(Originally posted on splitkick.com. Thanks to the Splitkick team for the edits!)
“I will kill myself if I don’t finish this game,” proclaims Phil Fish, when asked about next steps if he fails to complete Fez, the game he’s been creating for over 4 years. People generally don’t mean it when they use that expression, but there’s an undeniable air of sincerity that accompanies Phil’s words. Why would a man be ready to kill himself over a game? Within minutes of watching Indie Game: The Movie, the answer becomes readily apparent.
Created by James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot, this documentary shares stories about the intense passion that indie video game creators have for their craft. You get to see Fez being prepared for its first public demo in 4 years,Super Meat Boy being prepared for launch, and Jonathan Blow reflecting on his hit game, Braid.
Indie Game: The Movie provides an unprecedented level of access to some of indie gaming’s biggest stars. Phil Fish, Jonathan Blow, and Team Meat share personal anecdotes about how they got into gaming, some of their overall game design philosophies and why they choose to stay independent. In a particularly touching segment, Edmund McMillen of Team Meat recounts how his game Aether, inspired by his niece, is meant to express some very specific life lessons. These anecdotes flowed naturally throughout the film, and were a joy to watch.
Beyond sharing stories of days gone by, it gives a glimpse at some of the drama that was happening to Team Meat and Phil Fish as they were filming. Team Meat was scrambling to get Super Meat Boy done in time for XBOX Live Arcade’s Game Feast promotion. As they got closer to launch, you get to experience how much of a physical and emotional toll this process is taking on them. Meanwhile, Phil was in the midst of a messy legal battle with his former partner that threatened to shut down Fez completely. Though the conflicts covered have already been resolved, the film captures the tension of these situations extremely well and any advance knowledge doesn’t hurt the experience.
Though the movie has obvious gamer appeal, the surprise here is that this is a bigger-than-a-video-game story. No matter how far it goes into the nuances of its subject matter, the human elements of passion, independence, and sacrifice always shine through. It’s easy empathize for Phil Fish when he’s shown fighting through the divorce of his parents, the break-up with his girlfriend, and the loss of funding to finish his game. It’s hard not to pump your fist in agreeance when you see Tommy Refenes from Team Meat rattle off all of his reasons for staying indie. It’s also heartbreaking to hear Edmund’s wife say that she only sees his back nowadays because he’s too busy working on his dream project. The best documentaries transcend the bounds of their subject matter to tell a compelling human interest story, which this movie does brilliantly.
Whether you approach this as a gamer or an average moviegoer, Indie Game: The Movie is an awesome film. The documentary does a tremendous job of sharing human interest stories within the context of video game creation.