Indie Game: The Movie
If you do not feel inspired after watching the film, then you were watching something else.
Indie Game: The Movie is a fascinating documentary about the obsession and dedication that goes into indie game making for which many make huge sacrifices in their lives for their precious creations. Most documentaries contain interesting subjects but not always are they cinematically interesting like filmmakers Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky were able to do here.
Early on the documentary makes it known that video games are a medium of art. Video game developers may not be able to express themselves any better than through the games they make. To them video game creation is every bit as expressive as making a film, writing a book or painting a portrait.
The typical mindset for mainstream games is to make the environment bigger and more realistic while at the same type making it accessible and playable to all gamers. And while that is not necessarily a bad thing, indie game developers take a different approach. Being able to work in smaller teams and having a more personal vested interest in the game is where indie games benefit the most from.
The first game that the documentary follows is entitled Super Meat Boy. The game is a standard platform game (think Mario and Sonic) that features quirky characters and unique design to set it apart. The two developers just want to make enough money from it to keep making indie games in the future.
The second game is called Fez, an admittedly overly-ambitious game for a team of two says Phil Fish, the creator. In this game you can only see the screen in 2D until you turn and suddenly it switches briefly to reveal the 3D world you are in. This project has been in development for over 3 years and the social pressure online for the game to be released is felt strongly by the two.
Lastly, Indie Game introduces us to Jonathan Blow, the creator of the all-time highest rated indie game called Braid. The game allows you to rewind time which adds a very unique mechanic to a game. He explains how unbelievably easy that design process was for that title.
After introducing the these games the documentary digs deeper into the developers behind the projects. Important questions are asked like when the first time they were introduced to video games was and what games mean to them. It is then that we see just how important they value their work.
I felt like the inclusion of Jonathan Blow was not needed. He had the only game that was already released and was a success. It did not spend nearly as much time with his story as it did with others. Though there were some interesting bits that came from his section, it did not feel like it fit in with the other two other than to compare Super Meat Boy to his Braid sales numbers. He did have a great intro and outro speech that really worked for the documentary though.
One of the most interesting aspects of game development is one that many take for granted, level design. The documentary wonderfully shows how important level design is even though may seem simple. Forcing a user to solve problems not only makes them feel like they are smart and accomplished but also re-enforces a fundamental behavior in the game (such as a wall jump).
The average person may thing working with video games is an ultimate dream job, because you assume they get to play games all day. The documentary showed that is absolutely not true. Major sacrifices are made to meet deadlines and even when they are met it ultimately comes down to consumer reactions to know whether the game is a success or not. Nothing great comes easy though.
What Indie Game: The Movie shows is how much passion and time go into game making and how little glamour is involved, even in indie game development. Similar to how engaging The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters documentary was without ever needing to play the arcade game featured in it, you do not have to be a geeky gamer to enjoy this. If you do not feel inspired after watching the film, then you were watching something else.