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On being a Spike VGAs judge (bonus: my nominees!)

[Note: This is a first draft ramble about the process; I had originally intended to just dump my choices here and move on. So please forgive any errors or oddities.]

Little known fact: to choose the nominees for the VGAs, Spike TV doesn't just throw tiny pieces of paper into a hat, each of them featuring the scribbled names of this year's top selling games. The truth is, Spike chooses a handful of the industry's "top critics" and games writers to submit their choices based on their in-depth knowledge of most (if not all) of the game's released in the past year.

You wouldn't know this, considering the fact that Spike doesn't really advertise it anywhere. If there's a list of this year's judges on Spike TV's official website, I couldn't find it. I can tell you that the panel consists of folks from Kotaku, Joystiq, Game Informer, IGN, Entertainment Weekly, Wired, Giant Bomb, USA Today, and more. Oh, and me, on behalf of Destructoid.

So there are some things you should know about the nomination process, and this might help clear a few things up. First, the games that are eligible for nomination must have been released between November 25, 2009 and November 23, 2010. What this means is that Polyphony Digital's long-delayed racer Gran Turismo 5 just missed the cut-off date for any nods, as the stars have aligned for it to hit shelves on November 24.

Nomination ballots were due to Spike by October 18, which means many of the games that made the cut (or were submitted for consideration) weren't yet released at the time. Judges are chosen for a few reasons, one of which is access to early code and hands-on time with games at preview events over the past year. This would explain why a game like Donkey Kong Country Returns -- which isn't even on store shelves yet at the time the nominations were made public! -- was able to make the final cut.

Prior to the cut-off date for submissions, many publishers were able to supply early or near-final code of games not yet releases, as well. Examples of this include Electronic Arts getting out code of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit and Ubisoft providing me with a disc of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood for consideration. Many publishers also provided judges with copies of games released earlier in the year; EA and 2K are of particular note, as I received two massive boxes of titles to check out just about a week before nominations were do. Spike also has a pretty firm "no solicitation" policy, which means that while publishers can provide you with a list of games for "consideration," they can't aggressively campaign for the inclusion of any titles. This means that EA didn't send actress Yvonne Strahovski to my house holding a bag of money while wearing a bikini, and Activision didn't offer to my pay my son's college tuition for me to make note of Call of Duty: Black Ops as one of the year's most polished shooters.

Today, Spike revealed its nominees for this year's VGAs, and it's a list that's completely predictable in many ways, but utterly baffling in others. I shouldn't have to point out to any gamer that Emmanuelle Chriqui's role in Call of Duty: Black Ops was negligible at best, yet her name appears among those selected for "Best Performance By A Human Female." (Seriously, I don't even remember a single female's voice in Treyarch's shooter!)

For all judges, choosing the "best of the year" is hard, whether it's for their respective publications or in helping Spike. It's not simply a matter of choosing your favorite games, but it's a matter of looking at a wide range of titles, and being able to look at them both objectively and critically. For example (and this is about to generate some heat, I'm sure), I'm not a huge fan of Red Dead Redemption. I've put a number of hours into the game, and it never really grabbed me; I still haven't completed it to this day. But with that said, I can see the merits of the title, and I understand that Rockstar Games has created a compelling and unique experience that does stand as one of this year's bests... just not necessarily for me right now. Still, and you'll see this below, I was able to confidently submit it as a "Game of the Year" nomination. Again, this isn't a matter of me picking my person favorite games this year, but being able to evenhandedly select well-crafted titles. If it were personal, imagine the shock and awe of seeing Zuma Blitz up there alongside Mass Effect 2!

I want to make it clear that I'm incredibly honored to have been asked by Geoff Keighely and Spike TV to provide my input for the Spike VGAs. This is my third or fourth year in a row, and as "just some dude who kind of likes videogames," I'm still wondering at what point my opinion and industry knowledge started holding any kind of weight. (Honestly, I'm baffled daily.) While I don't particularly agree with how the show is marketed and presented, I do understand who Spike's target is and its desire to make the show attractive to a broad range of viewers and advertisers. And I have to hand it to Geoff and company for doing a pretty spectacular job of trying to make the show compelling to even the most jaded gamers; the number of first-looks at major franchises and upcoming titles alone should make it worth checking out.

What I'm trying to say is that I'd do it again, even if parts of the final list of nominees (of which I have to help choose winners!) makes my brain ache. I hope that Geoff and Spike continue to let me be a part of the process in the hopes that it helps, in some way, give the awards a legitimacy that some gamers seem to think it lacks.

With that said, below are the list of nominees I submitted to Spike on October 18. Looking back, I stand by most of what's here. Many of these choices were tough, and many categories left me scratching my head when I felt there weren't any particular standouts. But these are my choices, and I look forward to you flaming me because your favorite game wasn't included on the list.


Game of the Year

1.) Mass Effect 2
2.) Super Mario Galaxy 2
3.) Red Dead Redemption
4.) Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty
5.) Halo: Reach

Studio of the Year

1.) Blizzard
2.) BioWare
3.) Rockstar
4.) Ninja Theory

Best XBOX 360 Game

1.) Halo: Reach
2.) Fable III
3.) Alan Wake
4.) Red Dead Redemption

Best Wii Game

1.) Kirby�s Epic Yarn
2.) Super Mario Galaxy 2
3.) Sin and Punishment 2
4.) Metroid: Other M

Best PS3 Game

1.) God of War 3
2.) Heavy Rain
3.) Gran Turismo 5
4.) ModNation Racers
5.) Red Dead Redemption

Best PC Game

1.) Civilization 5
2.) Strarcraft II: Wings of Liberty
3.) Mass Effect 2
4.) Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Best Handheld Game

1.) God of War: Ghost of Sparta (PSP)
2.) Angry Birds (iOS/Android)
3.) Dragon Quest IX (DS)
4.) Shantae: Risky�s Revenge (DSiWare)
5.) Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep (PSP)

Best Shooter

1.) Halo: Reach (Xbox 360)
2.) Call of Duty: Black Ops (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)
3.) Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)
4.) BioShock 2 (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

Best Action Adventure Game

1.) Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (PS3, Xbox 360)
2.) God of War III (PS3)
3.) Bayonetta (PS3, Xbox 360)
4.) Assassin�s Creed Brotherhood (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)
5.) Red Dead Redemption (PS3, Xbox 360)

Best RPG

1.) Mass Effect 2
2.) Fallout: New Vegas
3.) Final Fantasy XIII
4.) Valkyria Chronicles 2
5.) Dragon Quest IX

Best Multi-Player Game

1.) Halo: Reach
2.) Call of Duty: Black Ops
3.) Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit
4.) StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty
5.) Monday Night Combat

Best Individual Sports Game

1.) EA Sports MMA
2.) NBA Jam
3.) Skate 3
4.) Shaun White Skateboarding
5.) UFC 2010 Undisputed

Best Team Sports Game

1.) NBA 2K11
2.) Madden NFL 2011
3.) FIFA Soccer 11
4.) MLB 10: The Show

Best Driving Game

1.) Gran Turismo 5 (PS3� pending release)
2.) Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (PS3, Xbox 360)
3.) Split/Second (PS3, Xbox 360)
4.) Blur (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)
5.) F1 2010 (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

Best Music Game

1.) Rock Band 3 (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii)
2.) Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii)
3.) DJ Hero 2 (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii)
4.) Green Day: Rock Band (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii)
5.) Def Jam Rapstar (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii)

Best Soundtrack

1.) DJ Hero 2
2.) Rock Band 3
3.) Def Jam Rapstar
4.) Mafia II

Best Song in a Game

1.) �Brad�s Theme� (Comic Jumper)
2.) �I�ll Take It All� (James Bond Blood Stone)
3.) �Far Away� (Red Dead Redemption)

Best Original Score

1.) Red Dead Redemption
2.) Enslaved
3.) Comic Jumper
4.) Assassin�s Creed: Brotherhood
5.) Final Fantasy XII

Best Graphics

1.) Heavy Rain
2.) Final Fantasy 13
3.) Limbo
4.) God of War III
5.) Enslaved

Best Adapted Video Game (Movie, TV Show, Comic Book, GFX Novel, Toy, etc)

1.) Batman: The Brave and the Bold (Wii)
2.) Dante�s Inferno (PS3, 360)
3.) Toy Story 3 (PS3, 360)
4.) GoldenEye 007 (Wii)
5.) Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (PS3, 360)

Best Performance By a Human Male (Voice Acting)

1.) Andy Serkis (�Monkey,� Enslaved)
2.) Danny Trejo (�Raul the Ghoul,� Fallout New Vegas)
3.) Rob Wiethoff (�John Marston,� Red Dead Redemption)
4.) T.C. Carson (�Kratos,� God of War III)
5.) Robert Clotworthy (�James Raynor,� StarCraft II)

Best Performance By a Human Female (Voice Acting)

1.) Fanella Woolgar (�Sofia Lamb,� BioShock 2)
2.) Lindsay Shaw (�Trip,� Enslaved)
3.) Tricia Helfer (�Sarah Herrigan,� StarCraft II)
4.) Felicia Day (�Veronica,� Fallout New Vegas)

Best Downloadable Game

(Console, PC, Handheld, etc are eligible)

1.) Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
2.) Limbo
3.) Comic Jumper
4.) Joe Danger
5.) Shantae: Risky�s Revenge

Best DLC

(The DLC has to be released b/w 11/25/09 & 11/23/10, not the game itself.)

1.) Mass Effect 2 �Lair of the Shadow Broker�
2.) Borderlands �The Secret Armory of General Knoxx
3.) Dead Rising 2: Case Zero
4.) Red Dead Redemption �Undead Nightmare�

Best Independent Game

1.) Super Meat Boy
2.) Comic Jumper
3.) Shank
4.) Max and the Magic Marker
5.) Limbo

Most Anticipated Game

(Has to be an announced game released after 12.11.10)

1.) Gears of War 3
2.) Dragon Age 2
3.) Batman: Arkham City
4.) inFamous 2
5.) Portal 2
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About Nick Chesterone of us since 8:17 PM on 11.15.2006

Editor-in-Chief @ Destructoid.com

E-mail: nick at destructoid.com

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