We don't review movies often (though there are notable exceptions!). But one film that's clearly fair game for busy gamers is Indie Game: The Movie (not rated, but definitely for adults only due to very coarse language - these developers curse worse than Anthony Bourdain's line cooks!).
This movie popped onto our radar a few months ago, when we heard a rumor on Twitter that HBO had hired the filmmakers, Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky, to write a sitcom about the game industry (they've since reported that it's not really going to be a sitcom). Since we wrote and just published our own pilot script, Click to Play (on the comedy inherent in today's high-tech workplace and the game industry specifically), we were intrigued and started following them.
Last Friday, I got to see Indie Game: The Movie at a special industry-packed screening in Seattle. It's a remarkable film, and I recommend you see it with an audience if you get the chance. (There will be a DVD release, but probably not before summer based on the Q&A discussion after the movie.) You can check for nearby cities and showtimes on the official site.
Here's my brief review:
Despite a few minor grievances, Indie Game: The Movie shows remarkable insight into both game development and the mindset of those who commit themselves to their passions and make deep sacrifices for their art. It follows three games, all released or near release on Xbox LIVE Arcade:
Braid. Delivered in 2009 to unprecedented acclaim, we learn how creator Jonathon Blow actually recoiled from the positive reviews and attacked sites that enjoyed the game but didn't fully grok its deeper meaning. One of the highlights of the film is when a celebrity is shown loving the game for all of the wrong reasons. The game opened the door for edgier, more personal stories to garner mainstream attention from game publishers and gamers alike, so Blow is portrayed as a pioneer who opened the door for small dev teams who continue to push the envelope on what constitutes a game with titles like Limbo and Journey.
Super Meat Boy. Team Meat developers Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes raised a stink when their game wasn't given immediate promotion on the Xbox dashboard, and you can see why after living through excepts from their excruciating development cycle with them in this film. Still, the issue (quite possibly a server hiccup) was resolved in a matter of hours and didn't seem to impact their success. The punishing gameplay in Super Meat Boy isn't for everyone, and that's by design: They made it for younger versions of themselves, and if you don't like it they don't really care. That said, I can honestly say that I had more fun watching them make the game than I did playing it.
Fez. Due later this year (it was just certified this week!), Fez has been in development since 2007 by Phil Fish and various partners. One ex-partner's unwillingness to sign a separation agreement nearly scuttled the project at a pivotal time last year, and the film lingers a bit too long (and uncomfortably zooms in) on Fish during a moment of pre-PAX East desperation. You may recall that our PAX East 2011 correspondent, Collin Moore, reported his impressions. Clearly he didn't play it on the first day, when the demo build kept crashing!
Overall, Indie Game: The Movie is expertly edited and presents a side of the game industry that few see, even those who work for game companies and publishers (as we have). While it would have been nice if they had pulled back the curtain on more types of projects - mobile apps, PSN, WiiWare and PC games for instance - the filmmakers promise the eventual Special Edition DVD release will include interviews with more coders, including the makers of thatgamecompany's Journey and the iOS title Eliss.
On a related note, the music for Indie Game: The Movie by Jim Guthrie is largely drawn from his score for Sword & Sworcery, which we're giving away as part of the Indie Game Music Bundle 2 (enter to win by March 31!).
You can get a small taste of Indie Game: The Movie from this trailer (may not be safe for work, depending on where you work):