Thursday, May 7, 2009

What I Want from Special Editions

The Criterion Collection is one of best things to come out of the home video industry. Releasing high priced DVDs that often contain veritable gold mines of information about important films (as well as "definitive" versions of the films themselves), Criterion in many ways forms the basis of what I want to see from game publishers in the future. Now that the Special Edition SKU is in full swing (name a big name title coming soon; it has a special edition), I would like to see special editions that are more than just a tin box with a game disc and an action figure inside. I'd like to see a Criterion Collection of gaming.

It's a bit much to ask this of the special edition of, say, Resident Evil 5. The video game industry is tight-lipped, and you wouldn't expect the level of honesty of a Criterion Collection even from a newly-released film. You have to give it some time, of course. Or, in this case, you could just go back in time and, with the unlikely permission of the original publisher, give us the special edition of an important game of the past?

What would you pay for Super Mario Bros. - Criterion Collection? It's easy to imagine the very basic idea of what that could be. A nice package; the original manual; a disc containing the original game and an in-depth documentary on the making of the game. Don't get me wrong; the documentary could be awesome. Video game development was still an untamed land in the early 1980's, and an in-depth story on how one would make a game back then-especially when that game is Super Mario Bros.- would be fascinating.

What I'd really want out of a video game Criteron Collection is something that would work a bit like the albums of unreleased demo's some bands release. Let's take Rhino's colossal 7-disc release of The Stooge's Fun House album. 1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions documents every take from the Fun House recording sessions. And they aren't all pretty; there are plenty of false starts and studio dialog in the 142 tracks provided. But the real joy is seeing how one of the most important albums of the 1970's came together. Some songs never made it to the final album (Lost in the Future, Slide). Freak became L.A. Blues, while Loose was originally titled I'm Loose. We get a sense of the atmosphere of the studio through the tracks of studio dialog and get a glimpse at what could have been; a radically slower version of Down on the Street, an obscure single mix of the same track with Don Gallucci pretending to be Ray Manzarek of The Doors. We get to see Iggy Pop slowly putting together the final lyrics with each take.

Perhaps game publishers could take a similar approach with versions of games. Game making is, from my limited knowledge, an iterative process. Ideas are tossed around. Things change. The product that is set out to be made is often times not the product we recieve. Just try searching for beta versions of classic games on Youtube, and you'll find such gems as this SNES Wolfenstein 3D video with it's gore still intact. Or try this Super Mario Bros 2 prototype video. And those are pretty mild examples. What if Super Mario Bros. Criterion Edition contained every playable version of the game? What could we learn about how the game was made, or even video game design as a whole from playing these unreleased versions of one of the most revered titles ever released? I think being told about it could be fascinating, but being shown, or even better, playing these versions would be far more rewarding.

Of course, I wouldn't expect something like this anytime soon. The video game industry is far too tight-lipped for the kind of honesty I'd want out of this; and I don't at all begrudge them for it. But give it a couple decades-and video game's eventual wide recognition as an art form-I think we'll be seeing something very much like this.

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