FocusFlik – Unknown Pleasures – Indie Game: The Movie

Welcome to Unknown Pleasures, a new feature here on FlikGeek (all is explained here!)

Indie Game: The Movie is a 2012 documentary by James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot examining the production and launch process of three indie games, Braid, Fez and Super Meat Boy. The film doesn’t look at fans, or the gaming world in-depth, or even sales figures and reviews, it primarily focuses on four games developers and their reasons for getting into gaming and the stress they go through during production.

Gaming has always been big business, but it’s only in recent years that gaming events have become a common and mainstream spot on the calendar. For the first time, gamers are evenly split; male to female. Many of us are gamers without even realising it, Angry Birds? You are a gamer. Gone are the days of a gamer stereotype of nerdy, awkward boys stuck in their rooms for hours on end playing games, it’s a serious business. Games have become more and more spectacular, from the world-famous Call of Duty, to the unrivalled critical acclaim of The Last of Us, to the more unusual artistic gaming experiences like Journey and Limbo. No longer is it jumping on mushrooms or collecting coins. Cover of gaming events have started filling all corners of the internet, from news rooms to blogs to live YouTube streaming, not to mention the YouTube stars who’ve made a living from playing games and recording themselves. Still the old controversies appear, videogame violence and content, but not as vehemently as days gone by. Movie game characters aren’t overblown, out of proportion stereotypes, they’re more human, more complex, some games even exploring homosexual relationships, breaking new ground in the gaming world. I, as well as being passionate about cinema, would consider myself a gamer. I’ve been playing video games since I was 3 or 4 years old. I still have my Sega Megadrive (which is roughly around 20 years old, almost as old as I am!). At the risk of sounding like a hipster, I would consider myself an old-school female gamer, it’s formed such a huge part of my life and my interests, I don’t even think about it anymore, it’s so natural to me, I find it difficult to understand why anyone wouldn’t want to play games. Indie Game: The Movie explores that innate ‘gaming instinct’ within so many people, which leads them to carve a career out of game production.

Games are now often being made in the bedrooms and houses of indie games makers, no fancy office facilities here.

Games are now often being made in the bedrooms and houses of indie games makers, no fancy office facilities here.

The indie gaming scene has exploded in recent years. With the increase of prominence of gaming companies such as Steam and App stores, game development has moved out of the studios of large conglomerates (Square Enix, Naughty Dog, Rockstar, EA, Ubisoft, Konami, the list goes on…) and into the bedrooms of kids who in this computer savvy society, learn to program and create their own games. To make a game all you need is basic programming knowledge and the ability to apply that, and you then have a game (Pong anyone?). Gaming creation has never been so accessible, so it was inevitable that indie games would start to have the attention of the gaming industry. No longer are webpages of IGN, Metacritic and Gamespot dominated by the Grand Theft Autos and Call of Duty’s, a game made in less than a quarter of the time for hundred of thousands if not millions of dollars less than its studio counterparts are actually achieving the same critical acclaim, sometimes out doing them. However, this vast difference in production technique has its downfalls. Clearly a team of 1000 can create something far more quickly than a team of two. A big production studio has more resources, and more importantly, better networks to deal with problems and issues that arise during game productions, a team of two is probably set back months when encountering a problem.

Refenes is a peculiar character, but ultimately shows his real reason for getting into gaming, the joy of the experience, the joy of being within a community

Refenes is a peculiar character, but ultimately shows his real reason for getting into gaming, the joy of the experience, the joy of being within a community

Indie Game: The Movie examines some of these struggles by indie game makers. Initially these are focused on perhaps more technical issues, design and programming, but as the film progresses more personal issues come to light. The developer of Fez, Phil Fish, has a particularly difficult time during development. Having announced the game at the Independent Games festival 2008 and thrusting Fish into ‘indie game celebrity-dom’, four years on, the game had still not gone to market. A glimpse at online forums revealed vitriolic personal attacks against Fish for not releasing the game. Fish expresses at times, regret, for becoming so personally involved with the game, blaming his perfectionism for the lack of progress. In addition to this, he’s going through a nasty ‘divorce’ with his development partner, which means he is unable to exhibit the game when it’s eventually close to its finished form without risking a lawsuit. Similarly and Tommy Refenes both have their own problems during the development of Super Meat Boy. McMillen expresses frustration at not being able to give enough time to his marriage, and his concerns that his wife will leave him. Refenes also suffers as a result of his involvement in Super Meat Boy, his diet is terrible and his energy and obsession with completing the game drains him, not to mention the lack of money both developers have. Upon the release of Super Meat Boy, Refenes obsessively scrolls through the Xbox store to find the game, as Microsoft promised it would be. Discovering it’s not on the front page, leads Refenes to have a somewhat minor breakdown. Not concerned by the reviews or sales figures, Refenes is indifferent to the games release. Again having expressed such a personal and intimate involvement, his spirits are only picked up when he sees videos online of gamers enjoying Super Meat Boy.

Fez was an extension of Fish's passion, but also became a sticking point of obsession and perfectionism

Fez was an extension of Fish’s passion, but also became a sticking point of obsession and perfectionism

All the developers at one point or another associate themselves with this current generation (those born in the late 70’s right through to the late 80’s) who have grown up with the birth of gaming. Gaming is such an enormous part of these men’s lives, and their stories of how they get involved in gaming are beautifully intimate and heart-warming as are the games they make. These games are effectively extensions of themselves, and the focus isn’t on money, although the film ends with McMillen buying a new house with his wife and Refenes paying off his mum and dad’s house. But Indie Game: The Movie, focuses more on the heart and soul of games. References to mainstream games are overtly negative, Call of Duty and Halo being two titles in the firing line of these games developers. It’s only in the last couple of years that gamers and individual games have been called ‘art’. No more are the stereotypes of gamers mindlessly shooting each other, there is a warmth and longevity in a basic platformer created with blood, sweat and tears. Other than religion, the gaming community is perhaps the largest in the world, and Indie Game: The Movie gives an identity to the creative minds behind these smaller games.

Fish shows off one of the first computer games he made, a series of flashing monotone patterns which if you put your face close enough to the screen and stare for five minutes, you begin to see images and pictures which aren't there

Fish shows off one of the first computer games he made, a series of flashing monotone patterns which if you put your face close enough to the screen and stare for five minutes, you begin to see images and pictures which aren’t there

Indie Game: The Movie is a beautifully made film, which purely focuses on the developers, allowing them to freely speak and express themselves. It’s thoroughly enjoyable and gets right to the heart of why these people of our generation get involved in game making, they do it for themselves, they do it for the enjoyment of gaming, financial success appears to be a happy by-product of the stress that goes into making these games. The joy of gaming and experiencing a game for the first time is beautifully illustrated and is a must-see for any gaming fan.

I watched Indie Game: The Movie on Netflix, but it’s also available to watch on Steam.

Related Articles

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Cut the Crap Movie Reviews – review

There are tons more, I Googled ‘Indie Game: The Movie WordPress’ to get a good list of independent bloggers thoughts on this film, and there was a lot! Check them out and support your independent bloggers!

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