Thursday, March 19, 2015

Indie Game: The Movie

After looking over my Netflix viewing history last week, I realized that I almost exclusively watch 2 types of shows: dramas like House of Cards and The Walking Dead, or comedies like It’s Always Sunny and Archer. In an attempt to broaden my horizons, I decided to check out the documentary category and see what it had to offer.

I was pleasantly surprised with the documentary I chose, titled Indie Game: The Movie. This film gives and inside look at the production of indie video games, or in other words, games created by one or a few artists not affiliated with any company. While it did touch on some successful indie games like Braid, Indie Game: The Movie mostly followers the developers of the games Super Meat Boy and Fez from early production to post-release. It identifies the challenges that independent developers face and the type of stress that they go through in the years it takes to create and market a successful video game.

After watching this movie, I felt almost obligated to buy both games on Steam. The first game I bought was Fez, and I was overwhelmed by the thought that a single designer, Phil Fish, could create a masterpiece as complex and well thought out as Fez. Most of my previous gaming experience came from games produced by big companies like Bungie or Bethesda, and knowing that hundreds or thousands of people worked on the game takes away some of the awe I was struck with while exploring the world of Fez. In the game, a 2D character named Gomez lives in what he thinks is a 2D world, until he is given a fez hat that allows him to change his perspective and see the world as 3D. While this is a cool concept, it’s the execution that really makes the game amazing, Each playing platform basically consists of four 2D surfaces that Gomez can rotate between, each drastically changing the world based on a 2D perspective. Indie Game: The Movie shows how Phil Fish created this world, and how the production of all the artwork was done. Although it took Fish five years from start to finish and a multitude of missed deadlines for play testing releases, the game is a masterpiece and well worth the wait that many of the game’s original fan base underwent.

Fez Trailer: Click here

The other game featured in Indie Game: The Movie is Super Meat Boy. Super Meat Boy is a platform game in which a boy with no skin tries to save his girlfriend (who’s made of bandages) from an evil fetus whose goal is to kidnap her. In the documentary, creators Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes discussed how they create games not based on what players might want, but as an expression of themselves. This is really what sets indie game development apart from complex games from big companies like Call of Duty or Battlefield. McMillen talks about how the character of Meat Boy came to by, and why Dr. Fetus likes to flip off the players. Without the restrictions of any big company and their rules, McMillen and Refenes wanted to push the borders of what inappropriate content they could put into a game and still have it be successful on Xbox and Steam. They also model the characters after themselves and their experiences in life, so when people play their game, it’s almost like people are playing the game representation of the creators’ childhoods. 

According to McMillen, Dr. Fetus is allowed to flip the bird
however often he wants because he only has 3 fingers.

As a computer science student, I have tried my hand at making simple games before. While I never put anywhere near the amount of thought and effort into my games that these developers have put into theirs, Indie Game: The Movie really put into perspective just how tough it can be for indie game developers to get by financially, and to compete with big development companies. Despite certain points in the film which i didn't care for a whole lot (e.g. McMillen's girlfriend's obsession with cats), it overall was a well put together piece and i was entertained throughout. For the first documentary I have watched in a long long time, Indie Game: The Movie was an interesting watch and I would absolutely recommend it to anybody interested in gaming or digital art. 

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