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Gravitation for Story of the Year

February 5, 2009

A question first: why must we only move forward?

I recently received my ballot for the AIAS awards. The nominees are synonymous with truckloads of polygons and amazing fits of technology, and the entries in some categories (Braid = casual?) surprise me.

I wished I had seen Gravitation there among the list of games.

Of all the games I played last year, its story haunted me the most. I know I am not alone. I heard other well known game developers say the same thing from stages at AGDC and even at Project Horseshoe. But Gravitation, what with its retro graphics probably didn’t even rise from memory when the list was conceived. Was it, was Braid, even considered?

As an industry, why must we always make it better faster more?

It is artistically dangerous. Would music reward only that? Would no one make acoustic music? Would Dogville be dismissed (interestingly, the Academy did censor it but not for lack of innovation). Would fashion discipline itself to make new styles only? In every other medium, people don’t dismiss the deliberate backwards step, the deliberate selection of “just some.”

Our medium to its own detriment usually does.

I vote for Gravitation for Story of the Year.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. February 5, 2009 6:25 am

    Perhaps because programmers are technical people (mostly), and because programmers are much involved with technical advancements in games (much more than artists/designers/writers), and because programmers dominate the mindset of the industry (game “developer”), the result is that the highly technical games (better-faster-more) get the most notice from programmers, and so they’re the ones nominated.

  2. Scypher permalink
    February 5, 2009 4:17 pm

    With a medium so vast in styles and genres, it definitely matters who is looking and judging these games. Not only because the nominees are a reflection of their subjective criteria of “good,” but also because the nominees probably reflect the handful among hundreds of games this year they had an opportunity to spend time with.

    I can’t find the nominees anywhere, and I suspect they’re currently private anyway, but I’m going to guess that the many standout, almost universally-praised indie games of 2008 only make up a tiny, tiny portion of the nominees. I don’t mean to be accusatorial, but examining the AIAS’ board of directors list comprised of the biggest mainstream industry leaders from Sony to Nintendo, EA to Ubisoft, it makes sense to me that these awards would do best to promote the mainstream, brand-name section of the industry — the one that stands out for its polygons and physics engines and best-sellers.

    Awards have always existed to help and promote the industry they revolve around. I’m not saying this is about politics or money, not at all; but I am saying that when there’s just so many amazing games in 2008 to nominate, the overall best interest of the judges lies in helping out the part of the mainstream industry they are a part of.

    I also think Gravitation deserves its credit for its incredibly touching yet minimalistic story. But AIAS’ awards probably isn’t the venue where that seems most likely.

  3. February 5, 2009 5:54 pm

    I’d agree with you in terms of technology, but as far as storytelling in games though we need to move forward, and much, much faster. Cutscenes need to go. Until we can tell stories like “Gone With the Wind” in a game, we need to keep on concentrating on making them move forward, and not behind.

    As for technology…

    Well, here’s a screenshot of Monkey Island 3. The look of the game relied on artistry, not graphics, and it still holds up remarkably well eleven years later.

    Here’s a screenshot of Monkey Island 4. The look of this game relied on technology and graphics, not artistry, and it doesn’t hold-up at all.

    And here is Grim Fandango. Tim Schafer (the designer) thought that the ‘hot’ 3D graphics of the time all looked like paper meches, so he decided to make a game starring paper meches. Since the backgrounds are beautifully pre-rendered, and the technology actually went well with the artistic look of the game, and it hasn’t aged, and never will age, a single day.

  4. Chris Pioli permalink
    February 6, 2009 2:19 am

    I think it’s because these people don’t have enough time to play every game that was released in a given year. After we weed out shovelware and knock-offs, we’re still left with a lot of games to choose from, and I doubt a single person could play through them all in a single year. Far different from film, which takes on average 1/10th the time to consume. Come to think of it, how many movies are released each year?

    Plus, don’t games have to be submitted for awards like other forms of media, or are they chosen from a list? I don’t want to think a game is ignored because it doesn’t have big bang to it, I’d rather think it’s because we’re strapped for time. In all seriousness, though, it’s kind of like in this comic (warning: other material on site sometimes nsfw). I doubt there is as much critical thought put into this as there is feeling and gut. Heck, Mother 3 earns [a posthumous] Game of the Year 2006 award from me, and a lot of critics wouldn’t care about the game.

  5. Kroms permalink
    February 6, 2009 10:24 am

    A lot of movies get released per year, Chris. A lot. Well over 3000.

  6. jcaskey permalink
    February 6, 2009 4:13 pm

    With our medium, I think “retro” is easily seen or misunderstood as “obsolete.”

    Designers and other connoisseurs know that big shiny graphics aren’t necessary to make a great game, as Gravitation and Braid demonstrate. But as Michael Capps puts it, they don’t have the same visual draw, they don’t make people stop and pay attention. If I saw that image out of context, and didn’t know what it was from, I probably would not have given it a second thought. But when your game has incredible graphics, people are going to take interest.

    As an artist myself I have to play the other side, why shouldn’t we always move forward? Art wouldn’t be what it is today if people weren’t constantly pushing the envelope and trying to come up with something new, either technologically or conceptually.
    We wouldn’t have games like Okami or the new Prince of Persia, which is probably the most beautiful game of 2008. They had amazing concept/3d/effects artists working on it and neither game would be as satisfying to play without their visual qualities.

  7. February 7, 2009 2:24 pm

    @Kroms – yes a lot do get released. However, it still only takes an hour and a half to watch them.You could watch about 10 films a day (900 minutes ~ 15 hours) and then you would be able to watch literally every film in a year. Factor in the fact that some films will simply be rubbish (and someone else can save the people doing the final decision) and that people will focus on genres, I think it would be more than possible.

    Even shorter games can taken 10 hours to play through and some games need to be played through more than once. Suddenly, you are capped at about 1 or 2 games a day.

  8. jcaskey permalink
    February 7, 2009 3:16 pm


    To be fair though, how long do games like Gravitation take to play? Five minutes? There’s a lot of very good, very short games out there.

    I think it’s also important to point out that many games aren’t meant to be played in one sitting. In that sense they’re more like TV shows than movies. And having said that, for games that are more about the mechanics or the graphics, you don’t necessarily need to play the entire game in order to understand it. A game like Castle Crashers, for instance, is basically a 2D brawler/rpg, where you fight monsters, upgrade your equipment, and level up your character. Once you get the idea of how it all works, the rest of the game is pretty much the same. It doesn’t get less fun, but playing the whole thing isn’t going to change your initial opinion of it.
    But a game like Braid, where each world works differently from the next, is all about the ending. The story is simple, but how it’s told is the brilliant part, and players don’t get the full effect of it until they reach the end.

    That may be beside the point though. I feel like I could say the same thing about games, that it’s not unreasonable for a group of people, after filtering out the junk, to play the majority of games released in a year.

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