Published on June 18th, 2012 | by Vince Shuley1
Indie Game: The Movie Review
For our very first film review here at Awesome Games we have decided to give our readers a rundown on the recently released feature documentary, Indie Game: The Movie (IGTM). This Canadian film has itself been independently shot, directed, edited and produced by James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot of Blinkworks Media out of Winnipeg, Manitoba and was successfully funded by two Kickstarter campaigns, one in May 2010 to help fund startup costs (which exceeded its goal of $15,000 in just two months) the second campaign in July 2011 raised over $70,000 to help finish the film.
IGTM follows the lives of four independent game developers in different stages of the development cycle with their games.
First we are introduced to Jonathon Blow, creator of one of the most successful and revered indie titles Braid. Blow is introduced as a success story, the launch of Braid in 2008 was met with critical acclaim and with Blow being the sole developer, sales of the game was particularly profitable and earned him the equivalent of a comfortable corporate salary. But a central focus of the film is that all of these indie developers are not out to make record selling titles for the masses, but rather choose to make these games for themselves, free from any publisher influence or hindrance.
Despite the runaway success of Braid, Blow felt as though his game was lost on a lot of players and critics who didn’t grasp the game’s subtle undertones. His constant presence in discussion forums, correcting journalists and commenters alike on the design and execution of Braid, earned him a negative reputation in the online community and subsequently Blow suffered through several months of depression.
The duo behind Super Meat Boy, Edmund Mcmillen and Tommy Refenes, are the team that are followed from the last months of critical mass before their publishing deadline, right up until the nerve-wracking launch day. There is an almost immediate soft spot for the cute and cuddly Mcmillen, who tells an inspiring story of his youth growing up in Santa Cruz, foregoing the sports of skateboarding and surfing to stay in his house, play video games and draw. His eccentric facial hair and extensive tattoos defy his inherent vulnerabilities, revealed when describing the relationship between Meat Boy and the love interest, Bandage Girl. The metaphorical meaning of this virtual relationship is apparent when you see the strain that two years of game development had on both Mcmillan and Refenes’ lives. The last two months of rushing development to meet Microsoft’s 2010 Fall promotion, Game Feast, pushed these two men beyond exhaustion triggering several breakdowns from working around the clock, lack of sleep and a relentless pursuit of perfecting the game in time for its launch.
But by far the most wrenching story is of Phil Fish and his elusive masterpiece, Fez. After winning the award for “Excellence in Visual Art” at the 2008 Independent Games Festival, Fish and his colleague at Polytron missed almost every development milestone leading up to their slated release in 2010. The delays occurred for several reasons; Fish was not aware of how much work the game would be, having never made a game for commercial release. He had to learn how to program pixel art, which after three years of refinement meant he had to go back and redesign the environments several times. Numerous personal issues, including his father being diagnosed with leukaemia and his parents divorcing also hampered progress on the game. Yet, Phil Fish remained determined to finish this project, and perhaps adding a touch of melodrama, saw suicide as the only other recourse if he was not able to see the game to completion.
It is the interviews of this high strung Montrealer that leave an almost sour taste in the mouth (albeit temporary) when he reveals that his company is locked in a legal battle with an ex-business partner, his emotions now ranging towards homicidal. There is an abnormal level of anxiety exuding from Fish, but given what the man has gone through both in his personal and professional life you can’t help but empathise with the man. Fez is truly a beautiful creation and just like Super Meat Boy, the freedom of its independent creation is coupled with the constant prospect of failure.
Tutorial Of Torment
IGTM stays true to its vision of telling the story of the people behind these amazing games, how they are all designing a game that is a representation of themselves and the strangeness of receiving feedback from critics and players once the game ships. However, despite the success stories of Super Meat Boy and Braid (Fez was not released until April this year, well after IGTM was finished) you can’t help but walk out of this movie feeling somewhat cynical about the games industry. The opening interviews with several of the staff writers from Kill Screen Magazine set an exciting tone, but the next 96 minutes seem overtly negative, save the final minutes when the success of Super Meat Boy is shown several times from different perspectives. While the film is not openly discouraging indie developers from pursuing their dreams, it does showcase the struggles of working towards completion with limited resources and minimal financial backing.
This is a film that all gamers should see, if for no other reason than to show a perspective of the industry that is rarely seen. Phil Fish has a chance to openly respond to the people he refers to as “an army of assholes online,” the hundreds of comment trolls that have lambasted him for taking so long to finish the game and whilst not ruining his life, “making it that much harder to enjoy.” Self-entitled gamers please take note.
The soundtrack for the film is a series of playful melodies by none other than Sword & Sworcery composer Jim Guthrie. The editing of the movie conveys the moods of these quirky indie characters and while the length could have been shortened without losing key content, you want to see what happens to these four men as they approach the biggest moments of their lives.
Non-gamers may find this film somewhat hard to follow, technical terminology is thrown around a bit haphazardly but a mainstream audience (which statistically should include a large portion of gamers) should not have any trouble absorbing the subject matter or the dramatic content therein.
Indie Game: The Movie is a journey showing the sacrifices that these industry underdogs make to realise their dreams, and how they obsess towards perfection in order to express themselves through this modern art form.
Indie Game: The Movie is available to download via Steam, iTunes and Direct Download for £7.99 ($9.99).