Us and The Game Industry: A New Indie Game Film

We chat to Stephanie Beth, the filmmaker behind Us and The Game Industry, a new feature-length documentary profiling indie talent.

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.

Beth also spent time with up-and-coming indie developers, including Douglas Wilson (Johann Sebastian Joust), Zach Gage (SpellTower), and Alexander Bruce (Antichamber).

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."

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Discussion

11 comments
syler4815162342
syler4815162342

Well we can't say indie games are boring, it depends on developers those game designer that what they have in their mind, most of them are simple games (graphic) because that needs lots of efforts and energy, so they stick with simple graphic and work on the game play, ideas more, but there are some really great works out there which have pretty good graphics just check out UDK, CryDev website you will see ;)

WCK619
WCK619

Indie games are boring... I've never had fun playing one. Have tried many, but they're always disappointing.

anyjabroni
anyjabroni

@Toysoldier34 so what your saying is that indie games are the foundation of the gaming industry right? Plus the the major selling games and franchises that make millions aren't fun to play right? Actually I just teasing you now about you being an idiot , yeah some indie game are fun but they are hardly the foundation of the game industry, idiot.

Toysoldier34
Toysoldier34

Indie developers are the one that make video games because they love to. They make games to be fun and different. They make the games that make it gaming, not the big name money making CoD clones.

StingrayA
StingrayA

I think that a major problem for a lot of Indie developers is society isn't open enough to open itself up to new experiences and foreign concepts that a lot of Indie developers bring to the table. The world is stuck on its definition of what "gaming" is and the mainstream audience/non-gamers get that idea stuck in their mind because we aren't taught as a society naturally to accept, embrace and epitomize the unknown. An experience that has no set answer, its up to you. We are taught, grow up, go to school. This is the right answer, this is the wrong answer. This is how the world works, go to uni or get a trade and go to work if you want to be succesful etc. We are breaking out of that cycle a lot more, but as society as a whole, not just gamers, we have a way to go before Indie developers like those of journey and many other fantastic games, get the widespread attention and praise they deserve and AAA titles start to make positive changes for the better.

mariojr500
mariojr500

I was a little interested right as I started reading the article but as soon as I saw Jenova Chen and Jason Rohrer playing Rohrer's game "Sleep is Death" together....... I NEED to see this movie. Indie Developers are inspirations.

dariux32
dariux32

It looks very interesting. I really want to see the whole film. Indy developers definitely have interesting view point at game making, they can and will surprise people(not only us-gamers),what games can achieve...

Coco_pierrot
Coco_pierrot

That film seems very interesting I like indy developper !!! I have some indy game that I liked way more than big studio game. I hope there is more original game like Journey and Braid.

Ducez_III
Ducez_III

Can't say it enough, one of my favorite developers. They really do have a passion for the games they make.