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While we enjoy playing them, do they enjoy making them?
One of the many reasons why Indie Game: The Movie is such a fascinating and riveting documentary is because it raises questions for gamers, aspiring creators, and even the most casual viewer to deeply, thoroughly contemplate. One in particular is while we have fun playing independently made games we find aimlessly scrolling through the Xbox Live Arcade, the Playstation Network, and WiiWare, we begin to wonder if the creators truly enjoy making them. Obviously, there's the pull-factor of showcasing creativity, genuinely original concepts, and sort of avoiding the shackles of mainstream gaming, but you may have to sacrifice your social identity, close friends, relationships, luxuries, etc and almost confine yourself to the life of a hermit.
The documentary takes the extreme and surprising route of showing the agony independent game designers face. Either they hit it big and are possibly excelled in the world of gaming, and have the ability to recoup all the luxuries they might've given up, or they can fade into dire, muddled obscurity, to never be heard from again. I experienced a very rare, unplanned depression while watching this film, but that feeling is moot compared to the fear and anxiety faced by these hard working engineers every single day. I'll be blunt and honest and say I could never put up with this. I'd be more paranoid than I am right now.
We follow the lives of four independent game designers, two whom work together, and they all have one seemingly simple goal that sounds fun to achieve; creating an independent game to sell on the Xbox Live Arcade. Two of the first people we meet are working on the video game, Super Meat Boy, an inventive and delightfully quirky platformer where you play as a plain brown square of meat and must navigate your way through fast-paced, adrenaline-testing levels that require much trial and error and a helluva lot more patience than I could probably possess. One of its many creative touches is how you must learn the control, and there are no menus or directions on how to do certain things. The game will test you with levels where pulling off a specific move is required. But you must figure that one out yourself.
The creators of this game are Edward McMillen and Tommy Refenes. These charismatic men make it very clear to the audience that they don't care if this game isn't what you want, as its job is to pay homage to the game they would've loved unconditionally as kids. It's the heart that counts.
Another man, the opinionated and intelligent, Pat Fish, is breathlessly trying to keep on keeping on with a game that he created years back that has remained in development hell ever since its debut at a gaming convention. The game is called Fez, and it is simple, effective entertainment, (much like the rest of these games) yet has a unique artistic approach to the platforming style as it is constructed out of painstakingly detailed Tetris-like blocks and its world continues to turn to the right a little bit every few seconds. Fish has been combating not an army, but a legion of internet users who have become slanderous and wholly impatient at the delay for the game, yet he is doing the best he can possibly do, after going through a parental divorce, a hazardous breakup, and many other dramatic life events.
The last game developer we follow is another opinionated man named Jonathan Blow, who is constructing his game called, Braid, another unique platformer game, boasting a "rewind" feature. After the surprise success of his game, he is still upset that many reviewers didn't see through his artistic vision, and because of it, he feels they didn't get the full enjoyment from the game, nor his special message for the players.
Indie Game wisely depicts the independent gaming world as a stressful cacophony of deadlines and time limits at the creators' expenses, and rather than the alleged barrel of lackadaisical fun and silliness I believe some of us believe the industry is bent on, shows the high levels of sweat, tears, and poignancy that plague the community itself. To see these men, tired, worn, and restless over a game they are unsure of is heartbreaking and it shows that even the most unique and visionary are some of the most vulnerable.
Much like the work of independent cinema, one of the perks to being free from the monopolizing industry, is the vast freedom of expression and strong limitless qualities one can possess. The similarities between the conventional and the independent in both film and gaming are not that far off, and the picture provided me with some insight on how the indie gaming world is far more bent on idealistic intentions and expressionism rather than just a rehashed sequel of a proved money-maker. The only week point I can find in this documentary is its lack of opinion on the mainstream gaming world. Repeatedly, these men mention what great disdain they have for the mainstream world of video games. Refenes even goes as far as saying it would "be hell" to work for a company like EA or Epic. Never do these opinions explode into more than just simple ranting.
With that being said, without hesitation do I recommend Indie Game: The Movie. It is one of the most touching and emotionally challenging films of the year, something I rarely say about documentaries. Its stern poignancy provides eye-opening levels of insight to people possibly wanting to get into the field and those wanting to go into the bigger field. Its characters are anything but dull, and have enough charisma and charm to fuel three films. I have yet to see a documentary as touching as this one.
View the full, more complete review on my website, http://stevethemovieman.proboards.com. Click "Steve's Reviews."
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