Review: Indie Game: The Movie
Everyone knows that I love indie games. I’ve often been quoted as a “whore” for the genre, the art direction and my love of the retro roots of the whole movement. But indie games hold a special place for me, and many people who visit this website daily. So when news of Indie Game: The Movie reached my strained eyes through the power of the internet; I was instantly in love with the idea of the movie. Indie games are a passion for me and to see two filmmakers document the lives and struggles indie developers go through deepened my interest in the film further and the trailer for the movie, overall, really did me in. I sat there awed, and now after waiting two long years the movie was finally released worldwide.
Indie Game: The Movie is the passion project of filmmakers James Swirsky and Lissane Pajot. The film which is a documentary has done extremely well on the festival circuit culminating in a “World Cinema Documentary Editing Award” at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. This is a big honour in the film world. The film itself documents the lives, challenges and day-to-day struggles of four indie developers providing an introspective look at the emotional creative process of developing in indie. Particularly, of issues pertaining to constant financial problems, with cash flow for their projects always in flux, and the strain, and stress, it puts on the individual.
The indie developers that the film primarily focuses on are: Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes during the development of Super Meat Boy for XBLA, Phil Fish during the development of Fez for XBLA, and Jonathan Blow reflecting on the success of his game Braid. The soundtrack for the film was produced by Jim Guthrie, of Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP fame and suits the film immensely well.
Indie Game: The Movie engages you on an emotional and creative level exposing the harsh reality of indie development where both success and failure are excruciatingly close together. This is evident from the life experiences of McMillen, Refenes, Fish and Blow who despite their passion for their art are at risk and exposed to criticism, self doubt and truths about the creative process which every artist has to trudge through. Edmund McMillen draws on the social awkwardness of childhood, the misunderstandings, nervousness, loneliness and puts these thoughts and feelings into the games he makes. Game likes Aether which chronicled his own feelings about childhood.
Then there’s Super Meat Boy, their current project during the film, that is both a love story between Meat Boy and his girlfriend made of bandages, but also mirrors McMillen’s own experiences. Refenes gives perspective to the other side of the coin where his whole social life has become affected by the development of Super Meat Boy. There’s no time for relaxation and deadlines continually loom. However, both Refenes and McMillen find solace in the comfort of loved ones, Refenes in family and McMillen with his wife. They all have dreams which are thrust upon the success or failure of Super Meat Boy.
Another developer, Phil Fish, constantly has to fight against self doubt in the film pursuing a legal battle against an ex-partner from his company, and trying to showcase his game Fez at PAX (Penny Arcade Expo) in 2011. He demonstrates a passion for Fez that borders on perfection spending hours perfecting the game. To the point, that he identifies himself as “the guy making Fez” with himself being so intimately involved and tied to the game that has consumed his life. Fish had been developing the game for a number of years and in the movie is finally making progress, with great duress and emotional strain. The same can be said of McMillen and Refenes in Team Super Meat whose own lives during production of Super Meat Boy have fallen from focus. But when circumstances change for the indie developers, and success arrives, Indie Game: The Movie sores above expectations and solidifies itself as an uplifting film that touches on the human side of game development.
Jonathan Blow is the success story of the movie with his highly popular and critically acclaimed game Braid which has become an inspiration for many promising indie developers. Blow traces his experience over twenty two years of making games and the impact that that the success of Braid has had on his life. He expresses in the film that when he initially started developing the game he wished to put his “deepest flaws and vulnerabilities” into the game. At his own behest, some people didn’t get the message he was trying to convey in the game, and the film chronicles his frustration with his own success as well as what he has learned.
This movie is not only a film about making games, but about the person making the game. Indie Game: The Movie gives a voice to indie developers and draws you in with a unique look at their lives. You feel their struggles, ambition and self doubt. That is a good sign that a film works, and has some meaningful impact. While I sat there watching the film I could not help feeling inspired. Indie Game: The Movie is the videogame movie we’ve all being hoping for, and wanting all these years. It takes game development seriously and shows the reality of the people behind the code. This film changed my perceptions with its enormous insight and I am gladder for it. It is truly a triumph.