Indie Game: The Movie is a genuinely fascinating documentary not only about the machinations video games industry but the blood, sweat and tears that go into any creative process. It is a film that really does make you think and re-evaluate what you may want in life. It clearly shows the true costs of any labour of love. It should be required viewing for any wannabe who dreams of being on a reality shows and achieving a fast path to their perceived hearts desire.
The documentary focuses on four independent game developers. One, Jonathan Blow has already achieved success via his game Braid. This thoughtful, introspective man who has fulfilled his dream, still feels that his work has not been fully understood by the wider public. It becomes very clear that the creation of his game was not a purely financial undertaking and that he sees it as a wider artistic endeavour. His experiences are subsequently cross referenced against three other developers, labouring to bring their magnum opus to the commercial markets.
Edward McMillen and Tommy Refenes, the creators of Super Meat Boy (which has subsequently proven very successful) are shown burning the midnight oil and moving heaven and earth to meet the rigourous timetable set for them by Microsoft. It becomes very clear that although they want their game to do well commercially, the main thing is to create something akin to the games they grew up with. That is by far the most important thing to them. It is a very personal statement. It should resonate with any writer, musician or film maker.
Pat Fish is shown taking his game Fez to the PAX trade show. Four years in the making and still incomplete, he has to deal with the legal fallout of failed business partnership, along with impatient fans who have gone from eager consumers to rabid, disaffected trolls. The stress is very evident with both sets of developers, although they face different issues. One has the immediate problem of his family getting into debt to keep his dream afloat, another face potential legal action. All stare failure directly in the eyes. These aren’t corporate executives with alleged nerves of steel. These are real people like you an I and it is traumatic watch.
Indie Game: The Movie depicts the independent gaming world as being equally blighted by corporate bullshit as any other industry. There are deadlines, small print and ever changing goal posts. The work required is prodigious and there is little or no advance funding. Tommy Refenes, a diabetic to begin with, does not look well for a great deal of this documentary. The reality of the situation is back breaking work, a crappy diet, no social life, and the only light at the end of the tunnel being a crap shoot for success or failure. It is not glamorous, hip or bohemian lifestyle choice. It certainly makes the mundane nature a lot of nine to five jobs look a lot more appealing.
On a side note this is a beautifully crafted piece of film making. It is handsomely shot and well edited, presenting the material in a palatable story arc. It is not overtly biased and although it references the developer’s views on the mainstream commercial gaming industry it does not offer any overt soap boxes. Overall Indie Game: The Movie is about making a personal creative and artistic statement and what the consequences are of doing so. In that respects the documentary has appeal beyond the confines of gaming. It is one of the most emotionally challenging films of the year that I have seen and I heartedly recommend it.