'Bioshock' takes writing, audio, visual art honors

SAN FRANCISCO — “Portal,” the highly acclaimed puzzler that publisher-developer Valve released as part of its “Orange Box” compilation, was named game of the year at the Game Developers Choice Awards on Wednesday.

“Portal” is a short and intricate game in which players have to work their way through rooms using a gun that lets them enter a wall at one point and exit at any other. It also won prizes for innovation and game design.

The only other game to draw multiple kudos was 2K’s “Bioshock,” 2007’s other critical favorite. It took honors in audio, visual art and writing.

Voting by game designers determines the winners at the kudofest, held as part of the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Wednesday at GDC also saw Microsoft unveil a YouTube-like distribution system for independently created games. In a keynote address, execs said the service will allow anyone who uses the company’s XNA toolkit, which enables amateur designers to make casual games, to offer their finished product to Xbox 360 owners via digital download. Service will start beta testing in the spring.

“We already have had lots of games made with XNA, but nothing to do with them,” Chris Satchell, general manager of Microsoft’s developer group, said in an interview. “This is the democratization of game distribution.”

Company hasn’t finalized plans for pricing. It’s not clear whether all games on the service will be free or if designers will be able to charge for their work.

A suite of social media tools enabling users to share and rate games is expected. Microsoft will have active designers participate in a peer review process to ensure that submitted titles don’t have pirated or obscene content.

If successful, the service could let amateur game designers showcase their work and launch their careers online, just as many filmmakers are now doing.

“This is a great way to give designers exposure and help them be identified by publishers,” Satchell noted.

Online sharing of films of gameplay made in “Halo 3″ is already extremely popular. Microsoft said in the keynote that approximately 100,000 videos from the game are being posted online each day — about 30% more than the average for all of YouTube.

Later this year, Sony is releasing PlayStation 3 title “LittleBigPlanet,” which will let users create their own levels. Microsoft’s new service is the first to distribute amateur games onto consoles, however.

Microsoft also said XNA designers will be able, for the first time, to make their games for the company’s Zune portable music and video player. It’s the first sign that Microsoft is planning to make the struggling Zune brand its portable gaming solution. Device is more powerful than most cell phones, though not on a par with Sony’s PSP or Nintendo’s DS. It’s not yet clear how Microsoft plans to distribute games for the Zune.

Also in its keynote, Microsoft confirmed widespread expectations that it and developer Epic Games are making a sequel to 2006’s hit game “Gears of War.” Title will be released in November. New Line is working on a “Gears of War” film adaptation.

2007 GAME DEVELOPERS CHOICE AWARD WINNERS

Best Game Design
Portal (Valve)
Kim Swift, Realm Lovejoy, Paul Graham

Best Visual Art
BioShock (2K Boston/2K Australia / 2K Games)
Scott Sinclair, Shawn Robertson, Andrew James

Best Technology
Crysis (Crytek/Electronic Arts)
Cevat Yerli, Douglas Binks, Timur Davidenko, Martin Mittring

Best Writing
BioShock (2K Boston/2K Australia / 2K Games)
Ken Levine, Emily Ridgway, Joe McDonagh, Susan O’Connor

Best Audio
BioShock (2K Boston/2K Australia / 2K Games)
Eric Brosius, Pat Balthrop, Emily Ridgway, Justin Mullins

Best Debut
Crackdown (Real Time Worlds / Microsoft Game Studios)
Ramon Gonzalez, Violetta Sanchez, Rafael Diaz, Jose Guerra

Innovation
Portal (Valve)
Kim Swift, Erik Wolpaw

Best Handheld Game
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (Nintendo / Nintendo)
Eiji Aonuma

Best Downloadable Game
Flow (thatgamecompany / Sony Computer Entertainment)
Kellee Santiago, Jenova Chen, Martin Middleton, Hao Cui, John Edwards, Nick Clark

Game of the Year
Portal (Valve)
Kim Swift, Erik Wolpaw

SPECIAL AWARDS

Lifetime Achievement Award
Sid Meier

Pioneer Award
Ralph Baer

Ambassador Award
Jason Della Rocca

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