Videogames continue to be wildly popular across the globe, with sales of over $91 billion and 1.2 billion players in 2015, according to Newzoo. What types of games are popular continues to change, and is reflected in the nature of the award-winning games at the GDC. In contrast to past winners featuring pure slash-and-burn action, this year emphasized more storytelling and emotional immersion. The mobile game segment is increasing in popularity, with more female than male players, and revenues expected to exceed those of consoles in 2016. This was reflected by recent mergers—Mojang’s Minecraft, which has sold over 70 million copies, was purchased by Microsoft for $2.5 billion, and Candy Crush maker King was bought by Activision Blizzard for $5.9 billion.
Games that won awards, and were the buzz of the show, included:
Her Story. This new game from indie developer Sam Barlow, the creator of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, won a trifecta of awards: Most Innovative Game, Best Narrative and Best Handheld/Mobile Game. Available on PC, Mac and iOS, this is a crime fiction game involving a police database full of video footage of interviews of a woman regarding her missing husband. The game is similar to a movie, with live video footage of the interviews, but it’s nonlinear, and the player has to search through the footage like a detective to find its hidden layers. The search engine is intuitive, and the creative use of video clips provides gripping drama.
Ori and the Blind Forest. This game provides a background story about 10 minutes long that illustrates feelings of sadness, friendship and loss. You spend a lot of time just gazing around at stunning, hand-painted artistic backgrounds, before focusing on your character, Ori, a lemur-like critter that has to learn skills to move onward. As Ori learns, it becomes downright elegant, and the initial sadness turns to redemption and the downright fun of exploring a brightly-lit forest reminiscent of that in Avatar. It took Moon Studios four years to create this single-player game, released on Xbox and Windows, and it was worth it—it won the awards for both Best Debut and Best Visual Art at the GDC.
Crypt of the NecroDancer. Here’s a game you can dance to. This Brace Yourself Games production has simple 2D graphics, and covers familiar territory with endless dungeons and monsters, but has cutting-edge music and rhythm that is part of the game. It’s like the love child of a Role-Playing Game and Dance Dance Revolution. The driving music rules everything: different monsters move to different beats, and the player has to learn to go with the rhythm or get crushed. After a while, play becomes mesmerizing and instinctive. Crypt scored the best Audio Award.
Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. This game by Projekt RED is not for the faint of heart, but was obviously a labor of love, described as “one of the best games ever made” by GameSpot. It’s an open-world (i.e., the player can move anywhere, not only along predefined paths) Role-Playing Game in a colorful, detailed world demanding a lot of decision making. You assume the role of Geralt, a professional monster hunter, armed with a range of weapons, magic and potions that can be upgraded on the quest to find a child of prophecy. Along the way, you pass through rich cities, encounter pirate islands, explore deep caverns, develop dangerous (but cute) liaisons, and fight your way through mountain passes infested with lurking monsters. The highly detailed world seems to go on forever, and includes not only characters and scenery, but even weather and day/night times. Witcher, the third game in this series, sold 6 million copies in six weeks. It added the Game of the Year Award to its many other accolades in front of a wildly cheering GDC audience.