Indie Game: The Movie explores the underground art form of brand-free video games
Marc Wilhelm has not seen Indie Game: The Movie yet, but he's already a fan. At 7 p.m. today, when the film comes to the Denver Film Center for a special presentation, he and his family will watch it for the first time -- and maybe, just maybe, the documentary will help them understand what he does with his life. "I can't explain it to anyone, especially my grandparents," jokes Wilhelm, the president of the Colorado Independent Game Developers Association. "They have no clue what code bases and infinite loops are and all that stuff, so this movie is a wonderful shortcut." (No pun intended.)
It's also a little bit more than that. In 96 minutes, Indie Game focuses on the game developers who work outside the mainstream gaming world of Activision and Electronic Arts to piece their independent artwork together and, if everything works out, sell it. Featuring the creators of Super Meat Boy, FEZ and Braid, Indie Game shines insight on a new breed of underdogs. In Colorado, Wilhelm is one of them.
The 37-year-old game designer, who is currently drafting a game he calls St. Chicken, contacted the film's creators last December, two years after he stepped into the independent world himself. In 2009, Wilhelm left his San Francisco home and his career at Activision to clear his head and his own games. "I wanted to get out from under the thumb of the corporate world and create something of my own," he says. "There's a tremendous amount of burnout because the studios have the luxury of making a product that a lot of people want to be involved in. And if you don't like how it works, there's a whole line of college kids ready and waiting to take your place."
In Denver, he launched CIGDA, and his search for other Colorado developers led him to Indie Game's Vimeo account. The trailer and outtakes entranced him, and he contacted the documentary's creators to ask for a local showing. A few months later, he got one. "There's this pretention, this fear of becoming an indie hipster and this question of, 'What are they doing to our industry?'" Wilhelm says of indie gamers. "It's really changing the landscape, which is still sorely undervalued by the mainstream. This movie draws attention to a world more people should discover."
While the Bay Area and Austin are still most recognizable as hotbeds of independent gaming growth, this event's organizers hope to raise awareness that Colorado is ready, too. "If one kid comes out and finds out video games are what they want to do for a living, then it's worth it," Wilhelm says. "The whole point is, 'We make video games, and so can you.' It doesn't have to be a secret."
Before the film, CIGDA will raffle off an original NES system and showcase a handful of games created by the state's independent developers and those featured in the film. (All of the examples are playable -- and free.) After the film ends, Wilhelm and others hold a Q&A session before a DJ starts a dance party in the lobby. "Just because we're into video games doesn't mean we're boring," Wilhelm jokes. "It's going to be a blast."