Recently, while scanning through Netflix Instant’s “New Releases,” I found a documentary that piqued my interest called “Indie Game: The Movie.” Indie Game is about the burgeoning independent video game biz and it follows the development of two games: Super Meat Boy and Fez.
These aren’t your typical multi-million-dollar-budgeted blockbuster games like Halo or Call of Duty, they’re personal projects painstakingly designed and coded (often by just a couple of people), where ingenuity in gameplay takes precedent over flashy graphics. The budgets for these games are small, too, and most of them don’t have big publishers like SquareSoft or Bethesda to promote them after the game is finally complete.
The movie does a great job of communicating the passions and frustrations of these game designers. And though I consider myself a life-long gamer (chronologically from Rogue on my first PC in the 80s, to the NES, Sega Genesis, N64, PlayStation 2, and, now, Playstation 3, with plenty of other PC upgrades and games along the way) I never really knew how games like these were made. Indie Game gives you a peak inside that process through interviews with journalists and such indie game luminaries as Phil Fish (Fez), Jonathan Blow (Braid), and Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes (Super Meat Boy). If the creators of Fez and Super Meat Boy are anything like other indie game designers (and I think they are), the process seems to include a lot of late nights, coding, poor nutrition, legal battles, and stress. But they make really cool games.
Watch the trailer to get a feel for the film:
This documentary is about more than the steps it takes to create a independent video game, it’s about gaming as an art form and a way of life. These guys grew up on classic games like Super Mario Bros. 3 and the Castlevania series; they want to contribute to the artform that captured their attention as kids. As they attempt to, you can see them struggle with creating just as a writer or painter might. They’re fighting to make their dreams tangible, and then, struggling to accept the opinions of the critics and gamers who suddenly have access to a part of them.
If you’re into gaming as a hobby or a possible career choice, or you just want to watch an interesting documentary, I suggest clicking over to Netflix and giving Indie Game a shot.
Beyond the story that Indie Game tells, there are indie video games themselves–they’re really worth checking out. Most are available as downloadable titles through X-Box Live Arcade, the Playstation Network, and the Wii Shop. X-Box currently has the best lineup of indie titles, but the Playstation Network is offering more all the time.
Indie Game picks:
The Unfinished Swan (platform: PS3) – The Unfinished Swan is a videogame about exploring the unknown. The player assumes the role of a young boy chasing after a swan who has wandered off into a surreal, unfinished kingdom. The game begins in a completely white space where players can throw paint to splatter their surroundings and reveal the world around them. [Metacritic]
Journey (platform: PS3) – Enter the world of Journey, the third game from indie developers thatgamecompany (creators of “flOw” and “Flower”). Journey is an interactive parable, an anonymous online adventure to experience a person’s life passage and their intersections with others’. You wake alone and surrounded by miles of burning, sprawling desert, and soon discover the looming mountaintop which is your goal. Faced with rolling sand dunes, age-old ruins, caves and howling winds, your passage will not be an easy one. The goal is to get to the mountaintop, but the experience is discovering who you are, what this place is, and what is your purpose. Travel and explore this ancient, mysterious world alone, or with a stranger you meet along the way. Soar above ruins and glide across sands as you discover the secrets of a forgotten civilization. [thatgamecompany]
Limbo (platform: PS3, XBox 360, PC) – LIMBO, a black and white puzzle-platforming adventure, puts players in the role of a young boy traveling through an eerie and treacherous world in an attempt to discover the fate of his sister.
Braid (platform: PS3, XBox 360, PC) – Braid is a puzzle-platformer, drawn in a painterly style, where the player manipulates the flow of time in strange and unusual ways. From a house in the city, journey to a series of worlds and solve puzzles to rescue an abducted princess. In each world, you have a different power to affect the way time behaves, and it is time’s strangeness that creates the puzzles. The time behaviors include: the ability to rewind, objects that are immune to being rewound, time that is tied to space, parallel realities, time dilation, and perhaps more. Braid treats your time and attention as precious; there is no filler in this game. Every puzzle shows you something new and interesting about the game world. Braid is a 2-D platform game where you can never die and never lose. Despite this, Braid is challenging, but the challenge is about solving puzzles, rather than forcing you to replay tricky jumps. Travel through a series of worlds searching for puzzle pieces, then solving puzzles by manipulating time: rewinding, creating parallel universes, setting up pockets of dilated time. The gameplay feels fresh and new; the puzzles are meant to inspire new ways of thinking. [Microsoft]
Super Meat Boy (platform: Wii, XBox 360, PC, iOS) – Super Meat Boy is a tough as nails platformer where you play as an animated cube of meat who’s trying to save his girlfriend (who happens to be made of bandages) from an evil fetus in a jar wearing a tux. [Metacritic]
Fez (platform: XBox 360, PC) – This quirky platformer stars a little white creature with a bright red fez. Gomez is a 2D being living in a 2D world. Or is he? When the existence of a mysterious 3rd dimension is unveiled, Gomez embarks on a journey that will usher him to the very end of time and space. Utilize your ability to navigate 3D structures from 4 distinct 2D perspectives. Explore an open-ended world full of secrets, puzzles and hidden treasures. Re-open the mysteries of the past and discover the truth about reality and perception. Alter your perspective and see the world in a different way. [Metacritic]
Corey, The Labs @ CLP