Portal BioShocks GDC Awards

Valve's mind-bending puzzler takes home Game of the Year, ties 2K's undersea adventure with three awards; Phantom Hourglass, Crackdown also honored.

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SAN FRANCISCO--As is the case every year, Wednesday comprises the most frantic 24 hours of the Game Developers Conference. The first day of both the conference and expo starts off with a high-profile keynote speech--in this case, Microsoft's John Schappert unveiling an ambitious Xbox Live community development program and Gears of War 2 being announced. It ends with the Annual Game Developers Choice Awards, in which organizers CMP Media, its readers, and a select jury choose what they feel are the year's top games.

This year, two titles dominated the 8th Annual GDCA nominations: BioShock, 2K Boston/Australia's critically lionized undersea adventure, and Portal, the dimension-hopping puzzler included in Valve Software's Orange Box compilation. Each had five nominations, one more than the next-most nominated games, BioWare's Mass Effect and Infinity Ward's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

But while COD4 cleaned up at the Interactive Achievements Awards in Las Vegas, both it and Mass Effect walked away empty-handed in San Francisco. The night's big winner at the GDCA ceremony in the massive South Hall of the Moscone Center was Portal, which took home the ceremony's top prize, Game of the Year 2007, as well as Best Game Design and the Innovation Award.

For its part, BioShock also won three slightly less prestigious honors: Best Visual Art, Best Writing, and Best Audio. The rest of the awards were handed out to one game each: Real Time Worlds' Crackdown won Best Debut, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass won Best Handheld Game, and Best Downloadable Game went to flOw.

As for the ceremony itself, it began with Finnish developer Kloonigames taking home the top prize at the Independent Games Festival for its quirky game Crayon Physics Deluxe. Following a series of parody videos from game-comedy troupe Mega64, the GDC awards were doled out in a leadup to the higher-profile awards.

Naughty Dog cofounder Jason Rubin hosted the ceremony, saying he was entering the "Billy Crystal" phase of his career. Since he hasn't made games in the last few years, Rubin said he finally had a chance to play them, and was impressed with the abundance of quality candidates. However, Rubin's public speaking skills are also a bit rusty. In announcing Real Time World's Crackdown as the Best Debut Game, he accidentally proclaimed the award went to "Crack Time," drawing a chorus of laughs.

International Game Developers Association president Jason Della Rocca was honored with the Ambassador Award during the show, a change of pace for the industry face who normally finds himself presenting hardware instead of receiving it. "And here I thought being called a jackass and an idiot on national TV by [antigame activist] Jack Thompson was reward enough," Della Rocca said before rattling off a list of others he felt more deserving of the honor. After singling out the Penny Arcade Child's Play project, Della Rocca implored everyone in the audience to act as an ambassador for gaming and not give in to apathy.

Picking up on a theme from earlier in the day, Al Alcorn presented the inventor of the first gaming console with the Pioneer Award. In receiving the honor, Baer said it was a privilege to be there, and reminded the crowd in his succinct acceptance speech that he is still "cranking out stuff." As in the day's earlier session, Baer received a lengthy standing ovation from an appreciative audience.

Railroad Tycoon and Civilization builder Sid Meier received this year's Lifetime Acheivement Award, an honor presented to him by Electronic Arts' Louis Castle. Like Baer, Meier received a standing ovation as he took the stage. Saying he was an independent developer when he started just because there was no other kind, Meier remarked at the amazing growth of the industry, and thanked it as a whole for everything it has done since he first started developing.

When recapping all the nominees, Portal was the crowd favorite, drawing loud cheers from throughout the hall. Those cheers were then trumped when Portal was actually named the Game of the Year and the developers took the stage for the third time of the night. Valve CEO Gabe Newell took first crack at the acceptance speech with a haiku:

Orange Box puzzle game?
Digipen students are smart.
The cake is a lie.

As the applause died down, Rubin thanked the event's attendees and sponsors, wished the crowd a good night, and the schmoozing and networking of GDC resumed anew.

A full list of the Game Developers Choice Award winners is below. Tonight's ceremony also saw the Independent Game Festival winners crowned.

2007 Game of the Year
Portal (Valve)
Kim Swift, Erik Wolpaw

2007 Best Game Design
Portal (Valve)
Kim Swift, Realm Lovejoy, Paul Graham

2007 Best Visual Art
BioShock (2K Boston/2K Australia/2K Games)
Scott Sinclair, Shawn Robertson, Andrew James

2007 Best Technology
Crysis (Crytek/Electronic Arts)
Cevat Yerli, Douglas Binks, Timur Davidenko, Martin Mittring

2007 Best Writing
BioShock (2K Boston/2K Australia/2K Games)
Ken Levine, Emily Ridgway, Joe McDonagh, Susan O'Connor

2007 Best Audio
BioShock (2K Boston/2K Australia/2K Games)
Eric Brosius, Pat Balthrop, Emily Ridgway, Justin Mullins

2007 Best Debut
Crackdown (Real Time Worlds/Microsoft Game Studios)
Ramon Gonzalez, Violetta Sanchez, Rafael Diaz, Jose Guerra

2007 Innovation
Portal (Valve)
Kim Swift, Erik Wolpaw

2007 Best Handheld Game
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (Nintendo/Nintendo)
Eiji Aonuma

2007 Best Downloadable Game
flOw (thatgamecompany/Sony Computer Entertainment)
Kellee Santiago, Jenova Chen, Martin Middleton, Hao Cui, John Edwards, Nick Clark

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