Thursday, May 3, 2012
Indie Game: The Movie
Yes, indeed this Hot Docs audience was an average of 20 years younger than the typical Hot Docs crowd, and I never heard so many 'likes' from the audience, the movie characters, and film makers. And that was before they started discussing Facebook likes.
The film follows the development of three independent game developer teams. For Jonathan Blow, San Francisco-based creator of Braid, the most successful indie game of 2010, life is good.and he can be philosophical about the meaning of indie game development. These are people that feel as strongly about their personal creative statement as any musician, author, or artist would feel.
Edmund McMillen is half of the bi-coastal Team Meat which is creating Super Meat Boy. Edmund has been drawing since he was a child, mostly dark characters and monsters. We'd have to call him an eccentric character for sure. The other half of Team Meat is the talented but neurotic programmer Tommy Refenes, nearly suicidal with worry about whether they can meet the deadline, whether the game will be successful. They do indeed make the deadline. Tommy goes berserk when the game is not promoted in the XBox Live Arcade. After several hours delay, the game is finally featured, ecstatic reviews stream in and sales skyrocket, matching first day sales of Braid, the biggest Indie game success story so far. Try multiplying a million copies times $15, and dividing that by two. Tommy pays off the mortgage for his parents, Edmund's wife gets the hairless cats she's been craving. Years of sacrifice, and a happy ending.
The most interesting character was Montrealer Phil Fish. Phil is the developer of Fez. Phil showed the game in 2007, attracting enormous attention. However, he was hit with several personal setbacks, split with his original partner, and missed multiple release deadlines. Phil is living in a pressure cooker to get the game finished. He arrives in Boston to show off a pre-release version of the game at PAX, a huge gaming show. But his ex-partner is holding up release until he signs an agreement. As much as this situation enrages Phil, his main concern is to see if people like the game. However, the game is crashing due to the last minute changes Phil made the night before. Finally Phil gets it working, people love it and Phil heads back to Montreal with renewed determination and near-suicidal insecurity to get the game finished and released. So ends the movie. Will he or won't he get it released?
Indie Game: The Movie won a Jury Award at Sundance. Producer Scott Rubin (producer of The Social Network, Money Ball and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is developing a series based on the film for HBO. Tonight the movie was live-screened at 40 Cineplex theatres across Canada. Not bad for first-time film makers Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky from Winnipeg! They had the courage to start the movie after raising only $15,000 on Kickstarter, not nearly enough to complete the movie. However, they believed in their movie. After all the gaming industry is bigger than movies of music, and yet this is the first documentary about the games industry from the point of view of game developers.
Pajot and Swirsky were joined on stage by Phil Fish, and we heard the epilogue of his story. Fez made it to market! And its reception equalled that of the hugely successful Super Meat Boy. Moreover, Phil has learned his lesson - he refused to divulge even a shred of detail about his next game.
This film is goingto be released in New York later this month and will be returning to Canada soon after. Don't miss it!!!