The Video Game Album

My latest column has gone up at GameSetWatch. It’s about a rare and intriguing animal: the Video Game Album. Occasionally, several games will be released as one package. In the article, I discuss Odin Sphere, Kirby Super Star, and The Orange Box.

One work I didn’t discuss in the column, because it seemed a bit incestuous, is my recent IF piece, The Bryant Collection. I imagined the Collection as a closely-knit group of five pieces, each of which highlighted a different aspect of IF. There’s a puzzle-focused piece, an exploration piece, a moody observation piece, and two works focusing on conversation. One of the conversations is branching, while the other has more freedom of expression but is essentially linear.

My main mistake with the game, besides its release date, was making it unclear what sort of album it was. The frame story and immersive menu system makes it seem like the stories are tightly coupled, when in fact they’re independent. Jacqueline Lott and Club Floyd organized a collaborative play-through of the game that highlights this. After finishing all five stories, the players milled around for a while, banging on walls, trying to figure out if there was any more to the game. In retrospect, I should have realized this from my playtesters’ transcripts. Video game albums like this should either be tightly coupled so that they have definite connections between the constituent works, or loosely coupled, so that it’s clear that the elements are entirely separate. I managed to hit a point halfway in between, which undermines the ending of the gameplay experience. Instead of the player going, “Awesome, I’m done,” she goes “Umm, is that it? Maybe there’s more… no… no, looks like that’s everything.”

One thought on “The Video Game Album

  1. The video game album has another difficulty too – titling and promotion. In an industry unfamiliar with multiple-game packages, many consumers must have been confused when presented with The Orange Box in their local video game shop. While The Orange Box performed well, I wonder if Valve would have enjoyed more success if the package had been titled ‘Half-Life: The Orange Box’ to anchor the album to its best-known and most successful component. It would have been a disservice to the fantastic Team Fortress 2 and Portal of course, but may have been a little more commercially-minded.

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