For many people, a second thought is hardly given as to just how much work goes into the games we know and love. Getting all caught up in a game, one rarely stops to think of how it came about. FEZ, Braid, Super Meat Boy… At heart, these indie titles all have something common, and in the feature documentary Indie Game: The Movie we’re shown exactly that. The harsh realities behind being an indie developer are realized, as we’re taken on an emotional journey into their documented lives during the final months before their games’ release.
Starting out as several Kickstarter projects, directors James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot originally wanted a documentary to cover the whole indie game culture, but the more they delved into the lives of a select few game developers, the sooner they realized that they’d discovered some truly amazing and captivating stories that clearly needed to be shared with the world.
While having its advantages, ultimately, being an independent developer is risky business, and shows just as many downsides along the way. The film sheds some light on this fact through the stories of the infamous Jonathon Blow, with the success behind his masterpiece; Braid, as well as the reputation he’s made for himself on the internet, the struggles of Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes during the development of Super Meat Boy, and of course, the ever obsessive perfectionist Phil Fish, during the continuous ups and downs he's faced during his ongoing project Fez, after many years in development, all the while trying to deal with the aftermath of the recent loss of his business partner. Oh, the drama!
Even if it seemed as if they were indeed pushing for drama from time to time, it was most likely a reason for the directors to experiment with composition rather than simply to enhance the story by narrative. Not that it held the film back in any way, but quite on the contrary, since several of the shots used were actually quite beautifully done. Both cinematic and dramatic elements were incorporated into scenes depicting Phil Fish's constant downward spiral, and yet conservative and more personal shots were presented when portraying Edmund McMillen's more down-to-earth personality and when reminiscing on the inspiration drawn from his own imagination as a child, which lead him to be doing what he’s doing today.
As the film unfolds, you can’t help but feel for these guys and their stories. You’re immediately pulled in, as you watch them battle it out and deal with the wide array of obstacles thrown at them, from funding, game breaking issues and bugs, to deadlines, and the stress and depression that comes with it. Yet, blow after blow, you’re glued to the screen, emotionally invested, and genuinely wanting them to succeed.
The stand out for this movie was the payoff of knowing whether or not the developers had succeeded. Though, at the back of your mind, and already knowing the outcome, the film still proved to be quite suspenseful and rewarding until the very end.
Indie Game: The Movie is an enjoyable yet heartfelt piece that has proven to be an insightful look into game development process, by putting a face and personality to the venturesome and ambitious realities behind being an indie developer, doing what they can through blood, sweat and tears, in order to achieve their childhood dreams.