The growing critical and commercial success of independent games has already led to one feature-length documentary film about the trials and tribulations of indie developers. But while Indie Game: The Movie documents the emotional challenges of indie game makers, a new documentary attempts to take things a step further.
Us and The Game Industry is the work of New Zealand filmmaker Stephanie Beth, who has spent the last three years documenting the working lives of developers, including Jenova Chen (Flow, Flower, Journey), Jason Rohrer (Passage, Sleep Is Death, Inside a Star-Filled Sky), and Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes (Super Meat Boy), to create what she hopes to be a meditation on the wider independent game-development scene.
The film's Kickstarter campaign--created to keep the fund flowing while Beth and her team launch into postproduction and distribution of the film--was a success, raising $20,256 of its $20,000 goal. According to Beth, it was her son, Tom, who first drew her attention to games and the growing independent sector.
"I've been involved in arts all my life, both through my job as a high school media and film studies teacher in Christchurch and a co-producer on past film projects," Beth says. "Over the years, I became increasingly interested in games, and how a whole generation was excited by the medium.
"After investigating a handful of independent developers, I discovered that almost all of them were, or had been at one stage, involved in small watershed moments, and all of them were looking for ways to question a fairly strong tradition: the huge, dominant growth of AAA games."
Singling out a few key names, Beth first wrote to the developers whose lives she would spend the next three years documenting at the end of 2008. Enlisting the help of personal contacts, she then gathered a crew of filmmakers from Los Angeles, and travelled to the 2009 Game Developers Conference to begin shooting.
"They were all delighted to speak to me," Beth recalls. "I remember setting up a dinner in San Francisco during GDC that year, and that's where they all met for the first time. It was really wonderful to see. I then began shooting them in their individual spaces to get a sense of how they each worked."
Over the course of the next three years, Beth accumulated around 21 days' worth of footage, visiting each developer a number of times. Halfway through this process, she had an idea: what if she were to also find a number of relatively unknown developers to aid her aim in representing independent development as an ever-growing, ever-changing scene?
That's where developers like Wilson, Gage, and Bruce came in. Following them everywhere, from Copenhagen to Texas to New York, Beth says that the inclusion of a "technically and generationally" newer breed of indies in the film offers a different kind of portrayal of true grit and determination, and helps set Us and The Game Industry apart from Indie Game: The Movie.
"This movie is going to be distinguished by its aim to record those who have already crossed the hurdles," Beth says. "It's more of an ongoing discussion of not only design, but instances of the debates that happen within independent game development, and unlike Indie Game: The Movie, this film doesn't really have anything resembling a dramatic peak or final closure. It's a film that celebrates that this is a world that's constantly going on, and people within it are always working very hard.
"In saying that, it's a great piece of synchronicity that a couple of films have been borne of this subject."
With the Kickstarter campaign finished, Beth plans to begin postproduction on the film next month, with a view to release and distribute in cinemas and film festivals around the world by the end of the year.
"These young, independent game developers are people with heart, mind, and soul, who challenge us and even play tricks on us with their games. They are interrogating the possibilities of the kind of insight that you can get through a game, and in doing so refresh our taste for the wonders of discovery that all human beings are capable of."