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If the Video Game Awards are actually an awards show, and not just a keynote for promoting upcoming games, then the big news from last night was The Walking Dead: The Game. Eminently quotable analyst Michael Pachter said before the show that if this title, a downloadable self-published game, took home Game of the Year, he'd eat his hat. To his credit, Pachter later tweeted out a request for one, presumably to consume.
But the surprises don't just stop there. The Walking Dead won Game of the Year coming out of the Best Adapted Game category. Except for 2003, the first year of the VGAs, when things were very different from today, only two adapted games have even been nominated for GOTY: Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City, and neither won. This is a different time in games development, with publishers looking for games whose characters and stories they fully own.
Some might look to a licensed or adapted work and consider that the game derives its significance, or at least the attention given to it, because it draws on some other franchise in popular entertainment. So it's strange that a licensed, adapted work reminds us that story, and characters, and choices, and the memorable experiences they create, matters most.
Here's another surprise nugget: The Walking Dead: The Game earned its makers five Video Game Awards. The next big winner? Journey, with three (including a nomination for Game of the Year.) Borderlands 2 also took home three awards, the best haul for a traditional boxed console game.
So if you're thinking this might have been a different Video Game Awards, in its 10th year, you're probably right. Had the show given more attention to that purpose—only a handful of these awards were actually presented in the broadcast—we might be pondering it as a landmark year. The VGAs are often accused of being an industry popularity contest, but maybe this year they acquired recognizable critical heft. We'll have to see what happens next year, and the year after.
So here are the 25 winners of the 2012 Video Game Awards, plus the Game of the Decade. Two fan-voted awards gave Character of the Year to Claptrap from Borderlands 2, and Most Anticipated Game to Grand Theft Auto V.
Also nominated: Assassin's Creed III, Dishonored, Journey, Mass Effect 3
Also nominated: 343 Industries, Arkane Studios, Gearbox Software
Microsoft Studios/343 Industries
Also nominated: Assassin's Creed III, Borderlands 2, Dishonored
Sony Computer Entertainment/thatgamecompany
Also nominated: Assassin's Creed III, Borderlands 2, Dishonored
Also nominated: The Last Story, Xenoblade Chronicles, ZombiU
2K Games/Firaxis Games
Also nominated: Diablo III, Guild Wars 2, Torchlight II
2K Games/Gearbox Software
Also nominated: Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Halo 4, Max Payne 3
Bethesda Softworks/Arkane Studios
Also nominated: Assassin's Creed III, Darksiders II, Sleeping Dogs
Also nominated: Diablo III, Torchlight II, Xenoblade Chronicles
2K Games/Gearbox Software
Also nominated: Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Guild Wars 2, Halo 4
Electronic Arts/EA Canada
Also nominated: Hot Shots Golf World Invitational, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13, WWE '13
2K Sports/Visual Concepts
Also nominated: FIFA 13, Madden NFL 13, NHL 13
Electronic Arts/Criterion Games
Also nominated: Dirt: Showdown, F1 2012, Forza Horizon
Also nominated: "Castle of Glass" (Linkin Park for Medal of Honor: Warfighter); "I Was Born for This" (Austin Wintory for Journey); "Tears" (Health for Max Payne 3)
Sony Computer Entertainment/thatgamecompany
Also nominated: Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Halo 4, Max Payne 3.
Microsoft Studios/343 Industries
Also nominated: Assassin's Creed III, Dishonored, Journey
Also nominated: Dust: An Elysian Tail, Fez, Mark of the Ninja
Atlus/Arc System Works/Atlus
Also nominated: Dead or Alive 5, Street Fighter X Tekken, Tekken Tag Tournament 2
Sony Computer Entertainment/Queasy Games
Also nominated: Gravity Rush, LittleBigPlanet (PS Vita), New Super Mario Bros 2
Also nominated: Emma Stone for Sleeping Dogs; Jen Taylor for Halo 4; Jennifer Hale for Mass Effect 3
Also nominated: Dave Fennoy for The Walking Dead: The Game; James McCaffrey for Max Payne 3; Nolan North for Spec Ops: The Line
Also nominated: Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two, LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron
Bethesda Softworks/Bethesda Game Studios
Also nominated: Leviathan for Mass Effect 3; Mechromancer Pack for Borderlands 2; Perpetual Testing Initiative for Portal 2
Also nominated: Fez, Journey, Sound Shapes
Also nominated: Draw Something, Marvel: Avengers Alliance, SimCity Social
Also nominated: Batman: Arkham City, BioShock, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Mass Effect 2, Portal, Red Dead Redemption, Shadow of the Colossus, Wii Sports, World of Warcraft
When Skyrim first came out, Bethesda had lofty promises for the game's downloadable content. Skyrim's DLC will feel like expansion packs, the developers assured us.
Reality has told a different story. Skyrim's first DLC, Dawnguard, was a disappointing add-on filled with boring, samey quests. The second DLC, Hearthfire, was basically Barbie's Playhouse with dragons.
Third time's a charm. I've spent a few hours with Skyrim's latest piece of DLC, Dragonborn, and what I've played so far certainly feels like an expansion pack. It could also turn out to be Skyrim's best DLC yet.
Skyrim's newest DLC—out today for Xbox 360, and early next year for PC and PS3 (yes, PS3!)—takes you to the island of Solstheim, which you may remember from one of Morrowind's expansion packs, Bloodmoon. Solstheim is full of problems, quests, cities, dungeons, and all sorts of other things to explore and fight your way through. It's also rather unusual.
See, the first thing you'll notice, once you take a boat to Raven's Rock and start poking your way through Solstheim, is that it actually feels like a new experience. There's a new map. There are strange new areas and enemies—a city of nature-worshiping Skaal is protected by a powerful wind barrier; an underground tomb's dark elf corpses turn into hideous (and deadly) Ash Spawn; little goblins called Rieklings infest watchtowers and castles all across the land. It's all very bizarre and interesting.
Entering Solstheim, for me, was sort of like starting up Skyrim from the beginning, with no knowledge of what was in store. Even though I haven't even seen everything that the original game's massive world has to offer, there's still something really exciting about dropping into a new map that's full of potential. In other words, it feels like an expansion pack.
The second thing you'll notice about Dragonborn, if you're like me and recently spent a ton of time with Dishonored, is that you will miss the Blink spell a great deal. That shit should be in everything.
But I digress. Perhaps the most common complaint about Skyrim, generally considered an excellent game, is that its world was not as magical, not as creative, not as unique as the world of Morrowind before it. Solstheim has some solutions to that problem. Yes, you'll still be battling through some dark dungeons filled with the same old traps and levers—hope you like fighting Draugr!—but there's more to see and explore. There are giant mushroom homes furnished with magical air elevators, sickening demon squid Lurkers that shoot blasts of shadowy ink at your face, strange gems that command you to bring them to nearby mountains. You know, the usual.
The main quest is fascinating, too. I won't spoil the details, but it revolves around a dude named Miraak—who may or may not be the first ever Dragonborn—and the spell he's cast upon the people of Solstheim to subconsciously turn them into his slaves. Your goal is to stop him.
"But wait," you might be saying. "It wouldn't be Skyrim without countless bugs and glitches everywhere you turn. Does Dragonborn have any of those?"
Of course! When you first load up your copy of Skyrim with Dragonborn installed, you'll be accosted by a group of cult members who want to kill you. This happened to me in Windhelm. Except they weren't very good at showing that they wanted to kill me: once our dialogue had ended, they walked around in a circle for a few seconds before finally going hostile and pulling out their fireballs.
And of course there are the goblins floating in mid-air in the middle of fights, the janky animation during one particular moment when you're switched to a third-person point of view, and all of the other little bugs that make Skyrim Skyrim.
But still, so far I'm very pleased with this piece of DLC. It might have taken a year for Skyrim to get its first real expansion pack, but this seems to be the one we've all been waiting for.
I'll have more on Dragonborn here on Kotaku as I continue to play the game today. Expect a full review soon.
Skyrim's next piece of downloadable content, Dragonborn, is out tomorrow for Xbox 360.
Can't wait til then? One person claiming to be a beta tester has sent some screenshots and alleged details about the new DLC to the website TheOuthousers.com. I've asked Bethesda whether or not this stuff is real, and will update if they respond, but for now, here are some of the highlights from the alleged leak.
Potential Dragonborn spoilers follow.
Perhaps the most interesting detail is the list of achievements, which, if real, would confirm the rumor that you can tame and ride dragons in Dragonborn.
- Outlander - Arrive on Solstheim (20 G)
- Raven Rock Owner - Own a house in Raven Rock (20 G)
- Solstheim Explorer - Discover 30 Locations on the island of Soltheim (30 G)
- The Temple of Knowledge - Complete "The Temple of Miraak" (20 G)
- The Path of Knowledge - Complete "The Path of Knowledge" (20 G)
- At the Summit of Apocrypha - Complete "At the Summit of Apocrypha (40 G)
- Hidden Knowledge - Learn the secrets of 5 Black Books (40 G)
- Stalhrim Crafter - Craft an item out of Stalhrim (20 G)
- Dragon Aspect - Learn all 3 words of Dragon Aspect (20 G)
- DragonRider - Tame and Ride 5 dragons (20 G)
According to the leaker, the DLC starts off with cultists coming after you, calling you "the false Dragonborn." You find a note on their bodies that leads you to a ship at Windhelm, which you can then take to Solstheim, the continent brought back from Morrowind. You can then explore and quest your way through the new continent.
The leaker has also got purported lists of some of the new spells, weapons, armor, and locations in Dragonborn.
Head on over to TheOuthousers for the full leak. Or just wait til tomorrow for the actual DLC.
Maybe you held off from getting and playing Skyrim last year, thanks to either the tingling of your wizardly instincts or an emptiness of wallet. Whether you waited or couldn't get it a year ago, you can get a Premium edition of Bethesda's hit action/RPG hybrid.
According to Examiner.com, the enhanced release of The Elder Scrolls V will be packed in with a bonus disc with behind-the-scenes content, trailers, walkthroughs, five music tracks and a 600-page e-book. The Premium Edition reportedly also comes with a map of the game's environs, a t-shirt with the dragon emblem and postcards featuring concept art.
Amazon.de lists the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of the Premium Edition at €59.99 (about $77.36) with a PC counterpart costing €49.99 on the PC (approximately $64.47). The product has a release date of December 7 on the online retailer listing.
Bethesda Softworks—publisher of Skyrim—has told Kotaku that the Premium Edition will be only available in some territories in Europe, with the U.K., Benelux, and Germany the only ones announced so far.
First images and details for premium edition of ‘The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' [Examiner.com, via Polygon]
Eagle-eyed Elder Scrolls fans have dug through the files for patch 1.8, which Bethesda released yesterday for PC, and found all sorts of clues that could hint at future content for the game.
One line hints at a return to Solstheim, the Nord colony last seen in the second expansion to Morrowind, Bloodmoon. Other patch files hint at dragon riding (!) and a bunch of other locations in and around Solstheim.
The patch also suggests that the DLC will be named Dragonborn, which was trademarked by Bethesda back in May.
If Dragonborn is really a thing, it would be Skyrim's third piece of downloadable content. Dawnguard and Hearthfire were both released earlier this year.
I've reached out to Bethesda for comment and will update should they respond.
Update: Bethesda says no comment.
1.8 Beta Update and Dragonborn DLC hints discussion [Bethsoft Forums]
Fashion photographer Emilie Elizabeth lives and works in Los Angeles, and has done a number of photo shoots for magazines, record labels, and advertising campaigns. She is also a gamer, and has done shoots for 2K Games and Treyarch.
Her series The Dragonborn is an uncommon look at the world of Skyrim. The series combines elements of high fashion photography—including the clothes, the make-up, and the models—with favorite elements from Skyrim. Everything from a bucket on the head to an arrow thankfully not-actually-in-the-knee appears, as well as gorgeous Californian landscapes that make a surprisingly good stand-in for Skyrim's Nord scenery. The full set is definitely worth a look.
The Dragonborn [Emilie Elizabeth Photography — thanks, Ryan!]
Behold these lovely screenshots and videos from Skywind, the ambitious fan-driven project to mod all of Morrowind in the world of Skyrim.
The project is already pretty stunning, but they have a ways to go. The modders are posting about their plans and goals on the forums of Morroblivion, a site designed to re-create Morrowind in Oblivion.
(And in case you want more Elder Scrolls recreations, it looks like they're making Oblivion in Skyrim too: You can see the Imperial City from Oblivion in one of the videos below.)
First, they get a version of Bethesda's hit action/RPG release that became increasingly unplayable. Then, PS3 owners had to endure news that they may not even get the Dawnguard DLC that Xbox 360 users got back at the end of June. The Dawnguard troubles make it all too easy to believe that Hearthfire's home-building features may never make it to the PS3 either.
So, yeah, if you're a PS3 who wants all that Skyrim magic on your console, you might feel cursed. Sony VP Adam Boyes feels your pain.
Boyes handles publisher relations for Sony, which means he interfaces with third-party developers. He's new there, having arrived about three, four months ago. But he knew all about the Skyrim woes when I asked him about the game after he spoke at the New York Gaming Conference this week. He took a deep breath before replying.
"We work with all of our partners to try and solve their problems," Boyes answered. "We have a big, broad dev support team that works closely with Bethesda—and with all of our partners—to work with them to solve that any sort of issues they have along the way."
"Of course, I always want everything to work always for everyone. I can't promise any kind of resolution or timeline but can say that everyone involved is trying their best to get this stuff working."
Just a heads up: I've experienced a significant bug in Skyrim's newest downloadable content that seems to be avoidable.
When you get your plot of land in Hearthfire, you'll be using two major devices: the drafting table and the carpenter's workbench. At the drafting table, you can select blueprints for buildings and wings in your new home. Once you've selected a blueprint, it moves over to the carpenter's workbench, where you can actually piece it together in stages: first you build a door, then a floor, then walls, etc.
After you've built an entryway and a main hall for your manor, you can start selecting optional rooms like a library or kitchen. Each set of rooms is attached to a wing of the house—you can only build bedrooms in the west wing, for example—but you can only start planning out one room per wing at a time.
This is where the problems start. If you pick a plan from the west wing, start building parts of it over at the workbench, and then select another plan from the west wing at the drafting table, everything goes wonky. You can lose progress and even deny yourself access to entire rooms. (One of my blueprints disappeared entirely, and I can't get it back.)
So what's the solution? Build one thing at a time. Don't pick multiple blueprints from the drafting table at once: just select one, finish all of its pieces at the workbench, and then move on to the next plan. Don't get cute and experiment with drafting, or you might lock yourself out of some of the game's content.
I've reached out to Bethesda to inform them of the bug and ask if they have plans to fix it. If you've experienced any other bugs (and know how they can be avoided) please post'em here!
There are four types of video game players, says Richard Bartle: the Explorer, the Socializer, the Killer, and the Achiever. The names are rather self-explanatory: the Explorer loves to wander; the Socializer loves to chat; the Killer loves to compete; and the Achiever loves to rack up points and trophies, even when they might seem arbitrary to everyone else.
You'll really enjoy Skyrim's latest piece of downloadable content, Hearthfire. But only if you're the type of player who gets a kick out of achieving things just for the sake of achieving them. Only if you're an Achiever.
Though Bartle, the man who invented MUDs (rudimentary text-based predecessors to MMORPGs), was mainly talking about online games when he devised his four archetypes, they apply even to single-player experiences like Skyrim. When I play Bethesda's open-world masterpiece, I think like an Explorer. I want to see the world, to find hidden secrets and discover everything the designers wanted me to discover, to slowly peel away at the story one layer at a time.
Throw in a few dashes of Killer and Socializer and you've got a basic rundown of the way I play video games.
That's why I had no real interest in Hearthfire, which came out Tuesday for Xbox 360. Hearthfire gives you an acre of land and asks you to build a house. You can add extra wings, decorations, and even a bedroom for children (which you can adopt, naturally). You can use your new home for storage or tea parties or corpse dissection or whatever else you feel like doing. It's yours.
To do all of this, you'll need to find ingredients. This is rather tedious. It usually means fast-traveling to a store, buying an iron ingot, hammering it down into a set of nails, realizing you're out of lumber, fast-traveling to a lumber mill, buying stacks of lumber 20 at a time by selecting the same dialogue options over and over, heading back to your place, realizing you're out of stone, walking to the convenient infinite stone quarry next to your house, mining for a while, encumbering yourself because you're carrying too much, and slowly treading back to build the next section of your manor. Rinse, repeat.
I've played several hours of this new DLC. I've built up a manor, adopted children, and turned my level 30 powerhouse into Domesticated Dragonborn. To me, there were few things enjoyable about this experience. It was nothing but a mundane to-do list.
See, I have no interest in showing off a gigantic mansion or collecting lots of ingredients. I don't care about how big my house is, much in the same way that I don't care about min-maxing or achievements or many of the other game mechanics that many players find fun. My brain just isn't wired to enjoy that sort of thing. I'd rather spend my time wandering and exploring and questing and killing and adventuring.
All that said, I can't speak for Achievers. I'm not one of them. If you're the type of person who can't get enough of trivia scores or Xbox Achievements, if you're constantly trying to master the leaderboards on Jetpack Joyride or collect a million coins in New Super Mario Bros. 2, this DLC may very well be perfect for you. It certainly does what it promises: it gives you the plans to a house and asks you to fill them in. It gives you the opportunity to progress through a series of sequences and feel like you've accomplished something grand. "Hey, look, I built a house!" you can scream to the world. And maybe someone will listen. It probably won't be me.