Lighting is a particular problem, since the camera requires everyone to be well-lit but without any glaring light sources in the frame. As you’ll be moving about – sometimes even moving right up to the camera – the odds of your house lights consistently doing the job are slim. After moving the 360 from my office to my lounge, I still found myself dragging lamps from other rooms and carefully arranging them so I could get a decent image. I also had to create a pile of DVD cases in front of the TV to get the camera at a workable angle. My t-shirt was a vaguely similar colour to the wall, so I had to find a dark jumper to wear, just so I could actually register on-screen.
And even then the results were poor. The slightest change in the frame can send the software screwy, whether it's a minor change in the ambient lighting from outside, or someone standing in a slightly different place and changing a shadow somewhere. Rather than seeing a clear image of yourself on-screen, what you end up with is a crude wobbly shape with constantly shifting edges. Bright white blobs covered my head. Sometimes my torso would disappear. If you play with any less than four people the game fills the missing roles with actors, and the jarring difference between their crisp cutouts and your blobby smudge is all it takes to show just how wide the gap between intent and execution really is.
Worse still were the times when the camera begins expanding the capture area for no apparent reason. It's hard to believe that you're in the movies when you're represented by a flickery, jittery lo-res image with spooky floating chunks of your living room in tow. The game even acknowledges that this is a recurring problem, with frequent prompts to restart the cutout studio and advice during the loading screens telling you what to do when – not if – the image deteriorates. The Live Vision camera may be OK for video chat or sending surprise photos of your genitals to people who take you down in Burnout Paradise, but it’s clearly not up to the task of compositing a moving image in household lighting into an HD movie clip.
After an entire day on the game, I managed to create just one movie trailer that looked passable. The option to replay any of the mini-games may add some longevity, and the Director Mode allows you to arrange any of the 600 sequences in the game to create your own stories. You can even record new dialogue using a headset microphone. But even this feature is undermined by the good chance that the result of your hard work will look rubbish.
You're In The Movies should be a casual game, but there's nothing casual about it in practice. As I painstakingly returned all my additional lamps to their original rooms, and dragged my 360, cables and all, back to where it belonged, I wondered just how often I'd want to go to such ludicrous extremes just to take part in some limp camera-based mini-games. There's just no way you'll be able to fire up this game and get the expected results straight away, but nor does it justify the effort you need to make in order to get the image quality up to a bearable level.
People don't live in movie studios. They live in houses and flats that are lit for comfort, not to fulfil the technical requirements of an ageing webcam. If you really want to put yourself and your friends on the TV, leave this failed experiment on the shelf, and put the money towards a digital camcorder instead.