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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: Microsoft Delivers Project Natal, The Beatles, Halo Reach, and Forza 3 at Media Briefing

Microsoft held its E3 2009 news briefing at 10:30 am Monday at the USC Galen Center on a three-screen stage lit with its trademark green circle design and delivered its much rumored hands-free controller, along with a top-notch lineup of 15-plus games, 10 of which are exclusive to the system. (See shots of the conference, including Beatles people here.)

Microsoft kicked off its 2-hour conference with Harmonix’s Rock Band The Beatles (due 9.09.09 on Xbox 360 and PS3). The developed showed the first-ever footage from Rock Band The Beatles from flash graphic-style cutscenes to a full band set up including three singers, guitarist, drummer, and basist, demoed by the Harmonix’s house band, and followed up with guest appearances by the last remaining Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.

Carefully crafting the order and games for its conference to mix both casual and mainstream efforts with hardcore titles, Microsoft sent Pro skater Tony Hawk to the stage to demo Tony Hawk’s Ride replete with developer Robo Moto’s wireless skateboard controller (due fall 2009 on Xbox 360 and PS3).

Tony Hawk’s Ride was followed by in-game footage of Modern Warfare 2, which will enable gamers to ride and shoot enemies from snowmobiles (due 11.01.09 on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360), Final Fantasy XIII (with in-game footage including a summons spell calling “Odin” to fight alongside you; due spring 2010), and in-game footage from Donald Mustard’s new Shadow Complex, a sidescrolling action adventure game inspired by GI Joe and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (due summer 09).

Microsoft then demoed the free avatar racing game Joy Ride (winter 2009), a GC presentation of Crackdown 2 (which looks to feature big, nasty bosses who are much stronger than you), a CG video of Left4Dead2 (see L4D.com), an in-game video presentation of the exclusive Xbox 360 and PC game, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction (due fall 2009), and the not-so-surprising Turn 10 game, Forza 3–which Producer Dan Greenawalt said four times is “The definitive racing game of this era.”

Bungie Studios’ writer Joe Staten then introduced the first in-game footage of Halo ODST, which falls between Halo 1 and Halo 2 and puts gamers in the shoes of a non-Spartan military special ops team called Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODST), who, when collecting various articles on his journey, initiates flashback story chapters to tell the story. Halo ODST introduces a few gadgets such as the returning Halo 1 pistol, a scanning visor, two sound suppressed weapons, and a rocket launcher. Halo ODST includes the co-op mode Firefight, and is due September 22 worldwide on Xbox 360. Staten also revealed Halo Reach, which was only shown in video and is due on fall 2010. Staten explained that when you pre-order Halo ODST, you’ll automatically be invited to participate in the Halo Reach beta.

Remedy finally showed Alan Wake, which still isn’t coming out this year (due spring 2010), but its very pretty, polished-looking adventure-horror game featuring tons of lighting effects issued from flashlights and flares.

Microsoft then announced a slew of partnerships to bolster its multimedia prowess. It announced it has partnered with Last.fm, an online music service that has a subscription of 30 million users worldwide, which will be free for all Gold Members. Following that it’s improved its Netflix service, eliminating the need to use the PC to browse for movies and now enables players to instantly connect to movies without wait times. Microsoft also announced a partnership with SkyTV, which will benefit folks in the UK and Ireland to be able to watch live TV shows from their Xbox 360s such as Premiere League Football.

For all those who thought the Zune as gone and dead, it’s not. Zune Video enables Xbox 360 users to see 1080p videos “without discs, delays or downloading, using what MS called its “Instant On 1080 HD streaming service.

Microsoft didn’t stop there. It then announced it’s partnered with Facebook and Twitter, both of which can be used directly on Xbox 360. FaceBook on Xbox 360 enables players to post pictures directly to their 360s; both services are due in fall 2009.

Finally, and perhaps biggest of all was the announcement of Project Natal, a demo driven by designer Kudo Tsunoda and endorsed on-stage by Stephen Spielberg and Lionhead Studios’ Peter Molyneux. Tsunoda showed how Microsoft is taking the Wii controller idea and attempting to take it to the next level of controller-less games by eliminating the controller all together. Project Natal enables consumers to use voice recognition, facial recognition, and motion sensing technology to grant gamers the ability to scroll iPhone-style through the dashboard and pick movies, launch games, or turn off or on their 360s with a gesture. Gamers can play 3D breakout-style games (MS called this game Ricochet) by using their hands to hit and their feet to kick in coming balls, as well as create painted objects on virtual canvases (Paint Party).

Paint Party brought the biggest laughs, however, as the crude painting looked more like Jackson Pollack style abstract expressionism, and the shadow game elephant that was demoed on screen, while fun, also brought on uncontrolled laughter from the audience (as it showed male and female demo-ers bent over to imitate an elephant eating). Tsunoda also showed how the Mii-like avatar that Microsoft introduced last year is now fully useable as a movement controlled avatar onscreen, who looks like and mimics your movements.

Microsoft concluded its conference by showing a Lionhead game temporarily called Milo, which uses the Project Natal technology and showed how users could interact with a crude artificial intelligence “boy” who recognizes the user, speaks to the user, “understands” the users voice textures, and hands users things on the screen. Conceptually, Project Natal is a brilliant idea that was easily the most impressive aspect of the entire Microsoft briefing. The hard part, however, will be executing the concept in a way that works seamlessly and believably. Mattrick added that the technology will work with all games that have been released in the past on Xbox 360 and all games in the future. Tsunoda said the techo demos are shipping now out to developers and publishers.

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