Indie Games: The Movie Film Review

As an avid lover of indie video games, I decided to write a film review on a documentary I came across called “Indie Games: The Movie.” The film centers around the creation process of several indie video games; Super Meat Boy, Fez, and Braid. As noted in the film, Braid has been regarded as not just one of the greatest indie video games ever made, but one of the top video games made of of all time. The game was released in 2008 on XBox live arcade, and the creator of the game offers insight throughout the documentary about his experience of creating the game, however, the film focuses heavily on the creation process of the Super Meat Boy and Fez. What I found the most interesting and enlightening about the film was that it does not merely go through the process of how these games are created, but more so the personal experience of the designers who create the game. Indie games such as the ones shown in the film are often created with very small groups of people. Super Meat Boy was created by two longtime friends, Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes, and FEZ was created solely by one person –Phil Fish– over a grueling course of 6 years.
The film draws a comparison between big game companies and indie game companies. Large commercial game companies often employ thousands of game designers to create a game that is “bigger, better, and intended to sell millions of copies.” -Edmund- and generate a very large scale audience. As it is described throughout the film, indie games are not so much intended to sell to a large scale audience, or really for the audience in general. The games are more personal, they are created more so for the designers to reflect themselves within the video game. Each of the designers displayed in the film delve into their personal reasons behind creating their games. Edmund goes through his experience as a child, being sort of a weird outcast, not having many friends. He describes how as a child he loved to draw, and would always draw weird pictures of monsters. One of the first video games he created was titled “Aether”, In the game the players control a lonely boy and an octopus-like monster that the boy encounters, solving puzzles on different planets to restore them from monochrome to color. Edmund describes his reasonings behind creating the game, and that it was really a reflection as his childhood. Each of the planets resembled the phobias he had as a child before going to bed. He would often obsess about things, and get stomach aches from obsessing and have to go home.
Screen Shot 2015-04-26 at 6.57.46 PM
The film shows a clip from the game in which the boy is running around and bubbles pop up from various characters that say things like, “it’s sad to be alone” and “sometimes my stomach hurts.” I found that analogy of infusing ones personal feelings into a video game particularly interesting.
At another point in the film the developer of Braid, Jonathan Blow, describes his experience receiving reception after the release of the game. Although the game received extremely great reviews and acclaim, it irritated him that the critics and reviewers of the game did not understand his intent, and the “real meaning” behind the storyline of the game, and the intricate complexities that were interwoven. The creator of FEZ –Phil Fish– endured the craziest experience out of creating the game. The games production was announced in 2007 and was not released until 2012, 3 years after the game’s initial deadline. Phil also had a difficult time during the games production because he and his initial partner in the development of the game had what he calls “a grueling divorce” which caused a lot of stress with the games development and release because Phil faced the possibility of lawsuits. Phil also describes how the game became extremely personal to him. He describes how important the aesthetics were to him, because he is an extremely aesthetic person in general and wanted the game to be visually pleasing overall to the players. Over the course of the 5 year period creating the game he talks a lot about his growing obsessions over minute details that would cause him to “freak out” and believe that his game was terrible. He also experienced difficulties with game bugs, and issues with his former partner when the first sample of the game was released at a Penny Arcade Expo in 2011.
This film received a lot of critical reception in the game world –like everything seems to i’ve noticed– however, I liked this film because it does a great job of giving someone like me, who has no game design knowledge or experience a look into the creation of games that I have grown to love, but never knew how they were made. I remember playing Braid when it first came out and not having any real nostalgic appreciation for the games design, or even thought about who made the game. All I knew was that it was fun I liked it, Indie games, as shown in the film, become so much more personal to the lives of the developers who create them than the developers who create large scale commercial games for huge companies. I guess if I took over 5 years to create something so intricate and complex I would get pretty obsessed and freaked out as well about every single little issue throughout the process. All in all I really enjoyed the film. It took my “I love indie games but I don’t know why” perspective and transformed it into an appreciation perspective for the games that I love.

  2 comments for “Indie Games: The Movie Film Review

  1. Griffin H.
    Griffin H.
    26 April 2015 at 10:00 pm

    FEZ was created by a team of three people, one who left (which lead to the legal disputes seen int he film). The Polytronic team was comprised of Phil and his programmer by the end of the documentary.

    • chandsaker
      27 April 2015 at 9:09 am

      Your right. But I was talking about the designers, not the programers. And As I noted, I know nothing about the process of making games, so sorry for that mistake. It was not my purpose in writing the film review to talk about every single person involved. Still, 3 people is a very small group to be making a video game. Also, as I noted, I know this film has received a lot of flack for its portrayal of the indie game industry from game critics, which I totally agree with, however I still enjoyed the film even with that in mind.

Leave a Reply