Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The First-Annual Versus Clu Clu Land Awards for Excellence in Game Design

The close of 2008 is upon us, and it's appropriate if not obligatory to bestow laurels on the exemplary products of the year past, preferably according to some schema. Though I can't hope to rival the Spike Video Game Awards when it comes to cheerful misogyny (I'm fresh out of both diapers and metallic body paint), I thought it only natural to fabricate some categories and bestow some distinctions. Astute readers of VCCL (I'm led to believe they exist, God help them) will notice that several categories are cribbed from my piece on “three methods of game design.” And so, without further ado, I present Versus Clu Clu Land's first annual awards for excellence in game design:

The Min Riker Award for Excellence in Immersion, ultraboosted by

Goes to Far Cry 2. Beyond the generally awe-inspiring attention to graphical detail manifest in the flora and fauna and climate of Leboa-Sako, CLINT HOCKING's Africa-set magnum opus abounds in the small touches that communicate an authentic sense of place: patches of leaf-filtered sun on the floor of your safehouse, bugs on your windshield, the golden luster of the savanna grass at sunset. And having to look down at your map while driving so uncannily replicated the hazards of real-life vehicular navigation that you forgave the frequent mishaps it caused.

Most Honorable Mention goes to Fallout 3, whose ammunition-and-wonderglue-laden Capital Wasteland was among the most impressive landscapes of this or any other year. Gamers are unlikely to forget the gorgeously barren vista that greeted their first steps out of the Vault 101, or their first glimpses of those blasted monuments to an extinct nation. The seamless integration of RPG menu-shuffling into the world via the Pip-boy wrist computer removed another barrier between the character and the environment, and the unparalleled explorability of the game-world was remarkable: it was a world that continually outstripped the player's thirst for discovery.

The Wassily Kandinsky Synaesthesia Award, fueled by Mr. Pibb

Goes to Castle Crashers, a game that looks like Frank Zappa sounds. Dan Paladin's gleefully depraved character art stole the show (nobody's likely to forget the catfishsubmarine anytime soon), but the electric-guitar-drenched soundtrack is almost as good. Every nook and cranny of the art was awash with memorable details, and the sheer visual awesomeness of the game demonstrates what four years of adoring labor will get you.

Very Honorable Mention goes to Pixeljunk Eden: more than any game this year, Eden created a cohesive and beautiful union of sound and vision. Bayion created a visual and musical aesthetic for the game that echoed the breezy organicism of the gameplay perfectly.

The Hideo Kojima Award for Innovation in the Field of Gameplay

Goes to World of Goo. Sure, it didn't invent physics. (Physics was invented by our risen Lord, Jesus Christ.) But goo-based bridge construction was such a novel mechanic that the progressive introduction of imaginative variations on the basic formula was gravy.

Honorable Mention goes to The World Ends With You, whose dual-screen-scribble-and-blow skirmishing breathed new life into one the area of video game design most in need of renovation: JRPG combat. Square-Enix, the company least likely to innovate, introduced countless fresh ideas into a genre notorious for creative stagnation, and their risks paid off at every turn.

The Shigeru Miyamoto Award for the Doing of Fun Things with your Hands

Goes to Boom Blox. The genius of Nintendo's console resides in its unique access to the joys of movement, and the developers at the beleaguered EALA were one of the few third-party developers who grasped the potential of the interface. Boom Blox founded its world on play, and its physics-puzzle-based gameplay turned vigorous wiimote-chucking (plenty fun on its own) into an intellectually compelling exercise. Like Wii Sports, its only credible rival on the hardware, it succeeds by capitalizing on the endless fun inherent in its core mechanics.

Honorable Mention goes to Pixeljunk Eden: the raw, kinetic fun of its grapple-and-swing mechanic, the appealing sense of momentum and grace it created, was such that it drew my non-gamer housemates into the feverish pursuit of trophies.

The Fumito Ueda Award for Achievement in the Integration of Gameplay and Narrative

Goes to Braid. Competing interpretations of the elliptical text-fragments proliferated on the Internet post-release, and though creator Jonathan Blow never anointed a “correct” decryption of the narrative, it was clear that the thematic resonances of the time-warping gameplay were the fundamental to the game's meaning. (Let us not a forget: we had an extended argument over what a video game meant! This is progress.) Braid subversively interrogates the cerebral attitude its complex and inventive puzzles demanded, investing the player's conquest of time and space with layers of emotional depth.

The Edwin Q. Goaty Prize, funded by the Edwin Q and Frances T Goaty Foundation

Goes to Grand Theft Auto 4. Yes, really.


Brian O'Blivion said...

Y'know, it just occurred to me... aren't you supposed to be working on a thesis? And you're out there playing videogames all the time? I enjoy your blog, despite not having played any of the games you discuss, having spent my console budget this year on the Nintendo Wii, which due to its crappy game selection and inability to handle games like GTAIV, is considerably less fun than getting thwacked in the face with a bagel. I'm trying to work out a trade for a PS3 or Xbox so I can get down to some real gaming. I'll let you know what I end up with.
--Frakkin Toaster, MD
p.s. Your former roommate is in town for the holidays. We lamented your absence.

p.p.s Are you coming back east anytime soon?

p.p.p.s. BSG returns Jan 16!!!

Anonymous said...

There is now officially a tie in my "favorite blurbs publishers will probably never use in an ad" contest between your saying Castle Crashers is "a game that looks like Frank Zappa sounds" and Tom Chick saying in a forthcoming post on The Cut Scene (I don't think he'll mind me giving a preview here), "If Terence Malick were to make a videogame, it would be "Far Cry 2."

Ben Abraham said...

Just a minor quibble - No honourable mention of Audiosurf or Everyday Shooter for "The Wassily Kandinsky Synaesthesia Award, fueled by Mr. Pibb"? Awww, fo' shame.

Good to see I didn't have to remind you to capitalise Mr. Hocking's name. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Speaking of synaesthesia, did you play de Blob, Iroquois? That's got to be the most successful merging of audio and gameplay I've seen for a long, long time.

Brian O'Blivion said...

Also, I thought Newton invented physics...

Iroquois Pliskin said...

@frakkin toaster: Sorry to hear that the bloom is off the Wii. in its defense Boom Blox is significantly more fun than getting hit with a bagel tho. I'll hit you up next time I'm in town (It's looking like early feb, maybe? Like, the worst possible time to be in Boston, but if you get your hands on one of those X boxes we will play fun games together, on the internet.)

Also: blashphemy!

@ben F: thanks man! Thanks for stopping by, you have a great thing going over there on the cutscene, what with that witty sonuvabitch Tom Chick.

@ben A: I'm going to plead ignorance on Audiosurf. Evidence that I'm not up on the PC scene: I installed steam, like, three days ago. Everyday Shooter is one of my all-time favorite games tho, it came out in 2007 or else it woulda taken some wards.

@daniel: I don't have a Wii, which is another reason I have no right giving out any accolades. If I ever cave in and get one (that No More Heroes is a GRAVE temptation) I'll put it on my list.

chade fallstar said...

Hehe I got many chuckles from this post. Cheerful misogyny! Jesus invented physics! A synaesthesia award, sponsored by Mr. Pibb! Pretty much anything is more fun to read about when the person writing about it uses the maximum number of syllables. :D

Anonymous said...

Cheers to a best-of nod to Braid. When it came down to brass tacks, I had to go with Blow for game of the year I sincerely enjoyed every minute of and am mostly likely to go back and play again. Helps that it's also finishable in an afternoon, but let's not hold that against him.

Addicting Games said...

Yaaaiy! World of Goo wins an award! I think it is an amazing game (the music is among the best) This game is a brilliant metaphor for humanity with surprisingly relevant messages about resource, industry, development, and progress. Anyway, if you have time, take a visit to my Download Games website.