It's the end of March again so gamers and game devs alike are watching (or attending) the big Game Developers Conference being held downtown this week that the Moscone Center. And while the conference is brimming with talks and booths and announcements, the real juicy bits for those of us stuck on the outside -- tickets can cost as much as $2,000 -- was the games awards. And while the ceremonies themselves are open to the public, wading through the red-shirted GDC security sans badge feels a little like waiting for the sharks to pounce.
Once inside there are two award ceremonies held at the conference every year, the Game Developers Choice (GDC) awards and the Indie Game Festival (IGF) awards. The who's who of the industry were all there, but with fewer red carpets, little glamor and none of the glitz of a typical celebrity awards event.
The awards were hosted by local video game legend Tim Schafer of Double Fine. Steve Russell, the inventor of SpaceWar and video games as a whole, received a standing ovation for his Pioneer Award. He responded to the crowd's affection with choked-up, heartfelt gratitude. John Riccitiello, former CEO of Electronic Arts, handed out lifetime achievement awards to Ray Muzyka, co-founder of BioWare, and Greg Zeschuk, a former Electronic Arts VP.
Journey, an atmospheric co-op game focused on nonverbal communication with a total stranger, swept the field this year's GDC awards. It garnered not just Game of the Year, but Best Game Design, Best Visual Arts, Best Audio, Best Downloadable Game, and the Innovation Award as well. Journey's successes came as a shock to no one. It won several other game of the year awards and came from the same developers (thatgamecompany in Santa Monica) who created the wildly popular and groundbreaking Flower.
The IGF was topped by a game unknown to most outside the conference. Cart Life, a surprising and well-written game about small town street vendors, drew in the Seumas McNally Grand Prize ($30,000), the Nuovo Award ($5,000), and the Excellence in Narrative Award ($3,000). The cash prizes are an obvious boon to the tiny Seattle-based team led by Richard Hofmeier, but the publicity, potential for increased sales, and even funding opportunities may far outstrip the prize money in the future.
The game tells a story of social stratification through the mechanics of a retail simulator. The black and white world has players mixing bagel dough, folding newspapers, and talking to customers. Before you jump to "how could this possibly be any more boring," it gets better. Not only do players have to manage the orders and moods of their customers, a trope common to the genre, but they are also responsible for satisfying the unique addictions of each of the playable characters. Customers piling up? So is the need for a smoke break. Just like any real world addiction, the longer you wait the stronger the urge becomes.