Spot On: Inside G-Phoria

When is an awards show not just about the awards? When Anna Nicole Smith, Jenna Jameson, and Carmen Electra soak up the spotlight and Mechner, Zeschuk, and Rubin wait in the wings.

LOS ANGELES--If anything was evident on Saturday night at the G-Phoria game awards, it was this: Carmen Electra ain’t got nothin' on a cyberdemon. Buxom Electra and her rocker-husband Dave Navarro played it up as hosts of the second annual awards show, but in reality, the event was overshadowed by the first appearance of the final version of Doom 3 at the postshow party. (You can read our impressions here). Throw in playable versions of Half-Life 2, Counter-Strike: Source, and Halo 2--plus other titles from Nintendo, Konami, and Sony--and pretty soon the show Electra dubbed the "Video Game Oscars," ended up feeling a lot like a latter-day (and slightly more intimate) E3 for a thousand industry insiders.

Double-click the video window for a full-screen viewTaped at Los Angeles' Shrine Exposition Center (and set to air this Friday on cable), the G-Phoria awards come at a time when the video game industry is still struggling to find the best way of rewarding its finest achievements in any given year. As opposed to the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences awards, which are voted on by industry peers and given out each year at the DICE conference, game fans vote online for their favorite games in categories that range from Game of the Year (Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic) to "Hottest Character" (Final Fantasy X-2's Rikku).

Making video game awards appealing to mainstream TV viewers is never easy, but the G-Phoria producers attempted to add some razzle-dazzle to the proceedings by hiring Electra and Navarro to host. While the overall production was a marked improvement over last year's inaugural awards, the show still suffered from numerous technical delays--with some obvious fallout. After it was announced that rapper Jadakiss would have to re-perform his entire song due to a technical glitch, a noticeable portion of the audience quickly exited the auditorium--and most of it didn't come back.

Those who stuck around for the full show saw presenters that put the all-female cast of Final Fantasy X-2 to shame. Presenters included adult film actress Jenna Jameson, a svelte Anna Nicole Smith (who nearly flashed the crowd at one point), and Friends actress Aisha Tyler, who got into the video game spirit by wearing a T-shirt that read, "I can kick your ass on Halo." Not surprisingly, Tyler spent ample time playing Halo 2 at the post show party--with one rumor floating around that Halo 2 now has more preorders at a major retailer than Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

The audience was filled with game developers from all corners of the world--but few got screen time, with the notable exception of Epic's Cliff Bleszinki and Metal Gear Solid visionary Hideo Kojima, who was presented with a special achievement award by Spider-Man creator Stan Lee.

Other developers had to sit on the sidelines, and there were no developers who presented awards. Furthermore, there was no time for acceptance speeches. Still, a decidedly A-list group of game designers peppered the audience. Spotted in the crowd were Jordan Mechner (of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time fame), Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin (Naughty Dog), Ted Price (Insomniac), Mark Skaggs (Electronic Arts), Josh Resnick (Pandemic), Tim Schafer (Double Fine), Alex Garden (THQ, formerly of Relic), and Hamilton Chu (Bungie). At one point, Infinity Ward’s Grant Collier (who won the AIAS Game of the Year award for Call of Duty) congratulated BioWare's Greg Zeschuk on his Game of the Year win for Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic.

There were surprisingly few executives from the major game publishers in attendance, but news about a major publishing deal did break during the show when sources let on that Majesco had picked up Tim Schafer's Psychonauts and will publish the game in early 2005.

When the night came to a close, there was, remarkably, little buzz about which games took home awards--a fact that underscores exactly how far the G-Phoria awards need to go before they can truly become the "Video Game Oscars." But will the show turn into a compelling 90 minutes of TV? Gamers will decide later this week. That is, if they aren't too busy playing Doom 3.

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