Watching Indie Game: The Movie gave me hope that there’s more to gaming than glorified roster updates on FIFA, and bigger guns on Call of Duty releases.
It follows three game development companies and their creators at various stages of producing and releasing their independent games, free of creative interference but saddled with financial pressures as they pull all-nighters, fret over marketing and reflect on their experiences.
Edmund and Tommy are a couple of guys working on a game called Super Meat Boy. They want to create a game that’s a direct homage to the stuff they grew up playing. Phil is the visionary behind a game called Fez which allows you to experience a mix of 2- and 3D gaming, while Jonathan is filmed looking back on the time he spent creating Braid, the positive impact it had on the gaming community and his own insecurities about fans not ‘getting’ the message he wanted to put out through the game, philosophically and artistically, despite its extremely positive reviews.
I’ve been left pretty soured lately with two things about video gaming: the big-business industry having its wicked way with hardworking talent, and the strange punchline that games journalism is becoming, where everyone is walking on eggshells around each other.
The reason I loved this film so much is because it provides an honest look at both sides of the coin. The drama that’s seeping into the lives of J-Blow and Phil Fish, one a misunderstood artist and the other dealing with the rockstar mentality of indie cred; and the honest portrayal of two clever and conscientious guys fearful that their hard work will be for nothing in the bigger picture.
In this film I see Jonathan Blow as the wise head on the youthful shoulders. His role is as a spiritual mentor who’s seen everything that the other featured companies are going through and much more besides. He comes across as insecure because his previous attempts to reach out and understand the way his work is viewed by others backfired on him, so he’s careful and softly spoken about his lot in life.
Phil Fish has a long way to go just to bring it back to ‘misunderstood’. His acrimonious split from a business partner has him hurting too, as does a break-up and a family medical drama, but he still comes across in the film as a little arrogant to me. He’s obviously under a lot of pressure during the course of this film, especially as he prepares to exhibit at PAX – without even being sure he’s legally allowed to thanks to the ex-business partner – but from what I’ve read about the man’s poor attitude since the film’s release, maybe there is something more to it.
But my favourite story of the three has to be the Meat Boy boys, because they are just so in love with what they’re doing, that by the time the love is beginning to run out, it floods in from everywhere else as their new legions of fans get involved in sharing their love for the game online, which is just the tonic for our heroes’ flagging spirits.
Tommy is an excitable dude when he wants to be, and it’s really sad when things begin to get away from him. He’s clearly in a physically and emotionally bad way at one point and I really just wanted to give him a hug. Edmund is an absolute inspiration as he tells the story of the game he’d previously created, Aether, as a response to the loneliness he used to feel as a geeky kid with family problems. I was really moved by this as, once again (emo alert) it’s something I can really relate to. I just really wanted these guys to win one. I’m really glad they did. Spoiler alert: Super Meat Boy is an immensely successful and popular game. You might have heard of it.
I’ve also got to give special praise to the soundtrack, which is just effin’ gorgeous.
Jim Guthrie has done a beautiful job here of setting the mood throughout each scene of the film, and it’s been pretty much looping on my iPod at work.
I’d definitely recommend Indie Game: The Movie to anyone curious to know what happens under the surface of the gaming industry and how these guys get on under the radar of major studio operations, left to their own devices to sink or swim on their own merits. Call of FIFA is but the tip of the iceberg; here’s the rest.
Oh, and here’s an amusing trailer remix if you like action movies too.