As part of the recent Sheffield Doc/Fest, Russ and I headed to see a screening of James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot’s successfully kickstarter-funded Indie Game: The Movie which follows the creators of Braid, Super Meat Boy and Fez before and after the release of their creations. (EDIT: Turns out Tim and Kyle have seen it as well).
While the final film received a little flak here and there for not really delving deeply into the world of indie games, it’s clear from the outset that this documentary is far more focussed on the indie developers who devoted/demented themselves to bring their dream games to virtual life. Where the film succeeds absolutely is as an entertaining and engaging love letter to the commitment, passion and sheer obsession that, as players, we can sometimes forget that it takes to get these games made whenever we turn on our computers or consoles and demand instant entertainment.
Where the film perhaps falls short is in its slightly rose-tinted portrayal of its hard-working heroes. While audiences will easily be on Phil Fish’s side as he faces an expletive-laden message board of gamers lamenting Fez’s delayed release, when Fish is confronted by a series of setbacks mostly resulting from an ex-business partner, it’s difficult to know quite what you think because we are never given the full back-story to the antagonism. (It’s understandable that full details are never divulged, but it leaves an uncomfortable edge in what has otherwise built up as an optimistic underdog story).
In contrast to the pressurised build-up to Fez‘s first PAX demo, Jonathan Blow’s account of his own Braid comes as a dose of thoughtful hindsight. As well as looking back at the game’s surprisingly ‘yeah, someone should really do a game like that’ origins, it’s fascinating to see Blow’s response to how the game is perceived as well as received to the point where he appreciates the high review scores but thinks people are enjoying his game ‘wrong’. It’s in moments like these that the film shows off its stars as more than just game-makers, all of the participants are striving to express something and connect with other people through their games.
The film’s heart is perhaps best emphasised through Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes, co-creators of Super Meat Boy. Where Refenes is clearly passionate and dedicated to their game as something he desperately wants to play himself, it’s probably McMillen who garners the greatest affection from the audience. As we are shown the monsters and madness of his childhood sketchbooks, it’s easy to see that any compromise at all on what he dreams of creating won’t be worth all the hard work and struggle. I’ve read a few comments that say this film legitimises games as an artistic form but – as someone who never thought games needed legitimising – all that’s clear is that there’s no other medium that could possibly communicate better what McMillen wants to say.
Above all else, Indie Game: The Movie is an absorbing cautionary tale that entertainingly shows how much you have to shut yourself away and sacrifice in order to share your ideas with the gaming world. While the film (perhaps wisely) doesn’t delve too deeply into the darker side of the protagonists’ self-doubt or isolation, what it firmly puts across is the infectious enthusiasm of the indie devs, the clarity of their vision and their sheer bloody-mindedness.
My verdict: 4 out of 5.
Russ’s verdict: 3.5 out of 5.
Kyle’s verdict: 3.74 out of 5. (Tch, typical Kyle )
Tim’s verdict: 3.5 out of 5.
So, all in all, we give it a score of 3.685 out of 5. Definitely worth a watch!