I Actually Watched the VGAs

So you didn't have to...

The annual SpikeTV Video Game Awards show were on tonight and unlike in years past, I actually wanted to watch it this year. Mostly because of the special Gears 2 announcement (new maps available midnight tonight PST), but also because of the Mafia 2 trailer. So I made sure we were home from Christmas shopping in time to watch. I gave myself plenty of time cushion because I had to sort through the hundreds of channels on DirecTV to find out what the hell channel SpikeTV was.

I assure you it wasn't, nor ever will be, in my favorites list.

The show began with a horrendously embarrasing opening musical number of all things that make me hesitate to mention I work in this industry. Jack Black knows no shame. The Gears 2 announcement actually came in the opening minutes -- before Rod and Cliff even accepted the award for "Best Shooter" -- and revealed three new maps. One of them was actually included with the PC version of the original Gears of War, but the other two are new and they look excellent.

Speaking of Best Shooter, the presenter of the award, some UFC guy I think, had the best line of the night when he said, "Well we know the award ain't going to Plaxico Burress." I'm sure the joke went right over the heads of most of the stuffed-in-lockers crowd watching at home, but Kristin and I got a huge laugh out of that one. And it actually seemed a few in the audience did too.

Speaking of which, the audience was seated on couches. A nice classy touch, I thought. Now if only they could get the presenters some envelopes so Doogie Howser doesn't have to stand there like a complete jackass when he forgets the name of the winner. Seriously, he had no idea who won the award and about eight of the most agonizingly long seconds ticked by before the Voice of God blurted out a name. Then again, it was for the Indie Game award so it's not like anyone really cared anyway.

I kid.

The producers of the show made obvious efforts to make this "awards show" more about what was coming out in 2009 (available for pre-order tonight at Gamestop dot com) than what we played in 2008. And by that I mean the highlights of the night were the 20 seconds of pre-rendered, no-way-in-hell-is-it-gameplay-footage promotional videos they showed for games like God of War 3, Fight Night Round 4, GTA IV: something-and-something and a bunch of other shit.

Fight Night Round 4 actually looks pretty good, if only because we can finally play as Mike Tyson back in the era when he was just a rapist and not a face-painted, ear-chewing, child-eating, sideshow. EA is smart to play up the Ali Vs Tyson angle.

Busta Rhymes came on stage to trash-talk pre-rendered trailers and introduced a trailer for Uncharted 2. Okay, so the trailer was all beautiful and rendered within-game-engine. It was still cinematic and wasn't gameplay footage. If it's not player-perspective gameplay footage with HUD, then it's marketing bullshit. I want to see the game advertised as I'll see it when I'm playing it. Everything else should be ignored.

And that includes one of my most-anticipated titles of 2009: Mafia II. The PC version of the original Mafia was one of the best PC games I've ever played (bugs and all) and I'm super excited about the sequel. But there wasn't a millisecond of footage in this trailer that was from player-perspective gameplay. It looked awesome, no doubt about it, but this is a GAME being shown at a game AWARDS show. Either petition the Golden Globes for a special CGI-as-Trailers award or show some damn gameplay!

Before I conclude my rant about the trailers, let me mention the awards for a second. For starters, Pure was robbed. I don't know who the nominees for Best Racing Game were, and if Pure was even nominated, but it should have won it by a mile. On the other hand, I was very happy to see Media Molecule win Best Studio for Little Big Planet. I don't have a PS3 and have never played LBP, but I know about it, I've seen the trailers, I know what the game is capable of and what the goal of the game is and I don't think there was a more ambitious project than LBP, perhaps ever. Then there was the coveted GOTY award. Fallout 3 had already won for Best RPG and Gears of War 2 won Best Shooter and Best Xbox 360 game. That could only mean one thing. You guessed it, GTA IV won Game of the Year. The nominees were all pretty stellar, but I did feel like Fable 2 should have at least been nominated.

But back to the real reason we were all here: the trailers. I wasn't surprised to see/hear no preview of Bioshock 2 at this year's show after Ken Levine was Gamecocked while accepting last year's GOTY, but I was surprised to see the colossal letdown the show wrapped up with. Jack Black, Tim Schaefer, and the dude from Judas Priest were on stage hyping the hell of Brutal Legend. Jack had a flamethrower, Priest was screaching, and Tim Schaefer was apparently there to be martyrd.

How such an incredibly creative industry could allow their big nights to play out in such cheeseball, humiliating ways is beyond me. Heads should roll.

Anyway... Schaefer gets them to roll the most over-hyped trailer in the history of gratuitous self-promotion and my initial reaction? I thought it was a joke. I know people think Schaefer is a freaking mastermind and a creative genius and all, but this looked like nothing but a hodgepodge of simplistic platforming/action/racing gameplay bits taken from a series of Jack Black's own personal wet dreams... dreams about himself. I am one-hundred-percent not kidding when I say that both Kristin and I thought the trailer was a sort of gotcha-joke. And the real trailer was going to roll afterwards.

It wasn't a joke. But I bet I'm not the only one who had their best WTF face on after that. Judging by the crowd's rather tepid response to the trailer, I'm sure of it.

So there you have the 2008 VGA awards in a nutshell. The awards themselves took a major backseat to C-list celebrities (can somebody please tell me who the Kardashians are and why the one named Kim is a presenter?) and over-hyped marketing (available for pre-order tonight on Gamestop dot com), but the awards went to deserving recipients (except for Best Racer) so I guess, at least in that respect, the show was a success.

Oh, and I almost forgot, Peal Jam's entire album "Ten" will be available for Rock Band 2 in March. And that little bit of news was worth watching for.


Anonymous said...

Nice write up. Thanks for saving me the pain of watching that.

Two things...

1. Pure? That cheezy Disney, high fiving racing game?!?! I don't need my character to give me encouragement in radical 80's lingo while I race in family friendly off-road race.

2. In 5 years I think the VGAs will mature and be more well respected as the indutsry continues to slowly steal market share away from the asleep at the wheel, money grubbing movie industry. I'll play a videogame over watching a movie anytime.

Joe said...

Burnout: Paradise is no slouch as far as racing games go. Pure's racing is more, uh, pure, but Burnout's mechanics are just as sound, if well-worn, and the game is much more expansive. Apart from the infantile nature of their show, I don't think they erred on the awards themselves, really. Sound selections.

Completely agree regarding game trailers. I do not give a single shit about FMVs, CGI, promotional renders, or gameplay footage culled from a debug into angles you'll never see in the actual game. If it doesn't have a HUD and a point-of-view, it's PR trash.

Doug Walsh said...

Yeah, I meant no disrespect to the Burnout game that won the award, I've enjoyed countless hours with that series over the years, and perhaps Pure had blended too much into the Tony Hawk style of trick-based gameplay for it's own good, but I'd still pick it as my favorite racer of the year.

But you're right, all the picks were pretty solid. And I was very, very happy to see Professor Layton win for Best DS game (although I'm enjoying the hell out of Ninja Town right now) and I was also very glad to see the The Worlds End With You get a nod for best RPG.

Solid, solid, solid choices.

Thanks for writing!