SAN FRANCISCO--Gaming makes strange bedfellows. Just ask Atari founder Nolan Bushnell and Sega mascot Sonic the Hedgehog.
At Thursday night's 2006 Walk of Game induction ceremony, the gaming pioneer and the fleet-footed ring-snatcher, both inductees of last year's inaugural Walk of Game class, walked to the podium arm in arm to start the celebration.
"Sonic and I were chatting back before we got on and he was telling me how proud he was to be inducted last year in the Walk of Game," Bushnell said. "The only thing he was a little concerned about was being walked on all the time. I said that's OK; it's par for the course."
Bushnell didn't mince words, quickly getting to the focus of the evening and his purpose for being there: to mark the induction into the Walk of Game of PC strategy game devloper Sid Meier, id Software tech guru John Carmack, Sony Online Entertainment's massively multiplayer EverQuest series, Blizzard's enduring sci-fi real-time strategy game Starcraft, and Square Enix's long-running console role-playing Final Fantasy series.
"I'm here to pass the baton, so to speak, to some of these new inductees, many of which are guys that I respect in the business as being truly revolutionary," Bushnell said.
Bushnell then introduced the show's host, G4 TV's Adam Sessler, who spoke glowingly of the evening's honored developers and franchises.
"What's nice is that the inductees tonight really show both the endurance of good gameplay and the ability of the greatest people who make games to adapt to the new technology without losing the essence of what makes games good, which is that they are fun and involving," Sessler said.
With that, Sessler moved on to honor the individual inductees, starting with Starcraft. Blizzard producer Shane Dabiri and lead software engineer Bob Fitch appeared on behalf of the game. Fitch declined to hand out individual accolades but made sure to thank everyone who worked on the game, caffeinated beverages, and the game's fans. As Fitch said, "The fans are really who made Starcraft as good as it is; otherwise it would just be some box on the wall if you didn't like it."
Sid Meier was next up to be honored, as Sessler gushed praise on the Civilization developer's ability to put his own unique spin on any subject he tackles.
"I think he's the only game maker to have his name denote a genre because they don't really fall into anything else. ... He's been called 'father of computer gaming,' and I think that really sells him a little bit short. His games are still vibrant, his games are still exciting."
A five-minute restrospective video (the same one shown at Meier's induction in the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame seven years ago) was then shown, with plenty of kind words of admiration for the developer from his peers, including Sims creator Will Wright and Ultima's "Lord British," Richard Garriott.
When Meier took the microphone, he called the induction "a wonderful honor," noting that the Walk of Game was voted on by gamers and fans and thanking them for being willing to let him explore new types of games throughout his career.
As Meier left the stage, Sessler began his introduction for Final Fantasy, noting specifically how special the game's stories made players feel.
"Nothing makes you feel more important than when you save the world from ultimate destruction, and that, in every single Final Fantasy, is made possible."
Square Enix PR manager Sonia Im accepted the induction on behalf of the series along with a pair of costumed representatives from the series. Im thanked the fans of the series, saying, "Without you, the first Final Fantasy would have been the last."
The venerable console role-playing series yielded the stage to a venerable PC role-playing series, as Sessler moved on to induct EverQuest, praising the scope of the game, the sense of exploration it provides players, and the social aspect of the game.
"'Groundbreaking' is too easy a word," Sessler said of the pioneering massively multiplayer online role-playing game. "It really changed so much [about gaming]."
Sony Online Entertainment producer Chris Lena took the stage accompanied by models portraying EverQuest characters Firiona Vie and Antonia Bayle, noting that the game was being inducted on the day of its seventh anniversary.
"After seven years, it's not about me standing in front of a microphone, or some people in the audience who were part of the original team," Lena said. "This is truly a game that was simply powered by the players. ... Without them, there really is no EverQuest and there really isn't this entire genre."
Next up was the man Sessler said "allowed the words 'badass' and 'video game' to be said in the same sentence," id Software technical director and father of the first-person shooter John Carmack. After an introductory video recapping the scope of his career from Commander Keen to Quake 4 (the video had been previously shown at Carmack's Hall of Fame induction in 2001), Carmack took the stage by first noting that the award has forced him to do something he doesn't often do: look back at his career.
"I'm usually so focused on the here and now and the soon to be that thinking about what I've done in the past just doesn't occupy much time," Carmack said. "But when I do look back over everything, I am quietly proud of all that I've been able to accomplish and all the enjoyment I've been able to let people have with the games that we've created."
While he might have indulged in a bit of retrospection for the Walk of Game ceremony's acknowledgement of his body of work, Carmack reminded the audience as he left the stage that he's not likely to make a habit of it.
"I'd thank you all for the award, and I'm still at it," Carmack said.
The final inductee of the evening was neither a series nor a developer, but a specific game character. While Mario, Link, and Sonic made up half of the original Walk of Game class, Lara Croft was the only character to make her way in this year.
"A lot is always made about 'other aspects' of Lara Croft, and I think sometimes that's a little bit distracting from the heart of it. It was very fascinating that it was a female character. There was no outcry for having that back in 1996. ... It really was a breakthrough in the idea of a character-driven game in a 3D space that you're exploring," Sessler said.
Eidos CEO of US publishing Bill Gardner accepted for Lara Croft, and like the other honorees, he thanked the fans for their support and even acknowledged that his starlet had hit on some hard times of late.
"But we know, and some of you would say we learned a hard lesson, that video game characters are only as good as the games you design around them," Gardner said. "Two years ago we went back to the drawing board--and back to Lara's roots--to better understand what make Tomb Raider games so magical in the hearts and minds of our consumers."
With that, Gardner introduced Toby Gard, Lara Croft's original creator, who left the series after the first game and returned to work on next month's series revamp, Tomb Raider Legend. As for seeing his creation inducted into the Walk of Game, Gard said, "I feel like a happy dad now, sort of."
Gardner then brought out Karima Adebibe, the new Lara Croft model, to say a few words about the new game and the various training with guns, motorcycles, and the like that she's had to take on to play the role.
"Whereas most models spend their time getting their hair and nails done, I'm off jumping and doing lots of dynamic things," Adebibe said. "All of this training has been essential in order to get back to Lara's roots and really bring her athletic personality to life, and this new game does just that."
The presentation wrapped up with a final round of applause for all the inductees, and then it was time to hit the Walk of Game and unveil the actual stars. A crowd of honorees, cameramen, writers, and curious onlookers wound their way around the second floor of the Metreon shopping complex, where the Walk of Game currently resides, before hitting after-parties hosted by Sony Online Entertainment and Meier's Firaxis Games.
Looking forward to next year, Walk of Game organizers expect to announce nominations later this year, with a one-month voting period opening up in October. During that span, gamers around the world will narrow down the field of nominees to two people deserving of a lifetime achievement award and four games or characters worthy of induction.