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The lowlights of The Game Awards.

It’s December! Around this time, The Game Awards makes its presence known, with World Premieres, sponsored content and of course, games winning awards. Started by Geoff Keighley in 2014, it’s now entering its eighth year of trying to be something that’s the video game equivalent of the Academy Awards. Whether or not he’s succeeded is up for debate.

Way back in 2012, Year One of this blog, I had made a post about the “highlights” of Spike TV and their Video Game Awards, the predecessor to The Game Awards. It was rather crude, much like a fair share of my first few years of this blog, of which I eventually went back and gave it an overhaul in 2019. You can see the updated version here. I figured since I’m still going at this “writing about games” thing 10 years later, I figure it’s time to do part two of this series, covering the current version of the Video Game Awards.

I wonder if it’s ever been explained what that logo is meant to resemble.

The Game Awards are something I really hold no love to. It’s the most crass, commercial thing of the entire video game industry, replacing E3 as the most visible but problematic thing about the toxic game industry. Thus much like the first post, I’m going to point out some of the more awkward and stupid moments of this “revered” Game Awards.

But first, some ground rules: We’ll go year by year, covering what I feel are the most notable parts. We won’t talk much about what games actually won, as awards like these are arbitrary, and having a conversation about what should’ve won is like people who constantly debate about game review scores: pointless. We’ll only cover things that I think are worth being a lowlight, which might be missing out on some things that others might consider “cringe” and should be covered here. (Which means you won’t see me post something like SonicFox winning Best Esports Player in 2018 on this list, because he deserved that. Sorry.)

That being said, let’s get started.


The Repeat Offenders

Before we get into the inaugural year of The Game Awards, I’m gonna start by covering certain events that happen repeatedly in several years, to speed things along.

Poor Kyle Bosman. Heard he was respectable, at least.

From 2016 onward, each Game Awards starts with a 30 minute pre-show. During this process, they would alternate between interviews about the show, and showing off World Premieres and giving out some awards before the actual broadcast. In essence, the pre-show is like the regular show but at a faster clip. The hosts changed from year to year, but the hosts were Kyle Bosman (2016-2017), Geoff Keighley (2016-2018), and Sydnee Goodman (2019-present).

It has to suck to have the chance to win an award, only for it to be rattled off quickly by Geoff 5 minutes before showtime.

What awards get mentioned during the pre-show vary from year to year, but usually it’s the ones that wouldn’t have people come up to accept the award, or in the case from 2019 onward, the Esports centric awards. Shoving these off to a pre-show just to have more World Premieres always felt scummy to me, but apparently most contemporary award shows don’t cover all the awards in a single broadcast either, so… I don’t know. At least in some categories, they do have people come up to accept the award, so they at least get some time in the spotlight, just not on center stage.

In addition, this rapid-fire announcement of awards continues well into the regular broadcast. In a lot of cases, Geoff will appear on stage and go through up to 3-4 categories at a time, most of the time being the ones that are voted on by viewers. Again, nothing really wrong with this per se, but it just makes the actual awards just be a prop so we can get more World Premieres in.

Finally, returning from the Spike Video Game Awards, there are promotional ads everywhere. These change from year to year, but they’re often the go-to digital services of today: Discord, Grubhub, TikTok, Spotify, the works. Sponsors for upcoming video game films and video game-adjacent products are prominent. Facebook Gaming sponsors a taped segment each year covering gamers from around the world. And in some years, there’s ads for services that no longer exist, like go90 being incredibly prominent during 2015’s broadcast, or 2019, which had several ads for Google Stadia, a service shutting down in early 2023.

Much like its predecessor, there’s still award categories sponsored by brands like Samsung, Gillette and Subway. While there’s no “Most Addictive Game fueled by Mountain Dew” category anymore, it makes the award show feel a bit hollow to have brands sponsor specific awards.


2014

The debut year of The Game Awards was an… interesting affair. Since Geoff and the show’s production team were transitioning from broadcast television to internet streaming, there’s a fair share of technical problems that happen throughout the broadcast. Microphones don’t work, awkward camera cuts, the works.

Ever wanted the most unflattering angle of Troy Baker? The Game Awards 2014 has you covered.

One of those technical problems seems to be this secondary camera angle that they constantly cut to when not on center stage, where Geoff will either be talking or doing an interview with someone like Marty O’Donnell. I assume this camera angle has a purpose: maybe to get a better angle of the people being interviewed. But instead it just looks like someone in the control booth accidentally switched to the wrong camera. It’s kinda funny to get rather unflattering angles of people like Reggie Fils-Aime.

One common award featured during these broadcasts is “Trending Gamer,” an award voted upon the community highlighting notable internet gaming personalities. The award would eventually get renamed to “Content Creator of the Year,” but with the same rules in place.

The inaugural year has Justine “iJustine” Ezarik and Stephen “Boogie2988” Williams presenting the award, of which the candidates were a bunch of relatively unknown Youtubers, Pewdiepie, and weirdly, Jeff Gerstmann. The winner ended up being John Bain, better known as “TotalBiscuit.”

I’m putting this here because TotalBiscuit was one of those personalities who was very much on the side of Gamergate, even though he tried to renounce it a few times. He was a fairly toxic personality when it came to gaming culture, complete with saying that his critics “didn’t actually play games,” and introducing The Framerate Police, a Steam Curators group that basically wagged fingers at games that dared to have locked framerates for their games, like the original Tomb Raider from 1997.

TotalBiscuit passed away in 2018 from cancer, a few years after this award. At the time TotalBiscuit had found out he was in the early stages of cancer, thus he accepts his award from his home.

For the record, I do not wish he died of cancer. I wish he was still alive so that he could get his head on straight and not try to pander to the angry gamers crowd like he had. At worst, he could’ve gone the Pewdiepie route and powwowed openly with right-wing fascists. At least then I could rightly ignore the guy. Though, in retrospect, The Game Awards did go with the more safer choice, because if Pewdiepie won, the award would’ve been a much worse look today. But honestly, I wish Jeff Gerstmann won. After all, Jeff Gerstmann is still a threat.

In a continuation of the slapdash production of the first Game Awards, we have miscommunication leading to an awkward presentation.

Best Mobile/Handheld Game was presented by comedians Matt Braunger and Ron Funches, two fairly amusing people — I always loved when Funches appeared on The Giant Beastcast. After doing a silly bit where they try to rip off Angry Birds, they announce the winner: Blizzard Entertainment for Hearthstone. Matt then says “Blizzard can’t be here tonight,” and they accept the award in their honor. Cut to Geoff, confused, where he mentions that someone from Blizzard is at the show, but continues with a conversation with Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aime. Eventually Blizzard producer Eric Dodds appears to accept his award and give his speech at the little nook where Geoff is interviewing Reggie. It’s kinda hilarious that such a thing happened, and wouldn’t be the last time we would see award mishaps like these.

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FOX n FORESTS: A retro-style platformer with a surprising twist.

About 10 years ago on another WordPress blog I had, I made a rather dumb wordy rant about how retro pixel-style games sucked and how I was getting sick of them appearing everywhere. This was before games like Undertale and Celeste came out, games that showed how you could make that style work perfectly. In essence, I was being a graphics snob, which is somewhat uncharacteristic of me these days.

I only mention this because this post is gonna be about a game that uses pixel art, and how surprisingly good it looks. Basically letting my past self have some crow. Though in this case we’re talking about a fox, not a bird.

Oh no the fox is kinda cool-looking

FOX n FORESTS is a retro-style 2D platformer developed by Bonus Level Entertainment and Independent Arts Software, two studios based out of Germany. Bonus Level is a modest indie studio founded by Rupert Ochsner, a former developer who worked on projects at Deep Silver including Saints Row The Third, though mostly in a business role. Independent Arts on the other hand, are known for a myriad of games, mostly ports of games like Tropico 6 to console platforms and the Moorhuhn series of games (known as Crazy Chicken outside Germany). So two developers with at least some amount of game history, just on the more “shovelware” side of things.

Originally pitched on Kickstarter in 2016, FOX n FORESTS was released in May 2018 on all the major platforms: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and of course, PC via Steam. Outside of getting mentioned by James Stephanie Sterling in their “Greenlight Good Stuff” series, this game very much came and went when it came out. Yet I’m always curious about lesser-known games that aren’t talked about much, so I was willing to give it a try.

“Fifth season” sounds like a boy band from the ’90s. I guess it fits, considering what the game is referencing.

You play as Rick, a “foxtastic” – their words, not mine – hero who is persuaded from murdering a poor partridge to help the Season Tree, who’s lost their magic bark to various villains around the seasonal world. It’s up to Rick to recover the pieces of magic bark and give them back to the season tree to save the day, and get handsomely rewarded in the process.

Is the story a bit silly? Yeah, definitely. But I’m not expecting high-quality writing here, especially for a game trying to hearken back to the days of retro platformers from the SNES era.

Rick’s journey begins! …and already it’s a bit tougher than he was expecting.

Rick starts with a fairly simple arsenal of a sword and a bow. The sword is used to attack enemies while moving, crouching or jumping. The bow is used to attack enemies at a distance, but requires Rick to be completely stationary and on the ground. As Rick progresses, he gets arrows that can alternate between special fire modes that come in handy later on for damage, or to activate platforms he couldn’t get to previously.

Damn, I wish he could do that for real!

The sword has a very special ability: pressing on either left or right trigger changes the season, which varies from level to level. The first level lets Rick switch between the warm summery colors to a wintery cold, which freezes all the water and makes some platforms easier to see.

Another level switches between a spring dusk to a fall breeze, complete with growing fruit and falling leaves that double as platforms to make progress. This is a pretty neat mechanic. However, visiting the other seasonal area slowly drains your mana bar, so this requires a balance of switching between seasons at the most opportune times to make progress.

Damn, this badger ain’t even phased by those bees

At various points, another character named Retro the gaming badger appears to save the player’s progress mid-level, at the cost of some gold. Naturally he spouts off a bunch of retro video game references, as a wink and a nod to the games inspired by FOX n FORESTS.

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Blood: Just what the hell does “crudux cruo” mean, anyway?

Oh, right! It’s October. Usually that means having some kind of “spooky” game to write about. Under normal circumstances I would find some fairly obscure Halloween-themed action game and write about that. But it’s been quite a busy month for me, combined with there not being many spooky games that aren’t just horror clones ripping off Amnesia: The Dark Descent or SOMA. This makes actively seeking out something like that a challenge for me.

So instead I’ll probably dip more into the side of spooky games I can deal with. A spooky shooter game that thanks to recently replaying it again, has gotten me to appreciate it in a way I hadn’t done so before.

Dude, gross! Couldn’t you have washed your hands first?

I replayed Monolith Productions classic horror-humor FPS Blood. Released in early 1997, it’s been labeled one of “the Holy Trinity” of Ken Silverman’s Build Engine, the others being Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior, a game I wrote about way back in 2012. Of course, there’s other games that use that engine, though most of them are mediocre-to-bad, like Redneck Rampage or NAM. But that’s only a small blemish on an otherwise good game engine. After all, you haven’t truly made it as a game engine if you didn’t have a stinker or two using said engine.

A Discord server that I’m on has a monthly event where folks play a randomly determined game by poll. Blood ended up being the themed game for October, and that gave me enough of an incentive to jump back in and toss dynamite with the best of them. The last time I went through the game was 2019, so let’s see if I remember how this classic FPS plays.

“I live… again!”
…I always liked the sound of that.
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My First Sony and my love for cassettes.

My family were packrats. For the longest time, we’d just hoard things that we might need someday. But as time goes on, we’re slowly culling away those things we held onto, often times just books and old toys we no longer need. Often times it’s just stuff we didn’t need to hold onto, but some of it was fairly sentimental.

During this process of unearthing storage, we discovered a bunch of old things I honestly thought we tossed away, like the Sega Dreamcast keyboard, various board games and electronic toys. But there was one thing that we found that suddenly caused a wave of nostalgic feelings: A kid’s cassette boombox.

If your reaction is “This looks like a kid’s toy!” you’d be right.

This is the “My First Sony” CFS-2050 cassette boombox, released around 1992-93. My First Sony was basically Sony trying to make music players that were more child-friendly, with a red-yellow-blue color scheme. This one also came with a microphone that could be used for recording onto the tape, or just doing amateur karaoke. It could also double as an AM/FM radio if that’s more your thing.

Much like a lot of old hardware, the system came with problems when it was unearthed out of the storage tub it was in: The tape mechanism didn’t work at all. One of the most common problems with cassette players of this vintage is that the belts that handle playback have disintegrated, turning into rubber goop upon use. Indeed, after trying to use it once, one of the belts broke off and just wrapped itself around the motor. The other belt was still on the cassette deck, but I figure it wasn’t gonna be long before that too would end up breaking.

Looks rather daunting, but I bet I can make this work.

I am not really much of a repair person, but this thing’s held a bunch of memories to me that I couldn’t toss it away. A brief web search made me find the service manual, which had the part names for the two belts, which I was able to find thanks to a website that sells replacement parts for old music players. (I’ve linked the site in question at the bottom of this post.)

After removing the old belts and using rubbing alcohol to clean off any residue that might be still be on the wheels, I replaced the belts. After testing it opened up with a tape I had, it sprung to life and started playing music again.

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Visiting The Last Blockbuster Video.

Perhaps this is my age showing, but there’s a time where I fondly remember going to a video rental store to pick out a movie and have fun with it for a few days. There was a local video store in my neighborhood where we’d constantly go to for movies, though most of the time I just rented from their NES games, usually the game show ones. Though I did constantly see stuff like Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode and Fester’s Quest but never really got curious enough to play them.

The “good old days” of Blockbuster. (Courtesy of Vintage Tv Commercials on YouTube.)

Then Blockbuster Video opened up in the late 1980s. When the 1990s hit, they started to expand, appearing all around the United States. At this point, the local video rental store wasn’t the hot place anymore as we rented from both Blockbuster and its rival Hollywood Video more often as they had the newest stuff more immediately. Said video store has since shut down and been replaced by a Mexican food store. I still kinda miss that place.

Blockbuster was often our family’s go to for recent movies and video games. A fair share of games I played during the SNES and Genesis era came from Blockbuster. In an old post I made about my mom’s love for ToeJam and Earl, I mentioned that I still have the cartridge which was engraved with “Blockbuster Video” on the back. Still do, and it brings some nostalgic memories of not just my mother but also this video store chain.

But then we get into the 2000s, with internet streaming slowly becoming a thing. Netflix comes around and does similar services to Blockbuster Video but without all those late fees. They try to compete but it’s too late. Even with trying to be antagonistic towards Netflix with a somewhat infamous tweet, it isn’t enough. Blockbuster Video stores start closing in the US. The one that was in my area gets replaced by various stores including a Cricket Wireless store and a doctor’s office.

Normally, that would be the end of the tale. A business that muscled its way into being the primary market for something, got blindsided by new technology, and then just fizzled away to a past nostalgic memory. Blockbuster Video isn’t much of an entity in the United States these days. Except for one.

The sun-faded look of the Blockbuster letters is charming, in a sense.

Bend, Oregon has what is considered to be “The Last Blockbuster Video on the Planet,” and that store became somewhat legendary because of its staying power, being the last open store as of 2019. I’ve gone on camping trips near La Pine, Oregon over the years and every time we always drove past that Blockbuster, even though we were aware of how famous it was now. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I was genuinely worried about that place shutting down due to lagging sales as many other businesses did, thus not giving me the opportunity to visit what was considered a cultural landmark. Thankfully that didn’t happen, and I was able to visit it this year.

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