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Stuff This Collecting Malarkey

As you've probably gathered by now, I'm looking forward to the release of Bungie's last game in the Halo franchise for the foreseeable future, Halo: Reach, sometime in Spring of this year. I'm even taking a day off work on May 4th to join the Reach multiplayer beta test (thanks to my purchase of Halo 3: ODST). I'd like to cite some high-handed ideal of helping the game be the best it can, but I mostly want to play the damn thing as soon as possible.

I've been a little apprehensive about the inevitable collector's editions of the game, though. Collector's editions have become quite a rage nowadays. In times gone by, special editions were only made after the game had already sold well (and got good press, hence the frequent dubbing of these editions “Game of the Year Edition”). This tended to frustrate me, though; the Game of the Year Editions I was interested in were of games I already owned, and even when I had more disposable income than I have now I couldn't see the point in buying the whole damned game all over again just for the extra knick-knacks.

Nowadays, though, if the pre-release hype for a game has built enough anticipation to guarantee good sales – or, in the case of Reach, the game is part of an extremely popular franchise – the publisher is likely to release a collector's edition of the game on its actual launch date. While I can understand some folks' views that such a move requires a certain amount of chutzpah / hubris, I still prefer it over the other way around.

It's interesting to note that the only games I've bothered to buy collector's editions of are Halo 2, Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST (which I can semi-excuse on the grounds of needing a new Xbox 360 controller). In fact, had I had the money, I probably would have bought the Legendary Edition of Halo 3, complete with scale Master Chief helmet, instead of the Collector's Edition I did buy.

All that said, though, when I reviewed the list of contents of the Collector's Editions of Halo: Reach after they were announced yesterday, my reaction was: “...ehh. I think I'll just buy the regular edition instead.”

Some may take this as yet another sign that I'm acquiring some fucking maturity, me bloody Peter Pan, and hey, I'll take it where I find it.

But actually, the main reason for my lack of interest – Oh, sorry. That's right; I just remembered. I did buy the collector's edition of another game: Mass Effect 2. While it came with an unlock for an in-game item (the Collector armour suit) and a comic book, I was more keen on the extra disc of documentaries. I don't know why, especially as I'm no game developer, but I'm always interested in the processes of making a game and the stories during development.

But after watching it, I remember feeling disappointed. The documentaries on the disc came across as more like promotional fluff. What? Why would I want promo? I've bought the game, for crying out loud! I already know that it's awesome to have Martin Sheen and Tricia Helfer on board. I want to know about the level design, the weapon choices, the actual voice recording process, the cool tools that make the music come alive at the right spots in the game, like... well, like the documentaries on the Halo 3 Collector's Edition disc.

I think Bungie spoiled me on collector's edition content. If you have a friend with the Collector's Edition, go over his or her place and ask him or her to pop the bonus disc into his or her 360 and play some of it for you, especially the audio documentary. That stuff, where Marty O'Donnell not only goes over the Halo 3 score and recording it with an actual orchestra and shows clips of the voice recording process, but also, and especially, talks about how sound works in the game, from how the noise of the Mongoose engine (a combination of a two-stroke scooter and a sports car) reverberates off the surfaces in the non-existent world of the game to how the soundtrack will actually mix itself based on what you're doing. THAT'S what I wanted to see on your bonus disc, BioWare. Show me the nuts and bolts of the years you spent putting that epic of a game together like Bungie did.

This time around, though, Microsoft isn't providing anything like that in the two Reach special editions. Hrm. What are they providing instead? Let's start with the Limited Edition. ONI Black Box slipcase? I don't have enough spare shelf room. Artifact bag with patches and stickers? More chaff I'm never going to sew / stick to anything. In-character journal of the developer of the Spartan super-soldier program? I stopped giving a stuff about the expanded fiction after the Halo: Legends previews. In-game Elite armour set? Hey, I never bothered with Recon armour and the Elites are only going to be playable in a sub-set of the multi-player games.

Take all that and add in the Legendary Edition. It's a whopping great box meant to look like some sort of ammo or hazmat container. Just where the hell am I gonna tuck that away? At least the Halo 3 Legendary Edition Master Chief helmet looked good in and of itself. The statuette of the five non-playable Spartans of Noble Team looks sweet, but I have enough toys, thank you. The only tempting item in that list is the “exclusive Spartan multiplayer armour effect” - an actual thing that does something in the game – but it's not worth $198.

And you know what? Over the last few months, Bungie have been giving away all the good stuff I'd expect to see on that documentary disc. For free. For starters, there are the VIDocs (apparently a combination of “visual”, “informational” and “documentation” - hey, direct that look at Bungie, not me). While they're semi-promotional, they still give a fair bit of info on the game, including the personalities of the folks working on it.

But for the real nuts and bolts, have a listen to the Bungie Podcast. Sure, it's not got the most regular release schedule, but if you're interested in games and want something to listen to on the commute, it's great (I listen on my iPod on the mile walk from where I park to work). While I'll always point folks to the July 7th, (Bungie Day) 2009 episode featuring Nathan Fillion (yes, him) the two most recent episodes are Halo: Reach making-of gold. In fact, I must recommend the April 19th podcast for Luke “Froman” Timmins' (yes, him) hilarious explanation of how Reach's programs which govern Internet multiplayer performance work.

Come to think of it, I've become so un-enamoured with collector's editions that I even traded the Halo 3 Collector's Edition in at EB for credit toward Borderlands. In retrospect, that was a mistake. Borderlands wasn't quite my taste, as it turns out, and while my Xbox Live friends were enthused about its co-op multiplayer they're never available whenever I try to organise a session. (Heh! I'll probably trade Borderlands toward Reach.) And I miss that Grunt in the bonus disc's DVD Surround Sound Test. Ah, well; Karl's gone off Halo in general so I can always borrow his Collector's Edition off him, I suppose.

I'm still waiting for EB and Game to announce pre-order bonuses, though. I hope there's a bundle deal for a game guide - I'm keen to have something tell me where all the basic spawns on the multiplayer maps are so I can start working on call-outs.

UPDATE 11:30AM: According to the latest Bungie weekly update, the “exclusive Spartan multiplayer armour effect” isn't a unique armour ability as I assumed - it's a flaming helmet, which just looks cool, so I now have even less interest in the Legendary Edition.

That Elite armour looks kinda sweet in a bad-ass way, though. And as flaming helmets are reserved in Halo 3 for Bungie employees and Nathan Fillion, I suppose Legendary owners Reach could try getting away with saying they're down with Mal.

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Rob, I love the fact you are such a gaming geek. I am glad you are writing game reviews. You do it with such a passion that it makes me want to go out and buy the game. And with time and money I would if for no other reason to play you once in a while.

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