Indie Game: The Movie

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Indie Game: The Movie
Against a pale blue background, a SNES game controller hangs from a wire, above a pit of bloodied spikes.
Directed by James Swirsky
Lisanne Pajot
Produced by James Swirsky
Lisanne Pajot
Music by Jim Guthrie
Cinematography James Swirsky
Lisanne Pajot
Edited by James Swirsky
Lisanne Pajot
Flutter Media
Distributed by BlinkWorks Media
Release dates
  • 20 January 2012 (2012-01-20) (Sundance)
Running time
94 minutes (Canada)
103 minutes (International)
Language English

Indie Game: The Movie is a 2012 documentary film by Canadian filmmakers James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot. The film documents the struggles of independent game developers Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes during the development of Super Meat Boy, Phil Fish during the development of Fez, and also Jonathan Blow, who reflects on the success of Braid.[1]

After two successful Kickstarter funds,[2][3] interviews were conducted with prominent indie developers within the community. After recording over 300 hours of footage, Swirsky and Pajot decided to cut the movie down to follow the four developers selected.[4] Their reasoning behind this was to show game development in the "past, present and future" tenses through each individual's story.[citation needed]


The film shows the high level of personal expression that typically goes into independent games, through the story of three games: Braid was released in 2008, Super Meat Boy was preparing for its 2011 release, while Fez was struggling with development hell for several years.

Braid developer Jonathan Blow recounts his thought process for the game: how he wished to put his "deepest flaws and vulnerabilities" into it and how his initial design experience quickly turned from experimentation to discovery. He also talks about the aftermath of the game: When Braid comes out, it receives widespread critical acclaim, but Blow is disillusioned, when a large portion of players don't "get" the underlying message and themes of the game. He makes attempts to influence the audience's impression of the game through forum posts and blog comments, but this eventually turns him into something of a comic figure, which he feels uncomfortable with. The game remains a commercial and critical success.

Super Meat Boy developers Team Meat (Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes) set out to do a platform game that harkens back to their own childhood video game experiences. McMillen talks about his lifelong goal of communicating to others through his work. He goes on to talk about his 2008 game Aether that chronicles his childhood feelings of loneliness, nervousness, and fear of abandonment.[5] He also sheds light on the level design techniques he uses, on how he teaches players to play without extensive tutorials.

About a year into development, Microsoft offers Team Meat a chance to take part in an Xbox Live Arcade promotion called "Game Feast", under the condition that they finish the game in a month, which they reluctantly accept because of their dire financial situation. The development goes into crunch time, and takes its toll on McMillen's marriage, and on the health of Refenes, who bears the brunt of the work. Refenes also laments how he sacrificed his social life to get the game done, but expresses gratitude for his family being supportive of his goal. The team successfully delivers the game, but come release day, the game is nowhere to be found on Xbox Live, which greatly upsets Refenes, who predicts low sales as a result. The game does eventually appear on the marketplace, and doubles Braid‍ '​s sales, selling 20,000 units in the first 24 hours. McMillen is surprised by both the sales and touched by the fan reaction, and although Refenes, exhausted and cynical, is less enthusiastic, his joy shows through when he sees videos of people enjoying the game. The game eventually goes on to sell a million copies, providing a level of financial security to both developers.

Fez developer Polytron (Phil Fish and Renaud Bédard) is in the fourth year of the game's development: the game was first announced at Independent Games Festival 2008, which thrust Fish into the limelight as an "indie developer celebrity", but little was heard of the game since. The development is troubled casting doubt on the future of the project. Fish himself admits to his perfectionism protracting the development, as well as losing perspective over time about how good the game really is. Similar to Refenes, Fish also notes that he does not see himself doing anything else other than indie games, saying that Fez has become his identity over time.

Polytron prepares to present Fez at Penny Arcade Expo, despite the possibility of a lawsuit lingering: Fish's original business partner (Jason DeGroot,[6] who remains anonymous during the film) is yet to sign his side of a final separation deal, and as such, he could potentially block Polytron from presenting at PAX. This causes Fish to suffer anxiety attacks over the course of the preparation. The Fez kiosk is set up nevertheless, but the show runs into problems, when last minute changes in the build cause the game to often hang up or crash, forcing Fish to occasionally restart the game. The players are unfazed and continue to enjoy the game nevertheless; Fish gives a number of interviews, and Jerry Holkins expresses his excitement about the product as well. Towards the closing of the show, Fish's new partner Ken Schachter announces that he and the former business partner had a meeting and have come to an agreement, which relieves Fish, who in the end is satisfied with the results of the show, and vows to continue working on the game and releasing it in 2012.

The film bookends itself with Jonathan Blow's opening monologue about how indie gaming differs by offering flaws and vulnerabilities, making the games more personal. During the closing credits, videos of other upcoming indie games are interspersed.


Directors Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky, 2012

Indie Game: The Movie received a high level of interest from the gaming community almost from its inception.[7][8][9][10][11] Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 93% based on reviews from 26 critics, with an average rating of 7.6/10.[12] G4TV praised the film saying "Indie Game: The Movie is definitely worth your time, and should be seen by everyone in the video game industry on the publisher, developer, and consumer sides."[13] Ain't It Cool News echoed these statements, stating that "there are victories, defeats, tears and smiles. Indie Game: The Movie is a must-see doc for anybody that fancies themselves a gamer or for anyone who gets sucked into a good underdog story."[14]

The film won the World Cinema Documentary Editing Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.[15]

Indie Game: The Movie was also named 'Best Documentary' by the Utah Film Critics Association and nominated for a Canadian Screen Award in the category of 'Best Feature Documentary'.[citation needed]


The producers chose a non-traditional distribution method for the film, coupling the usual film festival circuit with a focused theater tour and aggressive online distribution. Online distribution was initially via iTunes and the gaming platform Steam with a DRM free release, expanded later to other online distribution services and direct downloads from the producers' website. The result of their distribution experiment is documented in Indie Game: the Movie: the Case Study. Over 50% of gross revenue came from online distribution.[16] The film premiered on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom on 30 November 2013, and was preceded by a documentary "How Video Games Changed The World".[17]


External links[edit]

Media related to Indie Game: The Movie at Wikimedia Commons