One of the beauties of Kickstarter is that it allows the creation of fantastic, but niche products that would never get made through normal routes. Take From Bedrooms to Billions. If you pitched a documentary about the rise of the UK gaming industry to a standard film producer and you’d leave their office with howls of derision ringing in your ears. Pitch the same product to gamers via Kickstarter, as Antony and Nicola Caulfield did, and you’ll receive a much more positive reaction.
We’ve had to wait a long time for From Bedrooms to Billions from the point where the Kickstarter campaign ended to the release of the final film, but it’s been worth the wait. What we’ve ended up with is a fascinating, professionally produced film that’s packed with content.
One of the most impressive features is the sheer number of contributors that have been interviewed. The line-up reads like a Who’s Who of the 80s and 90s gaming scene: Jeff Minter, David Braben, Pete Molyneux, The Oliver Twins, David Darling, The Bitmap Brothers… These are the names of your childhood.
Nor does the film just concentrate purely on the coders, but provides input from other aspects of the industry – Geoff Brown (ex-US Gold) gives a publisher’s perspective; the always entertaining Gary Bracey talks about his time as Ocean’s PR man; veteran gaming journalist Julian Rignall talks about how the industry has evolved. The producers have done a great job in tracking down so many influential figures and getting them to talk openly about their experiences. Just seeing them on screen brings back a massive wave of nostalgia and the film is an excellent way of preserving their memories of the early days of the gaming industry.
You could argue that there are a few too many interviews, with the bulk of the film’s two and a half hour run time made up of talking head interviews. For a film about a highly visual medium, it’s a shame that footage of actual games is fairly limited and there is a slightly static feel to proceedings, with reminiscences simply being delivered straight to camera most of the time.
Of course, some people prove to be better interviewees than others and certain individuals perhaps get more than their fair share of screen time. Some (such as Football Manager creator Kevin Toms) appear only briefly, whilst others seem to be on the screen constantly. Perhaps this was because they were able to offer more time for an interview or were just more entertaining – I don’t know. However, I do know there were several times when someone appeared only fleetingly and I thought “I want to hear more from them”. In fairness, this was always going to be difficult to get right and on the whole, the film-makers do a good job of representing the early years of the industry through the interviewees selected.
What can’t be criticised is the way the film has been put together. The passion for retro gaming shines through every minute; from the imaginative opening sequence through to the closing credits, it’s clear that this is a film that has been put together by genuine enthusiasts. It’s a welcome change to see a film that treats gamers with respect, avoiding the lazy geek stereotypes and focussing on the massive successes of the gaming industry over the last 30 years.
From Bedrooms to Billions is a highly polished product and, despite a few niggles is a must-see for anyone who grew up in the 80s/90s. Even if you’re a more recent gamer, it’s a fascinating film that charts the rise (and rise) of the industry from small, inauspicious beginnings through to the multi-million pound monster it is today.
The Caulfields have just announced a new project (also funded via Kickstarter) – The Amiga Years – and I for one can’t wait!