From Bedrooms to Billions (Review)

This year’s hottest ticket at EGX (formerly the Eurogamer Expo) was for the premier of From Bedrooms to Billions, a documentary on the birth of the UK gaming scene and its rise from hobbyist beginnings to world leader and to the shape of things today.

The entire film is told by industry figures giving anecdotes on their memories of how it all began. Chances are, the older a gamer you are, the more you’ll be able to relate to the film. The amount of time dedicated to the Sinclair ZX80s and Commodore 64s vastly outweigh any given to later consoles. This is mainly due to the heavy focus on the British perspective of the industry, where the arrivals of the Japanese machines from Nintendo and Sega are painted in almost villainous colours.

Early on, the anecdotes feel a little dry as the talk is all about programming, entering lines of code, hobbyist meets and so on. This is a film clearly aiming for the nostalgic feelings of those involved in the scene, further carving the film into an even tighter niche and alienating everyone else.

You’ll hear of the joys and bleakness of the industry, from Peter Molyneux getting an almost sexual thrill the first time he got a pixel to move across a screen. To another developer saying he got so sick and stressed of all the corporate bullshit he had a white poo.What does make for interesting viewing is the stories on how Britain was one of the first gaming countries to tap into licensed games based on movies and celebrities – cheers for that. There’s also an interesting section on the early gaming journalism scene.

The film’s rebellious streak comes from most of the interviewees being very much against the big publishers. So it was interesting to see how that ethos has come full circle today with the significant rise of indie gaming on the PC and increasingly on consoles.

In listening to these early scene frontrunners, it becomes apparent how many more of the early elements in gaming’s history are making a return. Take the way the market was flooded with loads of Space Invaders and Froggers clones after their initial success, anyone developing mobile games today will tell you how much of a nightmare it is trying to stop other devs ripping off your game.

Despite early signs of a development focus, the film eventually settles into a groove firmly on business talk and as such looses much of its relatability for gamers. Strap in for a lot of middle-aged man chat about much money they were raking in back in the day.

There’s a hell of a lot of information to take in during the film’s running time, which has bloated from the original 90 minutes, to over two hours. While informative, the non-stop talk can sometimes make the film seem like one giant uninterrupted block of text. You’re bombarded with fast cuts between endless interviews with zoom cuts to magazine articles and old photos throughout. It never pauses long enough to let you think about any of the information; it just keeps coming. Frankly, it’s exhausting and could have benefitted by a central narrator to split it up a little.

For those of you with a Netflix account, I’d recommend the much more endearing, Indie Game: The Movie, which closely follows the developers of Fez and Super Meat Boy through a much more personal journey, with a strong narrative heartbeat that makes you forget you’re watching a documentary, without watering down the insider’s view of the industry.

The film’s weighting towards the early industry make a late jump to Mega-Drive and PlayStation eras and it feels like an important part is quickly glossed over. This is of course where the British industry started to fall behind and it’s a shame to film restricts itself to the UK industry as it feels like it doesn’t provide a balanced view.

Gaming rarely gets decent documentaries and I’m afraid this one falls short of the ones I have seen, with the ridiculously fast pacing being the main issue. Aside from the odd amusing quote (that white poo again), there seems to be very little personality to the film. You never feel a love for the subject- just a case of cramming in as many anecdotes as possible which results in a film that the industry figures clearly enjoyed being asked to be a part of, but there’s not much for the rest of us to enjoy.

5/10

 

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