GDC 2008: The Awards


I almost asked for my money back. Then I remembered I hadn’t paid to get in, and, in fact, had been given a juicy “all access” pass, and settled in for the show. Although I was clearly being robbed. Clearly.

For starters, there are few things as bizarre and creepy as internet fame. One of them, however, is being near creepy internet fame. Yahtzee was sitting at our table, which naturally made us the envy of everyone at every other table, so they attempted to right this cosmic wrong by asking to shake his hand all night. Practically all night there were at least one or two people lurking in the background, waiting for their chance to rush him and stick out their hand. Some even asked for autographs.

If you’ve never been near that kind of fame, I can’t recommend it. Not because it’s jealousy-inducing (although it is) but because it’s just plain odd. He’s not quite famous enough to have an entourage of bodyguards (he even had trouble checking in to his hotel), but he’s famous enough that practically everyone at the conference knows who he is without asking. And then barges over to shake his hand.

I have a lot of respect for certain celebrities, and if we happened to be sharing a cab, or were seated near each other in a restaurant, I might say hello, but I don’t know of anyone whose hand I would cross a room to shake. Perhaps I’m out of touch, and I’m definitely not that famous, so who really cares what I have to say on that?

In any case, Yahtzee is that famous, and so his hands were busy being shaken for most of the night. But that’s not why I wanted my money back.

Turns out the Game Developers’ Choice Awards were to be preceded by the Independent Game Festival Awards, and no one had told me. I’d come to see how many awards BioShock had won, not to watch people I hadn’t heard of accept awards for games I’d never played. I was outraged, witty host and humorous videos be damned.

But then something strange happened: I started to see in the independent games being recognized, bits of the mainstream games they could some day become. Portal, after all, had started life not too long ago as an entrant in the IGF, and was now up for Game of the Year at the upscale version, the Choice Awards.

A few awards in, I decided to relax an play along. A few awards after that I was making mental notes to check some of these games out the next time I was near a computer.

World of Goo, for example. A physics-based puzzle game featuring cute, amorphous blobs that looked like the most fun one could have with a mouse without having to close the blinds. Developers 2D Boy won two awards, Technical Excellence and Design Innovation, and unlike at the grown up awards ceremony, IGF awards come with cash prizes.

The big award went to Crayon Physics, a game where you literally draw in crayon to solve puzzles. The creator’s speech was one of the shortest of the night, on either side of the commercial divide. “I want to thank my parents for letting me draw in crayon,” he said, melting the hearts of every girl in the room. Dude, if you’re not getting lucky tonight, it’s your own fault.

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Audiosurf, a game our own Corvus Elrod recently reviewed, brought home the Excellence in Audio award, as well as the Audience Choice award, and Fez, a game featuring a monkey wearing a fez, won the award for Visual Art. In each case, the folks accepting the awards looked like they genuinely appreciated the honor (and the cash), and probably needed both. These were people working on their own, out in the cold, doing it for the love. It made the Choice Awards that followed seem ironically overblown.

Nevertheless, some part of me thrilled at the roar of the crowd and the trill of the band as the Awards proper began. The opening act had been great, but it was time to get to business.

Yahtzee kicked off the evening with the first of his recorded clips. We’ve been getting some guff about these in our forums because we (heaven forfend) bleeped out the swear words, partly by request of GDC, and partly because we happen to think they’re funnier that way. But the audience at GDC loved it. Outside of the folks who made Portal, no one got more applause than Yahtzee.

Host Jason Rubin’s delivery was drier than an off-year pinot, but he gets points for trying. “I’m entering the Billy Crystal stage of my career,” he said, upon taking the stage, and then spent the next hour proving his point. I try hard not to be disrespectful, but man, when you’re upstaged at your own show by a voiced-over cartoon, it’s maybe time to reconsider.

Sid Meier, accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award, threw one back to the IGF folks saying game designers were all “indie” when he was making his bones. “We didn’t have a choice.” He was nevertheless gracious and just as cute as a button.

Ralph Baer took home the Pioneer Award for inventing the first home console and the first console peripheral (you know, that old chestnut) and International Game Developer Association (the organization that used to gather to decide who won the GDC Choice Awards) Executive Director Jason Della Rocca was gifted with the Ambassador Award for his work championing games. He said he thought the highlight of his career was “being called an asshole and an idiot by Jack Thomson,” but he accepted the award nonetheless.

The BioShock team, continuing their winning streak, took home three awards, Best Audio, Best Visual Arts and Best Writing. And Crackdown made a surprise appearance, nominated for Best Debut Game, and pulled the win. Other winners included The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for Best Handheld, fl0w for Best Downloadable and Crysis for Best Technology.

And speaking of Portal, the game won three of the ten awards, Best Design, Innovation and Game of the Year. Erik Wolpaw, accepting for the Innovation award said “If I’d known it would end with me having to get up here and talk in front of all you people, I would have been a lot less innovative.” Stage fright aside, Portal was clearly the audience and awards fave.

Gabe Newell, looking very much the part of a big daddy himself (literally and figuratively) capped the night in the best possible way, producing a haiku, in honor (again) of the IGF folks. Sadly I don’t remember it all, and even if I did, I wouldn’t reproduce it (haiku is very much a poetry of the moment), but it contained a great deal of profanity and ended with the line “the cake is a lie.” The cake may be, but Portal isn’t. And neither is Valve’s knack for sniffing out talent

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