Wednesday, February 20, 2013

FILM REVIEW: Indie Game: The Movie

Like it or not, technology has a way of liberating culture, but video games, a relatively young media, have had to wait their turn just like music or film before them. There was a time where making a movie or releasing an album seemed beyond the reach of the ordinary Joe, but, over time, advancements in electronics have given that power to just about anyone; video games are no different, but their complexity makes going DIY a bit harder than writing a song or pointing a video camera. Even though inspired amateur programmers have had the technological means to make their own games for some time now, it's only in the past few years that Internet connected consoles have created a market for games produced outside the studio system and proven downloadable content (DLC) to be one of the fast growing segment of the industry. For visionary independents, that means a potential goldmine, but the risks, financial and psychological are just as great.

Directed by Canadian filmmakers James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot, Indie Game: The Movie profiles four intrepid indie creators at varying stages of guiding a game to its release date; there's Phil Fish, the perfectionist programmer behind the continually delayed Fez, Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes, the duo making last minute improvements to their irreverent Super Meat Boy before its surprise deadline, and Jonathan Blow, who released his innovative Braid to rave reviews and excellent sales, but wonders if he really got what he wanted. There are really two sides to each of their stories, the creative and the commercial. Each and every one of them is clearly pouring their heart and soul into their projects, speaking in lofty artistic terms about pushing the boundaries and needing to communicate and express themselves in their work, a luxury not afforded the often hundreds of programmers working on a major release like a Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty, but all of them are also desperately hoping for a huge payday, not just to make up for all the sleepless nights, but to take care of some rather pressing financial needs.

There's another common thread connecting all of these men too: all of them speak at one point or another about the depression and isolation their chosen career path has brought them, staring at bits of code in a darkened rooms like tortured artists (whether or not they are, in fact artists is a debate to unwieldy to get into here). Still, though the prospect of their creation being a flop or, worse, not coming out at all and leaving them deep in debt is a daunting one, the passion with which they talk about their craft suggests none of them would ever even consider doing anything else. That's where Indie Game: The Movie becomes more than just a doc about technological or cultural trends, or even about video games, it becomes about people in obsessive pursuit of a creative and personal ideal. Even if you're not a gamer yourself, you'll probably find yourself rooting for them, sharing in their triumphs and failures, not simply because their underdogs, but because for them, these aren't just games, their whole lives are on the line. 

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