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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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The Best Original Games of 2009 (On VentureBeat)

Franchises. Sequels. Big summer movie games. Despite the glut of that familiar games that crowds retail shelves each year, gamers witnessed a respectable outpouring of original titles in 2009. Developers know that making a new intellectual property isn’t easy, and most publishers won’t take risks on them often. But creators, executives, and gamers all know the reward of making a successful original game is worth the most satisfying endeavor. After all, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, Grand Theft Auto IV, even New Super Mario Bros. Wii were all once original gamess. Here are my picks for the best new original games of 2009.

Who made the cut? Check VentureBeat.com for the full story.

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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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Game Critics Hail Uncharted, Scribblenauts, Modern Warfare 2 at E3

Uncharted2

In the wake of the best and biggest E3 in three years, the Game Critics Awards organization unveiled its E3 Awards today, hailing Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 2: Among Thieves with three nods, the best overall, best console, and best action-adventure game of show. Newcomer developer 5th Cell ‘s imaginative Scribblenauts won two awards, for best original and best handheld game.

Following a slew of online site awards (IGN, GameSpot, GamePro, 1Up, GameSpy, Joystiq, GameTrailers, Yahoo, G4, and my own GameInsano awards), which corralled and focused gamers’ attention on the front-runners, The Game Critics put the exclamation point on the show. Electronic Arts walked away with four awards out of 21 nominees, for Star Wars: The Old Republic (Best PC Game), Mass Effect 2 (Best Role-Playing Game), Fight Night Round 4 (Best Sports Game), and Left 4 Dead 2 (Best Online Multiplayer).

Sony Computer Entertainment America garnered the second-highest number of wins with three–all going to Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.  Naughty Dogs’ game was the most awarded game overall and nabbed all of Sony’s awards out of 13 nominations.  Apparently, the mere 545,000 units the game sold-through since its 2007 release in the U.S. don’t mean a thing to game critics, who acclaimed Uncharted 2 for its epic scale, impressive graphics, and new multiplayer components.

Activision garnered 10 nominations and took home awards for Modern Warfare 2 and DJ Hero, with Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare 2 winning Best Action Game and DJ Hero winning for Best Social/Casual/Puzzle Game.

Unfortunately, the Game Critics organization doesn’t have a DLC category, which it should. That award should go to Chair Entertainment’s Shadow Complex, an exclusive Xbox 360 action-adventure game due this summer.

See the full list of winners below:

Best of Show
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
(Naughty Dog/Sony Computer Entertainment America for PlayStation 3)

Best Original Game
Scribblenauts
(5TH Cell/Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment for Nintendo DS)

Best Console Game
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
(Naughty Dog/Sony Computer Entertainment America for PlayStation 3)

Best PC Game
Star Wars: The Old Republic
(BioWare Austin/LucasArts)

Best Handheld Game
Scribblenauts
(5TH Cell/Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment for Nintendo DS)

Best Hardware/Peripheral
“Project Natal”
(Microsoft for Xbox 360)

Best Action Game
Modern Warfare 2
(Infinity Ward/Activision for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC)

Best Action/Adventure Game
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
(Naughty Dog/Sony Computer Entertainment America for PlayStation 3)

Best Role Playing Game
Mass Effect 2
(BioWare/Electronic Arts for Xbox 360, PC)

Best Racing Game
Split/Second
(Black Rock/Disney Interactive Studios for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC)

Best Sports Game
Fight Night Round 4
(EA Canada/EA Sports for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)

Best Fighting Game
Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars
(Eighting/Capcom for Nintendo Wii)

Best Strategy Game
Supreme Commander 2
(Gas Powered Games/Square-Enix for Xbox 360, PC)

Best Social/Casual/Puzzle
DJ Hero
(Freestyle/Red Octane/Activision for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii)

Best Online Multiplayer
Left 4 Dead 2
(Valve/EAP for Xbox 360, PC)

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E3 2009: Top 10 Best Games at E3

With the video game consoles somewhere in the middle of their theoretical five-year cycle (I did say theoretical), this year’s Electronics Entertainment Exposition showcased almost exactly what it should: loads of new software.

Yes, we watched Microsoft and Sony unveil their own wireless remotes, which will more than likely serve to extend the current generation consoles to well beyond their five or six-year paths. But given the fact that, with the exception of Nintendo, neither Sony nor Microsoft has made solid inroads into reaping the benefits of software sales match their expenditures on hardware, they are hell bent on issuing as much hardware-pushing games as possible.

Infinty Ward does not disappoint.

Infinity Ward does not disappoint.

In selecting my top 10 games, I could have easily picked all Xbox 360 and PS3 games, for there are enough good sequels to make the grade. And I could have picked all shooters and action games. But there are some different games coming out that I was taken by, and I feel like taking chances, doing something even slightly new, is worth rewarding, which is why I picked the games I picked. All of the games I selected were playable, either by myself or someone else and are presented in descending order.

Heavy Rain doesn't always provide a happy ending.

Heavy Rain doesn't always provide a happy ending.

10. Heavy Rain (System: PS3; Release Date: early 2010; Publisher: Sony; Developer: Quantic Dream): I watched a full 45-minute presentation of this game given by writer and director David Cage and saw characters Norman Jayden and Madison Page go through their scenarios. I was particularly taken when the chose the death path of Jayden; this choice gave the game some finality, some real repercussions, and it made the whole thing feel much different than any other game on the show floor. It’s great to see Sony supporting this kind of game, which is way off the narrow path of action games and shooters.

9. Brutal Legend (System: PS3, Xbox 360, PC; Release Date: October 2009; Publisher: EA; Developer: Double Fine): You know, every time I see this game it gets funnier and crazier. I don’t actually think the game play is all that modern or will be totally sophisticated-stunning in the technical way that, say, Modern Warfare will be. But the writing will be top notch, the scenarios will be ridiculously funny and outrageous, and the story will be better than entertaining. So for whatever reasons it might not match up technically, I am already willing to forgive it because I know it’s too fucking funny to not own.

8. Borderlands (System: PC, PS3, Xbox 360; Release Date: October 2009; Publisher: Take-Two; Developer: Gearbox): I had yet to see this game until my Thursday visit, and wow, I was surprised and excited. Not everyone in the demo was, but I have to say that it’s difficult to get excited about any game on the final day at 3 pm, one hour before the show shuts down. Still, the progression system looks awesome, the new graphical treatment is less realistic and “hardcore,” but it’s also more distinct. Also, this game is funny as shit: Animals are named “Bad-ass,” and dudes have their skull plates flying off and their brains bursting into the air. When enemies die, they yell out the most heinous and hilarious death screams. There is something weird, goofy, and irreverent about Borderlands that makes me lust for it.

DJ Hero: Activision's biggest gamble or biggest jackpot?

DJ Hero: Activision's biggest gamble or biggest jackpot?

7. DJ Hero (System: PS3, Xbox 360; Release Date: September 2009; Publisher: Activision; Developer: Freestyle Games): I am still uncertain whether anybody will buy this thing. It could end up buried in the Western desert next to ET. But it could also succeed beyond everyone’s wild dreams. Truth is, DJ Hero is a wild card. No screenshots can make this game look any more appealing or exciting. For me, I had to watch someone play this, checking both the screen and his hands, to see just how it all came together. I walked out of the demo thinking yes, this might be complicated, but the hardware was so cool that I felt, not thought, “I must have DJ Hero.” I also love the fact that all of the mixes were made for the game, and that you can hook up a guitar and play along with scratching. Effing rad.

6. BioShock II (System: PC, PS3, Xbox 360; Release Date: November 2009; Publisher: Take-Two; Developer: 2K Marin): I kinda just picked this because I have faith that 2K Marin will take what was easily the most original, haunting, and brilliant new IP of 2007 and not screw it up. I’m not certain I want to be the prototype Big Daddy, but on the other hand I do want to fight the Big Sister mano-a-mano. I just hope they can create the nasty weirdness that permeated the original game. The demo looked rocking. It was pretty, full of wonderful watery images, you’ll have to defend the creepy Little Sisters; plus, the new mixture of attacks, like little tornadoes and fire blasts, looks great.

5. New Super Mario Bros. Wii (System: Wii; Release Date: Fall 2009; Publisher: Nintendo; Developer: Nintendo): Wow, I got my hands on this on Thursday and had a hard time putting the controller down. The addition of cooperative multiplayer is simultaneously both impressive and unimpressive. It’s not like anyone else has done this before–many, many developers have! But when Shigeru Miyamoto does something like add cooperative multiplayer functionality to a side-scrolling Mario game, he always executes it with such imagination and skill that it’s almost always brilliant. This game is just pure, unadulterated joy and it’s a must-have Wii title.

Cooperative multiplayer Mario is more fun than you can imagine.

Cooperative multiplayer Mario is more fun than you can imagine.

4. Rock Band: The Beatles (System: PS3, Xbox 360, Wii; Release Date: September 9, 2009; Publisher: MTV Games; Developer: Harmonix): So I’ll admit this upfront: I am a Beatles fan and have been since I was six. I did a survey of about 10 people and most the result was split: Some people didn’t care (and they skewed a little younger and didn’t care about the Beatles much), while others loved this game (skewed a little older–30s, 40s, and liked the Beatles). Whether you’re a fan or not, these things seem to be self-evident: The Beatles are one of the most popular rock bands ever; their songs are copied, sung, and re-recorded for albums, commercials, and movies every year, and this game will sell tons of hardware because casual players will buy a system just to play Rock Band The Beatles. Only Rock Band Led Zeppelin or Rock Band Jimi Hendrix would get me as excited as this.

God of War III looks like it's in excellent hands.

God of War III looks like it's in excellent hands.

3. God of War III (System: PS3; Release Date: March 2010; Publisher: Sony; Developer: Sony Santa Monica): As Jake Blues said in the Blues Brothers movie, “Holy shit!” If one game ever looked as good and played as good as its original, it’s God of War III. The demo shown at Sony’s booth was just plain awesome. The new ramming maneuver–grab an enemy and use him as a ram to mop up crowds of enemies– is incredibly fun to play, and as are the flaming arrows. Just like BioShock 2, my feeling about this game is more from the gut than from the brain. It’s like I just have to play it. There is very little thinking involved. And having seen the GDC and the E3 demo of Dante’s Inferno–which is good–and now having seen God of War III, at this point, there isn’t much comparison. God of War III is my pick.

Naughty Dog completely rewrote its graphics engine and the result is extraordinary.

Naughty Dog completely rewrote its graphics engine and the result is extraordinary.

2. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (System: PS3; Release Date: September; Publisher: Sony; Developer: Naughty Dog): Naughty Dog’s first Uncharted was not fully appreciated for its subtle strengths and hidden gifts. How many games these days throw characters that talk and act and remain ordinary into heroic situations? The story and dialogue in Drake’s Fortune was exquisite and subtle. And sure, the puzzles were kinda easy, but did you actually use the melee system? For an adventure game, it rocked. Actually against most action games, it rocked. Among Thieves switches out the cliff sides and switches in dilapidated buildings, crumbling villages, and gives you rooftops and helicopter chases that are just amazing to watch, not to mention play. That, and the addition of multiplayer should wake up a few million people and let them understand why they should own a PlayStation 3.

Modern Warfare 2 gets my vote for best game at E3 2009.

Modern Warfare 2 gets my vote for best game at E3 2009.

1. Modern Warfare 2 (System: PC, PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii; Release Date: November 10, 2009; Publisher: Activision; Developer: Infinity Ward): I feel a little queasy picking a sequel and a first-person shooter published by the sequel machine, Activision, for my top game. And if Modern Warfare 2 wasn’t made by one of the best developers in the world, I would feel a little sad, a little pathetic inside. But I don’t. The quick demo I watched at the Microsoft conference was followed up by a bigger, more interesting one behind closed doors at Activision’s booth, and it’s pretty obvious that this game is going to slay everything that comes close to it this fall. For a game that started as a WWII first-person shooter, Infinity Ward has created what looks and feels like the modern world James Bond game — the one that EA never made. The one that most developers only wish they could make. From the brilliant snow drift that clouds the air to the more open-world design to the ice picks used to stop snowmobiling enemies to the brisk downhill snowmobile ride itself, Modern Warfare in just a 10-minute demo convinced me right quick that few other games were going to match it at the show. And when all was said and done, and the three days of demos were over, no other game did.

Top Five Honorable Mentions

How many words can you think of that start with A?

How many words can you think of that start with A?

5. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (System: Wii; Release Date: fall 2009; Publisher: Konami; Developer: Climax Studios): Yes, the Silent Hill series is old, and when I saw this demoed at Konami’s Gamer Day in March, I was still unconvinced. At E3 I got to play it, and that changed everything. The smooth responsive controls, the instant reactions of the flashlight and gun, and the amazingly simple yet surprising real world puzzles energize this former limping series with new life. This is going to be an excellent holiday season to own a Wii.

4. Homefront (System: PC, PS3, Xbox 360; Release Date: 2010; Publisher: THQ; Developer: Kaos): On the second and third day of E3 2009 I must have seen one hundred billion action games and first-person shooters, which made it tough to remember one from another. But for all of the me-too stuff that THQ does, Homefront looked different. Based in a not to distant future and using the energy crisis to set its stage, players take on a ragtag resistance group of Americans fighting against an occupied USA. Taking notions from Frontlines: Fuel of War and building them into a bigger, badder first-person shooter, Kaos has made something very worth your while.

3. Scribblenauts (System: DS; Release Date: fall 2009; Publisher: Warner Bros. ; Developer: 5th Cell): Weird, surprising, and original, this should prove to be one of those breakthrough titles we’ll all look back on fondly and say, I remember when… The game’s hand-drawn graphics are basic but charming. The premise is simple, too. But it’s the massive database of recognizable words that is so cleverly incorporated into the gameplay that captures the imagination, something much needed in today’s rather familiar landscape of game concepts.

As you can see, Rocksteady Games has captured the essense of the characters in the Batman universe.

As you can see, Rocksteady Games has captured the essence of the characters in the Batman universe.

2. Batman Arkham Asylum (System: PS3, Xbox 360; Release Date: Summer 2009; Publisher: Eidos/Warner Bros.; Developer: Rocksteady Studios): Although I only played through the first 20 minutes of the game, what excited and please me most about this new Batman endeavor had everything to do with the way in which Rocksteady Games captured the essence of the Batman universe, from the character models to Arkham Asylum to the voice actors of Batman and the Joker themselves. This looked and felt like a Batman game; and there are very few Batman games one can say that about.

1. Shadow Complex (System: Xbox 360 DLC; Release Date: Summer 2009; Publisher: Microsoft; Developer: Chair Entertainment): This “little DLC game” is going to be the biggest and coolest new game on the system. It’s about five times as big as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and will weigh in at 500 MBs, a monstrous size for a DLC game. And the foam gun? Lovely, just lovely. The level of exploration, the amount of weapon acquisition, and the range of combat all come together beautifully in this game.

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E3 2009: My Top Five Most Wanted

assassinscreed2Four years after Microsoft jump-started the then-“next generation” of consoles, the video game industry has evolved in ways we just didn’t expect or foresee, from the DS’s and Wii’s explosive market dominance to the Apple iPhone’s game store to Sony’s difficult, third-place entrance.

This year’s E3 2009 will be more than a blip on the industry’s radar screen with what appears to be a handful of new hardware devices (PSP Go!), Microsoft’s and Sony’s Wii-wand counter devices, and highly anticipated games, from The Beatles Rock Band and DJ Hero, to BioShock 2, Borderlands, a possible new Kojima game, a potential Zelda title, and new offerings from more than 100 developers.

What do I want to see? Well, there are more than just five games (sorry, too many good ones to leave off my list), and here they are:

The Beatles Rock Band: In my mind this has the potential for being the most accessible, most sought-after music game ever. Because the Beatles’ music is so ever-green, singable, and diverse, everyone can pick up and play the songs on this game. Let’s hope MTV will publish the solo game separately from the game that comes with the instruments.

DJ Hero: The biggest wild card of the show, Activision’s dive into the music world with a turntable could prove either huge or disappointing. I would like to think it will become a massive success, opening up more musical games for gamers and wanna-be musicians. But I just don’t know how many people will truly jump on this. It’s success might take a few years. This risk reminds me of Activision’s embrace of the extreme sports world with its H2O division–which produced some great games, but ultimately only Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater survived it all.

BioShock 2: Looking forward to it and how 2K Marin can take the concept and continue the energy and creativity of the first’s narrative and gameplay and build on it in a natural way. Even if BioShock 2 is just as good but no better than BioShock 1, that smells like success to me.

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Alpha Protocol: Obsidian Entertainment comprises more than a handful of smart RPG-loving kids from the old Interplay days of RPG supremacy, so this original new RPG should prove to be interesting, story-heavy, and fun at the very least.

Mass Effect 2: More alien lovemaking scenes, oh please? No really. I hardly have the patience for RPGs, so when I’m interested in a game like this, well, I don’t want to say it’s got to be good, but I’m saying something really close.

God of War III: The King Kong of action games is back for bigger, more insane scenarios and boss fights in the time of the Greek gods. There is very little not to like about this original, smartly designed games.

Assassin’s Creed 2: I’m looking forward to this in the same way that I appreciate ballet but have no deep interest in it. Assassin’s Creed was a pain in the ass of a game–however pretty it was–and I’m hoping this one will take the action farther and the make playing it more fun.

Alien Vs. Predator: Even if this game is just exactly what I think it is–aliens, predators and marines killing themselves in decent FPS–I’ll take it. The console world needs a some aliens and predator love, and if it’s even a decent game, I’m sure that it will be better than Turok. Oh, burn!

Bayonetta: The second and third Devil May Cry games were, respectively, terrible, and ridiculously hard, and the concept has grown old. Bayonetta looks like the new kid on the block with a heavy Japanese design (plus a female lead character), and the gameplay looks like it has potential.

The Conduit: Yes, a fun, serious FPS on Wii–with multiplayer!

New Wii Zelda: You might think that I have run out of things to write about,but no, a new Zelda game is always something to get excited about. Always.

Infinity Ward's Modern Warfare 2 shirks the Call of Duty moniker.

Infinity Ward's Modern Warfare 2 shirks the Call of Duty moniker.

Modern Warfare II: Yeah, you played Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. You know what Infinity Ward can do. You’ve seen the NBA Finals advertisements. So yeah, it’s a no-brainer, must-have game.

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