The indie gaming scene has absolutely exploded over the past console generation. Whatever the reason, I suspect a communal appreciation for creative innovation lost on big name publishers consumed by sequelitis, a new era of gaming has begun in which small teams with low budgets can successfully craft and distribute smaller scale titles to impressive financial success. Aiding the development and nurturing of this rapidly growing subculture of indie developers is, of course, the popular crowd-funding site Kickstarter. A place where gamers can literally vote with their dollars, Kickstarter campaigns have helped fund big and small gaming endeavors alike.
Recently, a new indie campaign caught my eye: A documentary that takes a global approach to understanding the popularity of indie game projects titled GameLoading: Rise of the Indies. Created by the two-person Australia-based Studio Bento, GameLoading strives to tell another part of the indie story popularized by fellow documentary Indie Game: The Movie. Whereas IGTM took a more personalized approach to understanding indie game development, GameLoading is working to provide a detailed history of the scene, building up to a world-wide view of where the subculture is today. The filmmakers, Lester Francois and Anna Brady, have shadowed a number of indie teams working in Australia, and are speaking to both industry veterans and indies alike to provide a well-rounded understanding of the indie community. To get a better sense of how the film is shaping up, take a look at the first trailer for GameLoading: Rise of the Indies:
I got the chance to speak with Lester, the film’s director/producer, about what the team hopes to accomplish with GameLoading, and what audiences can expect from the film. Here’s a look at out conversation:
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IGX Pro: What was your first exposure to the indie games scene?
Lester: When I was a kid I would play with my Atari2600 all the time. I was the master of River Raid! It was only decades later when I interviewed Trip Hawkins for the film that I realized most of those games were made by indie developers. Hearing that got me really excited because we want to explore this early history of indie development. Around 2009, I discovered a lot of small studios were popping up in Australia out of the ashes of large studios crashing. Soon after I was a producer on a very bad video game TV show and I wanted to cover this amazing scene that was emerging but the executive producer saw no money in covering that. It really broke my heart hearing someone trash this amazing creative scene. I really felt these developers needed their story told and gamers would want to hear these stories.
IGX: It’s one thing to appreciate the indie community or pledge towards potential game ideas on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, but investing the time and resources to create a film project is entirely another. What was the driving force that inspired you to take that leap?
Lester: Making a film like this is killer. We knew it would be but we went into it with gusto. The TV show I was working on was a very horrible experience; it was all about gleaming money from the marketing departments of big publishers. Indie studios were treated like a joke and this was very upsetting for me. Seeing this disconnect between creative indie studios and some of the media was part of the catalyst to make the film. I think this disconnect has changed after the release of Indie Game: The Movie, which did wonders for indies.
The indie scene is going to be huge and will move into the mainstream. I see it like the grunge scene of the early 1990’s: The sound, the fashion and attitude were all underground and then Nirvana happened, and that set the stage for the 1990’s. I can see the same thing happening with indie games. Maybe IGTM and [thatgamecompany’s] Journey were the Nirvana that helped tip the indie scene into the mainstream.
There is so much happening in the indie game scene that I felt it was important to document what was happening at this time around the world.
IGX: For the audience member who has yet to get their feet wet or pay much attention to this rapidly growing subculture, will your movie give them a comprehensive introduction to the indie scene?
Lester: Definitely! We aim to show the history of indie devs and how the current generation has very strong ties with the indie devs of the 1980’s. We want to show the little known pioneers who have come before, and how the current generation has built upon their breakthroughs. We will see what caused the digital disruption in the last ten years that enabled so many developers to go at it alone and we demystify what goes into making a game. The film also explores the different genres of games with a chapter on experimental/art games. I say chapter because I want the film to read like a text book. This may put some people off who want an arty emotional journey, but GameLoading is not that kind of film.
IGX: At first glance, a lot of folks may think to themselves, ‘I’ve already seen Indie Game: The Movie. How much more is there to know?’ With that in mind, for folks who already have a vested or passionate interest in the indie games community, what new insights does GameLoading look to provide?
Lester: IGTM is an incredible film that transcends game development. I have many friends who don’t play games but love the film; they find it very moving and inspiring. They can relate to the struggles the artists go through. IGTM is one of those rare iconic films that captured lighting in a bottle.
The indie game scene is huge with so much going on around the world. Our film takes a step back and aims to get a holistic view of the indie developer subculture. I do believe the scene is a subculture that will grow and blossom into something we can’t imagine.
Right now the scene is going through a spring awakening, with a whole industry growing around these alt-games. The same way the indie music industry evolved around grunge, a new industry is emerging around indie games. Dozens of small record labels like SubPop sprung up in the 1990’s and we are going to see more and more small indie game labels appearing like this. There will be more websites, blogs, YouTube channels, and podcasts all dedicated to indie games. This is happening on a global level and we want to show this. Of course we can’t film everywhere and there will be gaps, but I do want the film to be a snapshot of what is happening right now. I want people to watch our film in ten years’ time and see where the indie game developer subculture came from.
The film will also tackle the history of indie development and highlight the unsung heroes who were making their own games well before there was the current infrastructure to support indies. We also want to cover the small studios making tiny games for niche markets or for themselves, and minorities making games to express their situation and get their voice heard through games.
There will be a lot going on in our film and it may even be information overload, but we want it to be like a primer on the indie game subculture. The indie scene is bigger than just one film, website or podcast. There will be more films made about the scene well after ours.
IGX: You’ve been following a number of development teams based in Australia. Can you talk a little bit about the work they’re doing?
Lester: There is so much happening in Australia, particularly Melbourne. We are overwhelmed with the number of talented studios, which makes it hard for us to lock-in who we want to follow. For now we can confirm we are following League Of Geeks who are developing Armello for the iPad. They are a collective of super talented industry veterans who are highly motivated and switched on. On the other end of the spectrum, I am following a solo developer (Muzboz) who has taken a year off to make a series of small games and hone his craft. I love his guerilla-style attitude towards making his games and marketing. He is like the Rodger Corman of indie games. We also have Surprise Attack, a new indie game label. They are an amazing team and will be like the SubPop of the local indie game scene.
IGX: Has spending time observing these teams throughout the process of creating indie games shifted the focus of the film at all? Has your perspective changed since spending time with developers behind-the-scenes?
Lester: The film has changed completely. When I started the film it was just myself making a short film about the indie scene in Australia but it soon grew into something a lot bigger. My partner Anna came on board to help co-produce and edit.
It was not so much spending time with individual developers that influenced me, it was spending time with developer communities in different cities that made me realize there was something happening on a global level. Developer meet-ups are happing in cities all over the world and no-one was documenting this. I regularly visit the IGDA Melbourne meet-ups and seeing this vibrant, supportive community was one of the most influential factors in opening up the film and making it international. Most of the local developers I have met along the way pushed me into raising the bar with the film, making it international and exploring the subculture in depth. I have them to blame for my sleepless night and graying hair!
IGX: You’ve already been in production for over a year, having covered your own costs up to this point. Should backers choose to donate, what’s the next aspect of production their pledges will fund?
Lester: Our Kickstarter goal is to fund the next phase of filming. We want to go to PaxPrime and cover the Indie Megabooth. League Of Geeks will be there showcasing Armello, so it’s important we cover that. We hope to cover IndieCade and then go to New York to spend time with Itay Keren who is developing Mushroom11. From there we will go to the UK and Europe where we have many interviews and visits lined up. We will spend time in Romania with the duo from ThoseAwesomeGuys who we met at our hotel during GDC. After Europe, we will go to Japan to explore the scene there, and then it’s back home. We have already been invited to go to China, South Korea, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile, but our budget won’t extend that far. During our travels we will also be interviewing the pioneers of indie development: The little known developers who toiled away making their own games well before the subculture exploded. We are still researching this aspect of the film but getting the history right is very important to us.
IGX: There’s already an impressive list of men and women inside the industry that you’ve spoken to, including Obsidian’s Chris Avellone and EA founder Trip Hawkins. Are there any other developers, indie or otherwise, that you’re planning on speaking with during the next phase of filming?
Lester: Our Kickstarter page lists the names we can disclose for now. I am really excited to speak to Kellee Santiago, formally from thatgamecompany and now at OUYA. In fact, I am excited to chat to everyone on our list; they all have a unique take on the indie scene and its history. We are excited to announce that the makers of Kentucky Route Zero and FTL have just come on board to be part of the film.
IGX: Outside of the projects you’re following and the teams you’ve interviewed, are there any upcoming indie titles you’re excited to check out?
Lester: I have a huge backlog of released games I really need to catch up on. That’s one of the problems with being so busy with the film and Kickstarter campaign: No time for games.
There are too many upcoming games to mention here but a few I am super excited about are Unrest (by Pyrodactyl Games), Dusty Revenge, Hotline Miami 2, Luftrausers, Lioness, and Knoll (from Binary Sword). That is just a tiny sample off the top of my head. There are plenty of other smaller personal games by solo developers I am eager to play.
IGX: Being gamers yourselves, I have to ask: When you manage to find some free time, what are your favorite games to play?
Lester: We have no time to play games! I get to squeeze some gameplay on my phone during the tram ride to the office. Don’t judge me, but I recently went through a Candy Crush addiction during my tram rides! I downloaded the game for research but after one hit I needed more! Damn those sweet, sweet candies! But my time with Candy Crush was a love-hate relationship which was very interesting. Now that I have been through [Candy Crush] rehab, I am getting into Badland on the iPad. I am loving it! Amazing design. I was also playing CubeMen 1 and 2 for a while and that was another addiction!
IGX: Thanks so much for your time! Before I let you go, I have one final question: Should folks be interested in following along throughout the rest of production, where can they go for updates?
Lester: The best place to keep up with the production is through the backer community. We will be keeping everyone posted with how the film is coming along and we’ll be editing short videos along the way. We are releasing a bunch of these videos during our campaign but future videos will mostly be for the backer community. People can also follow us on our Facebook page.
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At the time of this interview, the GameLoading Kickstarter campaign has reached just over $16,000 of their proposed $50,000 goal, with more than three weeks left for backers to contribute towards the film’s next phase of production. As Lester mentioned, backers will receive exclusive access to production updates, including exclusive looks at video content. Additionally, other goodies include free indie game bundles; so those interested in pledging have plenty of strong incentives to show their support. Folks can also follow the film on Twitter to catch up with the latest updates.
Are you folks interested in the indie game scene? Do you enjoy getting a behind-the-scenes look at game development and the industry itself? With self-publishing becoming a major factor for next-gen consoles, what upcoming indie game projects are you most looking forward to? Let us know in the comments section, and don’t forget to like IGXPro on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or give us the ‘ol +1 on Google+. If you can’t get enough of my shenanigans, (who could blame you?) you can check me out @GamingsNirvana, or add +VinnyParisi to your circles.