Indie Game: The Movie (and Life After)

I’m going to veer offtrack from my usual content today, but it’s going to be perfectly on brand. Today, I’m looking at Indie Game: The Movie, directed and produced by James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot.

I remember watching the movie years ago, back at an old apartment. My memories on it are fuzzy, so I thought that it warranted a rewatch. Another thing that called me to rewatch it was Indie Game: Life After, a separate listing released in 2014 that includes a bunch of supplementary material that came later, which wasn’t around back when I first watched it, its running time rivaling the original movie.

Also as you may see, there are no screenshots of the movie. Movies exist in a different realm of legality so I might get in trouble posting stuff from it. If you want to see the movie, hop onto Netflix or hit up a friend with a Netflix password. Maybe I could make a rabb.it room for ya’ll to watch it? But anyway, here’s my ramblings on the movie.

So the main movie mainly revolves around Team Meat (aka Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes), Phil Fish and Jonathan Blow. In a sense, their perspectives sort of show different career stages. Jonathan Blow had already released Braid and his perspective is sort of a postmortem, Team Meat was in the process of releasing their first big commercial release of Super Meat Boy and focuses on that, while Phil Fish still struggled with the development of FEZ and its backstage drama.

A main idea of the movie is how indie developers can create something personal through their efforts. It isn’t necessarily just about developers making what they want to see in games, but how their personal experiences reflect in their work. A large part of Phil Fish’s arc is his struggles during development, with constant changes, life problems and issues arising with a former partner. FEZ revolves around making whole cubes through collecting fragments in a nice calm world, Fish likening the experience to his desire of finding stability in his chaotic life. Watching the movie, it’s really more about the game developers and their relationship to games and development than the games themselves.

I feel that Jonathan Blow’s segments were the weakest part of the documentary. Like, his look-back on Braid and general ramblings on indie games? I appreciate that. Him being unhappy with how Braid was seen, despite being successful? Fucker. Team Meat showed the relatable fear of not being successful and there’s the issue of being briefly screwed over on release day, Phil Fish was suffering from a chaotic development and getting dogpiled by people on the internet. Jonathan Blow’s just upset that nobody sees what he sees in the game, which kinda solidifies the “pretentious fuck” persona that people see him as, to me. The footage of Soulja Boy roasting Braid was hilarious though. Bless this video.

Now, watching this movie today grants us the power of hindsight, so you may go into this 2012 experience with different glasses. You’ll see Edmund McMillen’s worries about being successful and you’ll be happy for him, knowing that he went on to find success not just with Super Meat Boy, but with The Binding of Isaac. Watching Phil Fish isn’t exactly as happy, knowing that he’ll garner a reputation as a drama starter that eventually exited the industry; seeing his early, genuine passion for wanting to make games is kinda hard to watch, with that in mind.

So after watching that, I moved on to Life After. Life After sort of acts as an epilogue for the stories of Phil Fish and Team Meat, while also including a bunch of miscellaneous extras and short films revolving around them and other developers discussing aspects of development. Jonathan Blow’s sort of in the background, but Braid‘s artist, David Hellman, is present for the extras to talk about the game’s art design.

While Team Meat reflects on the success of Super Meat Boy, Phil Fish finds success in an IGF reward – success that’s soured as his abrasive side starts to show, with the infamous post-movie talk where he said that modern Japanese games suck. While the movie contains the whole scene in context and has Phil Fish (and Jonathan Blow, who was at least constructive about it and thus avoided vilification) dislike of modern Japanese games explained, Fish undeniably comes off as a dick about it, which I guess was a sign of things to come.

I will say that the scene is kinda funny, watching it this year. 2017 introduced a bunch of big budget, well received Japanese video games that weren’t steeped in nostalgia. Fish’s ramblings on how the first Zelda compares to the latest Zelda at the time (Skyward Sword) is also pretty funny given how Breath of the Wild embraces the design that he wishes for, even if it’s not perfect. Hindsight sure is something.

I think an interesting thing that Life After focuses on is how Team Meat and Phil Fish reacts to internet commenters. Watching both of these films, even without future knowledge of Phil Fish, clearly shows him to be bothered by what people on the internet say about him, that their words clearly get under his skin. Team Meat on the other hand? Tommy Refenes doesn’t give a shit, realizing that negative people are impossible to please, while Edmund McMillen openly mocks these sorts of people, with the movie playing out a video where he pretends he’s an angry internet commenter with no life and nothing but senseless anger. It’s an interesting contrast, for sure.

The movie goes on to show other developers and their development processes and philosophies. It also continues to show off Edmund McMillen, with a bunch of postmortems of his smaller games. Life After ends off by playing the trailer for Indie Game: The Movie. And it also plays Mega64’s “action” trailer for it, which is glorious.

Indie Game: The Movie and Life After are enjoyable documentaries that shows the human side to the development of these indie games along with ramblings on development and why people make these games. Even if you’re not terribly interested in games (if that’s the case though, why are you reading this blog?), it’s interesting to watch if you like documentaries. Life After feels more disjointed, being a collection of a bunch of clips more than anything, but the content inside is still interesting to see. If you have Netflix or a pal with Netflix, I recommend checking it out!

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