Yesterday, I was lucky enough to get to go to the Sundance Film Festival and catch a showing of Indie Game: The Movie
in Salt Lake City (about 20 minutes from my house). I had been following news about this movie for quite a while -- mostly through Destructoid -- and I was crazy excited that my first Sundance experience was going to be a movie about video games. While not a whole lot of actual gameplay from any Indie games is shown, the movie is much more about the people who decide to dedicate their lives to making these games for all the rest of us to enjoy. After hearing their stories, I can safely say that I will NEVER try to program a game while on a deadline.
The documentary is laid out similar to others in the genre: Interviewees in front of a camera, talking about the process of creating their games, mostly DURING the actual process itself. The movie concentrated on three specific games and their creators: Braid,
with Jonathan Blow, Super Meat Boy,
with Tommy Refenes and Edmund McMillen, and Fez
with Phil Fish (which was confirmed to be finished at the end of the show, with a release date planned for sometime within the next couple months). The audience got to hear about the inspirations that went into these games, and that was one part that I really found fascinating. In fact, Refenes said something that really made me smile -- He said that he didn't necessarily care if people absolutely loved his games or not, but that he made the games for himself, and not for other people. If other people liked them, then that was great, but if they didn't, he still had something he was personally proud of. That's an awesome way of looking at it, as far as I'm concerned, and as we all know, Super Meat Boy
was indeed a success. He used the money they earned to pay off the debt his parents had built up over the years, and McMillen used the money to buy a house (and a hairless cat) for his wife.
Blow, while admittedly not the most interesting person to listen to, was obviously the most experienced in game programming. He explained how he created elements of Braid
to reflect himself, and how he responded to almost every post about his game on the Internet to make sure people "got it." In fact, he said he was actually very depressed after his game launched, because he wanted it to be understood. And no, the video they showed of Soulja Boy "reviewing" Braid
didn't help, I'm sure.
Fish's story was particularly agonizing at times. His first partner left during the creation of Fez,
and it was actually against the law for Fish to show the game at last year's PAX without that person's signature. He was stressed as hell leading up to the show, knowing that at any moment, he'd have to pack up and go home after all his hard work. This was made even harder to swallow considering that the public hadn't seen anything related to Fez
since the FIRST video that was shown, so it was an extremely important part in the game's production cycle. He ended up having a playable demo available anyway, and the signature he needed was indeed acquired at a later time, so everything turned out okay.
I liked how the movie was shot, because it ended up feeling like a drama. At times, it seemed like it actually had a storyline, and you wanted to know what the characters were going to do next. I had to remind myself more than once that this was actually non-fiction, and that all of this had actually happened. Just knowing that raised my own blood pressure, and I now have so much more of an appreciation for what these small developers do. Companies like EA and Capcom have thousands of people making these games at any given time. The groups shown in this documentary had no more than two each, and in Braid's
case, it was ONLY Blow working on it. Knowing what I know now about the creation process, that these guys quite literally wanted to kill themselves during the whole thing, I'm absolutely blown away even more than I was as I played their games in the first place.
The coolest part of the showing was that Refenes showed up for a Q&A afterwards. (I meant to bring my copy of the Super Meat Boy Ultra Edition,
but I forgot, so that pissed me off for a bit -- I got my ticket stub signed instead by him and the directors.) Being a journalism graduate, I took particular note of one question an audience member asked, which was related to the best way of getting the news about Indie games out there. Refenes said that journalism is going to make or break the Indie game scene, and that good journalists actually sit down and play the games they review, rather than just throwing something together to get the first review on the Internet. And that's when things got awesome.
Refenes, in person, talked about Destructoid's own Jonathan Holmes, telling the audience how passionate about gaming and writing he is. His praise of Holmes was extremely high, and he brought Holmes up when he was speaking about what all game journalists SHOULD be doing, and the right way to do it. I thought I wanted to meet Jonathan in person before, but this pushed it over the edge now. Let's hang out sometime!
Anyway, the movie was great. I'm not a huge documentary guy, but I am a huge video game guy, and I definitely appreciated what was done here. Even if you've never had an interest in game programming, you should check this out when it's available to the masses
-- You'll actually enjoy and appreciate the Indie games you play even more than you do now.