James: I think independent games are extremely exciting. The industry, and the medium at large, is benefiting from this wonderful combination of second and third generation gamers coming of age in a time when technology and market accessibility is allowing individuals and small teams to create high quality games and legitimately distribute them in the marketplace. As a result, we are getting games that would never have been possible five or six years ago. It’s pushing the medium forward, to be sure.
And indie game developers are certainly a struggling bunch, but there is hope. Consumer appetite for independent games is definitely growing. Whether it’s exhaustion of triple-A fare (how many first-person shooters can one play without wanting to experience something different?), or the ever-increasing sophistication and quality of indie titles, or some combination, the audience is responding favourably and stories of self-made millionaires are becoming more and more frequent. Indie games are becoming serious business, providing hope to developers that they can make the games that they want to make, and that they have a serious chance to cultivate an audience.
In terms of whether games are art, every time we bring this up with indie game designers we are met with eye-rolls and an exhausted answer along the lines of “games can’t not be art.” They are pouring their heart, soul, and considerable traditional artistic talent (drawing, composing, writing) into a piece of work that is part expression and part entertainment. These things cannot not be art.
Perhaps the most reasoned answered we had came from Jenova Chen. He indeed views games as art, but allows for art to occupy a spectrum. On one end you have what one might consider high art and on the other end you have commercial art. In Jenova’s opinion video games certainly belong on that spectrum, but more towards the commercial end of things.
TGAM: What do you want to accomplish with the film? Who do you expect will watch it? Do you have an agenda, subtle or overt?
Lisanne: We'd like our film to draw the curtain back and show the game development process. We hope that people will watch the film and learn more about the craft of making games, and then notice a designer’s decisions and nuances when they play video games.
We feel our audience will, of course, be fans of independent games and gamers in general. But because the film is so much about design and the creative process, we think it can appeal to wider audience of people who don't necessarily identify themselves as gamers but, perhaps, as appreciators of art. At least, that's what we sincerely hope.
This agenda is subtle throughout the film, but ever-present and overarching. In some ways, you could remove the term “video game” from the film and replace it with “film” or “book” or “painting” and I'm sure the individual journeys of its characters will still ring true.
TGAM: Has it been a difficult project? Have you received funding from any investors or government agencies? I noticed that you're soliciting support from the community on your website...
James: It has been a challenge. Indie Game: The Movie is quite ambitious in scope. We are a two-person production that is following teams, talking to a lot of people, gathering a lot of footage, and trying to create in a professional manner something that hasn’t been seen before.
But at the same time, we are traveling the world telling the stories of brilliant, creative people. The whole process is equally exhausting, intimidating, and rewarding. In fact, in many ways our filmmaking process echoes the experience of independent game developers.
The film’s budget has been a combination of crowd-funding, personal investment, and winnings from a Los Angeles documentary film pitch competition we took part in. Within 48 hours of announcing the film we had raised the majority of our eventual money—$23,000 in total on Kickstarter.com, a website that allows people to donate to creative projects that they would like to see become a reality. We’ve also been consistently selling DVD pre-orders from our website. Community support has been huge.
We haven’t accessed any government funding for this film (though we do intend to access Manitoba’s filmmaking tax credit system). We took an audience-first approach. We thought the best strategy was to put the idea out to the people who would be our eventual audience. If they liked the idea, and thought we could do it justice, we figured the support would be there. On the other hand, if we didn’t get the enthusiastic response that we did we would have had to wonder if this was a film that needed to be made. Luckily for us, we haven’t been given any reason to wonder.