January 28, 2006
The awards ceremony at Slamdance was a great party: three bands + liberal quantities of tequila = fun. Red Bull and Corazon were official sponsors of the Guerilla Game Competition, so the drill through the whole competition was all the free Red Bull you could drink all day, and all the free tequila you could drink all night. I unfortunately had a nasty cold the first couple of days of the competition, and so was having to take it very easy. But by the last night I was back in fighting trim. Andrew, who has more important things than game competitions going on in his life, was able to fly in for the last day, so we were at the awards ceremony together. An hour or two into the party, the organizers Sam and Carolyn took the stage and started announcing the awards.
The first award, the student Philosophy award (concept, visual design), went to USC’s team for Cloud, a meditative flying game where you gather clouds together to form shapes.
The next award, the student Physics award (physics-based gameplay), went to Digipen’s team for Rumble Box, a fighter where you knock your enemy’s blocks off (they’re made of nothing but blocks), eventually piling up enough blocks to climb out of the box. Then, for the last two awards, Sam whipped the crowd into a frenzy of anticipation by announcing “Who … Will … Get … The … Sparkies! Can you feel the tension?” Actually, I was standing there thinking “what the hell’s a Sparky” until Caroline held one up, explaining that it has been the tradition since the beginning of Slamdance to award Sparkies to the filmmakers, and that for the first time this year, the winners of the Guerilla Game Competition would get Sparkies.
The first Sparky for the audience choice award went to Mare and Raigan for N, their minimalist puzzle-platformer that combines ultra-challenging arcade action with timed puzzle solving. Then as a hush fell over the crowd (actually, there were a large number of people in the back of the room and around the bar who were there to party and continued to whoop it up throughout the ceremony, but it sounds better to say “a hush fell over the crowd”), Sam announced “and this year’s grand jury award winner is Procedural Arts’ Façade!”. Andrew and I just turned and stared at each other for awhile before heading to the stage. While of course we were hoping for it (you always hope for it), it was genuinely surprising to win. While Façade has gotten some play and attention, it’s not a game game (you know, where the gameplay’s all based on collision detection, movement, simulation), is not fun (in the circus and amusement park sense of fun generally employed in the game scene) and pushes a bit too far along a few too many design dimensions to generally get a group of people (i.e. judges) to agree that they like it. So while Tracy was kind enough later to say that the decision was obvious, we had no real expectations of winning. Ian (see comments) was happy for us, both as a friend, and because he felt like having something like Façade win the grand jury award put a stake in the ground for Slamdance being a true indy game scene, a place for games that aren’t just low-budget versions of standard commercial games (minor league), but rather games that radically innovate, that go out (sometimes too far) on a limb, that push the expressive boundaries of games as an art form.
The rest of the evening was spent in a fun (in the drunken debauchery sense of fun) blur.