Games for Lunch: Spike TV Video Game Awards 2009
Developer: Geoff Keighley
Publisher: Spike TV
Release Date: Dec. 12, 2009
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web site
0:00 I've watched the Spike TV VGAs a few times in the past and each time come away less than impressed. I was out at a holiday party this Saturday evening, but I did DVR the live festivities out of morbid curiosity, if nothing else. I managed to avoid reading about the winners -- or even the nominees -- up to this point, but I did hear about the big Green Day: Rock Band announcement already, so that's one less surprise I have in store for myself over the next hour.
0:01 The Comcast info screen for my recording says, "Coverage of the seventh annual awards ceremony honoring achievements in the video-game industry is featured." Coverage? Like it's a news program or something. Also, hooray for passive voice.
0:02 It's seems my DVR caught the end of some cheesy cop show. One guy is crying to another guy about the girl that got away or got murdered or some such. What is this, Lifetime? Where's the violence?
0:03 After a warning about "M-rated game footage" and "viewer discretion," we fade in to an elaborately lit stage with a giant wrapped box in the center. A tag on it says "Don't open until 12/12." "Good evening, gamers. Welcome to the biggest night in gaming," says the voice of Mark Hamill's Joker, straight out of Arkham Asylum. "I miss you all so much. But 'tis the season to be naughty, and I'm ready to give you all presents." Huh? "Are you ready for a big surprise?" The box pops open and two black-clad henchmen pop out, walking through the audience and spraying "gas" on the crowd. One woman coughs violently. Two other guys look extremely bored. "Here's a sequel you didn't see coming," says the Joker. "Too bad you won't be able to play it." Wait, it's a sequel to Arkham Asylum. I think EVERYONE saw that coming, actually.
0:06 Well, the most I can gather from that trailer is that the sequel is going to feature the Joker again, that part of it might take place in the streets, and that there might be bumper cars involved. Seriously, there was exactly zero gameplay footage or even hints at what changes might be coming to the next game.
0:07 "Welcome to the biggest night of the year for gamers around the globe," says a computer-ish female voice. I'm not sure if I'd go THAT far ... but whatever. "Shown in over 180 countries, it's the Spike TV Video Game Awards." 180 countries? I didn't even know there WERE 180 countries. I'd love to see that list. "With killer world premieres and official announcements of the most anticipated games of the future." And awards, right? You are gonna give out awards at some point? It's not just a big advertisement for upcoming games, right?
0:08 Halo: Reach, UFC Undisputed 2010, Star Wars, Tron, Prince of Persia, Medal of Honor, Crackdown, a new Rock Band, "and more surprises" are all in store. Whatever happened to appreciating the games that are ALREADY out, huh? Also appearing: Jack Black, Samuel L. Jackson, Kimbo Slice (who?), Olivia Wilde (WHO?), Stevie Wonder (him I know), Snoop Dogg (him too), the Bravery (cool!). "The future of gaming starts right here ... right now." Er, don't awards shows usually recognize the recent PAST of gaming? Just saying...
0:09 Zachary Quinto (WHO?!?!?!) is introducing the Best Voice award. He's "an exciting new force in the world of gaming," according to the announcer, because he's the voice of Atari's new Star Trek Online game. "And it's awesome," he assures us. OK, then. Nominees: Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn (good performance, won't win). Claudia Black as Chloe Frazer (also good, also won't win). Jack Black as Eddie Riggs (he's a lock to win). Nolan North as Nathan Drake (ooh, he's a possibility). Mark Hamill as the Joker (man, another strong candidate). I like the montage of performance clips from their games, too.
0:12 Jack Black wins, as I predicted. He looks like he just rolled out of bed, but he gets up and puts on a Santa cape as he rushes energetically to the stage. "Woohoo. Game of the year, bitches. Game of the f***ing year. YEAH YEAH!" Er, someone should tell him that's not what he won. "Hey Arkham Asylum, tell me how my ass tastes. Uncharted 2. More like Uncharted Poo. Left 4 Dead 2. More like Left 4 Dead ... POO!"
0:13 Black's going on and on about his Game of the Year win when a stage tech comes on and tells him what he actually won. "Oh, best voice. OK, whatever. Sorry about the whole tasting my ass thing." He says he'll be up again in an hour for the Game of the Year award. The tech comes back. "What do you mean, we're not even nominated? Damn you, Spike VGAs! Damn you to hell!" He breaks the podium and some really fake-looking security guards come to take him away. It's very obviously staged, but not too awful as these things go. But ... Jack Black must have known about his win well before the show, then. And did they pick him just because they thought he could pull off a funny bit? Where's Price Waterhouse Coopers when you need them?
0:15 "Visceral, heart-stopping and breathtaking are only some of the words to describe the world premiere of True Crime." Um ... I guess that's true. A guy runs down Hong Kong streets, throwing people into neon-covered walls, riding a motorcycles up the top of a cop car, jumping through the window of a moving car. Looks like a decent GTA clone. The trailer draws lots of cheers from the audience.
0:16 I fast-forward through the first commercial break. Actually, it's the third commercial break if you count those trailers as the commercials they are. Seriously, is this an awards show or an industry infomercial?
0:17 We come back with blue-and-green Tron light cycles projected on the screen on the back of the stage. They're going down stairs, around banked curves, etc. One goes down a narrow alley and the other tries to stop. Freeze-frame as Olivia Wilde comes out in front of a real-life light cycle. She talks up the "Tron: Evolution" movie she'll be in next December, of course. But she's "also excited to be in the videogame." You can hear the excitement in her voice. Oh, wait, no you can't. She actually sounds embarrassed to be there.
0:20 Tron videogame trailer time. A guy in a hooded cloak with neon yellow trim walks across a flat electrical field. "A new threat rises. Before the legacy starts ... the battle begins." There were about five seconds of light-cycle racing and three seconds of bo-staff combat, but otherwise it was just a lot of sound and fury.
0:21 "Skateboarding and videogame sensation Tony Hawk" comes out to the Beastie Boys. "Action is when you see a hot girl across the bar and you walk up and kiss her. Adventure is when you find out she has a boyfriend in the bathroom. Action-adventure is when you're running down the street in just your boxers with an angry boyfriend trying to kill you." Wait, when did your clothes come off? And does the girl have any say in the kiss? And is this your idea of witty awards banter?
0:22 Nominees: Assassin's Creed II, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Brütal Legend and Uncharted 2. All pretty expected, all decent choices. I think Batman will win, but Uncharted has a chance. Oh, Assassin's Creed wins it. Wait, Hawk didn't even open an envelope. It was just sitting there on the teleprompter? That's not how you do it!
0:23 Two French developers no one's ever heard of come up to accept the award. They thank the fans, the creative director, the producers, the directors, etc. etc. One of them actually gives a portion of the speech in French. Hey, this is America, buddy!
0:25 A Deadliest Warrior promo, now. "You love the series on Spike, and now you can bring the battle home to your living room." Neither of those things is true, actually. I've never even heard of the show, but the 10-second trailer for the next season makes it look like "Mythbusters" but with more weapons. The game shows a ninja and a knight in full armor fighting in a forest. "Who is Deadliest?" the trailer asks. "Who cares?" I ask.
0:27 Commercial break No. 2. So far we've had two awards and four trailers. And that's not including the actual commercials I've been fast-forwarding through. Jeeeeeez!
0:28 Kimbo Slice is apparently "one of the most dynamic figures in the UFC." No wonder I've never heard of him. I'm slowly realizing I'm really not the target audience for this show. Anyway, Kimbo says the last UFC game was "missing only one thing: me." The trailer has a bunch of UFC guys (I assume) talking about what it takes to compete, then actually shows some gameplay. Looks pretty realistic, based on the one UFC fight I've actually seen.
0:29 "This world premiere was brought to you by GameStop. Power to the players." Wait, the ads have other ads embedded in them? This is getting ridiculous.
0:30 Zach Braff comes out with a shapely woman in bikini. "Thanks, Mom," he says as she leaves. Heh. He's introducing Studio of the Year nominees: Naughty Dog, Infinity Ward, Rocksteady Studios and Valve. As far as I can tell, each of these studios only put out a single game this year. So why not just get rid of the category and jump ahead to Game of the Year? Whatever. I think Valve or Infinity Ward will win. And... It's Rocksteady! I'm wrong again. Congrats, guys.
0:34 "He is a peacekeeper, not a soldier, but you do not want to get on his bad side. Please welcome Samuel L. Jackson." Um ... he's an actor, actually. Nice reference, though. Man, he looks old with his scraggly white beard. He yammers on about the force and how he's a good Jedi, not a bad Jedi like you'd expect. "If you carry a red lightsaber, I will cut you in half." Tepid cheers. The audience is really not into it. "I sense the Force will become stronger in each of you tonight...." as they announce a new Star Wars game.
0:36 "Death is a natural part of life." says Yoda. "Foolishly you hold hope of the life you once had," says Vader. They both fill the background with conflicted voices as a hooded figure walks down a hallway. Then, cheers from a stadium full of people as he pulls back hood and steps in the middle of a gladiatorial arena. A big beast corpse comes flying out of a huge door, followed by an even bigger beast behind it. Electricity crackles from the hooded guy's hands; then he sends it out along the long screens alongside the stage. Two lightsabers get embedded in the ground to make the "II" in The Force Unleashed II. The cheers seems quieter than they were for Arkham Asylum.
0:39 I'm too slow with the fast-forward button and see an ad for a show called "Manswers" discussing how long you have to reattach a severed penis. So ... yeah.
0:40 Jake Gyllenhaal comes out amongst a futuristic city backdrop. "What's up, guys?" he asks casually before talking up the "Prince of Persia" movie. He introduces a "never-before-seen hint of what this adventure is going to be." It looks like a shorter version of the same old trailer that came out a few weeks ago, to me. Still Spike calls it a "First Look," so who am I to argue?
0:41 "From Spike's new football comedy, please welcome the cast of 'Blue Mountain State.'" They come out with cheerleaders and a ram mascot. I don't know where to begin. One guy keeps insulting Tim Tebow as they introduce the award for best Team Sports Game. "Tim Tebow's a pussy ... Tim Tebow's a 22-year-old virgin!" This is comedy? "So remember to watch 'Blue Mountain State' on SPIIIIIIIKE!" More tepid applause.
0:44 NHL 10 wins. I am shocked. They're not just going with the popular choices, that's for sure. I just noticed, they announce the names of the guys accepting the awards, but they don't put those names up on-screen or explain WHY these people are the ones accepting the awards. One of these guys is an NHL hall-of-famer, apparently, but I only know that because of their awkward acceptance banter. Is a title or two too much to ask?
0:46 Moving right on to a trailer for Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands. "In this sand lies the might of mountains, the unforgiving strength of forgotten stone. Sultans die, kingdoms fall, but the sand remains. Now hidden within is a dark secret." No gameplay footage ... just a lot of pre-rendered sand and the Prince running on walls as a castle crumbles. Ho hum.
0:47 So instead of presenting the nominees and everything for "best performance by a human male," they just do a quick intro and cut to a satellite uplink of Hugh Jackman, holding two awards in what looks like an abandoned warehouse. He says they're heavier than the Oscar he's never won. Heh. The second award is for Best Cast, apparently. They're so short on time they have to combine awards? Yeah ... wouldn't want to take time away from the freaking trailers.
0:49 Olivia Wilde comes out again. They couldn't afford to get a new presenter for each world-premiere trailer? She gets enough catcalls and wolf whistles from the crowd that she actually has to stop and chuckle out a thank you. Stay classy, Spike TV audience.
0:51 Up for Indie Game of the Year: 'Splosion Man, Flower, Osmos and Trials HD. Flower should win. And it does. Kellee Santiago and Jenova Chen come up to accept. Finally, people I've freaking heard of.
0:52 Kellee is a little nervous, but obviously very gratified. They thank Sony for helping them "play 'Indie' on the easy mode." Jenova tells those laid off by other companies to "come join us." Seems unrehearsed and honest, and gets lots of cheers. The best speech yet.
0:53 "All hail the Doggfather," says the announcer as Snoop Dogg comes out with a bunch of dancers to perform a song I don't know or care about.
0:54 Lyric of the moment: "Yo yo yo yo yo yo yo yo yo yo yo yo yo. Snooooop doggggg. Hey hey hey hey hey hey hey."
0:57 A trailer for Spec Ops: The Line looks like a mix of Uncharted, Modern Warfare 2 and Gears of War, in turns. The story seems a direct rip-off of "Apocalypse Now," with a search mission for a rogue general causing all sorts of problems. Seems interesting, nonetheless.
Would I watch this show for more than an hour? No.
Why? Watching the trailers and reading the winners list online would have saved me a lot of time and aggravation.
This column is based on a standard-definition copy of the program recorded to the columnist's DVR.