Video games and movies historically do not have the best track record. From as early as 1986, the movie industry has tried to capitalize on the gaming “fad” with quick cash grabs like the Super Mario Bros. movie and Double Dragon. Luckily, there are more than a few gaming documentaries that have hit the scene great enough to cleanse gamers’ pallets of some of these film adaptation atrocities. These films are made by game lovers for game lovers. And while giants like The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters and Video Games The Movie immediately pop in most minds, I’ve put together a small list of a few films that might have flown under your radar.
1. Nintendo Quest
Nintendo Quest (formally The NES Club Documentary) chronicles Jay Bartlett on his quest to collect every single officially licensed game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Sounds tough enough, but add in the fact that none of these games can be bought online and he needs to do it in 30 days? It sounds impossible! The documentary was created by filmmaker Rob McCallum, Jay’s long-time friend. The beauty of Nintendo Quest is with Jay and Rob’s dynamic. You can tell they are very close friends with a great history together. This is one film the whole family can enjoy, even if they don’t like video games. Check out the extended interview with Rob to learn more about the background of the movie.
2. World 1-1: The Pioneers
Daryl Rodriguez and Jeanette Garcia started this film on a mission to tell the story of some of gaming’s biggest architects. The mainstream retro gaming industry today often overlooks the era before Nintendo. This documentary takes a leap back and explores the very beginning of video game history. The film draws in different opinions from gaming giants such as Howard Scott Warshaw, creator of Yar’s Revenge and E.T., Nolan Bushnell, co-founder of Atari, and David Crane, co-founder of Activision. They also spend time reminiscing with popular modern gaming personalities. You can get more background on the film and see some of their biggest challenges bringing it to life in their Retro Dustbin interview.
3. Easy to Learn, Hard to Master: An Atari Story
Another movie tackling the age before Nintendo, Easy to Learn, Hard to Master gives a deeper look into Nolan Bushnell as Atari’s founder. As film creator, Bruno Grampa, puts it, “The story of Atari is two-thirds the story of Nolan Bushnell, founder and visionary, and one-third the first and probably biggest boom and bust of the new economy some 20 years before the new economy even existed.” This documentary also features a great variety of interviewees like Atari engineers and various video game historians. One interview definitely worth pointing out is their extensive talk with former CEO and president of Atari, Ray Kassar, who has become a rare sight in recent films.
4. The New 8-Bit Heroes
Let’s head back to Nintendo Nostalgia with Joe Granato’s The New 8-Bit Heroes. While this movie is still awaiting its official release, Kickstarter pledges and special theater showings gave some a chance to watch this film before launch. This Kickstarter project is unique in that it aimed to deliver three things: a brand new NES game, a development kit for beginners to learn to make their own game, and a movie chronicling the whole process. This film does a great job exploring what goes into making a passion project on this scale come to life with an intensity that can really be felt as a viewer. When asked about the advantages of making a new NES game so many years after the console’s run, Granato says, “Creating a new game on an NES cartridge is about as illogical as a band recording a record on analog tape and producing a vinyl album …the imperfections and the limitations are dramatic. But there is just something about it that makes it more personal.” And it’s the personal touch added to every scene you watch that makes this movie one you don’t want to miss. You can grab a pre-order of the film and the game on TheNew8BitHeroes.com.