Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Indie Game The Movie – Thoughts

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 19, 2012

I pre-ordered the Special Edition of Indie Game: The Movie some time ago. Unfortunately, I still ended up being one of the last people to see it. I wasn’t able to see it when it showed at the Sundance Film Festival here in Utah, and I guess there was some kind of exclusivity thing with the film festival that prevented them from showing it here again until just before it was released digitally. But that particular showing here in Utah I missed because of my trip to France. Then it released just before I was to return from France, and there was no way I could download the movie over my crappy hotel Internet connection.

So now, this weekend, I finally got to see the movie. The special edition goodies apparently come later. These are supposed to include polished versions of the interviews they had with several other notable indies.

If the goal of the movie was to make indies look cool (or the four indies in particular that they focus on), it’s a colossal fail. Well, except for Jonathan Blow, who doesn’t really have a story arc like the others, so he gets to play the role of guest lecturer while the other developers are candidly trying to avoid imploding while facing their various crises on-screen. And if the goal was to show “typical” indies in a way that the generic-sounding movie name seems to suggest, it’s also a failure.

But taken for what it is – documenting some very popular/notable indies in certain circles (sometimes called ‘indie darlings’) as they meet success – and the challenges on the road thereto, it’s actually a decent show. But I’m not entirely sure of who its audience is supposed to be. Non-gamers will probably be bored with it (though there are parts that are pretty fun for them, based on the reactions of my family). Actual indie developers will enjoy some parts that really speak to the challenges of getting an indie game released (and give them hope of achieving similar success), but will find the show far too short on details. The movie has taken something of a lukewarm middle-of-the-road approach between a mass audience and a very specific fanbase, and it shows.

It does feel like – out of all the interviews they did with the indies who were receiving community “buzz” at the beginning of the film’s development – they chose the three with the biggest success stories. Maybe they are actually chosen for being the most neurotic and outspoken developers of the pack – and maybe there’s a causal relationship between that and success as an indie. I don’t know.

But taking it at face value – for what it is, rather than what it isn’t – it’s a pretty decent film, as I said.  It tells stories of success because that’s what makes it an appealing, interesting movie. Let’s face it – actually showing normal, well-adjusted developers slaving away at making their games for months and months with no big payoff at the end would be pretty boring stuff. But having them talk about their emotional state under the pressures caused by slaving away (and other difficulties) makes something non-gamers and non-indies can relate to. And any indie who has dealt with those pressures can relate.

The indies spotlighted in the movie are… well, I suppose you could call them atypical, in the same way that pretty much any indie in a movie like this would be atypical. They seem fairly high-strung (except for Blow, who instead waxes philosophical, but then his big success is already behind him when they put him on camera), but they are quite watchable.  I’m not sure I would ever want to work with any of these guys on a game, but the indies I would like to work with would not make good subject matter for a movie, I guess.

And I do accept that the ‘spin’ on these guys provided by the movie is taken from their more dramatic, possibly out-of-character moments and bolder, off-the-cuff commentary. So “in real life” are they similar to how they are portrayed here?  I don’t know. But they aren’t unlikeable. The film casts a pretty sympathetic eye on their quirkiness and their obsession. And how could I not feel the same way? I’m right there with Phil Fish: Making games? “It’s Awesome!”

The movie reveals some very dramatic, entertaining moments that any indie developer (and most software developers in general) can relate to, such as:

* Dealing with the threat of  a lawsuit when a former partner refuses to sign the paperwork necessary to allow the game to be shown at a high-profile show

* Making a bunch of last-minute fixes to the game in preparation for said Big Show, only to have it’s stability get wrecked horribly on the big day in front of a live audience

* The big release day happens, and an apparent technical glitch (possibly – no explanation is ever offered) results in nothing happening for eight hours, deeply cutting into the window of opportunity to get those all-important first-day sales that need to achieve “critical mass” for the game.

Do the guys in the film overreact? Maybe. Maybe they are playing for the cameras. Then again, in similar conditions, I know how stressed I’ve been, and I’m right there with them.  When the pressure is that high, a moderate setback – like your website going down unexpectedly for a couple of hours on release day – really can seem like the end of the world.

So does the movie show indie game development reality? Sometimes, but not in a truly general way. It doesn’t represent typical development stories, nor does it go into much detail on the development process, the games themselves, or anything more than some of the most stand-out examples of the indie “scene.” It’s really just a story about some quirky people facing some challenging moments in the surprisingly (to non-developers) long, difficult process of getting a high-profile indie game to market. Or at least to a major show, in the case of Fez. As I said, it’s kind of a middle-of-the-road approach that was designed from the get-go to provide the biggest ‘rags-to-riches’ narrative they hoped they could achieve. Lucky for the film-makers, a couple of their subjects did just that.

So while I may wish for the movie I’d hoped it would be, I did like the movie it really is. It’s not the story of us all. But that story doesn’t really exist. Each indie story is unique, and all have their interesting moments of excitement and coolness (usually punctuating long periods of long hours and … I don’t want to call it drudgery, but it’s not exactly thrilling work). The movie offers little windows into a few of these stories, and touches heavily on the artistic (and sometimes obsessive) passion of the developers for their work – and the price they pay for it.

And it’s a fun rags-to-riches story.






Filed Under: Indie Evangelism, Movies - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

  • Yoel said,

    I’ll have to watch it sometime. Maybe. Sometimes the reality show drama-emphasis wears me out. But it sounds good in that they succeed in the end instead of most of them going home in tears.

  • PsySal said,

    Not watched yet, but definitely will once I get a bit of space and time.

    From stills, and the trailer, I have to say I’ve always liked the cinematography of it. For instance that shot of Mr. Fish at the bar is just fantastic, and it always looks somehow like Edmund and Tommy are in some bedroom dungeon filled with plushies or… something.

    It was nice reading your impressions!

  • KombAtMiBroh said,

    I wasn’t going to watch this because of that douche Phil Fish, but despite him being in it, the movie turned out pleasantly good. Edmund’s story arc was surprisingly poignant.