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While video games are unquestionably fun they have equally proven to be a fertile subject for documentary film makers as I hope to highlight with this selection of films all which look at different aspects of video games from charting the history of their development, the obsession they become to certain players and one which sets out to debunk one of the great urban legends of gaming.
Charting the development of the indie game developers behind Braid, Super Meat Boy and Fez; three games which have since gone on to become key examples of what the genre has to offer. This film charts their highs and lows as they each battle to meet their deadlines while at the same time charting the history of their games development. If anything, this game challenges the idea of what the indie game market is, especially in these times where it constantly produced games capable of taking on those being produced by the mainstream studios. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself with the urge to pick up any (if not all) of these games.
One most popular video game urban legends is the story of “E.T. – The Video Game” which was rushed out by Atari for their 2600 console in order to cash in on the popularity of the film and to ensure that it was in time for Christmas. However this left game designer Howard Scott Warshaw with five weeks to code and finish the game in order to meet the insane deadline set by the company. Unsurprisingly, the game was deemed a flop, let alone one of the worst games ever made leading to Atari burying the cartridges in a landfill in the New Mexico desert. It’s a myth that this documentary sets out to uncover the truth behind while charting the history of the creation of the game which has largely been blamed for the collapse of Atari.
More surprisingly though is the attempts by the film to restore the tarnished legacy of Howard Scott Warshaw who here features extensively throughout the film as he talks about his time with Atari which appears from Warshaw’s recollections to have been a much wilder place than you would have expected, with tales of copious drug use at work let alone eccentric behaviour of some of the game designers. Still despite Warshaw now having long left the computer programing world and now working as a therapist, it would seem that director Zak Penn and several of his interviewees would like to see Warshaw receiving prestige for his contributions to video games which they clearly feel he doesn’t get due to being the one who created the game. While at the same time this might be one of the only times were your genuinely excited by the prospect of watching someone dig through a landfill.
It is a well-established fact that to be the best at something, it requires sacrifice, and the men of this documentary are no stranger to sacrifice with many giving up hundreds of hours of their life, as well as time with their friends and family, with many clearly looking like their have also sacrificed several other things such as taking showers and the generally any form of human contact….ladies and gentlemen please allow me to welcome you to the world of competitive classic video gaming!
Playing like the nerd version of “Rocky”, we have at the centre of this documentary the rivalry between two champion gamers and their battle to hold the world record score on “Donkey Kong”. On one side we have self-proclaimed “Sauce King” of Florida Billy Mitchell, the current reigning champion whose score of 874,300 has remained unbeaten since he first set it back in the 80’s and who has on the back of this celebrity for this score build a successful line of homemade sauces. Now stepping up to the challenge we have the underdog and high school science teacher Steve Wiebe who manages to beat Billy’s high score with a new record of 1,006,600 points, unwittingly sparking a rivalry between the two men as they now battle to be the King of Kong.
Punk rock singer Richie Knucklez took his passion for classic video games to a whole new level when he opened his arcade only to see it eventually fold. Now the documentary follows him as he plans to rebuild his arcade and reclaim his title as “The King of Arcades”. A great companion piece to the aforementioned “King of Kong” as well as the likes of “Chasing Ghosts”, here Knuckles brings a charismatic charm to the film as we see him rescuing and restoring old arcade cabinets, while his band “Knuckle Sandwich” are also on hand to play the film out with a rocking version of “Pacman Fever”. This film is as much about Knucklez’s journey as it is about the role of the local arcade.
While Charlie Brooker might be best known for his work as a satirist with his work not only with Chris Morris on the likes of “Brass Eye” and “Nathan Bailey”, let alone giving the world Big Brother with zombies (Dead Set) as well as the fantastic “Black Mirror”. He is equally well known for his love of gaming as well with his piece on the joy of shooting Nazi’s in the balls in “Sniper Elite” seeing him being included as a cameo in the third game and in turn giving players a chance to shoot him in the balls as well.
Here though he highlights the twenty five most influential video games as he plots their place in video game history from “Pong” and “Space Invaders” to the likes of “Tetris” and “Street Fighter 2” before bringing things to the present day with the rise of indie games like “Braid” and games which are almost cinematic experiences like “The Last of Us” it’s hard to fault his choices and the impact / influence they had on video games while for the newcomers essentially providing a beginners guide to gaming.