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Quint says Indie Game: The Movie is a must watch, whether you're a gamer or just like good documentaries! Sundance 2012!

Published at: Jan. 29, 2012, 1:55 a.m. CST by quint

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the last of my full reviews from my time at Sundance 2012. I have about 5 more titles that I’ll hit in a wrap-up piece, but since I have a few things to say about this really fun doc that’s pretty much made for the AICN readership this’ll be a full review.

Indie Game: The Movie gives us a behind the scenes look the tiny, passionate teams of imaginative programmers and level designers who spend years and thousands of dollars slaving away towards realizing lifelong dreams of sharing their creative vision.

 

 

The documentary follows two different game developers building games for the X-Box Live Arcade. One is called Super Meat Boy, the other is called Fez.

Now these aren’t the thousands strong teams that bring us games like Call of Duty or Fallout 3, these are young dudes who have a passion for gaming and want to contribute to the artform they love. Both teams consist of 2-3 people doing all the coding, designing, business end stuff, organizing, beta testing and distributing of their work.

It’s a fascinating era for gamers. We have these tentpole games that are, frankly, incredible. Bioshock, Modern Warfare, Skyrim, Uncharted, Mass Effect, God of War, Arkham Asylum and City… enormous spectacle and jaw-dropping art direction on display here in these immersive stories. But like the studio system there’s a lot of rip-off fluff. That’s why I have Gamefly. I tend to buy the games I love, but there’s a ton of shit to wade through.

Much like independent film, indie games are smaller in scope, but have the freedom to break out of the traditional tentpole formula and can be crazier, filthier, artier and more inventive in their gameplay.

Now, I don’t know a whole lot about the world of indie gaming. The only indie game I’ve played that was mentioned in the doc was Castle Crashers. I’ve logged a lot of hours on my X-Box, but I’m by no means a gaming expert, so it was particularly fascinating to watch the behind the scenes of building one of these cool quirky games from the ground up.

The two storylines are radically different, but oddly running on parallel paths. The Super Meat Boy guys (Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes) are the upstarts, bright-eyed young men bound and determined to wow the world with their concept, a game about a square boy without his skin navigating a world filled with spinning saws and salt trying to get to his girlfriend, who happens to be made out of bandages. She was kidnapped by an angry fetus in a jar, by the way. As you do.

 

 

The makers of Fez are more the rock stars who made a big splash at a gaming con when they announced the game, about a 2-D character that suddenly realized he lives in a 3-D world thanks to a magic fez hat. They won awards, garnered huge praise from the gaming press and then disappeared. It’s been years, a lot of drama has happened, the business has fractured and the lead artist Phil Fish is such a perfectionist he’s rebuilt the game from the ground up three times.

Fish is rushing to get his business affairs straight and get Fez ready for PAX (Penny Arcade’s Expo, which has turned into Comic-Con for gaming) and The Super Meat Boy guys have an XBLA launch date that they aren’t sure they can make. Filmmakers Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky go back and forth between the two storylines as the pressure builds and builds, letting us see the toll that takes on the game developers.

They also give us a brief history of indie gaming, underlining the huge boom thanks to X-Box Live Arcade, tablets and smart phones and introduce us to other players in the indie game business, including Jonathan Blow who made a game called Braid.

While Blow is a fascinating personality, very opinionated to the point of isolating himself from the broader community, and Braid looked incredible I think the one big flaw of the doc is how prevalent he is in the story. He’s not involved at all in either Fez or Super Meat Boy and doesn’t impact those storylines at all and I think we spend a bit too much time with him that should have been spent with the main focus of the doc.

It’d be like if King of Kong spent 20 minutes on the ref instead of Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell. The drama comes from the two parallel stories and once you give some detail to the world of indie gaming it doesn’t make any sense to keep focusing on another, smaller character.

The rest of the doc is exemplary, though. You get just enough of the private lives of all these different personalities, you get a great feeling for their passion and the trials of realizing your dream. In a way, this doc could have been about indie filmmakers or rock groups. It’s a universal story: young guys working hard to share their artistic vision. Will there be an audience for it? Will anybody care? Will years of work all culminate in a fart sound when they finally get to share their passion? Or will their work lead to a bigger and better life where they can pursue their dreams without fear of making rent every month?

Like real life there’s not always a happy turnout and one of the two stories is still left wide open by the end. There are victories, defeats, tears and smiles.

Indie Game: The Movie is a must-see doc for anybody that fancies themselves a gamer or for anyone who gets sucked into a good underdog story.

 

 

Look for my wrap-up coming very soon!

-Eric Vespe
”Quint”
quint@aintitcool.com
Follow Me On Twitter

Readers Talkback

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  • Jan. 29, 2012, 2:45 a.m. CST

    Whoah...let's not go too nuts over Braid...

    by Grammaton Cleric

    ...there was definitely some genius design going on, but the mope fest prose between levels was reeked of Big Concept. Loved the game, despised the prose. I'd rather play The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile anyway, so what the fuck do I know.

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 2:46 a.m. CST

    ah, lack of edit, you failed me again.

    by Grammaton Cleric

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 3:08 a.m. CST

    Idiot masses?

    by Gill Figno

    Uh, Braid was critically praised and it sold very well, I don't see how people "don't get it." I'd hardly call the creator of it an artist either, just because a creation is pretentious and humorless doesn't mean it has any meaning to it. It wasn't like it was reviewed and sold like Deadly Premonition or something.

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 3:53 a.m. CST

    Fez

    by david starling

    Very interesting, I must see this film. I did look forward to Fez, but now I've given up all hope of it ever being released, its been that long.

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 4:04 a.m. CST

    Let's not forget some of the Modders out there

    by Longtime Lurker

    Some modding work essentially results in new and very interesting stuff. I have heard good things about the Oblivion total conversion called Nehrim and I have played a bit of it. True, big mods are often merely a step on the way to completely different games by folks who are hoping to get noticed but there are some gems among the dreck.

  • Sure it involves some other arts in the creation process (animation,concept design,storytelling,etc) but the creation process itself is not in any way an artform. And this is a fact which is acknowledged by videogame giants like Hideo Kojima.

  • came out from modifications of classic videogames like Half Life and Warcraft 3.

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 6:05 a.m. CST

    ABOBO

    by mynamesdan

    that is all.

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 6:22 a.m. CST

    As a game dev

    by PlayerHater_of_the_year

    I can tell you that it IS a business. Sure there is a creative element to it but most stuff you work on is crap for the mouth breathers . I've done my own indie games and slogged though triple A development cycles but at the end of the day its just a job, its not 'whimsical' or 'romantic' and game studios aren't Wilie Wonka factories. Its 10 hours a day in front of computer screens and your girl friend sending you angry texts about missing dinner. yeah I'm jaded.

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 7:42 a.m. CST

    Blow isn't the ref

    by kesoze4

    He's the current ideal of how it's done right, with him refusing to cave to publishers and producing one of the most artistic and yet popular games of the past few years. He's likely as prevalent as he is because yes, he represents the ideal the other two teams aspire to be.

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 7:55 a.m. CST

    Killik weighing in with the usual skewed inaccurate take on things

    by Autodidact

    Game creation is definitely an art. Especially indie game creation.

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 8:20 a.m. CST

    Fetus In A Jar???

    by S-Mart shopper

    SOLD!

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 8:26 a.m. CST

    @autodidact not the right topic to troll me.

    by KilliK

    not when i have discussed this specific topic countless times before with more intelligent people and not with lowly trolls like yourself. But if you are still interested,i can recommend you a few books and articles about this subject.

  • Sure please send me some articles to back up your retarded fucking opinion that games, the current rock and roll, are not art.

  • Any criticism about how games, being collaborative, money-driven efforts, are 'just' products can be applied to the majority of films as well. You don't even have to stretch the language -- film gathers just as many 'unrelated' arts together into a sellable form. So maybe the concern shouldn't be about discrediting a medium you don't understand, but perhaps the system that exists across all creative industries where money and vision do not come from the same place.

  • Doesn't mean games are not art. It means you either suck as an artist or haven't found or more likely lost your passion for the art and now you're just a whore for the business, taking that dick and hating yourself and your chosen art form for it. Take that dick you sellout whore.

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 8:37 a.m. CST

    @autodidact cool story troll

    by KilliK

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 8:47 a.m. CST

    =Creating movies is not an artform.=

    by KilliK

    You didnt write the whole sentence: Creating ENTERTAINMENT movies is not an artform. Unless you believe that your average popcorn,blocbuster Hollywood movie which was made by hired lapdogs in order to satisfy as many moviegoers as possible in order to sell as many tickets as possible is a work of art.

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 8:49 a.m. CST

    False Dichotomy

    by Autodidact

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 8:50 a.m. CST

    Killik STFU and go read Entertainment Weekly

    by Autodidact

    Or maybe PEOPLE or some shit. You dummy.

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 8:51 a.m. CST

    @autodidact good try troll

    by KilliK

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 8:58 a.m. CST

    Why not just call it "Manboobs: The Movie"?

    by gruntybear

    Only drooling, forever virgin, child-man cellar-dwellers play videogames. FACT.

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 9:09 a.m. CST

    That's a strange distinction to grant movies but not games.

    by blackwood

    Big Game operates exactly the same as Big Movie, and the indie scene is just as authentic, creatively vibrant and author-driven as it is in film. When discrediting games, killik, you treat everything in medium as exactly the same, but like film, that's not the case at all. Yeah, of course -- anything put together by committee to hit a specific demographic is not going to be 'good' art, but that doesn't mean the medium itself is nothing but a delivery system for corporate controlled thrills. It's really short-sighted to think of it that way.

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 9:26 a.m. CST

    @gruntybear

    by Tank Williams

    Seriously dude?

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 10:04 a.m. CST

    Even some of the mass appeal games I can see as art

    by Thomas

    Bioshock, Mass Effect spring to mind.

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 10:48 a.m. CST

    super meat boy is hard or i suck

    by Bouncy X

    i remember trying it back when it came out a few years ago and damn. it was cute and addictive and i liked it, but i couldnt even get passed the third level....and this was simply the demo!!!

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 11:19 a.m. CST

    That looks like the most depressing thing since Revolutionary Road.

    by MST3KPIMP

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 11:38 a.m. CST

    what is this bloated artsy fartsy bullshit trailer?

    by HaterofCrap

    pretentious documentaries must die.

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 12:34 p.m. CST

    So when does it hit DVD?

    by Mahaloth

    Only way most of us will see it.

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 12:46 p.m. CST

    RIP Ian Abercrombie

    by mbg98

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/29/idUS115996160220120129

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 2:04 p.m. CST

    What's up with how long that trailer is?!

    by MainMan2001

    Damn! It was the entire movie in 3mins. What more can I possible get out of it?!

  • Be a nice comedown to check out in between the Summer blockbuster season. And, if it's aboot videogames, it'll be ripped and posted quite quickly. So, huzzah for the internets.

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 2:55 p.m. CST

    Can't stop playing Super Meatboy

    by David Cloverfield

    Amazong game.

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 2:56 p.m. CST

    Nice work Kilik, way to repeat verbatim someone else's opinions

    by GilbertRSmith

    As if you've given a half a second of thought to it yourself.

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 2:57 p.m. CST

    by GilbertRSmith

    Don't bother arguing with him, he barely understands the words he's typing.

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 2:59 p.m. CST

    "Creating ENTERTAINMENT movies is not an artform." Mind = BLOWN

    by GilbertRSmith

    Are you 15 years old? Are you going to tell us all how you can sync Dark Side of the Moon up with Wizard of Oz? You gotta love the guy who is screaming the obvious at the top of his longs and acting shocked that none of us are hip to it. Kilik, learn the difference between the revelatory and the mundane.

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 3 p.m. CST

    Anyway I know a couple of the guys who are peripherally in this...

    by GilbertRSmith

    Personally I don't like to think of games as art, but that's because that kind of thinking gets in the way of making good games. Same with movies. A good director is a storyteller first in my view, not an artist. If you don't respect the craft first and foremost, you don't deserve to be called an artist.

  • Seriously....2D platformers shouldn't require 3 people.

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 4:40 p.m. CST

    Meat boy is not art

    by David Cloverfield

    What it is, is fucking awesome. I only have two regular and a buch of Dark World levels left. Its the greatest thing if you need a few minutes to unwind.

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 5:06 p.m. CST

    "Are games Art?" Welcome to any gaming message board circa 2010

    by Killah_Mate

    Seriously guys, we all had this discussion like two years ago. SPOILER: generally agreed upon answer turns out to be 'Who gives a shit?' Like making them Art is gonna make your Aunt less disappointed that you waste time on games - while she devours daytime soaps, but that's socially acceptable so she gets to look down on your Portal 2 that she knows nothing about. BTW, in the article, "...the huge boom thanks to X-Box Live Arcade..." should read "...the huge boom thanks to Steam, iPhone and X-Box Live Arcade..." Really, Microsoft had a good thing going but judging by the new XBox dashboard they don't take their own indie section seriously anymore. Indie on XBox is going the way of the dodo. OTOH, on PC and iPhone indie is going fucking thermonuclear. Fuckers are causing a paradigm shift. Watch that space.

  • videogames for the most part are not subversive in anyway, rock and roll was

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 5:43 p.m. CST

    @awepittance Check out The Binding of Isaac

    by Killah_Mate

    First thing that came to mind, it's what McMillen, one of the guys in the movie, did after Super Meat Boy. Then come back here and tell me it's not subversive in anyway.

  • I feel like I'm rocking out (I am an indie dev).

  • videogames are now a very mainstream pillar of the corporate establishment with companies like Sony, Microsoft and apple leading the pack you may feel like you are 'rocking out' when programming i just find the comparison extremely inaccurate

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 6:53 p.m. CST

    Yeah no corporations ever carried rock as a product

    by Autodidact

    You simpletons are all unable to keep track of two things: 1. This thread is about indie games. The kind made by small teams with a personal vision. AKA art. 2. See above.

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 6:54 p.m. CST

    Games aren't subversive... sure

    by Autodidact

    Play some DEUS EX HR and tell me games, even AAA ones, cannot be subversive (art).

  • What a massive strawman. Nobody said that ALL of games are subversive. Only that they can be, and some are. Just like some rock and roll is subversive, and some is just corporate whores who have sold out making artless product. And some is corporate whores who have made it big but still make great music AKA art (rare, but plenty of examples).

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 7:34 p.m. CST

    For a great indie game, I strongly suggest downloading Limbo on xBox 360

    by Wolfman Nards

    Not sure if the game or the developer makes an appearance in this movie, but the art direction was very cool.

  • Jan. 29, 2012, 11:28 p.m. CST

    You could do a movie on how this movie was made.

    by happybunni

    It was funded almost entirely through kickstarter, which is basially a way of people saying "Yeah I'd like to see that. Here's some money for a DVD when it's ready"

  • Jan. 30, 2012, 2:44 a.m. CST

    Games are definitely not a subversive thing by and large

    by GilbertRSmith

    When they tried to shut comics down in the 50's, comics got shot down. When cops arrested Lenny Bruce, he spent the night in jail. When lawyers try to shut games down in the 21st Century, they get disbarred. There are some clever and subversive games, but by and large they're not going against the grain. They're a billion dollar industry right in the middle of a recession, they don't get pulled from shelves and thrown into bonfires, publishers don't have to defend themselves before committees, and their creators don't risk jail time for putting them out. Video games are awesome, but their cultural status is absolutely not rock and roll.

  • Jan. 30, 2012, 2:49 a.m. CST

    "Some rock and roll" wasn't subversive in the 50's...

    by GilbertRSmith

    If you were playing music with heavy drums in 1950, you were the enemy of the state, plain and simple. A lot of that crusading was because rock and roll crossed the color barrier and had black and white kids hanging out together. Sorry, I love video games, but they don't compare. Square society in 1950 saw Rock and Roll as going hand in hand with the Civil Rights movement, miscegeny, drugs and everything else that threatened white, conservative values. By very nature of being rock and roll, it was a threat, it suggested a future of mixed race babies. Sorry, but I don't think video games have anything to match that. You can say that there are subversive and non-subversive games, but in its golden age, there WAS no non-subversive rock and roll

  • Jan. 30, 2012, 6:43 a.m. CST

    ^ Good argument

    by Autodidact

    I'll give you the point.. games have never been and will never be as subversive on the whole as rock and roll once was.

  • Jan. 30, 2012, 6:45 a.m. CST

    However

    by Autodidact

    I also think that nothing will ever be as subversive as rock and roll once was. In that sense, since video games are about as subversive as it gets right now in mainstream corporate culture, and they're the current newest and biggest global art form, it's accurate to call video games the "current rock and roll."

  • Jan. 30, 2012, 6:47 a.m. CST

    When rock was new parents tried to keep their kids from it

    by Autodidact

    By the 60s and 70s most parents had given up and come to accept their kids would listen to rock. Sort of like video games now... when I was growing up my mom and dad acted like every minute I spent playing games would rot my brain... these days parents feel fairly neutral/positive about video games (and they buy Rolling Stones T-shirts for their kids).

  • he is under the impression he can "point, drag & click" the next Call of Duty in about a week and be set for life ... at the the very least he'll create the next AngryBirds.

  • Jan. 30, 2012, 9:24 a.m. CST

    Look at today's post from ART of the Title (ART) about DEUS EX HR

    by Autodidact

    http://www.artofthetitle.com/2012/01/30/deus-ex-human-revolution/

  • Jan. 30, 2012, 12:24 p.m. CST

    ART

    by ScaryJim

    Play Demons/Dark Souls and tell me that it was written with no artistic merit- look at the beauty of 'Shadow of the colossus' and tell me that the designers who created those creatures were less skilled than fucking Banksy. Look at games like 'Where is my heart' and tell me it was a pure business decision to make a game like that. I can get behind games like Call of Duty not having any artistic merit as much as I can get behind Michael Bay films not having any, or the bloody twilight saga but creating a computer chess game is not the same as creating something with a narrative, images that better alot of 'Artists' work and stories that deeply move people. There is merit in all creativity .