World 1-1 had me hooked from the title screen. It is a compelling and informative documentary that will have gamers with a taste for history hooked but might be lost on those unfamiliar with a controller.
World 1-1 comes to us from Lighthouse Pictures by way of filmmakers Jeanette Garcia and Daryl Rodriguez. With the film Kickstarted in 2013, Garcia and Rodriguez apparently spent the past year on a greatest hits tour of Silicon Valley. Nolan Bushnell, Al Alcorn, Howard Scott Warshaw, Owen Rubin, Dona Bailey, Steve Mayer and Joe Decuir are among those interviewed, and whether or not you know who any of those people are is likely a good predictor for your enjoyment of the movie.
The film covers the inception of video games from coin-op, through the Magnavox Odyssey and Atari 2600, to the Crash of 1983. The history of the industry is fascinating, and the documentary style provides insight into the early days of video games many gamers might never have heard about. For instance, do you know how close Atari came to buying Apple? Do you know what game had the first Easter Egg or who coined the term?
The experience of people there at the beginning keeps World 1-1 from becoming a regurgitation of facts and stories all gamers already know. We all know saturation of the market caused the Crash of 1983, but World 1-1 analyzes how it could have been avoided with better choices from Atari. The film also breaks down Activision's emergence as the first 3rd party publisher and goes further to explain how the attitudes of parent company Warner paved the way. It's this willingness to go further into these stories that makes World 1-1 so charming.
World 1-1 grasps its wheelhouse very well; it is at its best on tripod legs with the camera in the face of someone interesting, saying interesting things. The sheer amount of content with each interviewee clearly shows how much time Garcia and Rodriguez dedicated to the project. At the end of the day this is still a documentary and by not putting their energy into unnecessarily elaborate effects, transitions or shots the filmmakers show they understand what the audience is there for.
The film's content is not limited to a history lesson, as you'll hear game developers speak on games as an artistic medium. Dona Bailey demonstrates incredible insight on women in game development and Pong creator Al Alcorn delivers possibly the greatest non-sequitur in gaming history:
"It was the 70's. They were afraid we'd run off and dive into a vat of cocaine"[caption id="attachment_26223" align="aligncenter" width="600"] The Birth of Shovelware: games about pet food surprisingly not big sellers[/caption]
The issues with World 1-1 are few and far between. While I (and the rest of the TechRaptor Team) live and breath this stuff, looking at the film objectively I can see how the content could be boring to someone new to or uninterested in video games. The engrossing story about developing the first home consoles to us could be a bunch of old men talking about soldering to them.
The only other gripe I had was while the interviews with key figures in gaming history are excellent, those with modern gaming media personalities feel less necessary. The movie is dedicated to a compelling history, told by those who were there for it, and unfortunately hearing about enthusiasts' first experiences with video games doesn't compare. Perhaps the filmmakers felt it necessary to introduce some variety, but I found myself impatient to go back to the veterans for more about Jobs and Wozniak's time at Atari while the game journos were still talking.
These issues are minor compared to the lion's share of World 1-1 however, which I found thoroughly enjoyable to say the least. It filled a need for a great gaming documentary that I hadn't even realized was there. Needless to say if Garcia and Rodriguez decide to make World 1-2 I'll be ready with my token.
Disclosure: This film was reviewed with a screener copy provided by the filmmakers.