Videogames Should Be More Like DVDs

Games Features
Videogames Should Be More Like DVDs

In case you hadn’t already heard, Grand Theft Auto 6, one of the biggest games that’ll drop at some point in the next decade, leaked a few weeks ago. The early footage was rough around the edges, but it was solid enough to give a working understanding of what the game was going to be… which is another big open world game from Rockstar. No more, no less. The best thing the leak actually did for anyone was that it cracked open the overly secretive community of game developers, who then proceeded to drown us in a weeklong deluge of early game footage or projects ranging from Overwatch to Control in order to assuage notions of GTA 6 looking bad. It was all shown in wonderfully early form and I relished every second of developers around the world coming together to finally educate gamers on what making games actually looks like. “Maybe, just maybe, they’ll understand,” I foolishly whispered to myself, knowing it was a good start but not enough. Considering the way gamers talk about games, though, I’ll take that start over nothing.

You might know this already, but there’s a serious misunderstanding about how games are made. Fans of games often play armchair developer in Reddit threads about how they would “fix” their favorite titles with little operating knowledge, and it’s rare for information to actually escape insulated development communities or studios. The bits of development knowledge that actually wind up getting out there usually come by way of effusive interviews that talk about the coolest tricks in hopes of creating a soundbite that generates positive word-of-mouth. As it stands, the most effective way to learn about development outside of being a developer yourself is the gaudy GDC Vault, which paywalls most of its supremely educational talks. Pair that with the industry’s tendency for secrecy, and you can almost understand why everyone is getting everything wrong about games development. But in the last few weeks, the industry has shown that it can actually divulge this stuff willingly. Some months ago, a developer revealed that the horse in Assassin’s Creed is actually an incredibly warped human skeleton. Stories like this surface now and again and remind gaming audiences and media that development is often way weirder and vastly more complicated than we let ourselves believe. And the reception to these stories often proves there’s an audience deeply interested in it all.

Clearly there’s both a need for and an interest in this kind of info, so how can we more readily democratize the wealth of knowledge game devs are willing to share? There’s really only one obvious answer: we should make games way more like DVDs.(Or Blu-rays. Or 4Ks. Whatever name you want to use.)

DVDs were, and remain, absolute treasure troves. Their huge selling point, besides how compact they were and the better quality of video over VHS, was the storage, which allowed the development of features that accompanied DVD releases. DVDs became popular for film freaks who wanted to know more about how movies were made, because they’d come loaded with features like digitizations of storyboards or behind-the-scenes footage and conversations with casts. Sometimes you’d get Ben Affleck’s wild Armageddon commentary, other times you’d get something wildly creative for the time. The game changer for me was the DVD of Shrek 2, which came with completely mind melting features like a playable parody of American Idol, as well as standard fare like two commentary tracks, a look at how the soundtrack was composed, and production notes.

Imagine, if you will, a game that came with features like those! Imagine playing the central set piece of a game you loved, then being able to go into the main menu and queue up a 10-minute feature condensing how the level came together. Or a commentary track with a game director and composer about figuring out the unique soundscape of a project. A behind-the-scenes feature from a day on a motion capture shoot! It’d be rad as hell to get rough early footage of games or see a character model or multiplayer map evolve over time. There are so many dorky possibilities for features that could illuminate countless aspects of game development that are otherwise shrouded in unnecessary levels of obscurity. I’d also love this idea if only because it shines a light on the craftsmanship of the individuals who make games. In an industry seemingly hellbent on turning every marquee director it encounters into an untouchable auteur, erasing the work of the people behind them, it’d be wonderful to see greater spotlights cast on names that’d otherwise be forgotten.

This kind of access to any behind-the-scenes knowledge in games is nearly unprecedented to the point that making games just seems like invoking the dark arts. We can’t entirely disprove that either, but maybe a stone the size of a GTA 6 leak is enough to cause some ripples and standardize greater accessibility to developer insights into games so that we can clear that up. It’s not like this hasn’t been done before; the existence and popularity of Raising Kratos and Grounded: The Making of Last of Us, two feature length films about the work that went into 2018’s God of War and The Last of Us, certainly makes the case that people actually enjoy seeing how their favorite works come together and that big publishers and developers can afford to make these productions. Danny O’Dwyer, a former GameSpot editor turned videogame documentarian, runs a fairly popular Youtube channel called NoClip that deals in exactly this kind of excellent work. Their documentary on the development of Hades is literally releasing on Blu-ray as I write this, and it’d be great if more developers felt comfortable doing this on their own. As they were working on Broken Age, Double Fine and 2 Player Productions filmed the whole process and released an acclaimed documentary called Double Fine Adventure There’s the potential to scale these productions as well, since they don’t all need to be documentaries. Firewatch, one of my favorite games, added developer commentary post-launch that greatly expanded on my appreciation for the game and probably cost a fraction of the time and effort that went into any of the aforementioned films. Digital artbooks come packaged with some games and offer small windows into the creative process, yet I can’t help but feel there’s more that can be accomplished here.

Games deserve better literacy and understanding, something that could be aided by a willing community of developers. At the same time, there’s no moral imperative to divulge every last secret about how a game is made. Producing the work I’m calling for would definitely require means that could be beyond many’s capabilities, and I’m not so callous as to demand anyone spread themselves thin for what I’ll admit are selfish desires. Nor am I naive enough to think games are going to suddenly shovel in everything I’m calling out here. But I can’t help but feel there’s some happy median between Screenshot Saturdays and post-mortems where people who engage with games are welcome to understand the work that goes into realizing one, even If only to promote a slightly better understanding between the communities. I’d welcome anything that accomplished what I’m selling here. Until then, catch me hollering “Pivot to DVD” at the next GDC.

Moises Taveras is the assistant games editor for Paste Magazine. He was that one kid who was really excited about Google+ and is still sad about how that turned out.

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