The brainchild of filmmakers Lisette Pajot and James Swirsky, Indie Game: The Movie details the trials and tribulations of the creators of Super Meat Boy, Braid, and Fez. In the wake of its recent release, staff writers Cassidee and Travis share their thoughts on the film:
Indie Game: The Movie shined some light on the creation of indie video games. Sitting at home and looking through the Steam library doesn’t really give me much appreciation for the majority of indie titles. For a long time I looked at the genre of indie games as glorified flash games that took longer to finish. And while my opinion has changed as I’ve grown as a gamer, Indie Game: The Movie is what finalized my respect for the indie game genre.
I learned a lot from Indie Game: The Movie. Like the movie shows, these developers risk their entire lives on the chance of success on the Xbox Live Marketplace, PSN, or Steam’s indie section. Small teams of usually just a few members spend years creating simple games with the hope of getting a pay back on their time with the game’s sales. It’s a huge risk, seeing as they have the skills to land good paying jobs at major developing companies. So why do they go for years with no pay, no health insurance, and in some instances no money for cars, rent, and food?
It’s because they want to make a game that breaks the current gaming mold. Jumping onto a team with hundreds of other people to make a blockbuster game like Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto takes the creativity and heart of a game away from the programmer. When a team of one or two people get together they can create a creative child that’s true and genuine. These indie developers pour their hearts into their games, and the risk of failure and bankruptcy is worth the small chance they have of invoking emotion and entertainment from their fans.
And all of the indie developers say that they’re trying to invoke a different emotion than the other major gaming companies. Indie games don’t have the money or man power to create ground breaking graphics and physics engines. Instead, they rely on story and mood to make the game interesting enough to play. They also tickle gamer’s nostalgia, bringing old game mechanics into new games and levels. There are a huge number of FPS and MMOs that follow the same basic formula with updated features and looks. But for an indie game to be successful they have to bring something completely new to the table. Indie Game: The movie really makes the watcher appreciate the indie developer’s ingenuity and creativity.
This movie not only gave me an insight into the creation of indie games, it was just a generally good movie. It’s definitely a documentary, but documentaries have such a boring connotation. This isn’t two hours of facts from a commentator with poorly made slides in the background. This is two hours of indie game developers going through the stages of their game development, through the highs and the lows. This video journal approach, paired with excellent camera work and artistic shots left me feeling like I had watched a blockbuster feature length film.
Not only was the movie well-made, but it was also very moving. Unlike the typical documentary, this movie had me on the edge of my seat. As you go through the stories of three different game designers you get attached to the characters like you would in a typical story. Inide Game: The Movie especially used suspense to great effect. Every time the movie switched back to a different developer my heart was pounding. I wanted to know what happened in the end. It had buildup, conflict, and resolution that felt natural.
The one thing that I would have like to see is a larger variety of games being followed. The three main games were all 2D side scrolling puzzle games. And while this does make up a large part of the indie market place it would have been nice to see a larger variety. Minecraft, for instance is the world’s bestselling indie game and only mentioned in the entire movie. It would have been cool if the movie had portrayed the indie scene as a more diverse community.
But besides my little complaint it was a fantastic film. As an avid video gamer that enjoys indie platformers as much as new release FPSs there is no doubt this movie was right up my alley. But I would recommend this movie to any gamer, or person interested in technology or entrepreneurship. Indie Game: The Movie taught me a lot about the indie game community in a fascinating way. It was one of the few documentaries that had me on the edge of my seat, and I’m a better gamer after watching it.
All too often in the gaming industry, I feel like we think of developers as a large group of people sitting in front of computers as they type in code and render images. They’re treated as faceless corporate machines to us, often identified only by their studio name and not recognized enough as a conglomerate of talented individuals.
Indie Game: The Movie was a direct response to this notion. From start to finish, the film was all heart. For the first time, you see the people behind the games. You get a sense for their passion, their creativity, and their sincere desire for nothing more than for their game to be as successful as they believe it cold be.
Of course, this same formula could have been successfully applied to bigger developers in the industry as well, but there’s something about focusing on the independent developer that makes it somewhat more endearing; they’re vulnerable, they’ve got a clear, focused vision on what they want to create, and they’re willing to put it all on the line for the sake of their art.
And that’s just what these games are to these guy: art. Up and down, from start to finish, these men are trying to create their own art by including pieces of themselves in everything they do with development. It’s what takes the game to a whole new level of sincerity and makes them more endearing and lovable to us. We want to see them succeed, we want to understand their story, and we ultimately feel like we have a stake in watching the process.
Anyone who calls themselves a gamer needs to do themselves a favor and watch this film. It’s easy to pick games apart, to share in the conversation of what worked in a game and what didn’t, what we would change, and what would make it better. But to see this moving depiction, to feel what they feel…it takes us to a whole new level of understanding on things like developers, the creative mind, and ultimately what gaming is at its very core: an interactive art form.