Today, I am turning over the bloging duties to my son, Henry Jenkins IV, who wanted to share with you an interview with game designer Carey DeVuono about Hollywood Mogul 3.
In Computer Gaming World‘s 20th Anniversary issue journalist Robert Coffey wrote an article about the three strategy games “that have insinuated themselves most deeply into [his] life,” a list one might anticipate would include established classics like Civilization, Age of Empires, Warcraft, Railroad Tycoon and The Sims. What’s interesting is that “the best fantasy game [he] ever played” was one a high percentage of the readers wouldn’t have heard of, one produced exclusively for the Internet by a single programmer for a fraction of the cost of those other games.
In Hollywood Mogul gamers create a movie studio and produce a full slate of films, from hiring the screenwriters and developing the scripts to casting the actors and setting the budgets. Along the way they have to deal with the problems that crop up in the production of the film – tension on the set, budget overruns. Once a cut of the film is completed you can test screen it and then tinker with later versions in order to get it right. The ultimate goal is to make more money than the competing studios and win more awards.
Hollywood Mogul is the game I wanted when I bought Peter Molyneux’s holiday blockbuster The Movies, or at least something closer to it. This game, too, is flawed. As much as I enjoy spending hours coming up with interesting ideas for movies – What if you made an alternative version of The Sopranos set in the 1930s of Al Capone and John Dillinger? What if you cast Bill Murray and Robert DeNiro as the rival coaches of the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees? – there’s no way for the game to measure the creativity of your story or the charisma of your casting decisions. Ultimately it has to make decisions according to objective criteria. Can you get enough star power for a low enough casting budget? Did you take the months necessary to perfect the script or did you rush it? Did you invest enough in truly special, state of the art special effects to really bring people to the theaters or just enough to waste a lot of money?
Initially the game faced further limitations for obvious reasons – no actual writers, actors or directors could be used by name. But a surprising thing happened. A thriving fan community sprung up on the game’s message board and gamers spent months programming their own additions. Suddenly you could download databases of carefully devised talent profiles for any decade. Even when a period of several years stretched on between new officially released versions of the game, fans continued to share their insights and experiences with the game on a daily basis, maintaining the energy surrounding the game.
This fall Hollywood Mogul 3 was released with a whole new set of improvements and features. Carey DeVuono, the game’s independent creator, whose work was placed alongside Will Wright’s The Sims, talked with me about his creative process, his Internet community and the role of independent game developers in a commercial marketplace.
Could you start by telling us a little about yourself?
I’m a writer. A storyteller. My goal with Hollywood Mogul 3 was to create a place for movie-lovers to play. It’s a sandbox.
What was the thought process that led you to create Hollywood Mogul?
This is so embarrassing. In 1991 I had written a screenplay about two computer companies that go to war using remote controlled airplanes, fireworks, golf-cart tanks … basically a men-are-boys story. It was a blast, a great script, great characters, a lot of fun. My agent sent the script into the system at Fox. They passed. The following year a director friend of mine decided he wanted to direct it, so we went back to Fox. They passed again. The third year we happened upon a producer with a housekeeping deal at Fox … so the three of us went back to Fox again. They passed. And I thought to myself, insanely, “if I only had a computer program that could run the numbers for them!” And then I thought, “Hey, that might be fun anyway.”
Hollywood Mogul was born from that. So I taught myself to program a computer and wrote the original DOS version back in 1994. Over the years, I’ve done many other creative projects (some screenplay adaptations of novels, some movie trailers, I’ve also titled a movie or two!). But I always came back to Hollywood Mogul. I had released a Windows version of the game, and it had a loyal fan base. Then in 2001 I started a Message Board and the idea of maybe doing one more version of the game seemed like a good idea. Some of this had come from something in Computer Gaming World Magazine … their 20th anniversary issue, in which the Strategy Game Editor, Robert Coffey cited Hollywood Mogul as one of the top three strategy games of all time. That made me think seriously about taking on all the things that I could NOT do in the original. Remember, when I wrote the DOS version, the average computer had 8 MB of RAM. My shoes have more than that now.
What are the major features of the game?
I don’t even know where to begin to answer this question. Hollywood Mogul 3 is a top-to-bottom rewrite of my original game. This is what the original game could not be because of the memory restrictions in “the old days” (640K, if you recall). In this version of Hollywood Mogul I added everything I wanted in the game. Every single thing. There are 13 source material categories. So your studio can purchase a Comic Book, or a TV Show, or an Original Screenplay. When I wrote the original, I knew that players would probably change the source records, add real novels, or real screenplays. What I didn’t realize is that they would SHARE them among other players of the game. So I built into HM3 the ability to import ANY source database you want. So you could use Bob Smith’s Comic Book database, and Bill Jones’s definitive TV Show database, and someone else’s Graphic Novel database in your game, simply by importing them during the setup. In addition, then you can randomize the attributes of those databases, or choose NOT to.
The same goes for the Talent Databases. Hollywood Mogul 3 was pre-released to those loyal Message Board members of mine, and within days an actor and actress talent database mods were created, complete with talent images of real life movie stars. If you go the Hollywood Mogul Message Board you can download all those files for free, and easily import them into your games.
In addition, this version of Hollywood Mogul allows for up to 10 players to hotseat a game. This came from a number of Game Clubs around the country who played the original Hollywood Mogul as ONE studio … each making specific movies and then comparing their box office results. In HM3 they can each run their OWN studio. Also, HM3 has computer AI studios competing against you, with all of you pulling from the same source and talent pools. This adds a whole new dimension to Hollywood Mogul.
And this is just the beginning. I said, I don’t know where to begin answering this question, there are so many features. You can make Production Deals with talent, you can contract them for sequels at specific terms, you can audition talent, hire them, fire them, you can choose a marketing focus … and believe me … a $100 million action movie with the wrong marketing focus can turn into a box office bomb. Almost everything in HM3 is customizable, from the Studio Logos that fade up just before the Opening Credits of your movie display, to the background images, office images, talent files and images. You can use a talent database with real movie stars and their pictures, or you can make your Aunt Milly the top star in town. Hollywood Mogul 3 is a sandbox. Get in there and play.
Did you explore the possibility of designing the game for a largercommercial software company? Are there possibilities that releasing thegame yourself has allowed you to explore that wouldn’t have beenavailable to you if you’d worked for a larger company?
A few companies have approached me over the years, especially after the word went out that there would be an HM3. But none of the conversations ever got very serious. I think I just wanted to to it alone, to be honest. I enjoy the work. I don’t know that I’m much of a programmer, but I love the process. I don’t know if there are possibilities allowed me as an independent company, except for the most obvious: Hollywood Mogul will sell for years. If this was released by a large company it would just be another SKU to them, and in a few months it would be off the shelf or into the Price Reduced bin. So this allows me to keep Hollywood Mogul 3 out there forever, maybe. And I can fuss with it. I might add this or that to it over the years. That’s what I like about it, that I can tinker with it whenever I get the urge.
How do you view the role of independent software providers such asyourself in the games culture and who are some of the other exemplarsyou’d point to?
I don’t really have a view. I’m just here doing my thing. I’m a writer. Programming is just another use of language, as far as I am concerned, so Hollywood Mogul is something that I WROTE. That’s how I think of it. I don’t know that I have ANY place in the games culture. Hollywood Mogul is a strategy game in an age when real-time play with 3-D on-the-fly graphics is vogue. I’m just a guy with some ideas, plugging away. As far as exemplars … I would say that Scotty and Elisa over at HPS Simulations are doing a great job.
What did you see as the initial strengths and flaws of each of thefirst two versions of the game and how did that guide you in developing the sequels?
As I’ve already stated, the original version came out when the average computer had 8 MB of RAM. The original Windows version, and its major version release (2.5e) was still BUILT on that basic DOS design. Hollywood Mogul 3 was a re-thinking of the GUI while completely recreating all of the foundation structures of the game. Take the talent record, for instance. Each individual talent record had around 25 fields in HM2 … in HM3 it approaches 100. EVERYTHING has been expanded in Hollywood Mogul 3. In HM2 the screenplay had attributes … in HM3 that continues, but now every ROLE in the screenplay has attributes. Hollywood Mogul 3 is a HUGE game. There are so many variables and so many permeatations that you should be able to play for years and never really duplicate your experience (unless you want to).
You seem to have sustained quite a following during the recesses between each version. Could you talk a little bit about the messageboard community that’s developed surrounding the game?
I don’t know that I have anything to do with that, other than CREATE the Message Board. The members just found it. I never advertised it anywhere, they just showed up. It was THEIR game, they led the way, I just listened. And after I had decided to make Hollywood Mogul 3, I had completed the design, I was ready to get started, and I asked the members in a forum called The HM3 Wish List what they wanted in the next version. The result was 36 pages of suggestions (I still have it). More than 90% of the things they suggested were ALREADY in the design. A few things were just not plausible to me, or not “game-able,” in my opinion. And there were a few things that I DID add from that document they created.
The Hollywood Mogul Message Board community is a family of sorts, with members all over the world. They share files, and studio success stories, information, and knowledge. They’re a great group and I think they get a kick out of being able to talk to me directly (through their posts) and sometimes berate me or praise me. I think they feel CONNECTED to Hollywood Mogul more because I’m active on the board. But I don’t know that for sure. I’m sure they would be there even if I wasn’t there. They like Hollywood Mogul and they like talking about the game with each other. It’s been my privilege to be at their service.
Some of the users there developed patches that inserted the names andability points of actual entertainers into the game. Did you initiallywant to do that or did you always conceive of the game as centeringaround a fictional universe of talents? What legal challenges areinvolved there?
I knew that I could NOT use real life movie star names. I don’t know if it’s illegal, I’m assuming it is, but I felt it was unethical … and the reason is … that they are RANKED based on salary. And me using real movie star names and then ranking their “talent” made me uncomfortable. So I built into the game the ability for YOU to do whatever you want to do with the talent files. As I said earlier, what I didn’t know was that they would SHARE those files with each other.
How did you come up with all of the names for the individuals in the game? How about the movie scripts?
The default installation talent names are created on the fly when you first create the talent databases for Hollywood Mogul 3. The names are pulled from a file of 2400 last names, and five hundred or so male and female names.
The original version of Hollywood Mogul had as its source material database 300 Original Screenplays, 300 Novels, and 300 Stage Plays. I sat out by the pool one very long day, and wrote those 900 titles and storylines. With Hollywood Mogul 3 I had built much more randomization capabilities into the Game Set Up. You can, of course, turn those randomizations off, or even pick and choose among the dozens of them, but I knew that most people would probably WANT the randomization at Set Up because it gives a unique game each time you play.
I had noticed with the original versions that when the GENRE was randomized the storyline sometimes didn’t make sense. And with HM3, the ability to randomize all of the role attributes made a storyline unworkable. Suppose there is an Original Screenplay you want to buy called “Girls Night Out” and it has 7 women in ensemble roles, all around age 20. In HM3 the Game Set Up randomization could turn that screenplay into a piece that now has 5 MALE roles, all in their late 60’s. As I said, you CAN turn off those randomizations (by choosing Player-Defined = True), but the storylines just didn’t seem to work into my vision of what HM3 should be.
And of course … the original had 900 titles. Hollywood Mogul 3 has 5,000 Original Screenplay records, and there are an additional 4,500 records in the other 12 source database types. That’s 9500 titles I wrote! This time I didn’t sit out at the pool, though. I worked on them an hour at a time over many months. The challenge, and the fun, to be honest, was to come up with titles that would work no matter what GENRE was randomized. I did a fairly good job, I think. By the way, I THINK the very last title I wrote … title number 9,500 is either called “Number 9,500” or “The Last Title.” I can’t remember, but it’s something like that.
What did you think of The Movies? How is your game different?
I have not played The Movies. I purposely did not play it or even pay much attention to its release publicity because I was still coding Hollywood Mogul 3 and I didn’t want any type of outside influence.
Do you expect to do a Hollywood Mogul 4? What would you add or do differently?
Hollywood Mogul 4? Are you trying to kill me? There will NOT be a Hollywood Mogul 4. I’m fairly sure about that. Almost positive. I think.
Where is the game available? How would someone buy it?
Hollywood Mogul 3 is available online as a 67 MB download. I’m looking at making partnership deals with some big retailers who would essentially “give the game away” on CD-ROM and then take a percentage of any resulting sales. But that may take months to put together. If your readers want to try Hollywood Mogul 3 free for ten days they can download it. You can play HM3 for free, that installation file is the full, complete game. After ten days, though, if you still want to play, you have to buy it. Which you can do easily online if you have a credit card or PayPal account. Just follow the directions on the game’s start up menu.
And PLEASE go to the Hollywood Mogul Message Board (www.hollywood-mogul.com) and download the talent files and talent image files that have been created already. There’s all kinds of things that have been MOD’ed by the HM3 community. They’re having a blast already. Please come and join the worldwide community of Hollywood Moguls.