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Indie Game: The Movie – Special Edition Review

Indie Game The Movie - Special Edition
Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky

If you haven’t seen Indie Game: The Movie and you’ve got even the slightest interest in gaming, then we’ll hold back from yelling “fie and shame!” at you long enough for you to watch it.

Viewed it yet? Good. Because the Special Edition of the film has recently been released, packing in over 100+ minutes of bonus footage and features, giving us a total of 300+ minutes of indie gaming goodness. Does the extra content help Indie Game: The Movie shoot into the stratosphere of documentary greatness? Or does it bog down an already great venture?

If you need a bit of a refresher, Indie Game: The Movie was made by Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky, two filmmakers from Winnipeg, Canada. The film focused on the efforts of three independent game developers and the work that went into releasing their games. The subjects were Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes (Super Meat Boy), Phil Fish and Renaud Bedard (Fez), and Jonathan Blow (Braid).

The documentary came to life thanks to crowd-funding from sites like Kickstarter and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012 before seeing theatrical releases in May and June of 2012.

Now, a little more than a year later, Indie Game: The Movie has received a Special Edition with more footage, more content, and plenty of epilogues to show us what came after the “happily ever after” portions of the developers’ stories, as well as a look at some other indie devs in the industry.

Indie Game The Movie - Special Edition

Perhaps the most major parts of the Special Edition are the epilogues. In the documentary proper, we were along for the ride as these five individuals poured their blood, sweat, tears and time into crafting their video games for release. And while we eventually see the results of their hard work and determination, we don’t get to see just how big of an impact their successes have made.

In each epilogue, we’re given looks at the amazing changes each team has undergone and how their lives have almost been turned upside down thanks to their games. Super Meat Boy designer Edmund McMillen, for example, was able to purchase a new house and a bunch of cats for his wife.

He’s also gotten a larger fanbase and went on to recreate the same success with his second major indie game, The Binding of Isaac. His fame in the gaming world has led fans to produce lots of great artwork, curios and memorabilia that they’ve all sent to him. However you slice it, McMillen has enjoyed some great changes. Perhaps the most touching product of his success was when he could surprise his parents with a new car that they had needed but couldn’t afford. The teary smile on McMillen’s face said it all.

Indie Game The Movie - Special Edition

But it isn’t all sunshine and roses for our heroes, since fame always comes with a cost and can be a double-edged sword. One example we see is McMillen’s partner, Tommy Refenes, and how he dealt with a troll online who warned him about the unsecured nature of the Super Meat World (Super Meat Boy’s bonus game that granted access to fan-created worlds), code online on the MySQL open source database. Refenes said that it was fine and that he wasn’t worried. As if to prove Refenes wrong, the troll accessed the Super Meat World code and changed everything. And, as if to put Refenes in a negative light, the troll edited their conversation to make it seem as if he was challenged to do it and posted it on Reddit.

As a result, Refenes fixed the code and made it so that no one could access it anymore, nor load up their own worlds. It’s sad to see him have to resort to such an extreme measure, but it’s also understandable when you realize that Refenes had created something extra, for free, for the fans to enjoy even after he had finished with the game and didn’t want to code anymore. As the saying goes, “This is why we can’t have nice things.”

It is in this way that the documentary and its bonus content work together to show both the very positive aspects of fame and becoming nouveau riche. And while not all of the developers involved had suffered many misfortunes, some things that happened in the aftermath of their success were definitely not seen as positive.

For example, one segment deals with Fez’s creator, Phil Fish, and a comment he made during an indie game panel at GDC in which he claimed that Japanese games “suck” when asked about how he viewed recent games that had come from Japanese developers. Braid’s creator Jonathan Blow had to agree, though he worded himself a lot more carefully and seemed to have a more PR-friendly response.

We’re then shown how the media, and specifically the internet, took his words out of context and people began to bash him as an arrogant developer who has no respect for a whole nation. It’s an interesting look at the negatives that come with a huge positive.

Indie Game The Movie - Special Edition

Thankfully, not all of the bonus content features the sad truths that can arise from newly-found fame. We’re given a brief look at the lives of other indie game developers like Spelunky’s Derek Yu, Eliss’s Steph Thirion and Braid’s artist, David Hellman. It’s especially interesting to see how Hellman evolved the art of Braid and the process he goes through to get to the game’s endpoint. It’s reminiscent of how Fish worked on the aesthetics of Fez, painstakingly designing each block in the environment.

Indie Game The Movie - Special Edition

This only a smattering of the bonus content featured in the Special Edition. If you want to rewatch the film with new perspectives, then some commentary tracks from each major developer are available for your listening pleasure.

There are also a few cute extras, such as a home video of Edmund mocking internet trolls and his wife Danielle’s epilogue, which includes an ever-growing number of cat-children.

For those who want to get the film on Steam, you will be able to unlock achievements and cards just by watching different parts of the movie or listening to each of the commentaries. That should be a nice little bonus for fans of indie games who also enjoy meta games.

There are over 300+ minutes of extra footage and content in this Special Edition, so it would be ludicrous for me not to recommend it to gaming fans. It does an amazing job of showing the highs and lows of its subjects and puts the spotlight on the positives and negatives that accompany fame. This duality, to me, is the star of the documentary and grounds everything that happens to these developers in reality, though they live in a fantastic world of pixels and art.

But, most importantly, it shows how vulnerable these developers have made themselves by putting out a product that’s essentially a reflection of themselves as people and as artists. And that’s quite a beautiful thing to see.

This review is based on a digital copy of Indie Game: The Movie – Special Edition that was purchased for review.

8.0 out of 10 arcade sushi rating

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