Jonathan Blow, developer of the hugely popular Braid, once said: “Let me take my deepest flaws and vulnerabilities, put them in the game, and see what happens.” Chronicling the figures at the forefront of the ‘indie game’ revolution, Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky’s Indie Game: The Movie (2012) focuses upon the personalities rather than their global product. Indie games are those produced outside of the mainstream studio system, away from the industry giants. Rather than small, streamlined creative firms, the people behind these ventures are often just two-man programming teams, devoting their lives to developing their games.
An indie game can take anything from six months to three years (plus) to reach completion, and even after release it can need multiple updates just to get it into a fit state for wide consumer purchase. One of the most successful examples depicted in the film is Braid, a platformer and puzzle-solver developed by Jonathan Blow between 2005 and 2008. On its release the game was praised as an artistic success, with several outlets considering it a “masterpiece”. It went on to be one of the highest-selling titles of the year, making Blow a small fortune.
With Braid now considered the standard in indie gaming, numerous other programming talents have emerged over the last half-decade, all with their own ideas and inspirations. The plot follows two particular games: Super Meat Boy, a project by Tommy Refenes and Edmund McMillen that is nearing its hotly-anticipated release on the Xbox 360 Live Arcade, and Fez, a perpetually postponed project from Canadian programmer Phil Fish that despite causing plenty of pre-release buzz appears to never be getting any closer to completion.
Indie Game: The Movie is a slow, melodic look at these people and the unique worlds they inhabit. It’s beautifully edited and scored, with a retro video game-inspired soundtrack that blends seamlessly into the background. Viewing is a surprisingly relaxing experience, which is at odds with its subjects, who are awkward, stressed, often depressive personalities; people who are much more comfortable in front of their computers than in the company of other human beings. The one exception is McMillen, who in one scene of levity proposes to his girlfriend at a video games awards ceremony; he seems laid back, able to enjoy his success and manage his pitfalls. In contrast, his partner Refenes has only one desire – paying back his parents for their years of support, and he cares about little else.
Whilst Pajot and Swirsky’s Indie Game: The Movie may not quite measure up to the plethora or sensational documentaries that have emerged over the last few years, it is still a well-crafted and interesting look at a world of extreme dedication with only sporadic rewards; real fanaticism.
Indie Game: The Movie screens as part of the DocHouse strand at Riverside Studios on 29 November, 2012. For more info, visit dochouse.org.