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Phil Fish, the designer of the video game "Fez," in the documentary "Indie Game: The Movie," (INDIE GAME: THE MOVIE/NYT)
Phil Fish, the designer of the video game "Fez," in the documentary "Indie Game: The Movie," (INDIE GAME: THE MOVIE/NYT)

Movie review

Indie Game: A journey inside the video-game cocoon Add to ...

  • Country USA
  • Language English

Video-game developers: Geeks, nerds, socially adrift obsessives. Indie Game thankfully gets past such base introductions in a flash and graduates to far more engrossing levels – levels which open up into the real worlds of the best independent game developers working their craft.

Video-game development is arduous. But for independents who shun the idea of toiling in teams of hundreds to produce a blockbuster game, the work is even harder. With more at stake.

Montreal-based designer Phil Fish is shown creating, on his own, his highly anticipated Fez, a game involving a kind of ultra-complex Tetris-like world. He continued to work on it for so many years that he still hadn’t finished it when Canadian filmmakers James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot decided to turn off their cameras.

A parallel story throughout this intelligent documentary is the development of Super Meat Boy. This game features a tiny, diced piece of meat resembling a tiny boy, who zooms and bumps through a maze of rotating power saws (it’s much more cartoonish and innocent than it sounds). But in order to get the surprisingly sophisticated game made, California artist Edmund McMillen and North Carolina-based Tommy Refenes spend years in a collaborative cocoon. The game consumes every aspect of their lives.

The film gets deep into that cocoon. Just as mazes and saws in Super Meat Boy get more complicated, so does Indie Game, especially in exploring its central point of how the game-play is just a vehicle for something greater. This is about developers communicating with the world in the most creative, productive way they know how. It’s about the artistic process.

Small independent games, unlike blockbusters such as the Halo series, have a more personable feel. As acclaimed developer Jonathan Blow says in the documentary, the best games aren’t smoothed over, glossy productions. And yet even though his game Braid was a major hit, Blow went into a serious depression for months after its release. Most of the positive reviews didn’t appreciate the key philosophy of the game he had worked on so far for so many years. To him, that was a failure.

“This is not some strange, nerdy pastime,” one indie video-game insider says in the film. Trouble is, the all-consuming effort put into creating these games, as with any artistic passion, can make their release into the outside world that much more traumatic.

Indie Game: The Movie

  • Directed by James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot
  • Classification: NA
  • 3 stars


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