It has been a while since I saw the first installment of “Indie Game,” a documentary that showcases independent game developers and their creations. Included in “Indie Game” are Super Meat Boy, Fez, and Braid, which have been recent stand-out games. I noticed on Netflix that a “follow-up” documentary was available for viewing, “Indie Game: After Life.” I really enjoyed the first movie, so I dove right in and was not disappointed.
As a retro gamer, I have a yearning for earlier generations of game creation where a small team, or even a single person, could have inspiration and drive and create an entire game. Obviously the game industry is a lot different now with teams and budgets rivaling those of Hollywood films and while modern blockbuster games are great, there is something special about a single programmer’s vision. It feels much more like a person’s artistic expression. Part of the mystique, of course, was the thought… “maybe I could do that.”
One thing that “Indie Game” makes clear is that creating a game is not a simple endeavor. They are suffering for their art – grueling hours in front of their computers. The persistence and overwhelming amount of work that these creators put into their games is nothing short of amazing. You cannot help but root for their success. It is inspiring to see people so creative and passionate. And it is gratifying to see that there is a market for unconventional entertainment. There are no focus groups here – just a blind faith that what they are making will find an audience.
Watching a movie like this always inspires me. I think that our society has gotten to be incredibly cynical, something touched on in “Life After,” and seeing the passion of the developers is heartwarming. It is easy to be hypercritical without considering the energy put into these projects – years of hard work where the chance of success is slim – and putting a face to the people behind the product is a refreshing change of pace.
I just caught “Man vs. Snake – The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler” on Netflix and this is the kind of retro and nostalgia that I love. I think that “Man vs. Snake” could almost be a spiritual sequel to the popular video game movie, “King of Kong.” You have some of the same cast of characters – Billy Mitchell and Walter Day are both present as well as a historical rundown of the Twin Galaxies Arcade. For viewers of “King of Kong,” much of this material will be very familiar. That said, the story is very well presented with some fun animation.
Like “King of Kong,” there is competition between multiple players trying to attain the high score for an arcade game, in this case Nibbler. If you’ve played a variation of the game “Snake” on a cellphone or old computer, you have an idea of the gameplay. On this journey, there is some question regarding possible chicanery in the quest for a high score. But, mostly, it is the story of a person challenging himself to try to attain a goal that few people could imagine. Unlike Donkey Kong, Nibbler is a game that people “marathon” for a high score, or play for extremely long periods of time. The players build up a cache of extra lives to allow themselves breaks and play up to and beyond 40 hours in a single high score attempt.
I actually never ran into a Nibbler game when I was growing up – or, if I did, I don’t remember ever seeing it. And there is a humorous part of the movie talking about Nibbler’s dubious claim to fame in video game history. It normally is not thought of when talking about the classics we all remember like PacMan and Asteroids. However, the long play sessions possible in Nibbler allowed for players, for the first time ever, to possibly achieve a billion points on a game. No kill screen here. So, it isn’t fond memories of pumping tokens into Nibbler as a child that makes the story so compelling for me. Instead, it is the general nostalgia for these arcade games and a person’s quest to try to persevere and achieve arcade glory.
I really loved “Man vs. Snake.” It is the story of someone ordinary attempting to accomplish something extraordinary. It is so refreshing to see a celebration of someone “normal” – in so much as someone who can play an arcade game for 40 hours is normal. If you enjoyed “King of Kong” or “Chasing Ghosts” then I think you’ll really enjoy “Man vs. Snake.” And as much as I liked “King of Kong,” this movie didn’t have as much of a “soap opera” feel to it which I appreciated.