January 27, 2014

IMGD hosts screening of Us & The Game Industry

The Interactive Media & Games Department had the pleasure of hosting one of the inaugural screenings of New Zealand director Stephanie Beth’s Us and the Game Industry. The screening was followed by a panel discussion featuring thatgamecompany’s Kellee Santiago, Jenova Chen and Austin Wintory.

Made over the course of almost four years Us and the Game Industry charts the rise of independent gaming from a niche movement to a full blown community of developers, artists and creators. The film’s central focus is on the development of Journey, a game made by thatgamecompany, founded by IMGD alums Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago. It also follows the work of New York based designer Zach Gage, Passage designer Jason Rohrer, Denmark-based collective Die Gutte Fabrik and Antichamber creator Alex Bruce.

The documentary’s core is about exploring the difference between mainstream games and this newer breed of creator-driven, intimate projects. During the film, Castle Doctrine developer Jason Rohrer says that as “someone who is 31 years old with two children and a lot of my own work to do is that i feel there are no games coming out that are really worth my time”. Rohrer’s games often explore themes of mortality and work/life balance, not the usual fare for a medium best known for its high-definition explosions, which is precisely the point of the film. When asked if he was afraid that today’s up and coming designers would simply copy Journey, Jenova Chen said that “I’d rather they copy Journey, a game with emotion, than like Call of Duty”.

The film also charts the ups and downs of development, drawing a close parallel to similar documentaries about artists working in other media. In a particularly fascinating segment, the team at thatgamecompany gathers to play the work in progress build of Journey as a reminder of what they’re working so hard for. Still, Chen notes that the film didn’t capture the “worst parts of development” and the dark days when the game’s success was still uncertain.

The film also has many ties to USC besides the focus of thatgamecompany. Many of the film’s extended conversations and interviews happen in the living room of IMGD Professor Richard Lemarchand, who came to the department from AAA studio Naughty Dog. SCA alum Clay Westervelt served as Beth’s creative partner and cinematographer.

Like Indie Game: The Movie before it, Us and the Game Industry is a fascinating look into a still developing artistic community, exposing the work and efforts of these bedroom creators to a wider audience. Although, as Wintory noted during the discussion, “I can work 12 hours a day and never feel like I’m working. I love what I do”.