I’ve never quite gotten the hang of bonus content on DVDs. My copy of Pirates of the Caribbean comes with an entire disc full of extra stuff: “Making of” mini-documentaries, scripts, interviews, and of course commentary tracks. It’s all kind of overwhelming, some of it is kind of lame, and now I’m kind of spoiled: I get annoyed when I see a DVD that doesn’t have bonus content, even if I have no intention of looking at it.

Now that games are distributed on DVD, it’s only natural to see movie-style bonuses showing up in these packages as well. Easter eggs and hidden levels have been a part of gaming forever, but the increased storage capacity of DVDs allows for the inclusion of more content outside the game itself. Art galleries are a natural addition, and making-of videos are a logical next step from there (not to mention an irresistible ego-stroking opportunity for eternally overlooked programmers and artists).

Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando actually combines a pile of different bonus types by providing a hidden level that places the player in a museum of weapons and vehicles that were implemented, but left out of the final cut of the game. Each gadget is introduced by the voice of an Insomniac staffer, who describes what the thing does and why it didn’t make it into the final game.

Mini-games are another type of bonus content that has been around for a long time, but has grown larger with the advent of DVDs. Insomniac calls the mini-games in Ratchet and Clank “maxi-games” to differentiate its full-featured racing and flying games from the simple throwaway Pongs and Tetrises that people normally associate with the term “mini-game.” Just to drive the point home, Going Commando actually contains a traditional mini-game (a Space Invaders-type shooter) hidden in one of its levels.

The maxi- and mini-games in Ratchet and Clank aren’t quite the same thing as a making-of movie, since they are accessed from within the game, rather than as separate extras. But the expanding role of large mini-games as bonus content dovetails nicely with another evolutionary trend: new versions of old games. If you’re making a fancy new sequel to a classic game, and you’ve got extra room on your 4.5GB DVD, why not just throw in a quick port of the original to show how far the series has come in the past 5 or 10 or 15 years?

Sometimes bonus games can backfire: Panzer Dragoon Orta, for all of it’s gorgeous environments and nauseating camera pans, isn’t even the best game on its own disc. The original Panzer Dragoon — which can be unlocked by taking some dramamine and playing Orta for five hours — turns out to be much more fun than its successor. The original game’s graphics, while lacking some of the ooh-aah impressiveness of Orta’s world (although they were mighty impressive when the game first came out) show enough to give the player a clear idea of where everything is, but don’t show so much that the background fights for attention with the active parts of the game. And the camera isn’t nearly as roller-coastery as in Orta, giving the player a chance to see and get a bead on enemies before she gets smacked around by them.

At other times, though, newer really is better. Like Orta, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time contains a port of the original Prince of Persia as an unlockable extra. Unlike Orta, however, Sands of Time is under no threat of being upstaged by its ancestor. Both games feature intriguing level design and merciless traps, but Sands of Time improves on the original PoP in almost every way. Besides the obvious audio/visual improvements, Sands of Time provides solutions to the worst annoyances that bog down the older game. The camera angles are (usually) set to help rather than hinder the player, cutting down on the classic “jump over a bottomless pit — right into another bottomless pit” trickery that plagued the original. And the Dagger of Time, which allows the player to rewind the game itself, makes Sands of Time a million times more forgiving of minor mistakes and experimentation than the original Prince of Persia ever was, and shows how much a game can evolve over time.

Playing through Sands of Time’s finely tuned levels actually makes me wish for another type of bonus content from movie DVDs: commentary tracks. It could either be in the form of a replay video, with a designer speaking over the action; or it could be event-based, with the comments triggered by the player reaching a certain area or achieving a particular goal. How cool would that be?