We spoke to Dan Marshall about the Lair of the Clockwork God Collector’s Edition, and why indie games getting “Big Box” releases is so cool.
“Big Box” games are an interesting thing. While most video game formats are heavily standardised by the platform holder, with the likes of Nintendo and PlayStation controlling everything from box dimensions to art formatting, PC games (or computer games, if you’re old) have always been something of a wild west.
Originally, computer games were distributed on cassette tapes, while in more recent times, PC games came in small CD jewel cases, or latterly, DVD- or Blu-Ray-sized cases. Music formats are hard to beat, it seems. But somewhere in the middle, weighed down by armfuls of floppy disks and massive manuals and copy protection wheels and all manner of gubbins, they came in boxes so big they wouldn’t look out of place on the cereal aisle.
And they were great! They were interesting, beautiful, tactile objects, as big (and, sometimes, as heavy) as a novel. For a brief moment, before someone got close enough to realise it was The Curse of Monkey Island and Simon the Sorceror on your shelf, rather than Treasure Island and The Lord of the Rings, they made your bookcases look cool and interesting and a bit grown up.
But retailers didn’t like them. They took up too much space, for one thing – rumour has it, publishers produced bigger and more outlandish boxes to try and grab more attention on the shelf – and you could fit dozens of svelte console games into the space of a couple of Big Box PC games. And like the cardboard boxes of NES, SNES and N64 games, which lost out to the more robust plastic of the compact disc jewel case or the DVD keep case, they were harder to sell used because they could get rather tatty. (And that was before the shop realised you lost the weird copy protection McGuffin and that’s why you were trading it in.)
When things get homogenised into little plastic cookie-cutter units (usually with the same bloke-posing-with-a-gun picture on the cover) they tend to get a bit boring. Which is why it’s so pleasing when a rare, modern Big Box release comes along. The latest of those, a Collector’s Edition of the excellent Lair of the Clockwork God from specialist publisher Limited Run Games, looks like another chunky visual treat from a bygone era.
“Yeeeeah, it’s a lovely big box. A proper fucking DOS style box,” Dan Marshall of Size Five Games told Thumbsticks, via email. “It’s a metaphor, you see? An old fashioned point and click style wrapper around a beating modern indie heart (style box). It’s clever. Shut up. Yes, it is.”
It’s at this point I should chuck in a disclaimer. You might recall having seen Dan Marshall’s name listed as an author on Thumbsticks dot com. Dan does not, nor has he ever, worked for Thumbsticks. We haven’t paid him any money to write stuff, and he hasn’t paid us anything to feature his words or promote his games.
But he does have a tendency of writing very funny things that other people simply won’t publish, the cowards! And so, like a sort of rescue shelter for weird writers, we’ve published some of Marshall’s ramblings so you can enjoy them as much as we do.
Right. Disclaimer dutifully delivered, back to Dan’s no doubt extremely professional quotes on the Lair of the Clockwork God Collector’s Edition.
“When I started making games, people baulked at the idea of buying games that didn’t come in a box. It was a weird time. They needed to hold something they’d bought in their hands, see it on a shelf, otherwise, it didn’t “exist”, you know? We all felt that way.”
We do know, Dan. Try explaining to your mum that you’re a writer if she’s never seen your face next to a byline in a newspaper. Yes, it’s still real writing if it’s “only for the internet”, mum, there’s no need to be so hurtful.
“When my first game went on Steam, this was way back when getting on Steam was basically impossible for indie developers, it felt like a huge badge of honour. It’s weird, because we’ve gone round in a big circle where now we’re at the point where getting my game in a box is spectacular and unusual and I am so, so proud and excited. I can’t wait.”
And what of Limited Run Games, the specialist publisher bringing both limited edition physical releases and those Big Box Collector’s Editions of Lair of the Clockwork God to PS4 and Nintendo Switch?
“Limited Run have been ace. I email them and say, “I have this dumb idea, are we allowed to do this?” and they say, “yes, carry on”. So we’ve got all this cool stuff in there – the “hero piece” as they call it is this big Grail Diary-style journal of all Ben’s notes. It’s got loads of new art in it and scribblings and doodles – it covers the period before, during and after the game. So you can see what happens after the cliffhanger ending.”
Which all doesn’t sound so strange? Where’s the trademark Dan Marshall weirdness we’ve come to expect?
“We’ve also got this manual – Limited Run said we had to provide a manual, I have no idea why. But the idea of putting together a pamphlet on what the buttons do bored me, so I said to Limited Run, I says: “Does it have to be a manual for *this game*, though?” and they were like, “uh, technically no… why?” So we wrote a manual for a game called The Adventures of Jimmy Trailblazer 5: Unkarted Territory and it’s just a big unwieldy mess of every video game idea and it’s just… it’s preposterous. Even the Legal Notes at the start are funny, it’s a really good read. I think it’s like 20 pages long or something, and it’s magnificent.”
Ah. There it is. See? Very professional.
The region-free, limited-edition physical release of Lair of the Clockwork God – the “standard” keep case version with a neat reversible cover, and the “Big Box” Collector’s Edition with all the cool extras – are available to pre-purchase from Limited Run Games until January 30, 2022. PS4 and Nintendo Switch versions are available of both the Collector’s Edition and standard edition, and they’re expected to ship sometime later in 2022.