Monday, March 23, 2015

Game Documentaries – Indie vs. Video

This was a busy crafting weekend for me, so I took it as an opportunity to power through Netflix and have a few movies on in the background. The extra noise helps me concentrate. It also gave me the chance to finally watch Video Games: The Movie. I’ve heard buzz about this for the past year, produced by Zach Braff with the help of Cliffy B (Cliff Bleszinski for those not in the know). It details the history of video games, dabbles a bit into the “violent video game” topic, and what lies in the future with VR and Oculus Rift.

I also watched Indie Game: The Movie, a 2012 feature and Sundance Award winner that follows the teams that created Super Meat Boy and Fez, as well as talking to other independent developers about the pitfalls of being in gaming when you’re not playing with the big boys.

These movies are night and day.

The film critic inside of me (with 3 degrees to boot) is disappointed at the quality of Video Games. Braff has an immense amount of production talent, and works well as a director. It probably would have helped if he had put his foot down in the editing room because the way this documentary is cut. The documentary is not user  friendly. Some ongoing issues include long transitions between segments (oh my God those slow fade-in of quotes!), content that didn’t sync with the narrator (Gears of War footage when discussing the PS3, really?), and celebrity interviews that had nothing to do with the history of games. It’s a film that was trying too hard to capture everything about games without giving any real substance outside of Nolan Bushnell’s interview. That man had a passion and a realistic view about business.

It felt too broad and too cluttered at the same time. You’ll see a sequence about the Wii and PS3, how their innovations have paved the way into the future without really diving into them And then it cuts to a 2 minute random video game cut scene, music mash-up as if you’re watching an Anime Music Video at a convention. There’s no sense to it.

If you are brand new to video games and know squat about the history, this is a good primer for the ground work. There are Wikipedia articles that contain more detail then what this film offers.
On the other side of the table is Indie Games: The Movie. It is the exact opposite of Video Games and should be watched by everyone. Gamer or not, the future of our hobby is going more toward independent developers. The team at BlinkWorks Media crafted a story that wonderfully tells the struggles of being an independent, and how difficult it is to make a name for your team as a small-time developer in a world focused on multi-million dollar projects. The number of games that hit success like Journey and Braid are one a million. I couldn’t find an exact figure, so please don’t quote me on that. But imagine independent games like a barrel of apples. There are a lot of apples. Some are bigger, some are smaller, some are more ripe then the others. How do you find the gem sitting at the bottom? That perfect “golden” apple that is hidden among the rest? That’s what indie developers have to deal with. How do they get seen and be seen for a product that they made for themselves?

And Indie Games is a well crafted film. It has a very distinct beginning, middle, and end. You see the years of struggle on the two developing teams. Literally years. Fez (a game jokingly remade 3 times according to the creator Phil Fish) developers are followed over the course of 2 years. What really made this movie stand out to me were the human emotions wrapped into the story. We see these men who love to make video games. They don’t want to work at EA, Blizzard, Activision, etc. because they do not want to sacrifice their artistic freedom. It doesn’t matter to them if no one buys or review the games: they just want to finish making their product, their way. 

It also gives a bit of insight into why it takes so long to develop a game. Whether it’s a team of 2 or a team of 1,000, making games takes a ton of work. It’s amazing to see a fully-finished product by a 2 person group in the time it would take a large studio to develop the same product. 

Indie Games is insightful, joyous, witty, and breathtakingly soulful – very much in stark contrast to Video Games. My favorite line would have to be from Fish, talking about how much he hates seeing the online comments regarding Fez with its development time. “They don’t get mad at Valve for taking 5 years to make something…oh wait. Yeah they do. Bad example.” So if you need something to watch this week, go with Indie. You won’t be disappointed.

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