component, and Microsoft's slice of profit margin.

That would make the Xbox 720 one of the most expensive and power-hungry consoles ever made and, given the hardware that's allegedly being used, it'd be one of the biggest and loudest ever, too. Considering the Xbox 360's reputation, I'm not sure that's what Microsoft wants to do.

Are any rumours right?

VG247's figures might be less exciting, but they're far more realistic. It's hardly a stretch to imagine the PS4 using a modified A10-6800K APU and, again, it's reasonable to speculate that the GPU inside will be a tweaked version of an HD 7900-series core. The discrete chips in that range run at between 2.8 and 3.7 Teraflops, so a low-power version running at 1.8 Teraflops - in order to fit inside one chip, and to remain cool inside a console - makes more sense.

It's also worth remembering that consoles use processing power more efficiently than PCs, so clever coding will make up the shortfall between theoretical power and actual visual output.

VG247 says the next Xbox is based on the Radeon HD 8770, which is a forthcoming mid-range part. No power figures have leaked for this chip but the corresponding part in last year's range, the HD 7770, hit between 1.2 Teraflops and 1.4 Teraflops, and it had a reasonable TDP of 80W.

Microsoft can take the HD 8770 and cut it down to size to hit its rumoured 1.23 Teraflop figure, which is a move that seems sensible. The HD 7770 has enough power to play most games at 1080p already, and the HD 8770 will be better still. Why do more?


It's easy to get caught up in speculation when talking about new consoles, but it's worth tempering rumours with a healthy dose of reality. AMD cramming a graphics core that's faster than its best discrete cards into an APU that's cheap enough, frugal enough and cool enough to run inside a console is a flight of fancy.

Similarly for Microsoft: producing three SOC products, each with its own high-end GPU, makes little sense when an extremely capable single graphics core would do the job just as well and for a lot less cash.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

New Star Soccer, smartphone gaming and the absence of difficulty

The man behind New Star Soccer is getting very rich, very fast. Latest estimates put his income at £5,000 a day, and not many games seem to absorb swathes of my Twitter timeline like this one - especially on smartphones.

I had my period of deep addiction: journeys to and from work, nights that became later than they should, exchanging tips with guys in the office when cramming in a few sneaky games over lunchtime.

And then it stopped. New Star Soccer got too easy.

New Star Soccer proved compelling for a couple of weeks, but its formula became evident and my interest waned: my footballer got too good, I worked out the game's patterns, I earned enough money to buy success and, at just 23, I cleaned up. I started out as FC United and became Manchester City, and fast.

It's not the first time it's happened, with many Kairosoft games suffering similarly. Grand Prix Story, Game Dev Story and Mega Mall Story have all had me addicted for two or three weeks but, just as quickly, they've relinquished their grip on my tube journeys and tired eyes.

In Grand Prix Story my cars got too good and races got too easy; in Game Dev Story I launched my own console, saw it rocket to success and then launched games that sold three or four times as many as my installed console base, and in Mega Mall Story I became a capitalist juggernaut. I was the Apple of malls.

The same happened in Real Racing 2 and both Reckless Racing titles thanks to formulaic career modes and in Shine Runner thanks to no career mode at all. It's this lack of end-game, variety and increasing difficulty that sees me lose interest, and this lack of challenge and direction seems to be endemic across a large swathe of smartphone games - even with good the graphics and mechanics shared by every game I've named here.

Does the broader, more casual and less experienced demographic of a significant portion of smartphone gamers mean developers are can afford to make their games less challenging? Do developers think that shortened attention spans mean people don't need long, absorbing games, or are inexperienced developers simply not used to creating smooth difficulty curves and engaging, long-term titles?

I suspect it's a mix of all those things, but I also don't think it would take much to address these issues. New Star Soccer could replace its punishing twists of fate with more variation and Game Dev Story could swap its diminishing, processional latter stages for a trickier and more volatile experience in the second half of the game.

Kairosoft has already demonstrated in its later games that more variety can be added: in planet-hopping strategy game Epic Astro Story there's significantly more to do.

Mobile games, whether on Android or iOS, have something of a reputation for brevity, whether it's Angry Birds bite-sized levels or Draw Something's quickfire rounds. Games like New Star Soccer and Game Dev Story already buck this trend but, with dwindling interest and a lack of variety, it's clear they could do better - and, as both platforms mature, it's clear they will.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Game giveaway

Right. I've been doing some sorting out at home, and I've got a load of games I can't trade in. They're free to a good home, and I take no responsibility for their condition, ability to work, whether or not the registration keys or DRM methods are in date or work at all, or anything like that. These are given away as seen.

If you're interested, email or twitter is the best way to get in touch: I'm on mikej at pcpro dot co dot uk and @mikejjennings on Twitter. I'm willing to post stuff as long as it's sensible!

Games that have been claimed will be struck through.

Here's the list:

Empire Earth 3
Pro Evolution Soccer 2011
Football Manager 2005
Football Manager 2007
Football Manager 2008
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War
Unreal Tournament 2003
TOCA Race Driver 2
Sword of the Stars
Sword of the Stars: Born of Blood
International Cricket Captain 2006
Race: The WTCC Game
Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor
Zoo Tycoon: Dinosaur Digs
Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
Dragon Age: Origins Awakening
Championship Manager 4
Dead Space 2
Alpha Protocol

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Tony Hawk's Project 8

Football Manager Handheld 2009

Xbox 360
Virtua Tennis 2009

Friday, 12 August 2011

Where's the rest of Summerslam gone?

Warning: this post contains spoilers for Friday 12's edition of Smackdown.

SummerSlam is this Sunday and is one of the WWE's "Big Four" pay-per-view events. It's one of the nights that, along with the Royal Rumble, Survivor Series and - most importantly - WrestleMania, is supposed to go some way into defining the WWE's year.

Big things need to happen at these events: major matches happen in front of an enthused, excited crowd, storylines reach their climaxes, titles change hands and hyped-up stars make show-stopping debuts.

The feud between CM Punk, John Cena and Triple H is riveting, easily a Wrestlemania-calibre main event, and I can’t wait to see what happens on Sunday. I'm hoping for something massive, I don't know what, and I hope I'm not let down.

Slim Pickings

Look beyond that match, though, and there's precious little else that'll make people part with their cash. Smackdown's main event sees Christian defending his World Heavyweight Championship against Randy Orton in what’ll be the fourth PPV match they’ve shared over a feud that’s seen precious little progression since Christian’s initial heel turn.

The other matches announced so far don't exactly hold my interest. Sheamus will try to halt Mark Henry's recent destruction but, after his recent rampages took care of Big Show and Kane, he’s floundered; WWE gave away many of his big destructive moments already and, short of Big Show and/or Kane returning to take him down, I can’t see how this bout is good for either man: if Sheamus wins, Henry’s destructive streak is, well, destroyed. If Henry wins, Sheamus looks weak.

The fourth match announced so far is Kelly Kelly defending the Diva's title against Beth Phoenix. Oh goody.

And that, so far, is it.

There’s a Cee-Lo Green performance to factor in - his song Bright Lights, Bigger City is the SummerSlam theme - but I’m certain WWE will add more matches to the card, although I’m not sure if any will be announced on its website or Twitter feed beforehand – more likely is the growing trend for just throwing matches onto the show without any promotion. That, surely, is not the way to properly hype a PPV event.

Smacked Down

Take this week's episode of Smackdown: Alberto Del Rio defeated Daniel Bryan in a battle between the two Money in the Bank briefcase holders, Cody Rhodes beat Zeke Jackson for the Intercontinental strap, and Sin Cara (well, Hunico) returned and beat Tyson Kidd.

I’d be shocked if a Rhodes v Jackson rematch doesn’t make the SummerSlam card, but what harm would it have done to announce it on Smackdown? Let’s say Rhodes is celebrating after Ted DiBiase has helped him win the belt. Jackson grabs a microphone, calls out to Rhodes as he’s walking up the ramp, and challenges him – or invokes the WWE’s best plot device, the rematch clause. Rhodes accepts, job’s done. Neither are main event workers but Rhodes, especially, is a compelling character, and might sell SummerSlam to more fans.

Similarly, Daniel Bryan. Once again, I’m pretty certain that Bryan v Wade Barrett will makes it way onto the SummerSlam card, but they’ve missed a trick by not announcing it – and building it up more – on Smackdown. The pair’s shared history on NXT and in Nexus makes for an immediately compelling story, and setting up a match isn’t exactly difficult – Barrett attacks Bryan, Zack Ryder comes out, offers Bryan a chance for revenge at SummerSlam. WWWYKI.

And instead of having Sin Cara return in a nothing match against Tyson Kidd on PPV, how about announce that he'll return at SummerSlam and have a heel - Kidd, if needs be, or perhaps Del Rio - call him out in a promo. Sin Cara's a huge Hispanic star and, again, he's another wasted draw for SummerSlam.

A Raw Deal

It’s the same story, or lack of, over on Raw. Alex Riley and Dolph Ziggler have had some nice verbal exchanges on the past couple of shows, but it's not progressed into the expected SummerSlam match. And, while his injuries might yet keep him off the card, Rey Mysterio taking on The Miz for the number one contendership is a PPV-quality bout that simply shouldn’t be thrown away on Raw.

The missed opportunities rumble on. John Morrison and R-Truth have the perfect opportunity for a blow-off match at SummerSlam, with Morrison recently returning from an injury Truth caused. Instead? It's given away on Raw, with little fanfare.

That's current storylines. Several others aren't on the show yet, either: the tag team champions will probably be tossed into another pointless match with The Usos or Santino and a mystery partner. Drew McIntyre, Evan Bourne and Jack Swagger now seem to appear more on Superstars than their main shows, and what next for Kofi Kingston now his never-ending series of matches with Ziggler seems to have fallen by the wayside.

In the run-up to SummerSlam - which WWE is trying to increase in important, even giving it a Wrestlemania-style Fan Axxess festival - I would have considered Rhodes v Jackson (or even DiBiase), Barrett v Bryan and Riley v Ziggler locks for the show, and that's before guys like Del Rio, Mysterio, Sin Cara and others are considered. I’ve no doubt some of these matches, if not all of them, will eventually take place on Sunday night.

These workers might not draw like Cena and Punk do, but they've all got fans, and announcing matches beforehand has no downsides as far as I can see - but throwing them onto the card, on the night, benefits no-one. The end result might be a very good SummerSlam - but it's a shame that potential customers might not be there to see it.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Star Wars: Rebel Assault 2, the best awful game I've ever played

When I was young, my gaming revolved around my dad's old Atari 2600 - I loved Mario, Combat and Space Invaders - and the MegaDrive, which got plenty of use thanks to games like Sonic, Road Rash, Golden Axe and FIFA.

They're all great titles, some even classics. Then I got a PlayStation.

On that fateful Christmas morning in 1997 – a few years after the PlayStation’s release - I was stunned by a pair of games given to me and my Brother. I sat agog at The Lost World: Jurassic Park, a side-scrolling platformer than seemed as realistic as the movie, and my brother was stunned by Bubsy 3D. After all, who wouldn’t be? It was the first time we’d seen a game truly in three dimensions, even if there were no textures to be spoken of – just shape-covered levels that looked like the insides of a jester's jockstrap.

Several months after I got my PlayStation, I picked up an old copy of 1995’s Star Wars: Rebel Assault 2. The mid-nineties were heady, innocent times, before prequels and the systematic destruction of a once-great franchise, so my discovery of a new addition to the Star Wars canon was there to be enjoyed rather than instinctively feared.

Combine my love of Star Wars with my ignorance of what makes a good game and I was blown away. LucasArts had created Rebel Assault 2's lengthy - well, lengthy at the time - cutscenes by employing real actors (Rookie One was Jamison Jones, who acted alongside Harrison Ford in Hollywood Homicide, and his partner Ru Murleen was played by Julie Eccles, who actually had a part with Ford in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) and used real props from the actual, genuine, non-CG movies. The Skywalker-lite lead character, the props, the sounds, the names and the places were all there, and it felt like it rightfully belonged to the franchise.

What I didn’t realise at the time, of course, was that Rebel Assault 2 was dire. Properly, genuinely dire. For starters, it wasn’t exactly a long game: after a couple of playthroughs, I’d routinely finish the two-disc title in less than an hour.

Levels were built around a handful of repetitive tropes. If you were inside a space station, you'd duck between a handful of cover spots and aim at bobbing Storm Troopers who flopped to the floor if you shot vaguely towards them. In other levels, you wiggled a reticule around a blanket of low-res stars, popping off TIE fighters and watching them explode with the same low-res animation. There really wasn't much to it.

It was buggy, too. On one level you were tasked with learning how to pilot a TIE fighter; with the promise of enemy infiltration beyond and winding canyon ahead, it's got the makings of an entertaining mission.

Except that, about half-way through, the background slowed to a crawl and eventually stopped. The game was still running - my lively little craft weaved horizontally across the static screen as fast as it ever did, and the jumpy music still played. I'd sit and count frames-per-minute, pick up a magazine and flick through reviews of games that put Rebel Assault 2 to shame, perhaps make a sandwich or two. Eventually, the static background with twitch and lurch back into life, and it’d let me finish the level.

Other stages were similarly fraught. A tight, twisting underground tunnel was marred by Didier Drogba-like collision detection, and one area towards the end of the game - a level where you'd have to fly through the enemy space station, eliminating shield engines one-by-one until your fellow Rebels could stage a full-scale assault - simply looped until you'd hit all the targets. You could even spot the moment where it reset itself, like a bad .GIF animation.

Oh, and did I mention that this game, that came on two discs, could be easily completed in less than an hour?

Even so, I must have played through about 10 times, admiring its actors and real-life movies, becoming immersed in the story and loving how the game's levels almost looked real - helped along, of course, by sprite versions of the game's cast. There were two endings, although one - where Rookie One bags a victorious kiss from Ru Murleen - I only actually saw once, as I didn't know which victory condition triggered it.

A terrible game, but I didn't care - and I certainly played it more than Star Wars: Starfighter, which came out on PS2, lasted more than 60 minutes and wasn’t riddled with more bugs than Dagobah. It just goes to show, again, that gameplay isn't the most important aspect of a game.

And, of course, that kids will play anything.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Graphics, atmosphere, and how bad gameplay sometimes doesn't matter

I love Red Dead Redemption, but the more I think about it the more flaws I find - and, as soon as I find them, I realise that most don't matter. That's what happens when a game's environment, ethos and aesthetic are strong enough to mask gameplay that, in a lesser title, would be accused of lacking innovation and excitement.

I loved spending time in New Austin. From Marston's groggy, cattle-herding days at McFarlane Ranch to his lazy, relaxed ride back to the family farmstead after Dutch chucked himself off a cliff, eaten away, beaten by the march of time, I enjoyed New Austin more than I have virtually any game world previously.

Who couldn't enjoy a game that served up so many memorable moments? I stepped off the train into Armadillo, halting as two locals stumbled out of the local saloon. One stood swaying on the pub's porch, while another cascaded down the stairs and face-planted into the dirt. Brilliant.
Armadillo's sleepy townsfolk were occasionally interrupted by gangs rampaging through the town, guns in the air and, on one memorable occasion, an drunk assaulting a local woman. I drew my rifle and pulled the trigger just as my horse wandered into view. My second bullet dispatched the criminal; I sold my horse's skin and meat.

As New Austin gave way to Nuevo Paraiso, Red Dead kept delivering. My first tentative steps south of the border were soundtracked by the stunning Jose Gonzalez track Far Away, and I dived into the revolution, aided by aged gunslinger Landon Ricketts, with gusto.

The third portion of the game - when you return to America, and the Great Plains area dubbed West Elizabeth - was possibly my favourite. I found the landscape especially evocative; Blackwater is the largest and most developed town in the game and a poignant illustration of the game's central culture clash - cars and modernity encroaching on the West's traditional values - and the hilly, dangerous terrain of Tall Trees and Nekoti Rock provided a welcome change of pace from the parched deserts elsewhere.

These environments are designed and crafted impeccably, and they're filled with things that, when compared to script, plot, graphics, sit on the periphery of the game. The soundtrack is subtle but perfectly in tune with the environment, which is crammed with more wildlife than I care to mention; throughout my time in the game I'd constantly find new creatures making new noises.

And the hundreds of NPCs, most of whom aren't anything to do with quests, are textbook Western characters who spout textbook Western lines. Not that it's a particularly bad thing; as a huge Western fan, I have no problem with Rockstar adhering to these particular stereotypes.
Take all of this away, though, and much of Red Dead's gameplay really isn't all that. If any other game - Fable 3, which I've been playing but haven't really connected with, springs to mind - had asked me to spend several hours galloping around its countryside harvesting dozens of plants then I'd most likely ignore that and crack on with the story, because it'd be dull.

Or take the numerous tasks you're asked to complete in order to unlock Marston's full wardrobe. One asked me to win a poker game in Blackwater, so I sat down at the table and concentrated, for the best part of an hour, on a game that would never, ever win me any money. And other criteria for clothing just seemed broken: you're unable to buy relevant clothing from tailors because the only options are blanked out. I'm lead to believe that's because of different gang loyalties, so to tick those particular boxes I'd have to kill numerous NPCs until I was in favour with the right people.

Other minigames would have left similarly bad tastes if they were in other titles. Horseshoes were imprecise with no real on-screen way of gauging the shoe you were about to throw, and crime fighting missions tasked you with following a dog and apprehending the world's worst burglars, over and over again.

Some of the story missions wouldn't have passed muster in a lesser game, either. So many times I was told to ride with a character from one end of the map to another. The only thing that kept me going was riding through that scenery, hearing those characters talk, watching the train storm past or finding bandits along the way.

It just goes to show, I think, the importance of aesthetics - and how a polished, appealing and engrossing environment can mask mediocre gameplay, and make players stick with a game far longer than the gameplay would ordinarily hold their attention. After all, had I not been so wrapped up in John Marston's story, there's absolutely no way I would have tramped across the desert, searching for flowers, trinkets and side-missions.

Strangely enough, I thought of another game that had a similar affect on me, albeit more than a decade ago - Star Wars: Rebel Assault 2. Looking back, it's one of the worst titles I've ever owned, but I still played through it several times. Why? Because it was Star Wars. And I think, now that I've finished Red Dead Redemption - which incidentally, I still adore - I might get stuck into that again.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Virtual Hollywood: remembering The Movies

Emily Dredge is Curling One Out. That's the first thing that pops into my head when I think of The Movies, Peter Molyneux's movie-making business sim, even though it's got a respectable Metacritic score of 84, sold enough copies to justify an expansion pack, and still boasts a thriving community on the game's official website.

And yet I immediately think of movie stars pooing whenever it's mentioned.

That's because The Movies - and, I reckon, Molyneux too - rarely takes the film industry too seriously. Hollywood's hottest star feeling the squeeze? Fine, send her to the Portaloo. She's hungry? Watch her demolish a burger in three bites. Angry? Let her take frustrations out on her pair of PAs, and dump a trio of paparrazi in front of them so she'll get to the front page and improve her star rating while having a tantrum.

This cheeky streak sits front and centre of The Movies, but that's not the only thing that attracted me way back in 2005. For starters, there's the bright, breezy and detailed graphics, and the pretty fine management sim that lurks beneath its Hollywood glitz and humour.

Bricks, mortar and celluloid

At the beginning of each game you're given a walled tract of land and told to change the (movie) world. You need to construct several buildings straight away - a Stage School to hire actors and directors, a Script Office, a Crew Facility, and a Casting Office where you'll take scripts and assign them directors, stars and crew - before you can begin producing films.

You'll also have to build sets. Initially, only a few are available - there's a basic stage, a sci-fi bridge, a western bar and a desert landscape - but more are periodically unlocked. They soon increase in size, too, with bombed out streets, western towns and creepy forests all taking up plenty of space on your lot, and they’re packed with detail which can be spotted by double-clicking to take a ride around each location.

Other buildings are unlocked as you progress, with bars, restaurants, rehab clinics, trailers and surgeons available to keep your stars in tabloid-toting condition and research centres and PR offices available to improve your studio’s output.

The interface is great, too. Buildings are found under a trio of icons in the bottom-left hand corner of the screen, with employees and movies listed down the sides. Hover over each to open up more information, and then literally drag your movie or star to the relevant building to make stuff happen. It’s simple, but it just works, and quickly becomes as second nature as explosions are to Michael Bay.

The management portion of The Movies straddles a fine line between busy and rushed. While there's always something to do - even in your down-time while movies are shooting, there's always an area of your lot that needs beautifying, a set that needs repairing or a star to placate. It’s a pleasure to guide your movie through the production process, too, from the Scriptwriting and PR departments to the Casting Office, through filming and Post Production, and finally to the Production Office where you can assign a marketing budget and unleash your movie on the (hopefully) eager public.

Personal problems

It's in the personnel department, though, where The Movies hits a couple of bricks. Initially, eager hopefuls line up outside of your buildings, some with pretentions of global stardom and others just yearning to clean up burger boxes. You're told that more will line up outside of your gates as your studio grows, and so you snap up what talent you need early on and wait for better prospects to appear.

Eventually, you'll hire everyone in the queue. Some will go on to be stars, others will remain mere extras, but all of them get old. Behind the cutesy image, The Movies is an extremely clever game, with a litany of conditions contributing to your film’s eventual success: your crew experience, set condition, public hunger for genre flicks and the relationships between actors all play a part. One of the chief factors, understandably, is how well the members of your cast suit the type of film you’re producing.

In the first twenty or thirty years, it's not really a problem. Your actors are young enough to become major stars and find success in most types of movies and, when hairlines go north and other lines plummet south, it's easy enough to rush them in for some nipping and tucking. Eventually, though, your stars will outgrow botox, and their Hollywood stock will fall.
And there's no-one to replace them.

Occasionally, you'll be visited by a rival star who's willing to defect from another studio, but most of them are too old, too. So you’ve suddenly got no-one who’s suitable to take up, say, the action hero mantle, and it becomes increasingly difficult to keep producing chart-topping movies with these ageing stars through no real fault of your own.

This brain drain makes itself felt in other areas, too. New scientists and crew members don't turn up, and the lack of fresh maintenance staff makes it difficult to keep your lot in good condition once you’ve got a few dozen sets and buildings to maintain. As your stars become more famous they demand an entourage, and I find myself often stealing folk away to become PAs, which further puts the squeeze on other departments.

When your studio’s success depends on its employees, the lack of fresh blood seriously inhibits your potential. At least the game’s community has come to the rescue, making a mod available that can increase the number of new applicants who can stand in lines.

Grinding to a halt

The march of time makes itself felt elsewhere, too. Towards the end of the twentieth century, the supply of new sets, technologies and buildings dries up – it finally grinds to a halt after the millennium - and your studio regresses to a mere production line. Of course, it’s always been this way when it comes to churning out films, but the constant stream of new goodies previously kept things interesting.

That production line soon becomes more convoluted, too. As films get longer and more demands are placed on your actors, their stress levels rise and they’ll need more looking after. They regular swan off to their trailers to relax, or hit the booze, and require a fair amount of coaxing to return to the set. Couple this with the increased number of people required to shoot movies, and creating a masterpiece begins to require much more time and money – like, I suppose, in real life.

In the end, you’ll spend more time just fighting to get your movies finished than improving and managing your studio, and some of the early carefree feeling is certainly lost as you try to pamper your spoilt stars and wait years for films to be finished. Again, I suppose that’s just like Hollywood, but the constant grind detracts from the sense of fun felt in the early years.

There's always the distraction of the game's various movie-making tools, which are ideal for staving off boredom, especially when you've unlocked a wider range of effects and technologies. For a cute, cartoon-style game where your leading lady is gleefully described when taking a dump, the movie-making tools included are surprisingly powerful and have even led to the development of a healthy machinima community around the game.

It helps, of course, that there are tens of thousands of movie-making combinations available. You can create scripts by choosing from the hundreds of different scenes that can be used across the dozens of different sets, and then personalise those sets with different backdrops. When you're filming, every last detailed of a scene can be altered, and you can even record your own lines of dialogue and lip-sync your in-game stars.

While you're able to tweak everything about your movie, I confess that I’ve never really delved ino this side of the game despite the increased longevity it undoubtedly provides. Instead, I've always played The Movies like a straight management title, concentrating on improving my studio, ensuring that I've got the top stars, movies and studio possible, albeit with just the AI putting those films together.

The early years

That sounds like an awful lot of complaining, and perhaps it's out of proportion. For at least seventy or eighty years, The Movies is great fun. Your actors rise to the top of the Tinseltown tree, and your studio grows in size and stature. Your films improve, you win awards, and the gravy train keeps on rolling - in the early years, at least, The Movies isn't a particularly difficult game to play; rather, it's just a joy to watch. The regular stream of new goodies and awards ceremonies keeps the game and your studio lot feeling fresh and interesting, too.

It's just that, in the style of the most disappointing MMORPGs, there's no end-game content. Hurtle beyond the turn of the century, when some of the world's most exciting films were being made with envelope-pushing technology, and the game's stready stream of rewards slows to a trickle. My interest in my studio, inevitably, wanes, although that’s partly due to my hands-off approach to movie making.

For those first exciting decades, though, The Movies is one of the best management titles that I've played, and I'm convinced that the combination of slick, refined gameplay and cheeky comedic atmosphere convinced me to initially sink dozens of hours into the game. It’s also made me, years later, dig it out of the garage for another go.

If you've got it lying around at home, I suggest you do the same - you, or your inner Spielberg, won't regret it.