Any movie about video games is a must-see. Indie Game: The Movie is a great documentary but it only tells half of the story.
I love me some documentaries. And I love me some documentaries about games even more. You can dive into some great documentaries about pinball, Monopoly and Scrabble on Netflix and each of them is lot of fun. One of the highest profile documentaries about video games is most certainly King of Kong…okay, so maybe it’s a quasi-documentary but nonetheless it’s a wonderful story that shouldn’t be skipped. Yet if you’re looking for a video game documentary that covers some more recent gaming, the selection is pretty slim. This past year Indie Game: The Movie was released with a lot of hype as it appeared Sundance and SXSW, and I finally got a chance to watch it.
Indie Game: The Movie
This movie follows the makers of three of the most popular indie games found on the Xbox Live Arcade, Braid, Super Meat Boy and Fez. It follows the latter two with in-depth interviews from their small development teams, following them from conception to release to capture all the highs and lows that come with making a game. The film is well shot, well made and tells some great stories. If you’re a gamer of any degree then you owe it to yourself to watch this documentary, but my concern is that the movie only covers a few of what are certainly hundreds of indie game stories.
I know you have to pick-and-choose your topic and that you can’t make a film about every small-time game developer, but the indie game landscape is huge and I feel this documentary focused on a very specific subset of that group. The tales behind Super Meat Boy and Fez are very similar. A small team of friends risk their bank accounts, mortgages and relationships in order to make their game. The release date gets closer and closer, forcing the developers to scramble and become more stressed. Emotions are pushed to the limit but they’re all doing it for the love of gaming and the craft of creating entertainment. They’re doing what mainstream games can’t and that’s what motivates them. They’re doing something different that will change the way people experience games. The release date arrives…will the game work? Will people like it? Yes.
I want the rest of the story
Frankly, it feels like a story we’ve all heard before. Of course, it doesn’t help that you know the ending the movie before it even starts. Super Meat Boy and Fez are both really good games that have sold millions of copies and have in some way improved the lives of their creators…and therein lies one of the problems, each story has a happy ending. Where’s the story of the indie developer that sacrificed all the same stuff but didn’t make it? You need the sad story to show how great – and how rare – stories like Super Meat Boy really are. In many ways, by featuring SMB, Fez and Braid in this film they’ve selected them to represent the entire indie game industry and I feel that’s a great disservice. For every one indie game success there are no doubt hundreds that fail to achieve popularity and/or financial success.
Fez and Super Meat Boy were Xbox Live Arcade games and thus had some help from Microsoft in getting their games noticed and sold. They had resources many indie game developers simply don’t have or don’t get. Just step into the Xbox Indie Game marketplace (if you can find it) and you’ll find hundreds of titles that rarely see the light of day or achieve more than 1,000 downloads at $1 per download. These games have to rely on word of mouth or a chance review on a blog (like this one) to give it some press. Where’s the story of these games? The Indie Game movie highlights teams that had more or less given up the rest of their lives to create a game. Where’s the story of the guy that made his game on the weekends while working a day job and supporting a family? They’re out there and some of them have succeeded…and many have failed. I’ve played many indie games that have been made by one person and while they probably haven’t become millionaires, some of these games have done well and are otherwise considered a success.
All good stories need a loser. You can’t have success without failure and Indie Game: The Movie doesn’t have any sad story. This isn’t to say the movie isn’t good…it is, and the stories it tells are well told and make you feel good, but there’s just so much more out there that I can’t help but to want to see the rest of the story. However, if after watching this documentary you don’t get the urge to go and create something then you’re a robot. The passion of these game developers is most certainly genuine and that can only be admired. They are deserving of their rewards and this film compliments their work wonderfully, I just wish there was more.
You can download Indie Game: The Movie from the official web site or you can even find it on Steam. It’s well worth the $10 price tag and will sit with honor next the rest of your video game movies.