This weekend on Xbox you have, free to download, the movie/documentary Gameplay: The Story of the Videogame Revolution. It runs for 1hr 29min and takes you through the history of video games from the 1970s into the present day. So let’s get straight in and review Gameplay! Feel free to skip the the Conclusion section if you are in a hurry.
Facts and Information
First and foremost, a documentary like this should keep you entertained with interesting facts and there is certainly plenty to choose from, within an industry spanning more than three decades. On the whole, Gameplay did a good job of providing a concise selection of the best information and presenting it in a sensible manner. The documentary covered all the essentials from Pong to Pac-Man, the Atari’s birth to the very first Playstation. The film gave a nice over view of the political and social landscape at any given time, and this really gave a sense of gravity to the unfolding events in the gaming industry’s history. Particularly interesting were the early events such as the founding of Atari, the first games and actions of Nintendo after the crash. The film did however start to loose steam a little as it approached the modern era of gaming. Information presented towards the end was well within living memory and the script fails to add any insight to what most viewers already know.
What entertains throughout the film are the interviews with various major players in the games industry today. Todd Howard from Bethesda gave some really useful perspectives on the landscape and so did David Crane (Activision’s co-founder) but along the way you will also see Robb Smith of Machinima, Erik Lindstrom from Crystal Dynamics and many others. It’s also always fun to see the developers and the founders of these various games/companies be genuinely enthused about their work.
Fluidity and Display
A strength of this documentary, over some of the others out there, is that it really does a good job of displaying information visually. Through cute animations, easy to read writing, photos of developers and historical footage, the rich history of the gaming industry really comes alive. As well as a good display, the film also flows well. It takes you through everything in chronological order, flicking forward to the present occasionally, ensuring that you never get lost along the way in all the facts. The good fortune of the gaming industry, I suppose, that when it started out it was well into the age of the camera.
The style of short cut segments from the interviews scattered throughout the documentary paced the entire thing nicely, especially in the early segments. It gave the film speed corresponding to the momentum of the industry in the 70s, which helped you follow along with the story they are telling to a greater degree.
The tricky thing with Gameplay: The Story of the Videogame Revolution is to identify its target audience. Whilst the early years of computers, Atari’s founding and the old arcades make interesting viewing for seasoned gamers familiar with the territory, the modern day information is known to even the most casual observer and the documentary does nothing to provide anything particularly insightful. Certainly if you know nothing about video games then you will find this film accessible and highly informative, but I can’t help feeling that an opportunity was missed to actually add some thought to the discussion. To watch this though you must be in the mood for this style of film and it’s by no means a ‘pick up and watch’ type movie.
Gameplay: The Story of the Videogame Revolution has an informative and fascinating initial burst but fails to enthuse viewers about more recent history. It would make good viewing for someone unfamiliar with the industry but might tail off for regular gamers. If you are a video game fan however then you will most likely enjoy the industry interview segments, historical footage and trip to the games of yesteryear so there is still something in there for you. Bottom line is that if you are in the mood for a documentary then this will scratch that itch satisfactorily. One thing is sure though, it is guaranteed to make you want to play Pac-Man even if it can’t quite entertain you as much as it initially promised. The first 45 minutes were probably the best. Waka Waka!