One of the first films that many people will think of when presented with the term “video game documentary” will be Indie Game: The Movie. While it touched on several specific aspects of game design and philosophy, the film was more about the personal journey of each developer. Us and the Game Industry isn’t about the journey; it is about what video games are and the different ways that the people who make them think about them. It presents the audience with a variety of ideas from numerous different perspectives within the industry. We are even given a unique look into the design philosophies behind individual team members from thatgamecompany. Nowhere else are you going to see such an in-depth look behind-the-scenes of indie game development.
Us and the Game Industry captures the passion of game development during a period between 2009 and 2012. It explores how indie developers approach the messages that they want their games to convey. It is a cry for more humanity in game development; for games that exist for a reason other than making money. At one point, Robin Hunicke describes the feeling of walking through E3 as an experienced veteran and realizing that many of them felt like the same game packaged under different art. The indie developers in the documentary are each attempting to make a game that is different in its core.
Chris Crawford, one of the earliest video game designers and the founder of GDC, denounces the focus on graphics for many recent games. The audience hears the idea behind the game Mutazione, an adventure game from the German indie developer Die Gute Fabrik described as a “swamp opera” that was conceived of by illustrator Nils Deneken. We are presented with a number of games from Jason Rohrer, the developer of underground indie titles like Passage and The Castle Doctrine. We glimpse the thoughts of Alexander Bruce as he develops Antichamber, one of the most mind-bending puzzle games of the last decade. Zach Gage shares his thoughts on casual game development and games designed to waste time. However, the audience spends the most time with the developers at thatgamecompany, hearing the different ideas that went into the creation of games like Flower and Journey. In fact, since the documentary was filmed during Journey’s development, we see the iteration of ideas in pre-alpha builds that eventually become the finished game. Austin Wintory appears to describe the challenges of making an adaptive soundtrack that responds to the actions that players perform while in-game.
“When you have something to say and you are using a medium and using lots of money and people’s time, their life, to say something… You want to make sure that what you are saying is something relevant and valuable.” – Jenova Chen
The resulting film doesn’t have a cohesive story or any single answer to what video games are now or could be in the future. However, it clearly demonstrates how broad the term “video game” has become and the vastness of the unexplored territory yet before those who make games. It also reveals the differing views of the developers as far as why they choose to make games and what value they see in video games.
Stephanie Beth and Clay Westervelt have made something special with their documentary. It is a thoughtful, unrushed, and thoroughly interesting look at the current state of game development. I have no doubt that in a decade and beyond it will become a valuable resource for video game archivists and historians to gain insight into how early games were made. If you are interested in game development, this is a great documentary from which to learn how the industry works.
Us and the Game Industry is available for download on the film’s official website as well as on Steam.