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Naughty Dog wins everything (except for that Tim Schafer game) at DICE 2010

We knew Naughty Dog’s time was coming, but did the Santa Monica developer have to win 99% of the awards at the 13th Annual Interactive Achievement Awards held at DICE 2010 in Las Vegas?

The answer is “yes.” Darn tooting. Naughty Dog is now officially in chapter 3 of its stunning career, the post Crash Bandicoot, post Jak and Daxter chapter, and it’s doing quite well, thank you. 

In addition to the AIAA award for best game of the year, the studio once known for its Crash Bandicoot games and now, clearly known for its Uncharted series, won nine others: Outstanding Achievement in Game Direction, Adventure Game of the Year, Outstanding Achievement in Animation, Outstanding Achievement in Visual Engineering, Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction, Outstanding Achievement in Story – Original, Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Composition, Outstanding Achievement in Game Play Engineering, and Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design.

Luckily, there were some other awards left, like sports, RPGs, and simulation. And hey, my other favorite games of the year, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, and Brutal Legend, took home awards, too.

One should put these awards in context of the bigger picture. You’ll notice there are almost no Japanese games included here. That’s because in order to become a contestant in a category, publishers have to pay a membership fee. I remember hearing my friend Matt Casamassina (from IGN) complain how Resident Evil 4, originally exclusive for GameCube, didn’t win in 2005 because Capcom wasn’t an AAIA member. Looks like Capcom remedied that issue since, as it won this year’s AIAA fighting game of the year award. So, yeah, the Annual Interactive Achievement Awards aren’t a good or complete global representation of all the games across the planet.

The full list of awards reads like this:

Game of the Year: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
* Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
* Developer: Naughty Dog
* Producer: Sam Thompson
* Creative Director: Amy Hennig
* Game Director: Bruce Straley

Outstanding Achievement in Game Direction: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
* Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
* Developer: Naughty Dog
* Producer: Sam Thompson
* Creative Director: Amy Hennig
* Game Director: Bruce Straley

Casual Game of the Year: Flower
* Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
* Developer: thatgamecompany
* Producer: Kellee Santiago
* Creative Director: Jenova Chen

Fighting Game of the Year: Street Fighter IV
* Publisher: Capcom
* Developer: Capcom
* Producer: Yoshinori Ono

Role-Playing/Massively Multiplayer Game of the Year: Dragon Age: Origins
* Publisher: Electronic Arts
* Developer: Bioware
* Producer: Mark Darrah
* Creative Director: Mike Laidlaw
* Game Director: Mark Darrah

Sports Game of the Year: FIFA Soccer 10
* Publisher: Electronic Arts
* Developer: EA Canada
* Producer: David Rutter
* Creative Director: Gary Paterson
* Game Director: Kaz Makita

Racing Game of the Year: Forza Motorsport 3
* Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
* Developer: Turn 10 Studios
* Producer: Korey Krauskopf
* Creative Director: John Wendl
* Game Director: Dan Greenawalt

Outstanding Achievement in Game Design: Batman: Arkham Asylum
* Publisher: Eidos/Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment
* Developer: Rocksteady Studios
* Lead Level Designer: Ian Ball

Adventure Game of the Year: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
* Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
* Developer: Naughty Dog
* Producer: Sam Thompson
* Creative Director: Amy Hennig
* Game Director: Bruce Straley

Social Networking Game of the Year: Farmville
* Publisher: Zynga
* Developer: Zynga
* Producer: David Gray
* Creative Director: Mark Skaggs
* Game Director: Bill Mooney

Strategy/Simulation Game of the Year: Brutal Legend
* Publisher: Electronic Arts
* Developer: Double Fine Productions
* Producer: Caroline Esmurdoc
* Creative Director: Tim Schafer
* Game Director: Tim Schafer

Action Game of the Year: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
* Publisher: Activision
* Developer: Infinity Ward
* Producer: Mark Rubin
* Game Director: Jason West

Family Game of the Year: The Beatles: Rock Band
* Publisher: MTV Games
* Developer: Harmonix Music Systems
* Producers: Paul DeGooyer, Jeff Jones, Alex Rigopulos
* Creative Director: Chris Foster
* Game Director: Josh Randall

Outstanding Innovation in Gaming: Scribblenauts
* Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
* Developer: 5th Cell Media
* Producer: Joseph M. Tringali
* Creative Director: Jeremiah Slaczka
* Game Director: Jeremiah Slaczka

Outstanding Achievement in Animation: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
* Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
* Developer: Naughty Dog
* Lead Animators: Josh Scherr, Jeremy Lai-Yates, Mike Yosh

Outstanding Achievement in Visual Engineering: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
* Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
* Developer: Naughty Dog
* Technology Director: Pal-Kristian Engstad

Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
* Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
* Developer: Naughty Dog
* Art Directors: Erick Pangilinan, Robh Ruppel

Outstanding Achievement in Story -Adapted: Batman: Arkham Asylum
* Publisher: Eidos/Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment
* Developer: Rocksteady Studios
* Writers: Paul Dini, Paul Crocker

Outstanding Character Performance: Batman: Arkham Asylum – Joker
* Publisher: Eidos/Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment
* Developer: Rocksteady Studios
* Writers: Paul Dini, Paul Crocker
* Voice Actor: Mark Hamill

Outstanding Achievement in Online Game Play: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
* Publisher: Activision
* Developer: Infinity Ward
* Lead Online Designer: Todd Alderman

Outstanding Achievement in Story – Original: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
* Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
* Developer: Naughty Dog
* Writers: Amy Hennig, Neil Druckmann, Josh Scherr

Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Composition: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
* Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
* Developer: Naughty Dog
* Composer: Greg Edmonson

Outstanding Achievement in Soundtrack: Brutal Legend
* Publisher: Electronic Arts
* Developer: Double Fine Productions
* Music Supervisor: Emily Ridgway

Outstanding Achievement in Game Play Engineering: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
* Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
* Developer: Naughty Dog
* Lead Game Play Programmer: Travis McIntosh

Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
* Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
* Developer: Naughty Dog
* Sound Designer/Audio Lead: Bruce Swanson

Outstanding Achievement in Portable Game Design: Scribblenauts
* Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
* Developer: 5th Cell Media
* Lead Level Designer: Matt Cox

Portable Game of the Year: Scribblenauts
* Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
* Developer: 5th Cell Media
* Producer: Joseph M. Tringali
* Creative Director: Jeremiah Slaczka
* Game Director: Jeremiah Slaczka

Thanks to Gamasutra.com for the full list of winners.

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The Decade in Review: Videogames 2000-2009, Part 2

By Douglass C. Perry

When we look back 20 years from now, the first decade of the 21st century will look obvious to us, like a paint-by-numbers drawing for kids. It’s almost incalculable how many little triggers have shaped our current place in the games race. But there more than a handful of events, dozens of key games, and entire years that pushed this one-time cottage industry into the full-blown billion dollar industry it is now. While this isn’t the definitive historical account of single thing that happened between the years 2000 and 2009, this Decade in Review is an insider’s look at the decade filled with significant events. This is part 2 of the feature, The Decade in Review. Check here for part 1.

January 11, 2005: The Best Thing About GameCube

Making up for its poor third-party relations on the N64, Nintendo signed a multi-title, multi-year deal with Capcom, securing the Resident Evil franchise for the GameCube. While all of the previous games (RE1-RE3) were updated and released on GameCube to no real fanfare (outside of insanely excited Nintendo fans), Capcom rekindled the sagging survival-horror genre with the remarkable and visionary Resident Evil 4. The action-packed game blended scare tactics with high-level action scenes, quick-time events, and a new story that, while still cheesy in many respects, breathed life into the series.

March 22, 2005: A God Appears

On the heels of Capcom’s Resident Evil revitalization, David Jaffe and Sony’s Santa Monica Studios burst onto the scene with little pre-hype fanfare (due to the ambitious and prickly Jaffe team), but immediately stole the spotlight, stunning gamers with a Greek myth-based action game that maximized every aspect of the PS2 in its final years of life. Introducing Kratos, the vengeance-filled semi God, Sony mixed platforming, quick time events, and a high-impact combat system like nothing else before it. God of War becomes the one of the definitive action games of all time.

March 24, 2005: Sony launches PSP

Seeing that Nintendo’s game Boy has yet to see a substantial rival, Sony engineers the beautiful, sleek, and expensive PSP, the ultimate cool games/music/movie gadget.

November 4, 2005: Microsoft Defines Next Gen Gaming

Jumping the gun by shipping a year earlier than Sony’s PS3 and Nintendo’s Wii, Microsoft stole the hardware spotlight by defining the next-generation with high-definition graphics, connected multiplayer functions, and a virtual, online marketplace. Introducing achievements, a multi-folder interface, an online marketplace, and improving on its already established online gaming service model, Microsoft stole Sony’s thunder and ended its uncontested two-generation rule. Full retail games like Call of Duty 2 and downloadable games like Galaxy Wars paved the way for Microsoft’s insurrection. The American console maker would then pick off Sony’s premiere third-party exclusive titles one by one (Devil May Cry, Final Fantasy, Air Combat, Grand Theft Auto, even Metal Gear Solid). However, consumers exposed Microsoft’s hardware issues (the “Red Ring of Death”), which, along with a media battle between HD-DVD and Sony’s Blu-ray, have tainted opinions about the Xbox 360.

November 8, 2005: Guitar Hero Changes Everything

After quirky-cool endeavors Frequency and Amplitude made gamers feel cool on PS2, Harmonix teamed with Konami to sell millions of copies of Karaoke Revolution, the world’s first sing-a-long videogame. But its best and biggest partnership with Red Octane would revolutionize the game industry. Bravely confronting the statistically proven industry notion that expensive peripherals didn’t sell in high numbers, Red Octane gave the industry’s old idea the finger with Guitar Hero. Merging Harmonix’s innovative music gameplay with Red Octane’s functional, sturdy plastic guitar, the duo would blow past Konami’s musical endeavors, and then blow past everyone else. The rest of the story — Guitar Hero 5, Lego Rock Band, DJ Hero, and The Beatles Rock Band–nearly explains itself.

2005: Epic Floods Next Gen Middleware

Quietly in 2005 and loudly in 2006, Epic Games established itself as the defacto software engine for the new generation of consoles with its Unreal Engine. In the previous generation, a handful of developers created middleware for consoles: Id Software (with Id Tech), and Criterion (with RenderWare) to name a few, but Epic marketed and sold the Unreal Engine heavier, harder, and more convincingly than any other studio. And every time Epic showed game journalists Gears of War, the company’s new in-house game for Xbox 360, a dozen more developers would sign up.

2006: The Music Wars Begin

In May 2006, Activision acquired Guitar Hero publisher, Red Octane for $99.9 million. Then in September 2006, MTV Networks acquired Harmonix, the creative software studio behind Guitar Hero, for $175 million. In November 2007, Harmonix, under publisher MTV Networks and distributor Electronic Arts, released Rock Band, the direct competitor to Guitar Hero, complete with plastic guitar, microphone, and drum kit. Activision and MTV/EA would fiercely compete to out-do one another with new games, features, and exclusive bands, such as with Rock Band The Beatles, in the not-so-distant future.

Fall 2006: PS3 and Nintendo Wii Launch

One year after Microsoft’s Xbox 360 launch, Sony’s newly launched PlayStation 3 had the looks of a lost system. For a Blu-ray player, the PS3 was an economically priced system. For a console, its high price tag was reminiscent of the 3DO–way too expensive. Sony’s gamble on winning a media/storage war started well before mass consumers were even aware they needed a Blu-ray player–and before the world had decided which it wanted more, HD-DVD or Blu-ray. The result? Sony’s powerful new PS3 would start slow and remain in third place behind Microsoft and Nintendo in the console race.

While the PS3 launched November 11, the oft-laughed at, low-end Nintendo Wii launched November 19 with the free Wii Sports bundle. To everyone’s surprise (except Nintendo), the Wii captured the imaginations of consumers worldwide. The Wii, with the equivalent of Xbox 1 hardware and maximum 480p output, would go on to topple Xbox 360 sales, steal the console marketplace crown, and recode the next generation with its non-stop sales to the casual market, females, families, and weight-conscious gamers. If Microsoft defined the next generation with HD graphics and connectedness, Nintendo’s Wii rewrote it with its wireless, interactive Wiimote and its simple, accessible games, broadening the game market in a way Microsoft and Sony could only wish for.

June 29, 2007: Apple Launches the iPhone

Following its string of successes with the iPod, Apple released the unprecedented touch-sensitive interface and app-filled smart phone, the iPhone. While the device sold millions and remained the coolest gadget in the world for a good year, it wasn’t until Jul 12, 2008 when Apple launched its online app store that videogame developers were introduced to the full potential of a publisher-free videogame marketplace. With the app store in place, hundreds more developers started making apps in their garages. Just like old times.

July 11-13, 2007: Good-bye E3, Hello…Business Summit?

Booth babes: Did they make or break E3? (Image courtesy of CNET)

After escalating costs, the expansion of t-shirt-throwing barkers, endless parades of booth babes, stage shows, and a general circus mentality growing each year at E3, a majority of game publishers led by EA, agreed to end E3 as we knew it. In its place appeared a multi-venue, splintered, no-frills “event” known as The E3 Media and Business Summit. To put it mildly, the majority of attendees voiced their opinion that the new E3 was a poor substitution for the old one.

September 12, 2007: The Wii Takes Over

Despite launching one year after the Xbox 360, owning a kooky name, and delivering hardware that wasn’t as powerful as the PS3 or the Xbox 360, The Wii took over the console market in sales. The Financial Times reported September 12, 2007 that the Nintendo Wii had surpassed the Xbox 360 and had become the console market leader, the first time Nintendo had done so since the Super NES. (Sales based on NPD Group, GfK and Enterbrain tracking numbers for North America, Europe, and Japan.) Nintendo fans go berserk (and have remained giddily proud ever since).

October 11, 2007: EA Purchases BioWare, Pandemic

EA takes another big gulp out of the development world. One wonders why Microsoft didn’t buy BioWare, after its long partnerships and Mass Effect. But it took a hungrier, more ambitious Redwood City publisher to take over the reigns of the biggest Western RPG maker in the world, one famous for its work on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, and Mass Effect, not to mention earlier works with Interplay such as Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights. Oh yeah, and EA got Pandemic too.

Dec 3, 2007: Activision Merges with Vivendi

The Activision merger with Vivendi created “Activision Blizzard,” a publisher that would soon become the biggest independent game publisher in the world, nudging long-time king EA into second place. The deal would be legally completed on July 10, 2008.

Fall 2007: Gamers Rejoice Part 2

In a collective burst of creative output, videogame developers harnessed the new console hardware with dozens of original titles and exceptional sequels on every system. Gamers scored in every genre and on every system. Titles such as BioShock, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Crysis, Halo 3, Skate, Forza Motorsport 2, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Pac-Man Championship Edition, Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords, Assassin’s Creed, Super Mario Galaxy, God of War 2, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Rock Band, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Mass Effect, and The Orange Box, just to name a few, stole gamers’ hearts and emptied their wallets.

February 2008: EA’s $2 Billion Move to Acquire Take-Two

In an opportunistic bid just prior to the release of Grand Theft Auto IV, Electronic Arts proposes an unsolicited bid to buy Take-Two Interactive for $2 billion dollars, or $25 a share. After an initial refusal, EA upped the bid to $26 per share, but Take-Two rejects the offer again. The press went hog wild with the story because of all the opportunisties to speculate on how EA would handle Rockstar, which games would get killed, etc. Analysts practically begged Take-Two to accept the offer, but Take-Two’s “take” on the offer was simple: “We’re worth more.” The biggest news? EA would have surpassed Activision Blizzard as the biggest independent softwre developer in the world with the acquisition. Somewhere, Activision’s Bobby Kotick is giggling madly in a room filled with plastic guitars, skateboards, posters of Spider-Man, and World War II guns, with money signs burning brightly in his eyes.

March 2008: The Indie Movement Arrives (Again)

While indie gamers have been around since Nolan Bushnell’s Pong started it all, a perfect storm of marketplace scenarios came to light in 2007 and 2008, creating a perfect environment for indie games to flourish. The world finally noticed in a big way at the Game Developers’ Conference in 2008. Jonathan Blow’s Braid, 2D Boy’s The World of Goo, and a dozen other quirky, creative, and low-budget titles created more than just a lot of media buzz, they showed the world new and different ways of thinking about and playing games.

The Games of 2008

While we can exalt in the monumental barrage of games that flowed through game stores in 2007, 2008 featured distinct breakthroughs. Bethesda’s award-winning first-person RPG Fallout 3 captured the essence of the beloved Fallout RPG series and brought its epic sense of story and size to the IP. Rockstar stunned the world with its updated, realistic vision of New York with an online, multiplayer Grand Theft Auto IV, garnering perfect scores and generating record-breaking sales. And Will Wright’s quirky god-game Spore hit the streets, generating buzz and good scores, but sales that did not match Wright’s previous hit, The Sims. With other breakthrough games including LittleBigPlanet, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Left 4 Dead, Gears of War 2, Dead Space, and Prince of Persia, game publishers warded off the beginning of the biggest recession since the Great Depression.

February 12, 2009: Midway Goes Bankrupt

Confronting a $240 million debt, Mortal Kombat publisher files Chapter 11. Meanwhile, the last Midway-made Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat vs. DC, ships 2 million units. The last of the Old School arcade publishers, Midway’s closure was cause for a moment of profound silence, followed by, “Get over here!”

March 27, 2009: Square Enix Secures Acquisition of Eidos

Ever since I’ve been in the business of writing about videogames, Eidos has been on the table for purchase. After succumbing to too many Tomb Raider failures (from TR4-TR:Angel of Darkness), Eidos never really climbed back up to its previous heights of success in development or on Wall Street. During that time, nearly every publisher in the world has engaged in talks to purchase the English publisher. But no one in their right mind thought Japanese giant Square Enix would be the one. Anyone for a Final Tomb Raider Fantasy?

March 24, 2009: Could OnLive Change Everything?

OnLive CEO Steve Perlman and COO Mike McGarvey introduced the cloud-based computing online service, OnLive. The service is designed to eliminate the need to continually upgrade PCs or to buy new consoles. EA, Epic Games, Take-Two, Ubisoft, THQ and several others show initial support, but direct issues such as eliminating lag and cost structure posed problems, while indirect worries such as the next generation of consoles led by Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft also weigh in.

June 1, 2009: Microsoft, Sony Reveal Motion Controllers

At E3 2009 (which had returned to the LA Convention Center), Microsoft unveiled the potential next step in controller-less gaming, Project Natal. Combining the use of an RGB camera, depth sensor, microphone, and proprietary software, Microsoft discussed the importance of eliminating the barrier between gamers from games (a la Nintendo’s Wii). At Sony’s press conference, Dr. Richard Marks introduced Sony’s own proprietary engineering prototype which combined the abilities of the EyeToy and a motion sensor. Neither project would ship in 2009.

June 24, 2009 Bethesda Acquires Id Software

After quietly announcing it had transformed from a developer into a publisher, ZeniMax Media Inc., the parent company of Bethesda Softworks, acquired industry pioneer Id Software. Id’s departure from the conservative creative culture at Activision and acceptance at Bethesda’s well-funded, new studio-friendly system was a surprise and a shift whose repercussions have yet to be determined.

November 2009: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Smashes Records

Infinity Ward’s first-person shooter Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 took in $550 million during its first five days, beating Grand Theft Auto IV’s video game record, while setting a single-day record with 2.2 million unique Xbox Live users playing the game on November 10. Modern Warfare 2’s remarkably fast-paced single-player campaign is joined by a new Spec-Ops mode, and a highly improved, highly desired multiplayer game. Christmas will never be the same again.

***

Surely that’s not everything–not every single thing–that happened. What about…? If I forgot, missed, or ignored an event worth posting, write and let me know! I’ll see if I can post it in the story.  Missed part 1 of The Decade in Review: Videogames 2000-2009, part 1? Check it out now.

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Recession: publishers slash projections

With EA and Ubisoft appearing as the most recent publishers to slash projections for 2010, analysts who only look at the bottom line miss a lot of things, from developing IP, changing tastes in games, and slower than expected hardware sales.

Don’t the analysts get it? There is a recession going on, a really big one, and it’s affecting everyone’s pocketbooks.

Activision’s Bobby Kotick says his company will focus on quality not quantity in the upcoming years, which is a direct result of his overly conservative approach to game development and high sales of Modern Warfare 2.  We’ll see how well his old franchises due in a few years when something new and better comes along and Activision is left high and dry without new IPs, and everyone is just sick to the gills (if they aren’t already) with Guitar Hero 101, Tony Hawk 19, Call of Duty 54, and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2,000,001.

This is a time to cut back, due to the economy; that’s true. But it’s also time to create new games in new areas such as smart phones and DLC, and to maximize efforts on the Xbox 360 and PS3, as developers can really put innovation and polish on consoles that are well understood.

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VGA 2009 Winners: Who won? Uncharted 2 or Modern Warfare 2?

The Spike Video Game Awards televised, and in their own strange way legitimized, what most gamers already knew. With Saturday night’s awards, Spike TV’s 7th annual show delivered awards–game of the year went to Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 2–and a slew of new game reveals.

The winners were:

  • Game of the Year: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
  • Studio of the Year: Rocksteady Studios
  • Best Independent Game: Flower
  • Best Xbox 360 Game: Left 4 Dead 2
  • Best PS3 Game: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
  • Best Wii Game: New Super Mario Bros. Wii
  • Best PC Game: Dragon Age: Origins
  • Best Handheld Game: Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars
  • Best Shooter: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
  • Best Fighting Game: Street Fighter IV
  • Best Action Adventure Game: Assassin’s Creed II
  • Best RPG: Dragon Age: Origins
  • Best Multiplayer Game: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
  • Best Individual Sports Game: UFC 2009 Undisputed
  • Best Team Sports Game: NHL 10
  • Best Driving Game: Forza Motorsport 3
  • Best Music Game: The Beatles: Rock Band
  • Best Soundtrack: DJ Hero
  • Best Original Score: Halo 3: ODST
  • Best Graphics: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
  • Best Game Based On A Movie/TV Show: South Park Let’s Go Tower Defense Play!
  • Best Performance By A Human Female: Megan Fox as Mikaela Banes in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
  • Best Performance By A Human Male: Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in X-Men Origins: Wolverine
  • Best Cast: X-Men Origins: Wolverine
  • Best Voice: Jack Black for the voice of Eddie Riggs in Brütal Legend
  • Best Downloadable Game: Shadow Complex
  • Best DLC: Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony
  • Most Anticipated Game of 2010: God of War III

A big round of applause for the folks who made Shadow Complex, Flower, Uncharted II, Batman Arkham Asylum, and for “newcomers” Rocksteady Games.

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What’s wrong with the VGAs

When Zach Braff (Scrubs) stepped on stage at the VGAs Saturday night, his face said it all. Escorted on stage by a model dressed as valkyrie warrior (or something), Braff sized up the tall vixen at his side, feigned fright, then appeared on the verge of laughter. He looked embarrassed. To begin his speech, he yelled, “Hello, fellow nerds!”

Last night as I watched the VGAs, a landslide of feelings poured across me, and like Braff, one of those feelings was embarrassment. I felt pride, happiness, and angst, too. But it’s the former emotion that raised my hackles. I was embarrassed by the very tall model having to wear those stupid get-ups. (She never spoke, but she certainly gave Braff a look.) I was embarrassed by the mention of the phrase “balls” more than a half dozen times, courtesy of Jake Gyllenhaal’s game of the year monologue and Joel McHale’s catchy little mid-show appearance. And I was angered by Hollywood’s general sense of embarrassment at appearing on the VGAs, while talented and hardworking designers and producers got on stage, unfolded their acceptance speeches, and bravely flashed their souls in front of millions of people.

Naughty Dog's Amy Hennig receives the game of the year award at the VGAs (AP).

The Video Game Awards (VGAs), the closest thing the video game industry has to Hollywood’s Oscars, still has a long way to go before it really makes sense of the videogame industry–and before it’s taken seriously by the Hollywood stars that line its runways. What I saw last night was a flashier, better produced, and certainly more star-studded show than ever before (with fewer gaffes, to be fair), but I still got the sense that, from a show about video games, video games are still very much Hollywood’s nerdy little cousin–and they still haven’t found their place on TV.

I wonder, is it possible to air a video game show without the constant flash of violence, big tits, and an endless array of explosions? The collage of images I saw Saturday night showed little intrinsic value to video games. Perhaps that’s why Braff, along with Olivia Wilde (who was thrown off her short script by calls from the audience), didn’t take it seriously. If there is anything genuine, human, and real about the video game industry, is there is any art, innovation, or brilliance, it wasn’t shown at the VGAs.

There were sparks of human emotion, and these were the few moments where I felt the show succeeded. It’s great, truly great, that Flower won the Best Independent Videogame Award and that Chair Studio won Best Downloadable Game. These weren’t even categories a few years ago. One of the most genuine acceptance speeches I saw all night was from the Flower team, where they briefly explained the absurdity of pitching a game about emotions and blossoming to Sony, and ended by asking all of the millions of laid off game makers to join them in indie development.

Naughty Dog creative director Amy Hennig gave a heartfelt acceptance speech, and because I have spent many hours talking with Amy about games, I could tell she delivered a genuine heartfelt speech that didn’t fit any mold or formula. I am so happy for her and her team. They fully deserve all the recognition they get.

It was great to see the Assassin’s Creed II team receive their award for best action-adventure game. The Ubisoft Montreal team spoke in both English and in French on stage, didn’t ham it up and, for anyone paying attention to the shift in talent traveling to Canada, represent some of our Northern neighbor’s growing top talent.

Perhaps the biggest win of the night was the best studio award. The guys from Rocksteady, basically an unknown English studio whose claim to fame was the totally ignored Urban Chaos: Riot Response, were grateful, excited, and earnest. Their success story is just fantastic, and their game, Batman: Arkham Asylum, is equally fantastic. It perfectly balances high production values and smart writing that shows the writers really get the Batman character and the universe, and an excellent balance of stealth, action, and adventure. Every comic book videogame from now on will have to reach as high as Batman Arkham Asylum from here on out.

When I think of the Oscars, I often remember the collages of movies and actors who have been a part of the industry’s success; the retrospectives about people who made a difference. When the great directors, actors, writers, and special effects technicians who excel at their craft are recognized and rewarded for their achievements, it puts in perspective what the industry has achieved in the past in comparison to the achievements its awarding today. When I saw the VGAs Saturday night, I saw a show that gave no recognition to its past, that gave no award to its founders, that didn’t seem to have a past or a future, just a right-here, right-now orgasm of action, flashing lights and…the Bravery. Yes, I too like action, flashing lights, and a little Snoop Dog in my cultural diet, but when I eat a meal, I don’t just eat steak by itself.

What’s perhaps equally disturbing is that all night I listened to invisible “professional announcers” guide me through the show. There was no guide, no host, no person, who represented the world of videogames to hold my hand, make me laugh, show me the history of the industry, and again, put the awards, and the industry, in perspective. What does it mean to win best shooter of the year? Who won last year? Are their any journalists out there who could be interviewed to put the games in perspective? One easy solution is to have the previous year’s winner present the current year’s award, informing the audience and passing the torch in a way that means something.

There is a reason no real host was called upon last night. That person doesn’t exist. For starters, actors regularly fail at representing the industry because it’s clear they get paid lots of money to act in films, and that they appear on videogame shows for charity or because of a contract agreement (with notable exceptions like Vin Diesel). Second, there is no charming gamer nerd with the savvy to get up on stage and ride the fence between games and film/TV with moxie, perspective, and charm. From the game industry, the closest anyone has come to nailing that perfect blend are Tim Schafer, Will Wright, Cliff “CliffyB” Bleszinski, and Ken Levine. I am sure there are other talented game creators and personalities around who could pull it off.

Perhaps the show could hire better, funnier writers, too. The joke Tony Hawk told about action adventure games created a dreaded void of discomfort afterward. Almost every actor who took the stage was given sub-par lines, and the Tiger Woods jokes were just plain terrible. Stevie Wonder’s appearance was smart and his challenge to developers to create games for the blind and handicapped will be remembered as a highlight of the show. Jack Black’s entertaining skit for mistaking his best game of the year acceptance speech was pure Jack Black–silly, ballsy, and fun. But in all, instead of being helmed by a person, the host-less VGAs were peppered with Hollywood actors who looked out of place, embarrassed, and itching to get off that stage.

In the end, the VGAs represent the video game industry’s struggle for acceptance in the mainstream world in just the same way movies and TV are accepted. The truth is, the video game industry isn’t the same as the movie industry–though with shows like the VGAs, it’s clear the desire to be like Hollywood still burns brightly. And while I understand last night’s show was fully sponsored by Mountain Dew (the night’s biggest message), and it has to make money and attract an audience, the game industry needs better representation than last night’s show. It needs smarter, funnier video game people and less Mike Tyson. It needs fewer embarrassed actors and more genuine ones. It needs better writing that doesn’t rely on mentioning testicles over and over again to show that the industry actually has balls, and it needs to show its rich heritage, interesting origins, and the stories and characters that made it what it is today. And I don’t mean just trotting out Nolan Bushnell again and again (although he is great in his own way), but getting Shigeru Miyamoto out there to give us a sense of where we started and have come. Putting Will Wright out there to share with us his rocket scientist vision of the future of games. Hauling out Jordan Mechner to put the upcoming Prince of Persia movie in perspective–and not just his happiness at its acknowledgement. What about getting Ken Levine on stage to show us his quirky brilliance? Or having David Jaffe up there? That man’s blog is a world of entertainment.

With a better mixture of video game talent, more relevant Hollywood talent (Jake Gyllenhaal, Jack Black = good; Tyson, Jersey Shore = bad), a perspective, and a smart host, the VGAs could really be something worthy of the industry it represents. As it is, the VGAs are just a sideshow in Hollywood’s ongoing carnival.

Check this story for the show’s full list of winners (a lot of news stories out there show incomplete lists).

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Modern Warfare 2: Survival of the Fittest

I read Edge-Online every day. I could read Kotaku, JoyStiq, Destructoid, IGN, GameSpot, or several other sites (and I often do), but I subscribed to the email newsletter at Edge one day and I’ve become semi hooked.

Yes, semi-hooked doesn’t sound terribly convincing. Every site gets the news, some early, some later, but they all get it. What I enjoy about Edge-online is its columnists, and today’s column by Chris Dahlen, “Survival of the Fittest,” is an insightful, erudite piece that puts Modern Warfare’s gritty story in perspective.

Like a Bond film, Modern Warfare 2 moves faster than most people can breathe. It’s incredible action sequence after incredible action sequence, interrupted only by loading screens that tell the compressed story. When you finally pull up for air, your skin is tingling, your mind awash in violent kill-or-be-killed scenes, and your fingers twitching. It’s an amazing feeling, actually.  Like a rocket-fueled roller-coaster that you control is implanted into your nervous system, plus five cups of coffee, and one cigarette for balance.

But what about that story? Dahlen looks at the game and sees it as a conscientious example of story-telling sans a moral kilter, without a rudder, or even a little Jimity Cricket strolling in once in a while to say, “Hey, if you do that awful thing, people are going to die and that’s not good.”

Modern Warfare I and now 2 are Infinity Ward’s way of saying goodbye to its former self, to World War II, to its originator, Medal of Honor, see you fucking later–and flipping them the bird, the California high sign.  IW has swallowed enough of all of that World War II morality stuff. In the post-Bush era, the United States has tortured people, it’s attacked Iraq, watched as Baghdad’s stores, shops, and buildings were ransacked by its own people, and then, years later, sent in private companies to pay off government officials. It’s hunting terrorists overseas and in its own backyard, and isn’t looked at as a moral leader as clearly and cleanly as it once was. Pardon me for sounding like a conspiratorial lefty, I’m not really, but we don’t live in 1944 anymore. We live in 2009. The US isn’t exactly the same country it was in WWII. And World War II was different than most wars because there was a clear enemy and it was really evil.  It was because of unspeakably evil things conducted by Nazi Germany that we could take the moral highground–and savor it.

Infinity Ward’s story is based on elite militants hunting unscrupulous terrorists. There is no savoring to be done, no relaxing, just the frantic scramble for air. As the story unfolds, we learn that the only way to fight fire with fire is to imitate the unscrupulous bastards, to become more bad-ass–or in this case, more fit–using every possible weapon in our power to catch and thwart them. The victor gets to write history as the game says, and like Malcolm X said, the winner must use “whatever means necessary.” With Activision’s news today’s of the game’s worldwide sales of $550 million in five days (approximately 8.5-9 million units), it appears that most folks agree.

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Alpha Protocol Slips to June 2010

Like Heavy Rain, BioShock 2, Red Dead Redemption, Bayonetta,  Darksiders, and Singularity before it, Sega’s Alpha Protocol has been pushed back into 2010, according to EBGames.com.AlphaProtocolBoxart

Sega’s “espionage RPG,” was due to ship on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 on October 27. Sega has placed ads for its fall release in several magazines, including a noticeably large three-page ad in the review section of the November issue of PlayStation: The Official Magazine.

Within the last few days, EBGames has changed the game listing on its schedule. A phone call to Sega produced a “no comment” response, which often is another way of saying, “Yes, that’s true but our hands are tied right now, gotta go!”

Alpha Protocol is a unique mixture of RPG story-telling elements and balls-to-the-wall action developed by traditional RPG creator, Obsidian Entertainment.

With the recession taking a chunk out of game industry sales throughout 2009, the game industry no longer appears as recession proof as it once was. Slower software and hardware sales have scared retailers into believing (and possible correctly) that consumers just won’t spend as much this holiday season, and that only big-name games have a chance.

Analysts predict that there will be practially no gray area in sales, with well-known brand names like Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, Halo 3: ODST, and the likes taking the lion’s share, while lesser known games and new IPs will fare poorly.  This preditction isn’t inevitable, but it’s likely Sega felt that it’s intricate new IP, Alpha Protocol, had just better step out Modern Warfare 2’s way.  Too bad, too. I was really looking forward to playing it this fall.

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