Thoughts on Indie Game The Movie

Last night I watched the documentary Indie Game: The Movie. Made by two people from Canada, the film follows several indie game developers as they near the release of their games. As a part of a game development team, the film hit close to my heart. Even though I don’t get paid for developing like the protagonists in the film, I still empathized with them and all their struggles. A lot of the things in the film resonated with me.

First, the cinematography was phenomenal. The directors were really able to evoke moods and feelings for the scenes through imagery. The peaceful sunset shots of Santa Cruz, California framed the tense situation of Edmund McMillen (a resident) perfectly, and the industrial shots of behind-the-scenes PAX paired well with the anxiety present in Phil Fish’s life at the time. All throughout the film I kept looking over at Kristin and commenting how beautiful or appropriate the shots were.

Next, the subject matter couldn’t have been better. I don’t know if it was a twist of fate or good planning, but the two main subjects each had ample drama to pique my interest. The Super Meat Boy team was facing crunching deadlines and a finicky Xbox publishing system. You could almost see the gray hair sprouting on their heads and wrinkle lines forming on their faces due to the immense pressure they were under. Phil Fish, the guy behind Fez, had issues stemming from the loss of his company partner and all of the legal difficulties that entails. That, combined with the super-long development time of his game itself, made him a nervous wreck. At times he seemed manic, but it really struck me how human and honest with himself he was.

Lastly, I think the film resonated with me on a personal level because of my involvement in Xonotic. Oftentimes I get whacky requests that lead to hours and hours of debugging and/or new development, or in the very least a chunk of time out of my day for me to research enough to deliver a response to the requester. I find that the players (or worse, prospective players) of the game don’t really have a good grasp on the level of effort required to deliver these things, which gets me a little depressed at times. What seems easy to them can actually be back-breaking for me. This is exactly what I was thinking when Phil Fish went on a diatribe about people complaining about his long development cycle on Fez: he’s just one guy, give him a break! I feel similarly about Xonotic – we’re really just 4 or 5 people, give us some time!

Far and away the biggest impact on me came from a rather candid interview with Edmund towards the end of the film. He talks about how his goal was to inspire the next generation of game makers by showing them that fun, creative, and ultimately sellable games are within the reach of everyday people. I know it sounds cliché – the little guy can persevere! - but it’s true, and I see it happening in the open source world today. If only two people (Edmund and Tommy) can make Super Meat Boy, what can Xonotic do with an army of contributors?

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