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Film Review - Indie Game: The Movie

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11th June 2012; By Patrick

IMPORTANT !  This film has not been rated by the MPAA and contains intense language and brief sexual content, content unsuitable for some audiences.

From its original conception as a documentary to detail the process in independent video game development, I have taken a keen interest in Indie Game: The Movie. Produced by debut filmmakers Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky, it seemingly transformed into a gripping emotional journey that follows three developers in the process of development.

The film follows Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes in their struggle to finish development on Super Meat Boy and get it released on Xbox Live Arcade; Phil Fish in his attempt to get his game Fez back into the public eye and have it shown off at PAX East; and Jonathan Blow, who unfortunately contributes very little to the overall film.

If there is one weakness in the film, it is the odd jumps to clips of people in the industry detailing basic things such as what independent game development is. These sections are clearly aimed at a non-gamer audience, and do a good job of introducing major ideas, but take away from the experience for the gamer audience. Many times the film seems to come across as a way to justify games as a valid medium of self-expression, which is not what gamers will want to see. Personally, I wanted the answers to questions like "How did things get to this point?" or "Why did [Phil] develop the game privately in a sheltered environment for so long?" These questions are left unanswered for the most part, which is slightly disappointing. It should, however, be noted that I simply watched the film itself, devoid of any commentary or additional scenes, so your mileage may vary.

While Team Meat and Phil Fish are the stars of the show, the documentary spends a fair amount of time on interviews with Jonathan Blow, creator of the hit indie game
Braid. Unfortunately, many (including myself) who know or know of Blow know him for his spewing insanity as fact, and then viewing himself as an expert on gaming after one success. It starts off feeling natural that he reflects on the development of Braid, yet within a couple minutes he begins complaining about people not "getting" Braid and how that upsets him. This not only disrupts the flow a bit, but it makes it slightly worse that the film ends with him talking, despite not being present in any way shape or form in the entire second half of the film apart from a brief mention by Edmund completely unrelated to the film.

Between the three constant focuses of the film, Edmund McMillen seems to steal the show. A very gentle, misunderstood person who only creates games to be able to communicate with more people, it is incredibly easy to sympathize with every single scene he is in. And when Super Meat Boy finally launches on XBLA, a huge smile spread across my face.

This is not to say that the film presents a solely positive look on development. Most of the film is refreshingly sober, with the developers all opening up like a book. It becomes very common in the second act to see them in tears, with death being a very real possibility; either by malnutrition, overwork, or suicide, depending on the person. This might appear strong to some, but it shows the
real side of development, with real people struggling through real problems and feeling real emotions.

The film is not a very depressing film by nature, though. As odd as it may sound after the aforementioned points, the film is actually very uplifting by the end, giving the message that anyone can do anything if they feel the calling. The directors portray videogames as a method of communication, and in so doing, they could not have picked better subjects.

As far as critiquing the film itself and not its subjects, my major criticism is the length. The film ends up being just over 100 minutes, but with so much more content that wasn't included in the base film, one can't help but feel slightly short-changed. Thankfully, there will be much more content in future releases of the film, such as the upcoming Blu-Ray Special Edition, to satisfy any desire for more content.

The final thing to note is that the production values are phenomenal, especially for the director's first film. The editing especially is jaw-dropping, and the original score by Jim Guthrie (composer of PC and iOS game Sword & Sworcery) is worth purchasing just on its own.

I really don't want these criticisms to outweigh how good the film is, overall. It's a very sobering subject, and it's not simply "Hey, let's make a game! Great, we're millionaires!" The film shows the real struggles that these people have had to go through and is highly recommended to anyone that can stomach such a film.


Feature by Patrick

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