Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Gotland Game Awards!

Visby, Sweden

I'm starting to wonder if I might be a very boring person. I was a juror at the Gotland Game Awards in Visby, Sweden, and when I came back I read some of the other jurors' blog posts about it. It seems their experience of the event was rather different from mine. They spent a lot of time drinking at parties until 4 AM, and took about a million pictures. I only have a few pictures, and most of these are snagged from other people's blogs. I didn't spend a lot of time drinking at parties; in fact, there were parties going on that I never even knew about.

The problem is partly that drinking doesn't do much for me. I like the taste of certain drinks, but saying that is like saying that you like driving a Ferrari because it has a great paint job. There's something about my metabolism that prevents me from getting any kind of buzz or pleasurable feeling from drinking a lot. Or maybe I'm just too tightly wrapped, and have such iron control over my behavior that I don't allow myself to enjoy it. Anyway, I just get sleepy and don't walk steadily. Since I don't feel a lot of motivation to be sleepy and none at all to walk unsteadily,
EWA with University of Gotland instructors.
Photo by Ulf Benjaminsson
I don't usually drink much at parties. Then there comes a time -- usually around 11 or midnight -- when I discover that everyone else there is drunker than I am, and their conversation has become inane and repetitive. They're having a marvelous time; I'm just bored. And boring, presumably, for wanting to leave. And afterwards I wonder if something wonderfully fun and exciting would have happened if I had stayed. But whatever it was, it probably wouldn't have happened to me in any case.

EWA presenting the pwnage award.>
Photo by Tobias Lundmark
But I digress from the real point. The Gotland Game Awards are an annual event honoring the best student projects in the Game Design and Graphics program at the University of Gotland in Visby. The awards cover both short films or animations and video games, and there's an invitational category for certain guests as well. I was invited to be a juror and to present an award at the ceremony. I got to be the last presenter and to give out the biggest award of all, the "pwnage award" as they called it -- in effect, best of show. Here's a picture of me at the podium, with my own image displayed hugely behind me on a screen. Very self-referential and postmodern. The effect would have been more striking if the image on the screen had not been delayed by a good half-second behind the sound. Maybe that was a playfully ironic comment of some kind -- postmodernists are into that. I got a big round of applause when I got up, though. That was gratifying.

The pwnage award went to a game called Vertigo -- a classic fast-paced side-scrolling race game, very 2D retro. A lot of games were too ambitious and so didn't really get finished; Vertigo did exactly what it set out to do and did it well. It also had a nice graphic style that emphasized the impression of speed.

There were tons of fascinating games. The first-year students are required to make an arcade-style game (though some of them put games into cabinets that clearly don't belong there). There was a wheelchair racing game with real wheelchairs, a bicycling game with real bicycles, and a lot of other fun stuff. My favorite from an art standpoint was Deep Ocean, a Myst-like exploration game that combined 3D models with hand-drawn images (although the dialog was much too wordy, a common beginner mistake).

There was a big difference between the first- and second-year students; the later games were larger and more polished. My favorite of the second-year games, from a conceptual standpoint, was called In Other Words and was set in the world of a book. The opening level was set in Don Quixote. The game had a few design flaws -- it needed more interesting things to do -- but I love the idea and think somebody could take it a long way. The Red Cross also gave awards to two games, one a Neverwinter Nights mod about non-violence called Monks of the Sangreal, and one a sim game called Mission Africa. It's set in an African village and you have to try to provide housing, water, and other amenities in the face of guerilla attacks and various disasters. Very cool and it had a fun advisor character in the form of a giraffe wearing a pith helmet.

The animation students also had videos to show, and there were a couple of standout winners -- a very stylish "advertisement" for Wacom graphics tablets (not that Wacom would ever make a TV ad), and a strange little movie called Perfekt which questions the beauty myth.

These folks are playing a game called Dark Room. It's not one of the students' games; it was made at the Nordic Game Jam over the space of about a day and a half. The theme of the Jam was taboos, so this is a sex game. It has no graphics (hence a dark room), and is played with Nintendo Wii controllers. Each player has to wave his or her controller in rhythm alternately with the other player, and the speakers produce a moan if the rhythm is right. Get out of sync and you get a squawk -- "Ow!" or "What?" or "Not there!" The real trick is that you have to get faster and faster in order to get an orgasm, and it's difficult to both maintain the correct rhythm and speed up at the same time. I tried and was terrible at it.

I've written about Visby before, but this was the first time I'd ever seen the place in the summer. It's just plain gorgeous. I brought my wife Mary Ellen along to see it too, because we both love all things medieval and European, and Visby can't get much more of both. She spent the time wandering around while I was in watching students' presentations, and then she came to the open house the next day and checked out the games. We will definitely be going back and spending some more time just to be tourists on this lovely island.

Many thanks to Steven Bachelder and Don Geyer of the University of Gotland for making it all possible, and congratulations to the winners!

View of Almadalen Park, Visby.