GDC 11: Awards Ceremony Recap

After suffering through a decidedly subpar Oscars, I was skeptical of the Independent Games Festival Awards and the Game Developers Choice¬† Awards — twinned heads of the two-hour-long beast of celebration and remuneration that concluded the third day of GDC 2011.

I needn’t have worried. The show was everything that the Oscars weren’t: funny, genuine, full of humility, and meticulously on time. Held in the convention center’s gigantic D Hall, which could comfortably contain three or four 747′s, the event welcomed its audience with salvos of truly wretched electronic music, obviously meant to be somehow “gamer-friendly.” The DJ, who was named at one point during the show, may well be a gamer himself — even a luminary among gamers. From the perspective of this humble game writer, he was peddling audio filth.

Seating was divided, as the world is, between the have and have-nots, with a classy dinner-and-a-show style area roped off for the bigwigs, household names, and nominees, none of whom, it should be said, bothered to dress up any more than they would have for a trip to see their favorite indie rock band. Hoi polloi occupied the endless battalions of stacking chairs that had been set up to accommodate the keynote earlier that day.

The Independent Games Festival Awards kicked off proceedings, and host Anthony Carboni, normally of Bytejacker, proved a charismatic presence, full of wit, charm, and a number of unexpectedly solid gags. “I haven’t been in a room with this many talented developers,” he deadpanned, “since my community college was last hiring adjunct professors.” His humorous presentation was abetted by online video makers Mega64, who contributed a number of spoof and parodic videos throughout the proceedings.

A game called Amnesia: The Dark Descent cleaned house, taking home a clear majority of the awards in the IGF category. I’ll admit to not having played it, or even heard of it until right¬† before its gracious Scandinavian devs took the stage to accept their first accolade (being Scandinavian was very in this year.) Minecraft also took home its first two awards during this part of the ceremony — designer Magnus Persson took to the stage early and often — his black fedora soon seemed like it belonged up there amid the giant LED screens.

A list of all the IGF Award Winners follows:

  • Best Student Game: Fract (University of Montreal)
  • Technical Excellence: Amnesia — The Dark Descent
  • Mobile Gaming: Helsing’s Fire
  • Excellence in Design: Desktop Dungeons
  • Excellence in Visual Art: Bit.Trip Runner
  • Best Audio:Amnesia the Dark Descent
  • Audience Award: Minecraft
  • Vision Award: Amnesia: The Dark Descent
  • Nuovo Award (for Innovation and Experimentation): Nidhogg
  • Grand Prize: Minecraft

The ceremony continues on the next page with the Game Developers Choice Awards.

With the Indie side of things concluded, gaming legend Tim Schafer took the stage to host the 13th annual Game Developers Choice Awards. Dressed for the occasion in a well-tailored tuxedo, the former LucasArts maestro and current Double Fine president presented a more subdued, sarcastic aspect than Carboni, but his jokes were no less funny. His intention since youth, he explained, was to win awards. Awards, unfortunately, are difficult to win — sports trophies require physical fitness. Nobel Peace Prizes require a commitment to peace. Acting awards require paying attention to your physical fitness. “Isn’t there an award…” Schafer wondered aloud, ” that I can win while leading a sedentary lifestyle, glorifying violence, and letting my appearance go to hell?”

There definitely is. As the Game Developers Choice Awards continued, more Schafer jokes, Mega64 videos, and Minecraft victories ensued. Mass Effect picked up a well deserved trophy in the writing category, but Red Dead Redemption was clearly leading the pack. As Magnus Persson and the Red Dead team were continually called to the stage, they had less and less to say — this was less awkward, though than it sounds. Limbo, despite being represented in almost every category, only took home one award, for Visual Art, although that was by far its strongest aspect.

The program culminated in a number of special accolades. The two leaders of GDC’s Conference Associates program, Tim Brengle and Ian Mackenzie, received the Ambassador Award for philanthropy which, though clearly well-deserved, felt oddly self-congratulatory. The statesmanlike Yu Suzuki accepted the Pioneer Award for being, well a pioneer, appearing in an admirably self-deprecating Mega64 extravaganza that created a hypothetical ending for the Japanese designer’s unfinished Shenmue saga (at one point, flatulence enables a character to escape the grasp of terrestrial gravity.) Peter Molyneux, plummy British accent and all, accepted the lifetime achievement award with humility and grace. Red Dead Redemption, as it has done in earlier 2010 awards extravaganzas, took home the top prize.

One final flourish awaited us after all the awards had been dispensed. Presumably in lieu of a fee for Schafer, the trailer for Double Fine’s new downloadable title Trenched played on the big screen (read more about it here). Sated, feted, and confident in the ascendancy and power of games as both an entertainment medium and lifestyle, we staggered into the cool San Francisco night

GDCA Awards in full:

  • Best Audio: Red Dead Redemption
  • Best Debut Game: Minecraft
  • Best Writing: Mass Effect 2
  • Best Game Design: Red Dead Redemption
  • Best Downloadable Game: Minecraft
  • Best Visual Art: Limbo
  • Best Technology: Red Dead Redemption
  • Best Handheld Game: Cut the Rope
  • Innovation Award: Minecraft
  • Ambassador Award: Tim Brengle and Ian Mackenzie
  • Pioneer Award: Yu Suzuki
  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Peter Molyneux
  • Game of the Year: Red Dead Redemption

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