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Indie Game: The Movie (2012)

by on 2013/09/04

Indie Game The Movie (2012)

“To me, video games are the ultimate art form, just the ultimate media, the sum total of all expressive media, of all time, made interactive. How is that not awesome?”

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There’s an old saying about filmmaking, that the process is never really done, it just stops at a certain date. In theory, the world of independent game production should be different. Yet in Indie Game: The Movie, we follow three sets of developers who seem less laid back than beleaguered.

Need it be this way? The biggest A-list video games take hundreds or thousands of people multiple years and millions of dollars. On one hand, that situation seems like a damn good reason to go it alone; on the other, it seems unsurprising a smaller group would thus need to work correspondingly harder.

In any case, in Indie Game, we hang with the underdogs, united by wanting their freedom, to produce for themselves, unaccountable to bigger business. We meet Jonathan Blow, whose time-shifting Braid took him about three years to make, after 22 years of previous unfinished pieces. Then, long-distance best friends Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes produce the punishingly difficult Super Meat Boy together, after 25 less familiar attempts. And Phil Fish, a Montrealer, creates the dimension-twisting Fez after years of collaborating on more basic Mac games with his father.

Their stories aren’t solely of interest to geeks. There’s more human than technical conflict here. Certainly they must deal with glitchy builds and other bugs, but also sacrifices, criticism, and depression. And because life isn’t limited to the worlds inside their games, they clash with partners, lose their funding, get sick, and have family issues.

In fact, there’s so much talk of feelings that – aside from a few fleeting glimpses – we see little of their world of code and get only the broadest sense of their work. Admittedly, that editorial approach may appeal to a wider audience. The furthest we get down into the weeds are discussions of puzzle logic, game mechanics, and teaching through building complexity.

The visuals are appropriately sharp and colourful, but the external scenes surprised me. Rather than dwelling on flickering monitors, we get the expected talking head interviews, but set in interesting places, well-lit, and shot from pleasing angles. Vintage sources are inter-cut with a contemporary beach, where a metal-detecting wanderer serves a metaphorical point. It’s all set to music by Toronto’s Jim Guthrie, which establishes an ambience with quirk.

What struck me as most satisfying, ultimately, was the sense that these games weren’t just isolated worlds, with stories of a virtual variety. They were themselves the extensions of their creators’ experiences. Through an Indie Game we may not discover exactly what the producers intended, but imperfect communion doesn’t mean we haven’t connected all the same.

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103 minutes

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