By Kevin Kelly
Earlier this year at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot's film Indie Game: The Movie premiered to enthusiastic audiences, and was quickly snapped up by HBO who plans to turn it into a scripted show about indie game development. It's a somewhat odd turn for the project which started as a Kickstarter and went all the way to Sundance, and after seeing it there is no denying that there are plenty of unique and interesting stories that can be told in the indie games space. It's just that most of them are real and not scripted.
The film follow two indie game project, Super Meat Boy and Fez, as they struggle through video game development, which is made up of breakdowns, successes, and frustrations. Throughout their stories, interviews with Jonathan Braid of Blow are woven to punctuate what can happen after you have a successful title released, which isn't what you would expect. Blow himself talks about being depressed for months after Braid came out because many people simply didn't understand what he was going for.
What ties everything together are the two developers of Super Meat Boy, and the entirety of Team Meat - Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes. The film opens with their launch day on Xbox Live, only to have the game be completely absent from the grid. Everything they've been working so hard to achieve seemingly dashed to pieces by Microsoft. Phil Fish from Polytron Corporation and the many-years-in-development Fez likewise gives us an insight into the world of being a game developer, but his is one of manic moodswings and even extreme anger as his first public showing of the game looms at PAX East.
Swirsky and Pajoy expertly weave these three stories together into one narrative, with interstitial and poignant images of an empty amusement park (what better way to show the potential of a game in development), and a treasure-hunter on the beach swinging a metal detector back and forth. Both images present a "What If?" scenario, which must be what goes through every developers head as they put a game together.
It also shares a unique parallel with independent movies, as the filmmakers take an extreme gamble with time and money on something that may never be seen. Thankfully, the stories in Indie Game: The Movie all seem to have a happy ending. Even though Fez isn't out yet, the time that I've spent with the game lead me to think that it will be an amazing way to tickle your retro-gaming gene through innovative gameplay. If you're in the Santa Cruz area, there's a screening of the film coming up (with Team Meat!) on March 2, and you can also pre-order the film in normal and special edition DVD sets, as well as a digital download.
So don't just take my word for it. Check it out and see if this inspires you to devote some blood, sweat, and tears to the world of indie games.