Year In Review, Awards, GOTY (Long Article)

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- First Quarter (January - March) -

As usual, 2005 began with the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Expectations were high, as it was expected that Microsoft would use the event to unveil its as-yet-unnamed next-generation Xbox. But while multibillionaire mogul Bill Gates did deliver a keynote presentation with the help of TV host Conan O'Brien, nothing could mollify the disappointment of those in the audience who remembered CES 2000, where Gates introduced the first Xbox. Gamers would have to wait well into the year for a glimpse of the new game machine.

But that didn't mean the opening weeks of 2005 were a disappointment, especially if you liked to play massively multiplayer online role-playing games. Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft began the New Year with a bang, cracking sales of 600,000 units and boasting more than 200,000 concurrent users--the highest number yet for a Western MMORPG. By year's end, over 4.5 million gamers would be WOW-ed worldwide.

Good for donut shops, bad for game studios--just ask the lawyers in Redwood Shores.

Also stunning was a midmonth announcement that Electronic Arts had signed a 15-year deal with television network ESPN, robbing rival Take-Two Interactive of its premier sports-branding partner. Estimates would later peg the deal as costing the publisher as much as $800 million, in addition to the hundreds of millions EA forked out to acquire exclusive NFL rights in late December 2004. Just weeks later, the publisher further tightened its grip on all things pigskin with an exclusivity deal with the up-and-coming Arena Football League.

Some notable hits in the quarter included the surprise tease touting Will Wright's post-Sims space sim, Spore, at the Sims designer's Game Developers Conference presentation in March. (Afterward, he quickly darted back to his secret Emeryville, California, studio, shielded from curious reporters.)

Sony's US boss, Howard Stringer, scored the top slot at Sony Corp. from outgoing CEO Nobuyuki Idei, beating out the "father of the PlayStation," Ken Kutaragi. Kutaragi also suffered a demotion or two within the many-layered Sony Corp. hierarchy (perhaps due to his open criticism of Sony's handheld strategy) but stayed on as head of the company's game division, Sony Computer Entertainment.

Was Half-Life 2 worth the wait? GDC attendees thought so...

The first quarter of 2005 was also full of lower-level misfortune. Titus, the Paris-based owner of fallen publisher Interplay, finally threw in the towel and filed for bankruptcy. Electronic Arts contributed its share of rotten news when it handed 60 staffers at its EALA studio pink slips. Insiders lamented the loss of what could have been, following the closure of fabled Eidos-owned studio Ion Storm and indie shop Troika Games, maker of Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines.

For optimists, the good outweighed the bad. Thanks to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Take-Two Interactive reported a whopping $52 million profit for the first fiscal quarter of 2005, a 74 percent increase over the same period a year earlier. Microsoft reported that Halo 2 sales tipped the scales at 6.4 million units after less than three months at retail. EA finally admitted it was making a game based on the movie The Godfather and had landed the voice-acting talent of James Caan, Robert Duvall, and the recently deceased Marlon Brando. (Eventually, though, the game would be delayed until 2006, whacking EA's stock price.)

The quarter ended with the first major challenge to Nintendo's handheld monopoly in North America in years. On March 24, the PlayStation Portable launched in the US atop an avalanche of publicity. But while Sony touted the platform's $150 million first-week take, its debut was less than a perfect 10. Out of an initial batch of 1 million PSPs sent to retailers, only 602,000 units were sold.


Second Quarter (April - June)

Though largely overshadowed by the US PSP launch in late March, early April 2005 did have a few stories of note. Sean Connery announced he would voice superspy James Bond in Electronic Arts' From Russia With Love, Buena Vista Games bought Tak developer Avalanche to, and Sony Online Entertainment said, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," founding the Station Exchange site for the sale of MMORPG items.

However, it wasn't until later in the month that the big news started breaking. The first major bomb dropped on April 18, when GameStop, North America's number-one game-specialty retailer, announced it was buying the number-two chain, Electronics Boutique Inc.--aka EB Games. The "definitive merger agreement" saw GameStop dish out $1.44 billion in stock and cash for its onetime archnemesis--a hefty sum, by any account. However, the coming months would see the deal sail through the approval process, putting GameStop in control of an estimated 25 percent of the North American game-retail market. (In your face, Wal-Mart!)

Sayonara, Yamauchi-san.

Just over a week later, an era ended at Nintendo. On April 27, the Japanese game giant announced that former president Hiroshi Yamauchi, 77, was stepping down from its board of directors. Yamauchi was an executive at Nintendo for 55 years and is credited with the company's success in arcades and consoles by approving both Donkey Kong and the NES (aka Famicom). He was also criticized for Nintendo's over-reliance on a few properties (Mario, Zelda), and some considered that his decision to make the GameCube a strictly game-only console (that is, no DVD playback) doomed the platform to its current third-place status.

Two days after the Yamauchi announcement, one of the nastier legal spats in the industry came to a close. Valve Software and VU Games announced they were both dropping their acrimonious legal tit-for-tat lawsuits over Half-Life 2 and ending their years-long publishing agreement. A few months later, Valve would announce a new partnership with one of VU's biggest competitors, EA.

April also saw speculation over the next-generation Xbox begin to boil over. Analysts prognosticated like mad, with one predicting that 3 million of the consoles would be shipped by Christmas. (Whoops...) Also, rumors began to swirl that the device would have a name that sounded like a snowboard trick. Sure enough, the "Xbox 360" was confirmed for a 2005 worldwide launch in a flashy but empty May 12 MTV special, which showed more of the rock group The Killers than the console itself. Thankfully, detailed technical information was disseminated via news outlets and the now-infamous viral-marketing site Ourcolony.net.

But while Microsoft drew first blood in the next-gen console wars, Sony countered with an impressive bit of corporate judo. Having kept the lid firmly on the PlayStation 3 for years, the electronics giant opened the spigot, wowing the crowd at its pre-Electronic Entertainment Expo press conference with a series of dazzling demos and a tech-spec list that read like hardware-geek porn.

If the PlayStation 3 unveiling overshadowed Microsoft's simultaneous pre-E3 conference, where the biggest surprise was Final Fantasy XI for the Xbox 360, it positively eclipsed Nintendo's conference the following morning. While the Mario factory did show off a non-working mock-up of the Revolution, it divulged precious little about the console other than its yearlong 2006 launch window. With no tech demos, the biggest revelation was that the Revolution would have a built-in emulator that would let owners download and play NES, SNES, and N64 games. Still, the Nintendo faithful in attendance at the event were remarkably excited and cheered the unveiling of a new slimmed-down Game Boy Micro like it was the second (or in this case, third) coming of the platform.

Is it live or is it Memorex?

But while the press events for the big three hogged the majority of coverage at E3, 20,000 attendees had plenty else to see, hear, and, at times, smell in the neon-soaked interior of the Los Angeles Convention Center. Konami previewed Metal Gear Solid 4, Take-Two showed off Prey, Epic spun Gears of War, and Nintendo caused a nerd-herd stampede with playable demos of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Oh, and Microsoft chairman Bill Gates told Time that Halo 3 would be released at the same time as the PlayStation 3, although that plan has since come into question.

When the post-E3 dust cleared, June got off to what appeared to be a good start. Majesco reported better-than-expected earnings, and Rockstar shipped the Xbox and PC versions of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. However, Majesco's numbers would prove to be disastrously overoptimistic, and modders poking around the PC GTA:SA would find a little bit of code that would have big consequences down the road.

The middle of the month saw further instability in the volatile MMORPG market. After much hype and millions of dollars, Warner Bros. Interactive and Sega jacked out of the Matrix Online, selling it to SOE. Meanwhile, another MMORPG got a major celebrity endorsement, with comedian Dave Chappelle publicly professing his love of World of Warcraft.

Across the Pacific, Tekken publisher Namco's shareholders gave their blessing to the company's union with toy giant Bandai. It was the latest--but certainly not last--in a series of high-profile mergers in the Japanese game industry. Also in Japan, Sony's Ken Kutaragi declared the possibility of a unified Blu-ray and HD-DVD format "dead," raising the specter of drawn-out conflict over what will succeed DVD.

As the year neared its midpoint on June 30, Analysts began to prognosticate what the future would hold for the game industry. Some predicted the industry would continue to grow, nearly trebling in size to $26 billion by 2008. However, 2005 would end up being a troubled year for gaming, as the third quarter would soon prove.
Third Quarter (July - September)

We were as shocked as anyone that San Andreas contained lewd, suggestive material inappropriate for minors.

The third quarter started off with a wake-up call for the game industry in the form of a big, scalding cup of Hot Coffee. California Assemblyman Leland Yee was the first to jump on the industry after the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas sex minigame was discovered, but he would soon have plenty of company. Before long, New York Senator Hillary Clinton called for federal legislation to keep violent games out of children's hands, and existing bills in Michigan and California got a significant boost on their way to becoming law. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board wound up rerating the game AO for Adults Only, Take-Two pulled the game from shelves (much to the dismay of its shareholders), and the game industry became a media punching bag for watchdog groups across the nation.

Sluggish performance left a number of game companies in need of electroshock therapy (or perhaps a defibrillator). Canadian publisher Hip Interactive declared bankruptcy, closing its doors and leaving the North American fates of Call of Cthulhu: Destiny's End and George Romero's City of the Dead up in the air.

Heavily hyped games like Psychonauts and Advent Rising flopped for Majesco, leading to the resignation of CEO Carl Yankowski, who had only signed on in August 2004. Majesco's once-hot share price plummeted, going from a January high of over $16 to around $1.30 in November, sparking a stockholder class-action suit against the company.

Nintendo's nex-gen controller is unveiled.

Oh yeah, and there was some actual game news too. Nintendo unveiled the Revolution controller in a Tokyo Game Show keynote address and posted an impressive quarter-million units sold of Nintendogs in the game's first week of release. Those two news bits almost made up for the delay of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess to 2006.

Meanwhile, Microsoft's Xbox 360 plans began to crystallize. Microsoft revealed its controversial dual-SKU approach to the system in the US, offering a bare-bones "core" 360 for $299 and a hard-drive-equipped edition for $399. Of course, because many retailers' bundles required multiple game and accessory purchases with every 360, few people managed to score a system for "just" $399 when the console finally went on sale.
Fourth Quarter (October - December)

This year's final three months in the gaming biz had the Herculean task of topping 2004's register-ringing romp in retail. 2005's holiday hits WWE SmackDown! vs. RAW 2006, Mario Kart DS, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories, and the PS2 Resident Evil 4 were weighed down with the unenviable distinction of being compared to last year's Q4 blockbusters: Halo 2, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Half-Life 2, World of Warcraft, and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.

Somewhere in Japan, a gamer is laughing at Americans lining up for the Xbox 360...

As a result, November 2005 software sales sunk 18 percent compared to 2004, bursting the bubbles of several companies that had top-selling games in 2004. Though industry analysts predicted the dip, it is shaping up to be a frosty winter for several companies, including Take-Two Interactive, Midway, Atari, and Activision.

"Frosty" is also an apt description for the attitude several politicians and courts had toward "mature" games. Just because the Hot Coffee incident was covered up with a fresh coat of paint, that didn't mean all was forgiven. Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rod Blagojevich signed bills to outlaw game sales to minors in California and Illinois, respectively. But their efforts were one-upped by US Senators Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman, who literally made a federal case out of the issue. The pair submitted the Family Entertainment Protection Act to congress, a measure that, if made law, would levy fines for M-rated game sales to minors, create an annual congressional review of ESRB ratings, and authorize audits of retailers by the Federal Trade Commission.

...and somewhere in America, a gamer is crying over all the unsold Xbox 360s in Japan

It wasn't all friction in the sector--several players opted for October nuptials instead of June unions. The merger of Electronics Boutique and GameStop was made official in the early part of the month, making GameStop Corp. the biggest exclusive game retailer in the country. Elevation Partners, BioWare, and Pandemic joined forces to form the superstudio BioWare/Pandemic Studios and take on the big guns. Peter Jackson signed on to executive-produce the Halo film, though the surefire summer 2007 blockbuster is still sans director and cast. Fellow Academy Award winner Steven Spielberg decided to expand his portfolio and signed an agreement with EA to supervise three original next-gen games. Electronic Arts also expanded its empire, taking the rights to The Simpsons from VU Games, as well as acquiring mobile powerhouse Jamdat in December.

December 14 marked the end of influential publisher Working Designs' nearly 20-year run. The one-time accounting company specialized in localizing Japanese games for American releases, from Dragon Force for the Sega Saturn to the Growlanser Generations compilation for the PlayStation 2.

But the biggest piece of news in the quarter was the debut of the first next-generation console, the Xbox 360. Pieces of information about the the device's kickoff trickled out slowly, with the launch lineup of games not even made public (probably because even Microsoft didn't know) until one week before the console went on sale on November 22. Such trivial facts didn't bother hardcore gamers in the US, who waited in line for hours and coughed up hundreds of dollars for the system. Online auction sites fetched ridiculous figures, as widespread shortages left thousands of preorders unfilled and many-a-gamer with a shortage of holiday cheer.

December saw the Xbox 360 land in Europe and Japan with very mixed results. While the European launch nearly mirrored the high-demand, low-supply "success" of its North American debut, retailers sold less than half their allotments in Japan. Time will tell if the 360's early start out of the gate can fend off Sony's PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Revolution, both of which are scheduled for release in 2006.


- Special Achivements -

Best Original Music: God of War's orchestral music puts you smack in the middle of ancient Athens; just make sure you duck when you hear the timpani.
Most Surprisingly Good Game- Considering that every other Mortal Kombat game that didn't focus solely on one-on-one fighting absolutely tanked, and the developer's previous work included duds like Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style and Backyard Wrestling, Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks was a real long shot.
Best Licensed Music: It takes guts to put classical, bhangra, J-Pop, and Kool Keith in the same game. It takes skill to put all that madness in there and have it all work. Project Gotham Racing 3 has both.
Best Story:It's a murder mystery where you play the bewildered killer, but there's more to this engaging plotline than a simple twist.
Best Sound Effects: This creepy first-person action game is brought to life largely through its ear-piercing audio, which enhances every close-quarters life-or-death struggle with Condemned's assortment of deranged lunatics.
Best Graphics, Technical: F.E.A.R- What Monolith's superb first-person shooter lacks in high polygon counts it more than makes up for with cutting-edge particle effects, lighting, and shadow models.
Best Voice Acting: Though the script is brilliant, good comedy relies quite a bit on delivery, and every character in Psychonauts nails the comedy in unique ways.
Best Graphics, Artistic: Psychonauts- Double Fine's humorous, Tim Burton-esque platformer oozes great artistry from the pores of every child at the Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp.
Best Use of a Creative License: The late-'70s action film explodes back to life in The Warriors, a rough-and-tough beat-'em-up that captures the look and feel of its source material while also meaningfully expanding on the story that made the movie a cult classic.
Best A.I: Ruthlessly efficient enemies will surprise you time and time again in F.E.A.R., a game whose shooting action is made all the better by the extremely challenging and surprisingly coordinated foes on the receiving end of your gunfire.
Most Outrageous Game: The completely off-the-wall insanity that goes on in Amped 3 is pretty much always fun to watch and frequently as funny as it is bizarre. We ask you, what other snowboarding game so effortlessly switches from making fun of Final Fantasy VII to sock-puppet song-and-dance routines?
Best Budget Game: Why pay $60 for a new Xbox 360 game when for just $5 (a "budget" price for Xbox Live arcade games, which are normally $10), you could be playing one of its best games? Geometry Wars started life as a tech demo not meant for public consumption, but it has spun off to become one of the coolest pure action games in a long time.
Best New Character: From Killer 7- The crippled old man known as Harman Smith doesn't seem concerned with trying to hide the armor-piercing rifle strapped to his wheelchair, nor does he seem overly concerned at getting medical attention to treat his multiple personality disorder. Cool.
Funniest Game: The dialogue in Psychonauts is infused with wit at every turn, making it rich, plentiful, and downright hysterical. From the clever dialogue, to the most subtle of actions, Psychonauts reminds us that there are many different kinds of funny.
Best Use of Sweat: All that running, jumping, and taking dives must get tiring, but watching as your favorite basketball superstars gradually sweat through their jerseys in NBA 2K6 is surprisingly cool.
Biggest News:

ESRB slaps dreaded rating on controverial best-seller; Take-Two lowers guidance; Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Target pull game from shelves.
Best MultiPlayer Game: Large-scale military carnage ensues in the spectacular sequel to one of the best multiplayer shooters in years. Land, sea, and air battles rage all around in Battlefield 2, and you get to be a major participant in whichever parts of it you feel like, while coordinating large teams has never been easier.
Best Use of Upset, Disheveled Men: There's no reasoning with the angry, messed-up denizens you'll meet in Condemned, who'll ruthlessly attack you with whatever they can get their hands on. Fortunately, several slaps across the face with a nail-studded two-by-four is usually enough to get them to simmer down.
Most Innovative Game: Enter the tortured mind of an assassin with multiple personalities in Killer7, a game that defies all simple logic and most non-simple logic as well. Dare we say it's the first game to purposely try to bore you with repetitive, mindless shooting action?
Best Original Game Mechanic: Basketball is all about finesse, and the shot stick controls introduced in NBA 2K6 really capture the art of how to shoot while deftly avoiding the opposing team's defense. We can't imagine playing another basketball game without this brilliantly implemented feature.
Most Metal: Guitar Hero - The game stars Ozzy, Judas Priest, Megadeth, Pantera, one gigantic viking, and the Grim Reaper. Yeah, Death himself. Shredding it on his axe of despair. What else needs to be said?
Most Improved Sequel: The Resident Evil series, although once some of the best that survival horror had to offer, was going nowhere fast, as each version got more stuck in the RE rut. Resident Evil 4 changes all that, with a bang, not a whimper.
Best New Hardware: The Microsoft Xbox 360 has a multicore IBM processor that features three dual-threaded cores and a brand-new ATI graphics chip that has an astonishing 10MB of embedded DRAM for quick pixel operations. Add a wide variety of media playback capabilities and an overhauled Xbox Live service with advanced community options, and you've got yourself your next-generation console system.
- The Awards for the Worst Games for 2005 -

Most Despicable Product Placement: Swat 4 - This one was just fine...until Vivendi patched in some Big Brother-like advertising technology that not only places ads in the game, but also reports back on how often people are seeing the ads.
Worst Use of Celebrity Voices: Associating Christopher Walken with a game like this is the only true crime. All the cowbells in the world can't make up for how the voice of the world's most famous creepy character actor was squandered in this broken game.
Most Disappointing Delay: Link's upcoming adventure was originally scheduled to get under way this holiday season, but has now been pushed back to Nintendo's next fiscal year--which doesn't even start until April 1, 2006.
Most Aggravating Frame Rate / Best Slideshow: The frame rate affects everything from the visuals to the gameplay, slowing the whole thing down in some of its worst moments.
Worst Trend: What are the kids into this year? Oh, they like the hip-hop? Great, let's put a billion crappy games into development that border on exploitation!
Most Long-Winded Game Title: You'd think King Kong would be enough to drive the point home, but the marketing geniuses behind this title obviously thought something else about the game was more poignant.
Most Gratuitous Use of F------ Swearing: Even if you forgive the ******* flimsy story and ****** gameplay, you'll have a hard time getting past the game-stopping **** and glaring technical ****** that plague this game.
Most Disappointing Game: EA Sports' first soccer game for the Xbox 360 is inferior to the Xbox version of FIFA 06 in just about every way imaginable. Even the scaled up graphics are at times downright ugly, and many of the best modes have disappeared.
Biggest Buster: This game was written either by people who don't speak English or by people who have never heard any hip-hop. Well, come to think of it, for something this fake, it was probably both.
Flat Out Worst Game: Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler's Green - As insane as it sounds to say it, this game manages to make zombies seem even dumber than a zombie ought to be.
Best Game No-One Played: Psychonauts came out on three platforms to tremendous critical acclaim for its story, appearance, humor, and overall gameplay, making its low sales all the more painful.
- The Genre Awards -

Best Action Adventure Game: Resident Evil 4 is an amazing achievement, especially in how its inspired, state-of-the-art cinematic presentation works so well with its relentlessly exciting, white-knuckle action.
Best Shooter: F.E.A.R - This outstanding shooter combines creepy horror with kinetic and visceral action, and it elevates the genre to a whole new level of intensity.
Best Fighting Game: Tekken 5 - This fighting game is even more addictive and exciting than the original Tekken was when it first exploded onto the PlayStation back in 1995.
Best Platformer: Psychonauts doesn't reinvent the platformer, but it still delivers an experience that feels wholly original in every aspect of its execution.
Best Adventure Game: Indigo Prophecy is a game that actually gives the term "cinematic gameplay" some context, as well as some real heartfelt meaning.
Best Driving Game: Forza Motorsport is a stylish and challenging game that is easily one of the best racers on the Xbox.
Best Puzzle/Rhythm Game: Guitar Hero plays fantastically, it has great music, and, for a change, it's a rhythm game that's accessible to beginners.
Best Role-Playing Game: Dragon Quest VIII is a charming classic-style RPG that doesn't stint on difficulty, graphical beauty, or fun.
Best Traditional Sports game: FIFA 06 adds plenty of new features that help make it the most realistic and accessible (and best) FIFA game to date.
Best Alternative Sports Game: Blitz: The League is easily the best football you'll play all year.
Best Strategy Game: If you have even a passing interest in strategy games, world history, or getting less sleep at night, you owe it to yourself to give Civilization IV a try.
- The Platform Awards -

Best GBA Game: The Minish Cap executes the classic overhead Zelda formula with great precision and delightful whimsy.
Best DS Game: Mario Kart DS represents a significant step forward for Nintendo's much-loved racing series, and not only because it's the first to feature online play.
Best PSP Game: Between the beautiful presentation, the innovative gameplay, and the excellent single-player and multiplayer modes, Lumines may very well be the greatest Tetris-style puzzle game since Tetris itself.
Best Gamecube Game: Resident Evil 4 is an amazing achievement, especially in how its inspired, state-of-the-art cinematic presentation works so well with its relentlessly exciting, white-knuckle action.
Best Playstation 2 Game: God of War is one of the best action adventure games on the PlayStation 2, and it should not be missed.
Best Xbox Game: Ninja Gaiden Black fulfills the last bits of untapped potential in what already was a truly extraordinary game and an instant classic.
Best Xbox 360 Game: Project Gotham Racing 3 ushers in the next generation of gaming in high-speed style.
Best PC Game: If you have even a passing interest in strategy games, world history, or getting less sleep at night, you owe it to yourself to give Civilization IV a try.
- The Quote Um Grau, Game Of The Year -

Finalist Are As Followed:
- BattleField 2
- Civilization IV
- F.E.A.R.
- Forza Motorsport
- God of War
- Guild Wars
- Guitar Hero
- Mario Kart DS
- Ninja Gaiden Black
- Resident Evil 4



Gamespots's Game of the Year: Resident Evil 4 is an amazing achievement, especially in how its inspired, state-of-the-art cinematic presentation works so well with its relentlessly exciting, white-knuckle action.
What a great year for the game industry, and what an upcoming year a head. Great job to the guys at gamespot, and looking forward to another year of great gaming.