This review was originally published on January 23, 2012…
When I first heard about Indie Game: The Movie, I was pretty excited to check it out. My wife and I are casual gamers; we have games that we dig, though neither one of us obsesses too much with them. That said, two of our favorite games over the last few years have been the indie game sensations known as Castle Crashers and Braid; I even sculpted a custom Castle Crashers action figure for my wife one Christmas.
So getting an inside scoop on the life of the indie game designer and developer is right up my alley, and Indie Game: The Movie doesn’t disappoint. The film specifically focuses on Jonathan Blow, the creator of Braid; Phil Fish, the embattled and embittered mastermind behind Fez; and Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes, the design and development team behind Super Meat Boy. As the documentary goes on, we see all aspects of the indie game situation, from the fallout of too much hype, too soon (such as the plight of the long-in-development Fez), to the reaction to mainstream success (Jonathan Blow’s tendency to respond to almost anything written about the ultra-successful Braid) to the non-stop toil of the creative teams to the critical reactions from both players and game journalists alike. In many ways, the indie game world is not unlike the indie film world; independent artistry is often beset upon by the same difficulties, sometimes self-imposed and other times external, regardless of the medium.
While I can’t say I always enjoyed the personalities I was watching onscreen, I did appreciate that the film didn’t try to gloss over the people involved with the “everyone is a great, happy person” brush. Sure, I felt there was a tendency towards a negative outlook, save perhaps Edmund McMillen’s creative cheerfulness and Jonathan Blow’s more philosophical moments, but intense artistic passion doesn’t exist in a bubble. The ability to obsess so intensely on something to the extent these guys need to in order to create their games means that they’re capable of that intensity in every other aspect of their lives. When things are good, they’ll be great; when bad, they’re terrible.
My few issues with the film revolve around the narrative flow, which at times feels like it has hit its climax, only to continue, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King-style, with even more climax. Since it’s a documentary, though, there’s more of a lenience to such a criticism; if these are the peaks and valleys as they happened, I’m more critical of life’s narrative flow than the film’s.
Indie Game: The Movie is more than just a film about video games, it’s an examination of the artistic spirit and the latest evolution of independent artist. The gamesmakers, and games, exist to challenge convention and mainstream mediocrity, just as any artist and art should. I just hope they can all fit more smiles in their days of coding and designing.