The 2011 Spike Video Game Awards: A Retrospective

After the train wreck that was the 2010 VGAs, Spike has attempted to fix all the issues that plagued the almost unwatchable show. Although we can debate whether this was actually an “award” show rather than one long trailer for upcoming blockbuster games, I do have to give them props for achieving a much higher level of quality in this year’s installment. As for analyzing the perfomance, the easiest way to break this down is to forget any kind of structure and just highlight the good, the bad, and the memorable.

Lets start with The Host:

Television star Zachary Levi did a great job keeping the show moving forward in an extremely difficult “live” environment, even though he looked like a metrosexual Sherlock Holmes doing it. He made some missteps, as can be expected of a live show, but always recovered with some quick thinking or a witty comment. Being able to roll with the punches and keep the show moving is a host’s duty and Zach did a very good job.

Next, The Audience:

Last year, I remember an audience that seemed to have a complete lack of interest. You could not hear the applause, and everyone looked like they were having more fun talking amongst themselves than watching the show. This year, they made sure to have legitimate applause and a more engaged audience. They also used the small percentage of major celebrities well by highlighting them as much as possible (Seth Green, Brooklyn Decker) and bringing in some individuals who you would usually not equate with games (Stacy Kiebler, Charlie Sheen.) The producers used them in a way that made the game industry more connected with the larger entertainment culture, which was something they have been unable to do previously.

I do have to say that I was surprised that a member of the Jonas Brothers was involved, since his music is not exactly what I expect gamers to be listening to. In fact, considering how divisive the gaming community is, and their constant dissaproval of Justin Bieber and the like in comment boards, this might have been one of the worst choices for a presenter. I guess Spike was trying to pad the guest list. I understand it is hard to find recognizable names for a show about video games, but this was a bit of a stretch.

Now, the Set Design/Presentation:

I was happy with this as well. Clean and shiny. The set did not look cheap or thrown together and added a sense of glamour normally not equated with the video game industry. It actually LOOKED like an award show that people would want to go to – a nice change of pace. The use of augmented reality was more of a publicity stunt than anything, but it was cool to see this technology anyways. I was very impressed by the Arkham City effects and the very cool Legend of Zelda green triforce symbol. It’s a nice preview for the technology that will surely become more practical in the future.

The Trailers:

Here is what made the night stand out, giving the award show the ratings Spike wanted. For the past few weeks, they made sure to  promote the fact that they would be premiering some hugely anticipated games, and they did not dissapoint. The Last Of Us from developer Naughty Dog, got the ball rolling with a beautiful trailer for this new survival thriller. The game looks interesting because of the father/daughter dynamic which should bring some interesting co-op features that allow for very different styles of play to work together.

Surprisingly enough, this was not the only I am Legend-type game, with Epic Games debuting its own “survive-the-dark” IP, Fortnight. This one was a bit more to my liking because it emphasized using your environment to build fort-like structures to keep out the little “demons” that are trying to kill you. Lots of possibilities for a tower-defense/strategy/action type game. I also see hints of Minecraft in there as well. Very intriguing.

Alan Wake’s American Nightmare was also well done. For the first time, it made me interested in the horror series, especially with the expanded use of light-based weapons. I love that the developers finally realized that you can use any gun in the world as defense if you just have a flashlight attached to it! The possibilities are endless now.

Mass Effect 3 had a great showing with BioWare presenting the vastly larger scale of the final installment in the interstellar action-RPG trilogy. The graphics and artwork, along with the huge Dune-esque worm creature, were very impressive.

I also got excited after hearing the announcement for Command & Conquer: Generals 2. This game is also being developed by BioWare, granted, it is a newly formed office called BioWare Victory. Even with that studio title, supposedly most of those working on the game are originally from EA anyways. I am definitely hoping that we are going to get more BioWare than EA in this installment though.

Bioshock: Infinite kept with the “slow, emotional song, paired with action packed visuals” trend and premiered a new trailer for the game. I have one thing to say about this trailer: The song was terrible. Trying to hit the note Gears achieved with its wonderful Mad World trailer for the first game in the series, was most likely Irrational Games‘ goal. Though, they definitely failed on this attempt. Either way, I will still be buying the game, so I will give them a pass.

The Amazing Spider-Man trailer was pretty epic. Much better looking than most movie tie-ins.

Keeping with the Activision trailers, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron looked even better. Actually, it was one of my favorite trailers due in part to the beautiful shiny robots and a pretty sweet cliffhanger involving the “Dinobot” Grimlock transforming into a T-Rex. I dont know that much about Transformers, but this was really cool.

After receiving the “Gamer God Award,” Blizzard showed the opening cinematic of Diablo III (sorry, no release date) and kept the anticipation for the dungeon crawler high. It is now my assumption that the long wait and lack of a release date is due to Blizzard trying to get as much done with the (potential) console versions of the game before the PC release, so as not to have a really long gap in-between. But this is complete speculation; something that you do quite a bit when a developer is SO secretive.

And lastly, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Yikes. The Japanese developer, Kojima Productions, obviously wasn’t in on the “trailer planning session” where everyone seemed to take each others’ ideas for the night. They brought us a high-octane, and distinctively far-eastern look at the hyper-violent game. Right off the bat, I noticed how the changes in the game have proven that this title is suffering from an identity crisis. This lack of direction in the development process itself can actually be observed through this muddled trailer. These issues are perfectly summed up by the fact  that the game’s secondary title is Revengeance. REALLY?! How can they expect to have a solid direction for the game when they cannot even decide on a proper word for the title. Also, this is going to piss off many writers because of the red, squiggly line that will show up every time you reference this game from now on (only sort of joking).

All in all, I am worried about Rising. It seems that Kojima is implementing an “idea by committee” attitude for this game, which may spell failure because of a lack of a focused direction. I hope this does not happen, especially considering the fact that the swords are unbelievably cool. Basically, the trailer was very questionable, but I am still rooting for the game to succeed.

The big Spoiler Of The Night was not really a spoiler if you think about it. It happened during Joker’s acceptance speech for best character, where he nonchalantly picked up a script titled Batman: Arkham World. Expected, but awesome nonetheless.

And for my thoughts on The Awards:

There were awards? I didnt notice. Ok, there were awards, but they were definitely not the main attraction. The only ones that mattered were Game Of The Year (Skyrim) and Best Character (Joker). On top of it not really being an awards show, Spike showed a complete lack of taste by introducing “tea-bagging” for anyone who ran long on their acceptance speeches. The “tea-bagger” himself was somewhat disturbing and not funny AT ALL.

I respect them trying to make it easier for their “live” broadcast, but the way they did it was classless and actually somewhat rude to those who actually had a chance to go up and thank people. Since video games are such a collaborative effort, not being able to give credit where it is due seems unfair, and I wish Spike thought about this a bit more.

Closing Thoughts:

If you compare this show to last year’s, this is an absolute masterpiece. Comparing it to other award shows, proves that it’s merely passable. The host kept the show from falling apart a few times and Felicia Day kept the pointless side attractions from completely failing (other than her not being able to get off the velcro wall). But these sideshows were mostly saved by the Fruit Ninja/Workaholics idea….an idea that had the POTENTIAL to be the worst in live television history, due to the implementation of a REAL Samurai sword in the concept, yet it still worked….thank god.

Compared to last years snoozfest, the audience was actually invested in the show and the focus on premiering new content was successful, especially considering how subdued and secretive the games industry usually is.

On a final note: If at all possible, just allow our native Japanese speakers to use a translator….because watching Shigeru Miyamoto, and especially Hideo Kojima, try and speak English is like pulling teeth. I would much rather hear one of the coolest languages on earth and read some subtitles, than watch these guys struggle mightily to get a few words out. But Miyamoto can say just about anything and I would agree with him. The Hall Of Fame induction for Legend of Zelda was well deserved and I also love how he always acts like Link finding an item when he gets an award.

Overall, Spike really stepped up to the challenge and fixed many of the problems of last year, while developing a much more watchable show. Although the “live” aspect BARELY worked. I would have no problem with watching a delayed viewing if it means the overall quality will be improved. Good job Spike. Now, all you need to do next year is actually make it an awards show (tea-bagging NOT INCLUDED).

What did you think of the VGAs. The good? The bad? The ugly? Let us know.