It’s time, ladies and gentlemen, for the moment you’ve been waiting for all year… the nominee finalists of the 1995 Aggie Awards!
Oh, sorry. We were confused momentarily by the list of games up for awards this year: a 2D Broken Sword adventure, the return of Tex Murphy, a new game from Jane Jensen (not to mention a Gabriel Knight remake, though remakes aren’t eligible for Aggies). We’d list the new Tim Schafer adventure too, but we all know what happened to that game "broken" into halves. Oh how you tease us, Double Fine – next year, next year. The long-awaited first Dreamfall chapter was released as well, though as with Telltale’s current episodic stories, the latest Longest Journey opus from Ragnar Tørnquist and company will need to duke it out after completion in 2015.
While the year marked the comeback of several venerable design legends, there was no shortage of other contenders. Oddly, not a single original Daedalic production saw the light of day, but plenty of others filled in the slack. And once again, the fabulous diversity of looks and styles and goals offered a little something for everyone (and apparently a little something for everyone to complain about).
This isn’t a day for complaints, however, but for celebration. And a little teasing of our own, as we are pleased to unveil the top five nominee finalists for each award. Except the final one, of course. That would be a major spoiler.
As happens every year, it was painful just to reduce each list to five, forcing us to “snub” other favourites fully worthy of consideration. But just as in the end there can be only one, in the middle there can be only five. Even so, a whopping 28 games made the cut in one category or another. Well done, developers!
You’ll notice that we’ve eliminated the “Best Independent Adventure” award this year, not because we’re lazy (okay, maybe partly that), but because it ultimately proved redundant. Its original intent was to give the little guy (and gal) a shot at victory that might otherwise be dominated by deep-pocketed production companies. But a funny thing happened on the way to the podium – the little gal (and guy) didn’t need the help! Mind you, 90% of the genre’s developers ARE little independents, but even those who aren’t have their work cut out for them to topple the best and brightest adventure designers working for themselves.
Before you get up in arms over our choices, rest assured that you'll have an opportunity to put your ballot where your mouth is in our upcoming reader poll. The final Aggie Awards presentation will run from Wednesday to Friday, February 18-20th, so stay tuned!
One of the core components of any adventure, the game’s narrative must engage the player’s interest and imagination. Entertaining in its own right, a good story also immerses the player in a believable game world and serves as motivation to overcome the challenges presented. While often accompanied by quality writing, the plot is a distinct feature that may or may not be ably supported by the actual dialogue.
Best Writing – Comedy
Arguably the hardest genre to write well, comedy done right has the ability both to amuse and uplift, finding humour in the ordinary and laughter in the unexpected. Often dismissed for not being “serious writing” (oh, the irony!), comedy has long been a beloved adventure staple and deserves appropriate recognition.
Best Writing – Drama
If comedy lifts the soul, then drama explores and challenges it. Though sometimes misrepresented as dry and boring or overly theatrical, a gripping drama simply engages players on a deeper emotional level. Quality writing is essential in maintaining the player’s connection to the characters, game world, and the story unfolding.
Gabriel Knight... April Ryan... Guybrush Threepwood. These names roll off the tongue of any adventure gamer as a testament to the importance of compelling protagonists in an adventure. But just as important are the villains, sidekicks, and significant supporting characters, which are often the juiciest parts. This category recognizes those who have made the most memorable contribution, regardless of role.
Puzzles are an integral aspect of adventure gameplay, but not the only one. Good pacing, rich exploration, and variety of activities are all factors in player enjoyment as well, all suitably integrated into the storyline. The best games seek the right balance of these elements for the most rewarding gameplay experience.
A somewhat ambiguous category meant to highlight any unusual, distinctive element. A creative concept can run the gamut from story premise to game mechanics, from stylistic choice to technical innovation. It doesn’t even need to have been successfully implemented, as it’s the idea itself that deserves the acknowledgement in a genre renowned for its conservative approach.
Adventures can transport us to memorable places we’ve never been before, including those we never even imagined. Or perhaps to locales we’ve visited before, but never quite like this, making them feel fresh and new and awe-inspiring all over again. In these games, the setting is like an integral character of its own, inseparable from the story taking place within its borders.
Best Graphic Design
If a picture is worth a thousand words, this category speaks volumes. Regardless of style, this award recognizes games that are not only visually attractive but stylistically distinctive. One look at a screenshot should elicit a “Wow!” followed by “Hey, that’s from…!” This award includes both game world and character design, but not cinematics.
From “bustling” city streets that look deserted to clouds that never move, animation in adventure games is rarely a genre strong suit, often the victim of budget constraints. But richly animated adventures add so much to player immersion that any game that goes the extra mile in this area is deserving of appreciation. This category includes in-game character and ambient animations, plus cinematic cutscenes.
As a complementary element playing in the background, often a game’s soundtrack is noticeable only when it becomes intrusive, but a strong score and attention to timing can add so much to a game’s ambience. A catchy theme song can likewise make game music memorable, and an in-game musical number even more so. Whatever its particular strengths, the game that excels musically deserves its accolades, even if its impact is subtle.
Best Voice Acting
Often under-valued by publishers but never by gamers, quality voice acting can enhance a player’s investment in characters as surely as poor acting can ruin it. With so much international localization, voice-overs can be difficult to skillfully oversee, but any game benefits greatly from proper direction and believable acting. This category refers to the overall quality of vocal roles in a game, not to individual characters.
Best Sound Effects
As with music, sound effects are frequently given short shrift in adventures, but effective use of audio adds a vital layer of moody ambience. You may not be able to put your finger on the reason, but some games make you feel like you’re really there, and often the atmospheric sounds have drawn you in subconsciously.
Best Console/Handheld Adventure (Exclusive)
The home console and handheld platforms haven’t quite championed a genre resurgence like we once hoped they might, but there were still several quality titles released in the past year. To avoid duplication, the following includes only those games exclusive to non-PC platforms. Ports of past games are not deemed to be original releases, and are therefore ineligible.
Best Non-Traditional Adventure
For a genre that’s remained largely unchanged for decades, it’s actually got a rich history of experimental titles that push the creative envelope in unique, memorable ways. They don’t “evolve” or “redefine” adventures, but rather expand our understanding of what an adventure can we with their bold vision. Purists may resist, but this award honours those games that stretch beyond traditional genre conventions to offer something completely new, or at least present the familiar in imaginative new ways.
Best Traditional Adventure
Why mess with a good thing? While innovative adventures provide a welcome breath of fresh air, the lifeblood of the genre continues to be the many games that closely adhere to the comfortable, tried-and-true design formulas. Full of inventory and logic puzzles, memorable character dialogue, epic storylines and immersive exploration, they may not have changed much since Monkey Island and Myst – or even the original Zork for some – but they’re no less enjoyable when done well.
Best Adventure of 2014
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Ohhhh, no you don’t! What do you think this is, a walkthrough? Puzzle it out for yourselves for the next couple weeks, and meet us back here for the grand unveiling.