Cross-posted from Sulli.ca
Vancouver's Centre for the Performing Arts played host to the second annual Canadian Videogame Awards ceremony last night. As part of the Canadian Games Conference (formerly GDC Canada) the CVA's hope to increase appreciation for one of Canada's fastest-growing entertainment mediums. And there's no doubt that we have a lot to appreciate, our studios put out some of the best games in the world!
Besides the usual powerhouses Ubisoft Montreal, Bioware, Electronic Arts and my own Relic Entertainment, some notable nominations were extended to smaller Canadian studios like Blue Castle Games (now Capcom Vancouver), Beenox, Propaganda Games, and Hothead Games whose Deathspank game won the award for Best Downloadable Game. Vancouver's own United Front Games also walked away with the Innovation Award for their ModNation Racers title.
But the awards themselves were only half of the show. The event began at the private reception for game developers whose games had been nominated for awards and other notable industry figures. The private reception was considerably busier than the main reception area where the public, largely game design students, waited for the ceremony to begin. Nintendo made its presence known by demoing the upcoming Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time title for the Nintendo 3DS handheld system but the event was largely devoid of corporate presence.
In fact the whole affair had an air of understatement, at least when compared to the more popular award shows like the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences Awards or G4TV's X-Play awards. Though the ceremony was enjoyable from beginning to end, and was a fun chance for us industry types to hang out and applaud our fellow Canadian developers, it was clear that the CVA's were still struggling to carve out their niche of importance in the global games industry. The event wasn't televised or streamed live on the web, though it will be airing on G4 Canada on May 29th - a whole 11 days later, a shame considering the inherent time-critical suspense of an awards show.
It didn't help that the theatre was perhaps one-third to one-half full. Somewhat "Canadian" production values - microphones died more than once and the host tripped over his own chair - were offset by the inclusion of Video Games Live, the popular game-music orchestra. While the empty seats suggested that this wasn't a must-attend event even for local developers each of the major studios were well-represented with much cheering as their game's nomination was announced and genuine acceptance speeches as they took their awards.
Relic Entertainment, my employer, was up for two awards this year, Best Audio and Best Writing for Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising. Bioware's Mass Effect 2 took the award for Best Writing and Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood stole the Best Audio award that we had won last year for the original Dawn of War II. With its expanded focus on single-player narrative and excellent voice acting this year's Dawn of War II: Retribution title will hopefully claim both awards at next year's CVA's.
The CVA show-runners appeared fully aware of the scale of the event. The hosts had fun with their corny lines and Tommy Tallarico, co-founder of Video Games Live, had a lot of fun with the orchestra in between each award playing a selection of famous game soundtracks including a Link-cosplaying Laura Intravia performing remarkable flute variations of classic Ocarina of Time themes.
Video Games Live is known for mixing up the traditional orchestral performance with some twists. One of their performances involved a live orchestration of the Assassin's Creed 2 trailer and in another section they played the music to Frogger in as two audience members played the game in real-time (the player with the higher score won a Nintendo 3DS).
The entire awards show was appropriately clothed in Canadiana, from the abundance of maple leaf flags to the announcement of one award by Canadian actor Michael Hogan. There was no doubt that this event was for Canada and Canadian developers, and appropriately so. Just like the CVA's themselves want to stand tall next to giants, so does the Canadian games industry. Despite being the second-largest game industry region Canada still struggles to be recognized as a significant and independent player in the global games space. Undoubtedly this is due, at least in part, to almost all of the major Canadian studios being owned and funded by international companies like Electronic Arts (USA), Ubisoft (France) and THQ (USA).
This made me all the happier that such deserved attention was given to student, mobile and casual games made in Canada. Due to relatively inexpensive development costs these projects have a lower barrier to entry for individuals to get their dream projects off the ground. These are shining examples of the innovation Canadians are capable of and promise a bright future for Canadian content in the games space. Dave Marhal, previously an intern here at Relic, was level designer on WOMP! which won Best Student Game against some tough competition.
The people behind the CVA's and the Canadian Games Conference have put a lot of effort into moving Canada forward as a game-developing force that can stand on its own and although these first few steps have been a bit clumsy it's clear to me that Canada is more than capable of taking centre-stage (and yes, we'll always spell it that way)!