Thursday, April 5, 2012

In Support of Director's Cuts

This week at PopMatters, I came out in support of director's cuts.

When it comes to documenting the video games we play, I think we do a relatively poor job. Usually all we see is the finished product. Games just magically get released with little attention paid to the process behind their creation or the aspects that didn't make it into the final version. I've always found it strange that almost all DVD movie releases have director's commentaries and deleted scenes, whereas most games do not. On a side note, I love it when studios like Valve, Sony Santa Monica, and Naughty Dog ship games with extended features. These studios make great games, and any peak into the process of how they do so is valuable.

I also find myself yearning for director's cuts while playing less-than-stellar games. As the years go on, I find myself increasingly aware of games that overstay their welcome. Most people don't need to wade through a bunch of obscure side quests in Silent Hill: Downpour or suffer through cookie cutter combat in Muramasa: The Demon Blade in order to understand and enjoy those games. Similarly, most people don't need (or want) to sit through the over-four-hour extended version of Return of the King. The availability of director's cuts could satisfy devoted fans as well as those who decide that less is more.

I didn't have time to put this in the article, but one of the big reasons why I'm not expecting director's cuts to flourish any time soon is related to the way video games (especially big-budget ones) are made. Video games are highly collaborative and it's very hard to pinpoint a single "director." Even if there was a strong figure at the helm, it's difficult to draw lines as to what material should be considered relevant. Do we want more interviews? What about rough prototypes and mockups? Are storyboards and design documents fair game? Personally, I'd like to see it all, but I'm somewhat obsessive when it comes to documentation.

At the very least, I think the idea of a director's cut can help inform a general philosophy about how games are made and presented. Giving players a choice as to whether they want a streamlined versus a more sprawling experience will help people help themselves. From a game literacy and archival perspective, seeing the processes, the unfinished parts, the dead ends, the rationale behind the choices that led to the final version will help cast some light on an obscure aspect of the industry. I think it's weird that most games are released as if they were magical little toys that simply "exist." All too often, the only time we get to see the actual human effort behind are games is during a faceless credit sequence or the exceedingly rare suite of bonus features.

As I see it, the "director's cut" philosophy can make improve both bad and good games while also teaching us more about game design and the larger industry? What's not to like?

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