I know. Shocker!

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Last year’s Spike Video Game Awards can mostly be considered by most as the most farcical ceremony put on for gamers. Silly entertainment segments, a lack of awards being handed out on stage and actual teabagging on stage. I vowed I wouldn’t watch this years show as a result. I’m a horrible person because I actually caved.

But hold the phone because – and whisper this very quietly – the VGAs were actually bearable to watch this year. Though yes, it still has its faults. And some serious ones at that too.

Last year, there literally was next to nothing to actually praise about the show. Teabagging hosts and game developers (pending they went over on their speech by 15 seconds or so), reenacting things like Fruit Ninja and shaving off time for awards in place of world premieres and said silly challenges (like Real-life Fruit Ninja). This year, most of that never surfaced.

There was still a lack of awards during the main show, though. Only four games were on stage throughout the night: Borderlands 2, Dishonored, Journey and The Walking Dead. Other awards were handed out pre-show and even during the show in what Spike called the “second screen experience” (As I write this, I’m re-watching the show and Casey Hudson of BioWare has accepted the Best RPG award on the second screen show for Mass Effect 3). A majority of other winners weren’t announced until after the show was done.

Even for its gaping faults, last year even had a montage of all the other winners. A montage is not a preferable choice – I even went against it for last year’s show – but surely even a montage announcing the winners is better than having to find out the rest of the winners post-show. That said, again, it’s in the name: Video Game Awards. While you won’t be able to announce thanks to time constraints – this is the case for most shows – this is one area that still needs to improve itself big time for next year.

Another downer is the stereotypical terms made at various points during the night (Zach Levi: “hello, nerds” – and that’s only one example). Matters weren’t quite helped when one of the backstage presenters – Alison Haislip of The Nerd Machine – named Valve boss Gabe Newell as ‘Garry’. This was the co-founder of one of the biggest companies in the modern-era of videogames and who had just come off stage after being presented the Game of the Decade award for Half-Life 2. So to make a howler like that in front of one of the most well-known (and beloved) execs in gaming during a games show and to a worldwide audience is not something that’s going to be forgotten in a rush.

And then the night capped off with a giant inflatable dick. Par for the course for last year? Well, actually, no. Sure, it was a pretty rubbish and immature way to finish the show, but last year’s VGAs had actually very little to nothing good to talk about. It was all bad (bad press is good press, then again). This year, it had some actually great moments.

South Park opened the show with an actually funny Hobbit segment to introduce Sam Jackson (there’s another problem with last night – the inflation of egos for celebs like Jackson and Snoop Dogg [I’m not calling him Snoop Lion]), followed by a great trailer for South Park: The Stick of Truth.

Other trailers and announcements were pretty well done as well. Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us was finally confirmed for a May 7 release with a quite fantastic trailer, while Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 looked in top form as well. Dark Souls II also popped up for a surprise announce for PS3, 360 and PC.

But announcement of the night goes to the unknown Moby Dick Studio and The Phantom Pain. Or what is now being cracked to be an ARG from Kojima Productions and what might turn out to be Metal Gear Solid 5/Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes. And is that Kiefer Sutherland in the trailer? This GAF thread is tearing through the trailer and everything surrounding it at will.

But it was stuff outside of the announcements that actually matured the VGAs this year. There was the recognition of the fantastic music in games these days, including a orchestra-led tribute to the five contenders for Game of the Year and a trailer for Tomb Raider scored live. The trailer for The Last of Us was even introduced by the game’s composer Gustavo Santaliea. It was impressive stuff. I’d love to see more of this next year.

But my favorite moment wasn’t a game announce or an orchestra moment. But rather a victory speech. The Walking Dead and Journey walked away with most of the prizes on the night (absolutely deserving, of course), but it was an acceptance speech on behalf of the latter that truly emphasised how far we’ve come as an industry. It should be about on the internet somewhere, but find Robin Hunicke’s speech on Journey and watch it. It’s one of the most loveliest and classiest speeches you’ll ever see.

Essentially, it still has some big gaping problems. It could do with more stage time for the awards and less time for reveals/ego inflating stuff (looking at you, Snoop Dogg). Plus, it could cut down on the stereotypical stuff and find a balance on stage time with developers and celebrities during reveals and prize-giving (much work still needs to be done on that front).

But in turning ten years old, the VGAs has actually matured a bit from last year. It’s not much, but it’s a start. And if it can build upon that for next year, then this year will have been a good learning experience.

    Pluses:

  • South Park Hobbit bit and South Park: The Stick of Truth trailer
  • Phantom Pain – New IP? Kojima? Amazing either way
  • GOTY orchastra bit
  • The Last of Us: composer Gustavo Santaliea introduction, trailer and May 7 date
  • Dark Souls 2 announce
  • Classy winners speech for Robin Hunicke on Journey. This wouldn’t have been possible last year thanks to the threat of the Teabag klaxon
  • Fantastic Tomb Raider trailer with accompanying orchestra score
  • Two downloadable titles coming away with a majority of the awards on the night. This wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago
    Negatives:

  • Tweet cam? Seriously?
  • Marlon Wayans
  • Samuel L Jackson ego inflation at the start of the show and Snoop Dog midway through
  • Some of the stereotypical references throughout the night
  • Still a lack of awards given out on the main show – counted four given out during the main show – with others handed out pre-show or during the second screen experience/ad break. A majority of others weren’t handed out in public view at all.

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