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iPad App Review: Universal Movie Tycoon

Ever since my Uncle Frank introduced me to the sim(ulated) world of SimCity back in the late 80’s, I’ve been fascinated by the ability to create small pockets of civilization (my sister on the other hand, was moreso into the divide and conquer aspect of games like Civilization).

Since then, I’ve played my fair share of variations. From the late 90’s sensation Rollercoaster Tycoon, to the movie-inspired Jurassic Park: Project Genesis, I’ve seen the good and the bad.

In recent weeks, Fuse Powered Inc has released a sim game based around motion picture company Universal Studios, titled Universal Movie Tycoon. The game was originally released through the Apple App Store, with a version available for the iPhone, or the iPad. Download of the game is free.

The game’s release ties into Universal’s 2012 promotion, celebrating their 100th Anniversary. Tycoon allows players to build their own iteration of the world-famous studio, and create interior/exterior sets on which to shoot movies. Several of them are even specially-themed to some of the studios’ most famous blockbusters.

Create movie-related sets and facilities for your studio, along with plants to make things look nice and pretty.

I was pulled into wanting this game when I saw the specially-made sets for certain films like Back to the Future and Jurassic Park. Thanks to an assistant and a maintenance guy in the game, you can get advice on what to build, as well as what films to make. Keep in mind that your computerized assistant is sometimes no more smarter than a real-life one (the one here claims that films like Van Helsing should be fast-tracked into production asap).

At the start of the game, you are given a certain amount of coins to buy scripts with, and hire actors and directors for your production. The scripts are based on actual Universal films, but the actors and directors are generic names (so much for my dream of hiring Robert Zemeckis and Michael J Fox). Of course, before you can get to your favorites, you have to sift through plenty of titles you may not have considered before (take Biloxi Blues, for example). You may also find yourself making the same movie over and over again to make more money (I believe I’m already on Uncle Buck 18 by now).

As you make films, you gain experience points (XP), that help move you from one level of playability to the next. As you go higher, new challenges are unlocked, as well as sets, buildings, and more.

I had assumed there would be some minor hiccups along the way, but I have come to the conclusion that what Fuse and Universal have unleashed, is a rushed game that should have had some more time to gestate.

Here is a rundown of my nitpicks:

1) The Money Pit – One would assume that with the money you’d make off of the films in production, that you could then buy more stuff along the way. Well, there comes a time when the money ceases to mean anything. If you want to get to some of the more popular film sets (or certain buildings or plants), you need to use a feature called “Movie Magic.” You’re supplied with a small amount at the beginning, but you will then need to either ‘buy’ some more (using your own credit card), watch some ads to get free Movie Magic, or take part in some special offers to get some more.

If you want more Movie Magic, it isn't exactly free.

2) The App’s functionality – Originally, my attempts to download and open the app resulted in an immediate crash. I downloaded it again a few days later, and it looked like the issue had been resolved. It has been a few days since I started playing the app, and as of today, I’m back to it crashing on me again. Definitely not a very stable game (I was lucky to get these screenshots when I did).

3) Orientation of structures and items – Certain items can be rotated, but only in 2 directions. If the game gave a full 4 points of rotation, one could really make something of setting up proper parking spaces, and shrubberies.

4) Math is hard – At one point, I was raking in the dough for my films. Then one day, I found out that all the time and effort I put into making a film, resulted in a return of: “$-1.” Eventually, this cleared up, but then, I had a film that made over a billion dollars in gross, but instead of increasing my Hollywood war chest, it sent me into $-400 million territory!  This may be the first app I’ve encountered that doesn’t know how to count properly.

5) Who are these built for again? – You can build movie star trailers, executive offices, and even prop departments…but for what purpose? With UMT, you build all these structures, but you don’t have people actually using them. One would assume your assistant would give you messages like, “we just hired some more executives. I think we need to build them a new place so we don’t get too crowded.”

6) Landscaping…one square at a time – I guess I got spoiled on SimCity 2000, where one could cover a large portion of land with trees or grass. With UMT, one can only place one plant/patch of grass/shrubbery at a time. The only thing that bucks this trend are roadways. So what could possibly take you only seconds to finish, can sometimes take several minutes.

7) You can’t stop the connection – Got an iPod or an iPad that is wifi-only? Well, unless you’re near a solid internet source, you ain’t playing this game on the go.

8) False enticements on the logo screen – While I did finally get my Back to the Future set, there are several others on the opening screen that look enticing, but do not exist. These include sets from Jaws, Psycho, and King Kong. Maybe they are hints of things to come, but if the Jurassic Park set takes 975 credits of Movie Magic, one has to wonder how much many more will be.

Given my blog name, one can assume I got into this game for the fun. Well, after a little more than a few days, the fun is pretty much over. It doesn’t help when your app keeps crashing, and the only way to continue when it does work, is to rely on your own wallet.

A couple times, I received notice that a film I was making got a negative review, and stood to lose several millions of dollars. For just 10 credits of Movie Magic, the marketing people would find a way to ‘fix’ that issue. It didn’t really make much sense when I was sitting on a pile of money that wasn’t going anywhere. In fact, that’s where most of my large cash surplus in the game went to.

The makers of this app could definitely take a tip from the creators of another sim app called Tiny Tower. With that game, you need “bux” to do certain things, but Tower also gives you ways to earn bux, or convert your coins INTO bux! The ability for Tiny Tower to give in a little to the player’s needs helped me loosen my purse strings a couple times and buy from them.

Plus, imagine if you had certain events or things to do to help you earn Movie Magic. For example, let’s say Japanese Investors were coming to visit the studio, and word was they liked colorful flowers. You could take steps to landscape certain portions with some colorful flower boxes to help make their visit be worthwhile, resulting in money to the studio, and maybe some Movie Magic for helping present the studio in a positive light.

Overall, Universal Movie Tycoon is a game that reels you in, and almost like a theme park, attempts to trap you into spending lots and lots of money. However, the methods used here do not endear me to do so, and I’m sure many others will agree that it is a definite time waster, in the worst sense of the words.

The opening screen of the game. The "Play" button should send you on your way, but good luck getting there. You have better luck seeing your iPad's homescreen than actually playing the game, given that it can't stop crashing.


iPad App Review: The Art of The Adventures of Tintin


With Apple’s App Store and iBooks changing the way many of us process the world and entertainment, It should be noted that up until now, it hasn’t been used for a rather interesting purpose: to condense those large, making-of books into a more travel-friendly ‘companion.’ For those of you wondering what I’m talking about, I am referring to the hardcover books found in the Media/Entertainment section of your local book store (or that you used to be able to find), generally giving us a view into the artistic and creative process of making most films (preferably those that are animated).

In the last few weeks, an interesting breakthrough in apps has come by way of Peter Jackson’s company Weta, publisher HarperCollins, and Moulinsart. As of December 21, 2011 (at least in the North American iTunes and App Store), these three companies have combined forces and released the first-ever iPad app that takes an Art of book, and brings it into the interactive/digital realm.

Based on the hardcover book The Art of The Adventures of Tintin by Chris Guise, this app looks to enhance the experience that many cinephiles like myself often take when wanting to learn more about a certain film.

Priced at a very modest $5.99 (the hardcover book’s retail price is $39.99), I will admit that the categorizing of this item had me a bit perplexed. Logic dictates that since it’s based on an Art of book, it should belong as a publication in the iBooks store. However, upon further inspection, layout and navigation processes soon reveal why the publishers have chosen to list this as an app.


Clicking/swiping at the star icon at the bottom opens up a horizontal scrolling menu to allow easy access to various pages. A 'contents' dossier also appears on the left-side, which allows you to access various 'characters' and environments.'

The layout of the app drops page-turning, in favor of interactive scrolling, and touch-sensitive features. Almost every image in the app can be expanded to view at a larger detail, with some of them providing additional information when expanded.

Along with this feature, are several notable ones that help push the app into new frontiers:

1) The ability to fade between images – The icon showing a finger swiping vertically over a rocketship, gives you the ability to fade in-and-out between original artwork by Tintin creator Herge, and the conceptual artwork inspired by the original piece.


2) 360-degree rotations – The icon showing a finger rotating a wire-frame globe gives us the ability to view 3-dimensional models all the way around. This feature showcases several of the film’s vehicular props, and facial close-ups of several of the cast.


3) Interview & Video Clips – This icon will allow clips from the final film to play, along with interviews from the effects crew and designers.


4) 360-degree Environmental Exploration– A couple of the film’s environments take advantage of the iPad’s gyroscope feature, and one can pan around the room in a 360-degree view as if you were actually there. Little stars in various areas will open up trivia and information boxes.


But remember, this app isn’t just about whizz-bang features. We get a little background into just who Tintin is, as well as plenty of excellent work done by the guys and gals down at Weta.

The main characters (as well as a smattering of the secondary characters) each get the chance to be talked about regarding character design, performance-capture, & much more.

Also of interest to me were the myriad environments that were created for the film. One of my favorite images is this final rendering of Omar Ben’s magnificent palace in Bagghar that Tintin, Snowy, & Captain Haddock pay a visit to. It’s (almost) hard to believe that this place only exists inside of a computer.

The iPad app for The Art of The Adventures of Tintin is a nice first-step into what the future of Art of materials can be, and it is a commendable effort. However, there are a few areas that could be improved upon:

– While the ability to zoom in and read various text portions is nice, the app tends to lag, and one might find themselves waiting 5-10 seconds for the text to become legible again.

– The interview clips interspersed throughout are nice, but they feel a little short. Some only last a minute and thirty seconds. Plus, it would have been nice to include footage of the various actors emoting or acting within the performance-capture space (aka The Volume).

The constant rotation of various 360-degree items like vehicles and characters. It might be best to keep this feature static until the user touches/opens the feature.

– The app is set to only be displayed in landscape mode. While this is nice for some pieces of art, I found myself wishing I could view some of the more ‘vertical’ art pieces in portrait mode.

Please bear in mind that these are only minor nitpicks, and I highly recommend this app for those interested in behind-the-scenes material. One has to now wonder if Disney, Pixar, or Dreamworks Animation will also join the digital revolution that Weta, Harpercollins, & Moulinsart have begun. Who knows? With the dearth of studios sidelining making-of material from DVD and Blu-Ray, Apple’s App Store may be the next place where most of this behind-the-scenes material will be found.