Saturday, 27 April 2013

Indie Game: The Movie (2012) - Lisanne Pajot & James Swirsky

Kickstarter funded documentary about the world of independent game developers. Right from the off I have to say that I thought this was an extremely absorbing watch, for a start I’m not a gamer, it’s not that I don’t enjoy playing them it’s just that I find they tend to suck the hours out of life like nothing else on earth. There’s heroin addiction and just a little lower down the ladder there’s game addiction. I just don’t need either in my life. That said I still found this documentary enthralling and informative, directors Pajot & Swirsky manage to walk a novice like me through the world of gaming without me ever feeling like I’m watching an episode of Sesame Street.

Pajot & Swirsky focus on two games, one near completion - Super Meat Boy, and one that has been in development for so long (Fez) that its creator (Phil Fish), seems to have lost sight of what he is doing. As well as these hopefuls we get input from the developer behind the über successful Braid (Jonathan Blow), on the highs and lows of actually getting a game out into the marketplace. As with King of Kong before it Indie Game is watchable even if you couldn’t pick out a Wii in a police line up. Like any good gaming documentary Indie Game focuses on the human drama rather than the pixels.

Right from the off I was hooked, I remember Francis Ford Coppola once saying that the best way to start a documentary was to put your best footage right up front, even before the title card and then build the documentary up towards that point. That’s exactly what Indie Game: The Movie does. So what on paper sounds like possibly the least exciting documentary ever, actually turns out to have tension and drama aplenty.

Edmund McMillen (tats, weird facial hair and a natty line in Metal tees) and Tommy Refenes (worry, male pattern baldness and more worrying) are very easy to root for, they come across as a couple of regular types and you'll find yourself wanting them to be a huge success by the time their game is launched. Phil Fish (Wolverine hair and chops) is a little different though. I actually found myself hoping that someone would rescue the poor guy, who all the way through this seems to sink further and further under the pressure of living up to what his game promises to be.

The difference between indie and major in the gaming world seems to be one of artistic control over your product. Indie games are more quirky and warm, less inclined to want the whole world to hook up and play at the same time. That’s the plus side, the downside however is that usually a tiny group of people have to do what hundreds of programmers manage at the major studios, and on a miniscule budget to boot. This causes games to take years to arrive, and this can really take it’s toll on the poor sods that spend every waking hour working on them. So imagine then what it’s like if that game sinks without a trace, or even worse never even sees the light of day. These are the sort of things that Indie Game deals with.

I didn’t cry, I didn’t laugh and I didn’t want to play computer games after watching this either. But I did go straight on-line afterwards to see what had happened to the three main people in the documentary, and that’s good enough for me to think that this is well worth an hour and a half of your life be you a gamer or not.

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