Indie Game: The Movie
An intimate look in to the lives of three indie game makers.
June 14, 2012 5:54 pmTerry Yates
Braid, Fez, and Super Meat Boy have been some of my most favorite games in recent memory. Their ingenuity, level design, art direction and just plain awesomeness is unparalleled in anything the bigger game studios tend to come out with. Indie Game: The Movie is a documentary that follows those games and their creators and adds a depth, nuance and emotional layer to the games that you couldn't have found on your own. To see the drive and passion of these people play out and fuel their creations has never been profiled like this .The movie delves lightly in to their personal lives, just enough so that you can plainly see the well where they pull their passions and motivations. The documentary is a great study of the machinations of an artist and their desire to express themselves, here it's via games.
Indie Game: The Movie glosses over a bit of the independent game scene, essentially positioning the narrative around the rise of the scene's mainstream success taking place around the mid-00's, with Braid being the starting point to a independent games explosion on to the mainstream video game culture. I would've preferred if the filmmakers had perhaps touched more on the use of digital distribution via Steam, XBLA or PlayStation Network allowing independent game makers the exposure necessary to sustain and promote itself. Instead, it's kind of a footnote and doesn't give those platforms the respect I think they deserve in propelling the independent games to the mainstream success they currently enjoy.
The stars of Indie Game: The Movie has to Edmund and Tommy, the makers of Super Meat Boy. During the filming of the movie they are nearing the end of finishing and releasing Super Meat Boy onto Xbox Live Arcade. Tommy is fidgety and neurotic as the main programmer of Super Meat Boy, whose drive to succeed is built on just finishing something, and hopefully make enough money so that he can pay off his parent's mortgage. Edmund is the artist and creator of Meat Boy, and when he describes the inherent vulnerability of Meat Boy and his relationship with his girlfriend Bandage Girl, it's really touching. When Super Meat Boy is finally released and starts breaking sales records, the creators are suddenly made aware that they are about to be very rich. How they each come to grips with their success, and so humbly, is great to watch, and indeed you can't help but cheer for them.
Fez designer Phil Fish's story is one that permeates the indie game scene with alarming regularity. After winning the Independent Games Festival 's "Excellence in Visual Art" award at the IGF in 2008, Fez goes dark for four years. The game loses it's initial funding, misses all of it's milestones and is redesigned three different times. Phil Fish and his business partner split ways, putting the games future into question. The movie perfectly captures his raw, youthful, unfocused energies that informs greatly the design and aesthetic of Fez, which seems to have been designed by a genius gone mad. One moment Fish is laser focused and channels his energy appropriately, but the next he's obsessing over minute details that most people who play his game will never notice. The scenes where Phil Fish is showing off Fez for the first time in four years at PAX and the game keeps crashing on people is heartbreaking. A bad showing could very well sink the game, and so easily as only two people actually work on the game. Fortunately, Fez is a big hit, despite all the glitches and crashes and provides Phil Fish with the motivation and drive to finish the game sooner rather than later.
If there's one designer that kind of gets the short end with this movie it's Jonathan Blow, creator/designer of Braid. He starts the movie as a sort of wizened old soul of the indie game scene, exploring level design and user motivations. But slowly, as the film progresses, well….he starts being more like the Jonathan Blow that the internet knows and loves. There's a scene where he relates a general annoyance at Braid's success and that most people didn't "get" his game. It's juxtaposed with a video of Soulja Boy saying Braid is just a stupid game where you just jump on shit. Sure it's reductive as hell and wholly unrepresentative of what the game is, but bear in mind that Braid marvels in its narrative ambiguity. You could play that whole game and have no real idea what the game was about outside of some girl leaving the main character.
The theme of what their games are about and what drives them to complete them comes up quite often during the movie. With Edmund and Tommy just wanting their game to be something their childhood selves would have loved. Phil Fish wants a game where you stop and smell the roses, explore and have a good time. Jonathan Blow wants people to understand his game. They all want to connect with people on this unexplored level of digital entertainment, through simple games that most anyone can enjoy.
Indie Game: The Movie is a fascinating study on artists working in their element, honing their craft and creating compelling works. The movie also doesn't attempt to get on a soapbox about how great the independent game scene is versus corporate backed mainstream games. It steers clear of the "games as art" debate that indie games drag around their ankles like a ball-and-chain. It focuses on four guys who just want to make games, and the drive and passion it takes to do so. It puts a soul to those names you see scroll by once you finish the game.
|FIND YOUR GEEK RATING||4.5|