Kickstarted documentary Gameloading: Rise of the Indies has launched digitally through Steam, Humble, and other outlets this week. Focusing on the surge of the indie game development scene, the documentary features interviews with indie developers, footage from game jams and conventions, and covers a number of topics that highlight the challenges of making games outside of the big budget corporate system.
I watched the film yesterday. Being already familiar with the indie scene, I didn't find it terribly illuminating, though it has some interesting moments and worthwhile interviews. I suspect newcomers to indie gaming, or viewers who are just now becoming interested in game development, might find some useful information and inspiration, however.
Gameloading begins in the typical talking-head documentary fashion. Have you heard about video games? Would you like to know why games are fun, popular, or important? Figures like John Romero, Ben Kuchera, Mike Bithell, and others are excited to tell you. Thankfully, this portion is brief: most gaming documentaries seem to feel the need to walk you through twenty minutes of archival Pong footage. There's also a recap of the rise of indie games: after consoles initially stifled indie game makers, digital download services like Steam and the Apple store, game engines like Unity, and creation tools like GameMaker brought the indie scene surging back, though the opening of those floodgates also led to fierce competition and a crowded marketplace.
Speaking of which, there's some attention paid to one of the most important and difficult aspects of indie development: marketing. With tiny development teams, often just one or two people, there's simply no one to handle marketing but the devs themselves, and the challenges of getting the word out at events like PAX and GDC, amidst the clamor of hundreds of other developers, are highlighted.
Some time is given to indie devs speaking about their inspiration for getting into game development. For some, motivation came from seeing big companies putting out the same types of games over and over, typically racing, fighting, and shooting games, and wondering if there were other avenues to explore. The Stanley Parable's Davey Wrenden, the biggest focus of the documentary, talks about becoming less interested in doing what games told him to and more interested in games that confronted and challenged him. He also wrestles with doubts about himself as a fledgling developer. "I'm terrified every single day of my life that people think I have any idea what I'm doing," he says.
For other developers, inspiration came from a far more personal place. Ryan Green speaks about creating That Dragon Cancer while struggling with his young son's terminal cancer diagnosis. Zoe Quinn speaks about her creation of Depression Quest as a way to demonstrate to others what it's like to live and cope with depression, and also talks about the abuse and threats she's received. Christine Love talks about her fascination and disgust with Korea's disturbingly misogynist Joseon Dynasty, which she used as the setting of her visual novel Analogue: A Hate Story.
Alternately, Rami Ismail of Vlambeer spoke about his interest being piqued as a six year old, having first played Gorillas, a Qbasic game, and then discovered he could change the code and see those changes reflected in the game. I wish a bit more time was spent on Ismail's amicably contentious relationship with his partner, Jan Willem Nijman, who claims he and Ismail once had a three day long argument over the shape of clouds in Vlambeer's arcade shooter Luftrausers.
In some ways Gameloading feels a bit too general: there are a lot of interesting topics touched on, but typically only briefly, and I suspect those already following the indie gaming scene will wish there was a bit more in-depth information on topics they haven't already read about on blogs, gaming sites, and the twitter accounts of those who participated in the documentary.
For those with a more casual or recent interest in indie development, I could see this being informative, and perhaps motivational. Seeing so many developers speaking passionately and thoughtfully about game making, participating in game jams, visiting conventions, and discussing not just the highs but the lows of game development could definitely inspire some viewers to begin making their own indie games.
You can find the various ways to purchase and view Gameloading here. Making an indie game or just want to share one you love? You can tell us about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.