From Bedrooms to Billions (2014) Review

From Bedrooms to Billions is an independent documentary which looks at the growth of the British video game industry.  This ambitious and exciting  project was crowdfunded by producers / directors / writers, Anthony and Nicola Caulfield. The pair interview industry legends and piece together the story of how young geek hobbyists figuring out how to make games on the ZX Spectrum and BBC Micro created a new industry.  These were the developers who crafted the billion dollar industry that we enjoy today.

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Jet Set Willy Creator Matthew Smith is one of the many legends interviewed 

When I first saw this documentary advertised I though that it was going to be a pure nostalgia trip.  The sort of thing you would see filling gaps in television schedules.  Having very little knowledge of the early 80’s of game development, due to the fact that I wasn’t around back then.  I couldn’t resist going along for the ride and filling in the gaps in my knowledge. While watching this title, I quickly began to realise that this was something very special.  A well researched and constructed documentary which truly charts the history of the movement.

This is isn’t a throwaway piece which simply repeats clips of various celebrities saying how great these game titles were over and over again. This dug deep, Bedrooms to Billions astonished me by the sheer number of developers which they managed to interview. The list is exhausting taking in well known figures such as Peter Molyneux (Populous, Dungeon Keeper, Theme Park), Matthew Smith (Jet Set Willy, Manic Miner), Rob Hubbard (Commodore 64 musical genius) as well as those involved in the art and design of some of gamers favourite and beloved titles.

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It’s a fascinating story as well, I was aware of how games and consoles have developed over the last 30 years but didn’t really appreciate or understand where they all come from. This film helps the viewer realise just how punk and avant garde the whole process was. When the first systems came out, there weren’t any high street shops selling game titles.  You had to program your own games and learn to code through the thick manuals which accompanied the various microcomputers. The rise of the videogame magazines came from this fact, their original purpose was not to review games but to provide type-ins for users.

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Many of the people who developed these early game titles were still at school and had absolutely no business knowledge. So the whole industry was in a mess during it’s infancy.  It was an incredibly underground process as well, with no internet available back in the late 70’s or 80’s. So it was through printed magazines that the industry truly grew and established itself in the hearts and minds of the British public.

What truly impressed me was the rate at the film rockets along.  The running time (excluding the excellent extra features) is a hefty 150 mins.  However I was captivated through each second of this documentary and I was thoroughly entertained during the two and a half hours of screen time.

I highly recommend this film for all lovers of video games and especially those interested in how the industry began and thrived in the UK.  To each of the developers who existed in this era and crafted the industry, I salute you.

From Bedrooms to Billions can be purchased at the official website

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