Finding the criterion in the basement: what re-releases should be

a561The-Basement-Collection-03-613x344

There’s something lacking within the world of video games which can be found in almost every other creative medium. As movies are released time and again to the public, interviews are added, and an overall effort is made to delve deeper into the piece. Books often receive introductions from a prominent scholar in the field, or even from the author themselves. Video games, however, are littered with “Greatest Hits,” or other such re-releases which do nothing but make the title available once more. We’re at a time in the industry’s evolution where not only have developers shown the ability to create this behind-the-scenes content, but the demand for it clearly exists. A few examples of this already reside in the gaming world, but they are just too few and far between.

For an example of where this method works, we need look no further than the well-known Criterion Collection in the world of film. Founded in 1984, the group has dedicated itself to taking classic films and releasing them in their original form, attempting to create the film as the artist intended. But, more importantly to the topic at hand, the mission statement straight from their official website states they make an an effort to “enable viewers to appreciate Criterion films in context, through audio commentaries by filmmakers and scholars, restored director’s cuts, deleted scenes, documentaries, shooting scripts, early shorts, and storyboards.” In addition to providing access to a classic movie, they want you to understand what went into it’s creation. Yes, a DVD or BluRay may cost a little extra through the Criterion Collection, but it isn’t for the general consumer, it’s for the die-hard film buff. You pay for the high quality reproduction, and the glimpse into the minds that made it. And it’s this desire, to witness the creation, that the gaming community clearly hungers for, but rarely gets to consume. 

An example of this hunger can be found in the Final Hours series written by the journalist Geoff Keighley. The series is meant to provide an extensive look into the behind-the-scenes world of video game development. Back in his days at GameSpot, he wrote a number of these articles, covering major titles such as Black and White, Metal Gear Solid 2, and Half Life 2. This evolved into more recent multimedia pieces released on iTunes, covering both Portal 2 and Mass Effect 3. These include over 15,000 words, littered with videos, images and other interactive elements, all of which create a video game equivalent to what I described earlier. And the most important thing? They were successful. Fans of the games jumped at the opportunity to get any sort of understanding into what making a game entailed. The problem here is, this is something we have to go elsewhere for.

Recently, famed indie mastermind, Edmund McMillen, released a collection of his previous work, lovingly named The Basement Collection. The games included can, for the most part, be found in some corner of the internet (probably Newgrounds) and played for free. So what reason is there to buy the collection? The extra content. Boasting over 40 minutes of audio developer commentary and Q/A sessions, over 30 pages of development documents, various prototypes, and behind the scenes photos and comics, we’re given more insight into a few flash games than we are most major releases. And when the games discussed are made by such small teams, the content takes on a much more personal tone. We get a glimpse at the person/people that made the video games, which as die-hard fans, we can’t help but be intrigued by. We want to know more about the “artist.” It’s why we even know names like Hideo Kojima, or Shiegru Miyamoto. The natural reaction to enjoying an artistic creation, is to want to know more about the creator and the creative process. Valve is another great example that comes to mind, with their extensive use of developer commentary. But again, among larger developers, they’re an exception. The question one is then confronted with is why do larger developers rarely create this content?

A recent example of a failed opportunity that comes to mind is the PC release of Final Fantasy VII. While the release did come with a few extra bells and whistles, they boil down to meaningless achievements, and a Character Booster that is essentially an “I win” button. For a re-release that is obviously targeted toward the dedicated fan-base the game has, why not add more special features akin to those discussed earlier? Instead of achievements, add something as minimal as a audio interview with Tetsuya Nomura, one of the lead artists who worked on the game and still works at Square Enix, discussing the game’s development. It’s understandable that this will require more resources, so they should charge accordingly, but I guarantee fans would value this insight more than what was included. And, it would at least be a step in the right direction.

In response to all of this, you might say that this need is filled, it’s just done through pre-order bonuses and collector’s editions. But this is limited to games with huge budgets, and even then, modern collector’s editions tend to focus on tangible goodies over this style of content. This investigation into the creation would garner much more appeal for a game which has developed a following, like previously discussed with FF VII. Adding more content to the “Greatest Hits” re-releases, or possibly even creating a new more expensive version of it, is what should be done. Instead of just pumping out more copies of the game, put resources into gathering interviews, storyboards, early scripts, anything.

So, the overall point is this: Other creative mediums have evolved to the point where a probing analysis can be had, that delves into it’s creation, and the artist or artists that created it. Video games have done so as well, but only in sporadic instances. It’s been shown to be possible. The only question left is can this responsibility be left to developers, or do video games need their own organization to investigate the history of the games we know and love?

Chris is an odd sort of thing from the wilds of central Pennsylvania. You can hit him up on Twitter under @chrishauge, PSN under faceless_page, or Xbox Live under teh sledge.