Indie Game: The Movie (2012)

Description (from the IMDb):
A documentary that follows the journeys of indie game developers as they create games and release those works, and themselves, to the world.

Major Cast:
Jonathan Blow, Phil Fish, Edmund McMillen, Tommy Refenes

Special Features:
None (Screener)

Directed by Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky

Wow, this is about the perfect movie for me.  First off, I’ve been big into videogames since the 2nd grade, when I struck a deal with my parents that all A’s and B’s on my report card would be rewarded with an NES.  I was alternating between Mario and hunting some ducks after the first report card that year.  Secondly, the game designers profiled in INDIE GAME: THE MOVIE are the video game equivalent of what I review here: low-budget, independent media; they just make their media interactive, instead of the movies, music, and books that I review, which is a more passive experience for the consumer.  And finally, I’m a big fan of documentaries done right, so IG:TM is a perfect fit for Ryan’s Reviews.

IG:TM follows the development of two independent video games, Super Meat Boy and Fez, and their creators, Edmund McMillen & Tommy Refenes (SMB) and Phil Fish (Fez).  The story also has frequent commentary from another independent video game creator, Jonathan Blow, of Braid.  Braid was basically the first game that made people really stand up and take notice of the independent video game community; over 55,000 people purchased Braid the first week it was available on XBOX Live.  IG:TM comes into the scene post-Braid, following the development of Super Meat Boy (released Oct. 20, 2010, and went on to sell over 140,000 units by the end of the year), and Fez (which was first shown publicly in 2008, but was not finally released until April 2012). The filmmakers chose some interesting people to follow, and their personal dramas are what make the film such an interesting watch.

Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes talk about Super Meat Boy

McMillen and Refenes are living on very little, putting all of their time into a game that shows their true love of old-school games (SMB has a variety of cutscenes that are parodies of old NES era games, and itself has been very favorably compared to Super Mario Brothers), and basically have all of their eggs in this one 8-bit basket.  When Microsoft offers them a chance to get their game up in front of all of the XBOX Live community, they jump on it, even though they now have to complete basically 6 month worth of work in about 2 months time.  When they finally do finish the game, they get up to MORE drama, as the “featured” slot they were promised does not show up as explained.

Fish has his own drama to deal with.  He put out a small preview of his game in 2008, and wowed the world so much with his concept (the main character in Fez thinks he’s living in a 2D world, and one day discovers that it is actually 3D) and his visual style, that he won the “Excellence in Visual Art” award at the Independent Games Festival.  Fish then had to follow up this stunning debut to the world with a game that suffered delay after delay, getting to the point that many had given up on Fez actually being released.  Fish split with his partner during the production process which then also added legal issues to the release, as the game was developed by two people that no longer saw eye to eye.  Fish has to decide if he will risk getting sued to show the world his almost-finished game at the PAX Prime 2011 convention, and when he does finally show it again, the game continually crashes.

Phil Fish watches players try Fez for the first time at PAX 2011

It is the drama the moves the movie along, and it moves along on the backbone of the “characters,” the creators profiled.  McMullen is a fun guy, easy to like and enjoyable to watch, but his partner Refenes is a bit more neurotic, a bit more introverted and pessimistic.  As a team their character flaws balance each other out quite well, and as a viewer you want to see them succeed.  Fish is a bit less easy to like, as he has a very inflated ego from his initial success with Fez, and also is a very self-destructive personality (he says at one point that if he does not get the game done, he will kill himself, with no irony or sarcasm felt).  Fish is obviously a very talented, very intelligent person that has come up with a completely new spin on the old-school platform style game, but his ego has also grown to the point that the viewer could go either way; at times I wanted to see him fail just to see his bubble burst.  At the end, there is enough emotional connection built with both the SMB team and Fish that all you really want to see is their success, in bright pixels for the world to view.

Jonathan Blow explains some of the mechanics of his game, Braid

On the technical side of things, IG:TM is an extremely well made documentary.  I watched the 1080 version, which is beautiful.  The camera work is not only really crisp and cleanly shot, with nice use of focus and lighting, but it is also very well composed.  Some documentaries do not show any visual style per se; as it is just about people, it often falls back on just static interviewing shots and then some filler in-between.  IG:TM never has this issue.  The camera moves, the visuals are very interesting to the eye, and IG:TM keeps from ever becoming a stagnant interview shot with some filler, there is always some nice movement or beautiful eye candy to enjoy.  The sound quality is also top-notch; the creators of the film took their time and got it right.  I also was quite impressed with the editing, in both the way the story was framed and also just the cut-to-cut editing, which helped keep the film moving at a steady clip and added to the effect of the visuals.

The “Secret Glitch Level” of Super Meat Boy, a reference to the kill-screen in Pac-Man

Overall, I loved IG:TM.  It was right on point for me with it’s subject, but more than that the filmmakers have found interesting people within this world of indie games to point their lens at, and with the subjects they selected, IG:TM has a great amount of drama to move the plot along.  The filmmakers also took great care to not only present a good story, but also present it in a way that is visually stimulating and fun to watch.  This is easily the best documentary I’ve seen this year, and really the best I’ve seen in quite a long time.

Overall 9 / 10

IG:TM on the IMDb:

IG:TM for sale:

IG:TM site:

Indie Game: The Movie (2012)

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