Indie Game: The Movie (2012)

Indie GameBraid, one of the most critically and commercially successful independent titles of recent years, was designed, funded and developed by Jonathan Blow over a period of three years. As Blow looks back on the game’s release in 2008, three other developers are working hard to get their own games out into the world: Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes are trying to meet a deadline imposed on them by Xbox Live Arcade for Super Meat Boy‘s inclusion in the console’s Game Feast promotion, while Phil Fish is trying to iron out legal disputes with his former partner in order to showcase his unfinished game Fez at Penny Arcade Expo.

As the film’s title and above synopsis suggest, James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot’s Indie Game: The Movie is a documentary film looking behind the scenes at the independent games industry. By focusing not only on different stages of the development process — from production to release and critical appraisal — but distinct projects too, the filmmakers are able to cut between stories and build a narrative that is by turns exciting, frustrating and utterly heart-braking. That they capture the joy of gaming is impressive enough, but they probe much, much deeper than that.

For anyone who has ever got to the end of a game and had to sit through minute after minute of credits, it’s genuinely astonishing that one or two people could ever hope to create something as ambitious or amazing as any of the games featured. And yet, technological advances have meant that individuals can now produce games that would once have taken whole legions of people. These independent developers are largely self-taught, self-financed and self-motivated, slaving over software as they try to compete with blockbusting behemoths like EA.

Even if you have never played a video game in your life, however, Indie Game: The Movie is still a film you can engage with on a very personal level. It’s a very human film, as much a movie about the creative process in general as it is the video game development process in particular; video games are as much an art form as cinema or literature, and they require just as much passion, commitment and personal sacrifice to produce. Perhaps even more so. The individuals featured aren’t out to just make a game, either — they want to inspire others, lay themselves bare and validate what is in some cases their entire life’s work.

The element of creativity most often explored is the conceptual phase of development, as recently seen in Saving Mr. Banks which explored the genesis of Mary Poppins. While Swirsky and Pajot’s film touches on this with each developer looking back at what they had hoped to achieve with their respective games — McMillen talking at length about the inspiration for his previous game, Aether — they also shine a light on other aspects too. Having finished his game and enjoyed incredible success critically, you might expect Blow to be elated; instead, he is disillusioned by purported fans who have misunderstood his game, going so far as to say that the positive reviews are the hardest to bear. He has since developed a reputation for harassing reviewers, a public persona that he resents.

Indie Game: The Movie is full of fascinating little insights like this. These are people looking to communicate with others through their work, and if the audience is missing the point — even if they are enjoying it for other reasons — it must be just as alienating as the labour-intensive and time-consuming development process itself. They are after all spending years creating something that can be completed in hours. Refenes is similarly cynical about his own game, disappointed by his treatment at the hands of Microsoft. This frustration is rather more short-lived, however, as McMillen soon wins him over with videos of people reacting in earnest to their game. Perhaps the most interesting character is Fish, however, who — once hailed a wunderkind — is now over three years into development and still nowhere near finished, apparently angering fickle fans. The matter-of-factness with which he considers killing himself should the game never be finished is truly shocking.

Indie Game: The Movie is essential viewing, and will interest, inspire and move anyone with the basest creative tendencies. After all, who can’t relate to someone wanting to be understood, accepted or respected? I imagine that when Swirsky and Pajot released their film’s trailer they were just as inclined to watch their hit count as the developers they featured. And you know you would be too.



About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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