Director: Anthony Caulfield, Nicola Caulfield
Writers: Anthony Caulfield, Nicola Caulfield
Starring: David Braben, Peter Molyneux, Shahid Ahmad, Nigel Alderton, Nick Alexander, Fred Gray, Geoff Crammond, Jeff Minter, Jon Hare, Matthew Smith
Producers: Anthony Caulfield, Nicola Caulfield
Running Time: 150 min
BBFC Certificate: E
From Bedrooms to Billions is an independent documentary looking at the birth and growth of the British video games industry, funded by an Indiegogo campaign run by its producers/directors/writers, Anthony and Nicola Caulfield. Speaking to a vast number of those involved, the pair tell the story of how young geeks figuring out how to make basic games on the first home computers like the Sinclair ZX80, Spectrum and BBC B/Micro went on to build a small cottage industry out of nothing which went on to be an important driver of what is now the biggest entertainment industry in the world.
When I first saw the film advertised I thought it looked like your standard nostalgia trip, the likes of which you see filling gaps in TV schedules, but being a child of the 80’s who grew up alongside video games (although I’m a little young for the Spectrum, I came in with the Acorn Electron then the Amiga), I couldn’t resist going along for the ride. However, I quickly came to realise that this is actually an exceptionally well researched and constructed documentary which truly charts the history of the movement. It’s not a throwaway piece simply glazing over and making do with playing clips over quotes saying how great all these games were. This is especially apparent in the sheer number of contributors the directors managed to interview. The list is exhausting, taking in well known figures such as David Braben (co-creator of Elite) and Peter Molyneux (Populous, Dungeon Keeper, Theme Park, etc.) as well as those involved in video game music and art design.
It’s a fascinating story too. I was well aware of how games and consoles have developed over the last 30-odd years, but I hadn’t thought about where it all came from. The film makes you realise just how wild and avant-garde it was. When the first systems came out, there weren’t any games available. You didn’t have shops in every high street stocked to the roof with them. You had to programme your own games by typing lines and lines of code. Many of the first home games would be found in magazines that would publish the coding for them. The people who developed the industry were largely youngsters barely out of school (some still in it), who had no business knowledge, so it was a crazy mess in its infancy. It all began of course in the pre-internet days so it was truly underground at first and grew through magazines and word of mouth. The film does an excellent job of appreciating how this happened.