Review- GameLoading: Rise of the Indies

gameloading splashDistributor: Kickstarter
Directors: Anna Brady, Lester Francois
Writer: Lester Francois
Stars: Zoe Quinn, John Romero, Davey Wreden, Christine Love
Genre: Documentary
Rating: Unrated
After the market supersaturation of CoDHaloGears of WarAssassin’s Creed, and other comparable franchises with practically if not literally annual release schedules, there has been a reactionary response to AAA developers through the light-speed upheaval of independent,or simply “indie,” game development and consumption. The very popular Indie Game: The Movie (2012) documented this phenomenon through the lenses of Edmund McMillen, Tommy Refenes, Phil Fish, and Jonathan Blow, tracing their thoughts and lives as they developed Super Meat Boy, Fez, and Braid respectively. That film is fascinating in its depiction of the aftermath (Braid), the live publication (SMB) and ongoing and persistent stages (Fez) of game production. Valve saw an opportunity in both a starved market for game films as well as an opportunity to promote its F2P cash cow DotA 2, and released Free to Play (2014). The chronicling of video gamers, developers, and video game culture in general continues with Game Loading.

Catt Small women devsStoryline

While “storyline” is a conventional category for our film reviews here at GUG, it is not really appropriate for the documentary genre. In fact, GameLoading resists the neat, able-to-be-summarized sub-plots of both Indie Game and Free to Play, because it does not track just three feature individuals, but dozens. Despite the absence of a discrete “story,” this film at the very least, follows the conventional phases of introduction, exposition, conflict, and denouement.

Content Guide

The version of the film that Stride PR submitted to us here at GUG provided the option of both the production release as well as a “family friendly” edition. The former contains a moderate number of F-bombs and similar terms. The Lord’s name is taken in vain a few times as well. I cannot confirm or deny the content in the “family friendly” edit, though it promises to eliminate some of the harsh language.
Christine Love, the developer of Analogue: A Hate Story, outright says that her game targets LGBT audiences, though heterosexual/cisgender players will find her game entertaining as well. There is a notable queer presence in this documentary, as it intentionally seeks to diversify in every way possible (except spiritually).Christine Love

 

Presentation

GameLoading opens with a jab at the AAA industry and transitions to Austin, Texas to focus on Davey Wreden, developer of Stanley Parable, and his eccentric impulses and imagination. After a brief introduction into Wreden’s world, the film shifts to Nottingham, UK, where the other half of the Stanley Parable dev team, William Pugh lives. Brady and Francois do this to prove the point that in game development, it is not always necessary for a dev team to be proximate, a point that  Indie Game has already made with McMillen and Refenes. We then move to Robin Arnott, creator of Soundself, a hybrid interactive program utilizing Oculus Rift which lies between a game and some interactive interface that defies naming; players/users make a sound, and that sound reverberates indefinitely in an metamorphic visual display.
This is merely the introduction to GameLoading in its first fourteen minutes. The film then continues to move forward, providing at lightning speed, a broad and conspicuously inclusive range of individuals who identify as game developers with many of these names being as anonymous as one of our readers here at GUG or as famous as John Romero. They all contribute to the idea that thanks to the existence of digital distribution platforms such as Steam, where indie developers need not necessarily compete directly with AAA devs for profits, and the release of freeware such as the Cryengine or Source SDK, game development is thusly not limited to only those who know the computer sciences (though that helps immensely); anyone who desires to develop games are limited only by their imaginations and free time. GameLoading undergirds this argument with its focus on Michael Samyn and Auriea Harvey, two web developers who found themselves out of work after the death of the dot-com boom in the early 2000s, and retrained themselves to develop games since “they were similar, yet had a higher creative ceiling than web development” (paraphrased). They would brand themselves as Tale of Tales.Tales devs
Other supporting elements to the film’s message that game development is for all includes showing a school where children are learning metaphors for code in addition to what feels like a penultimate feature, TrainJam, a 52-hour train ride to GDC. Here, the film bombards its viewer with compartmentalized game development roles such as art designer to sound creator to programmer to writer. Again, GameLoading is consistent with its message that one need not be technologically savvy to develop games, but just have an idea and follow through with persistence.
The documentary precedes the TrainJam segments with Christine Love, developer of Analogue: A Hate Story, who identifies as a “writer first, game designer second.” Sandwiched between Love’s segment and the “climax” of the film—Tale of Tales’ acceptance of the 2014 Nuovo (Innovation) Award ($5000) for Luxuria Superbia and Wreden’s acceptance of the Audience Award (3,000) for Stanley Parable at the Independent Games Festivalis—is a sequence dedicated to Zoe Quinn, designer of Depression Quest and the unique struggles of women in the game industry. If Quinn is a name unfamiliar to our readers, then I wonder where they have been in the past year. The film appropriately fantaends on Stanley Parable going live on Steam, complete with fanfare reviews.

Conclusion

Unlike its video game film predecessors, GameLoading: Rise of the Indies, seeks to be more comprehensive in its coverage of the indie dev scene rather than limit itself to a few devs. I do not find this approach to be overly ambitious, but instead quite educational in its confirmation that there is a thriving community—no, culture of enthusiastic entrepreneurs out there slaving over their projects.
Simultaneously, that is one of my criticisms of this film—it almost irrationally celebrates game development to the point of downplaying the depravity and taxation of the poor, struggling game developer. A few devs mention being destitute and not being able to eat or pay rent before “making it,”  but because GameLoading strives to elevate game development into the dream stratosphere, it Brady and Francois negate-by-omission the potential that one could collapse utterly, and what that might look like. The imbalance of how success is portrayed in comparison to failure is plain.Zoe Quinn
Another critique that I can offer concerns editing. The pacing of the film is spasmodic, most likely to capture the overwhelming enthusiasm and energy of the developers (contrast such a tone with Fish’s threats of suicide and general ineptitude in Indie Game [or his Twitter account at your own risk]). Yet, the onslaught of people and the names and themes of all of their oddball games can be overwhelming at times, even for someone such as myself who is familiar with more about gaming than most. Nevertheless, the cuts are not why I am dedicating a paragraph to editing; I feel that the segments on Love and Quinn are shoehorned into the film.
After all, GameLoading is not misguided in part of its mission to infuse diversity into the video game industry, because Lord knows we could use more women and people of color—whom I feel are disproportionately represented in this film; the almost 50:50 ratio of men/women, white/POCs in game development is ostensibly a fantasy world forged in pure creative non-fiction—featured in and making video games but I feel that the film gets inadvertently caught up in Gamergate the controversy. Brady and Francois’ desire to make a progressive contribution to the ongoing discourse while in the middle of film production results in a documentary that is upbeat in its tone and is suddenly seized by the political darkness of misogyny. It might have been better to focus on Love and Quinn’s exclusively for their contributions to indie development, then produce another production exclusively dedicated to women in video games. Anita Sarkeesian is seminal, having contributed much on the topic, yet she is absent here. Awkward.
Besides these few flaws, GameLoading is certainly worth a watch for anyone who is even remotely interested in video games, and especially indie development. I just warn viewers to not get carried away in its own exuberance, because making while making basic games might be easier than it at first appears, the production of a good game is as difficult as any other noteworthy vocation. 

Maurice Pogue

Since picking up an NES controller in 1985 at the age of 2, Maurice and video games have been inseparable. While most children aspired to be lawyers, doctors, or engineers (at the behest of their parents), he aspired to write for publications such as EGM, PC Gamer, PC Accelerator, and Edge. After achieving ABD status in English at MSU, Maurice left academia and dedicated his writing to his lifelong passion. He is currently the Video Game Editor at Geeks Under Grace.

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