Cowboys and mining big winners at GDC game awards

Random Errors

Jeremy Smith / Sun Star Columnist
March 8, 2011

I’m not a big video or PC gamer. There, I said it. But here is the rub, I love games. When people talk about games, I know as much as if I was one of the hardcore players. Level design, Easter eggs, key plot moments and pop-culture shout-outs are all a part of my gaming knowledge. Naturally, people assume I play a lot. I really don’t. I play maybe one or two games a week, and one of them is usually a simple match-3 puzzle (ala “Bejeweled”) or an “Angry Birds”-esque toss-the-thing-at-the-thing game. I guess I’m more of a video game voyeur than an honest player… I like to watch.

Perhaps “gaming evangelist” or “interactive digital theorist” are more fitting descriptions than “gamer” for me. That’s why I follow the gaming awards, because it’s a great way to just see at a glance titles I may have failed to notice over the previous year.

The Game Developer’s Conference (GDC) has been active for more than 25 years and is the gaming equivalent of the Oscars crossed with a learning-track conference. Heavy hitters from the gaming industry, Will Wright (“The Sims”), Peter Molyneux (“Fable”) and Sid Meier (“Civilization”) are all in attendance, often leading discussions regarding what direction is next for games. Start-up companies often show off beta (unstable), alpha (really unstable) or even pre-alpha (napkin drawings) code of their newest idea in the hopes of not only snaring new talent, but potentially finding a publishing sugar daddy to make their electro dreams come true. Among people in the gaming industry, the GDC has historically been where you go to get things done and get your game made.

Ten years ago, the GDC began their Game Developers Choice Awards by awarding a then unknown development team with the Rookie Studio Award and a game in which none of the characters speak a real language Game of the Year. The studio was the team who created Counter-Strike and the game was “The Sims.” The GDC has always been a pretty good forecaster at picking titles that really stand the test of time, and this year’s awards I almost completely agree with.

My favorite game of all time, “Red Dead Redemption” (which is like an interactive spaghetti western), took home Best Audio, Best Technology, Best Game Design, and Game of the Year. Newcomer Majong studios won Best Downloadable, Best Debut and the Innovation Award for their title “Minecraft,” which was made by one person. The game isn’t even out of beta yet, but it has hundreds of thousands of players traveling its blocky 8-bit terrain, smashing trees and pigs with their digital fists, in a completely open and randomly generated world.

A creepy and atmospheric Xbox 360 game called “Limbo” won the award for Best Visual Arts, in part to its black and white presentation and the marionette-like movement of the main character. Space action/role-playing epic “Mass Effect 2” won for Best Writing (agreed) and “Cut the Rope” is apparently the Best Handheld Game. That’s the only one I don’t agree with. It should have been “Angry Birds.” Of course, I haven’t played it. Hmm, it might be time for a download.

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