GZ Interview: AIAS continues to recognize video game development talent with its annual Interactive Achievement Awards ceremony

Academy of Interactive Arts and
Sciences awards game developers for their work; builds awareness for new art
form

The Academy of Interactive Arts
and Sciences continues to recognize video game development talent with its
annual Interactive Achievement Awards ceremony. AIAS President Paul Provenzano
tells us what to expect from next year’s ceremony.

by Louis Bedigian

Oscars. Grammy’s. Golden Globe.
Screen Actors Guild. All of these are the names of well-known entertainment
award ceremonies, where actors and musicians/artists are awarded for doing
something great, something spectacular or just for doing something that hasn’t
been done before. Music and movie award shows are commonplace all around the
world.

But there is another,
faster-growing, innovation-filled industry that hasn’t gotten the attention it
deserves: video games. Played by an estimated 120,000,000 Americans alone, video
games have become the world’s fastest growing entertainment medium in the world.
It’s known to its fans as being the “best” entertainment medium in the world,
and with good reason. Video games combine the deep stories of great novels, the
emotional music of great, classical CDs and the action-packed (and sometimes
tear-jerking) sequences of movies with an unprecedented amount of interactivity.
You aren’t just watching or reading the story – you’re a part of it.

Video games have touched people in
ways that no other entertainment medium has. I myself became a fan of classical
music after playing the many games in the Final Fantasy series. Other gamers
found themselves so emotionally attached to a video game that they even cried
when a main character passed away.

So much effort goes into creating
our favorite games. Some of the best artists in the world work for several
months (and many cases, several years) to render the CG movies and CG
backgrounds of games like Onimusha and Final Fantasy VII, VIII and IX. Music
composers spend long days and nights in their studios, working hard to compose
enormous, 50+ song soundtracks, ensuring that gamers have something different to
listen to every time they enter a new area. Sound engineers work with game
directors to piece together the music and blend it with the animated sequence –
such as the unforgettable Aeris death scene in Final Fantasy VII. Last, but
certainly not least, computer programmers spend their whole lives coding each
game. The amount of programming detail that went into Splinter Cell is
phenomenal.

All of these grand achievements have
been recognized for years by the gamers who buy these products. They’re
cherished more than music CDs, more than summer blockbuster movies, and for many
of us, video games are more important than sleep.

Although game developers know we
love their work, the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences has launched an
award ceremony
that honors game developers for their contributions to the industry. Taking
place during the annual D.I.C.E. (Design, Innovate, Communicate and Entertain)
Summit, the Interactive Achievement Awards gives game developers even more
recognition, letting the whole world know about their grand creations.

Paul Provenzano, President of the
Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, stopped by today to let us know what
to expect from next year’s award ceremony. Paul tells us why all gamers should
be interested in the Interactive Achievement Awards, explains how the voting
process works, talks about his plans for the future and advises to watch for an
announcement regarding next year’s award ceremony, which will be shown on
national television.

Question: Some of our readers may
not be familiar with the DICE Summit, or the Academy of Interactive Arts and
Sciences. Could you tell us what the purpose of the DICE Summit is, and why
gamers should be interested in it?

Paul Provenzano: The Academy
of Interactive Arts and Sciences is a non-profit professional academy for people
in the game industry. The Academy exists to honor the best in the industry and
to help foster discussion in order to create better games. The D.I.C.E. Summit
(Design, Innovate, Communicate and Entertain) is meant to bring together
creative people in the industry to discuss game design, development and other
issues involved in creating games. The Interactive Achievement Awards have been
presented for six years. Gamers should care about the Academy in the same way
moviegoers pay attention to the Oscars, or the Grammy’s for music. The Academy
functions as a way for the public to know what our own industry thinks is the
best, and that is not always the best selling game or the one you might have
heard about.

Q: The AIAS’s mission is to
“Recognize and promote games as an art form.” How do you go about doing this in
a world where some people still perceive video games as being nothing more than
a child’s play-thing?

PP: The Academy’s Interactive
Achievement Awards are meant to highlight the wide variety and diversity of
interactive entertainment that people sometimes lump together as “video games.”

Q: Can anyone attend the
Interactive Achievement Awards ceremony, or is it strictly for industry
professionals?

PP: The Awards are for
Academy members, D.I.C.E. Attendee’s, Finalists, Sponsors and invited guests.
But this year the public can see the Awards for the first time on TV. We will be
making an announcement shortly about that.

Q: The list of announced speakers
is pretty impressive. How do you decide who should be a speaker at the DICE
Summit? Have there been any requests/suggestions from game developers or anyone
else?

PP: The Academy Board of
Directors of the Academy has a D.I.C.E. speaker committee in which the President
and select board members meet, discuss and e-mail suggestions and topics that we
feel should be covered. We then seek these people out and find out if they are
interested in being a part of D.I.C.E. In the course of the year any number of
people and their PR departments approach us, but basically it’s an invitation
only event for speakers.

Q: How are the winners selected?
Who are the judges? Are the Interactive Achievement Awards like the Oscars,
where Oscar recipients have the option to join the Academy and vote on future
nominees?

PP: The process begins with a
call for entries. The Academy posts categories and accepts submissions based on
a submission meeting the description of the category. We have a peer panel
process where senior Academy members with expertise in specific types of games
form committees that have played all the games in a given category. The Peer
panels review the games, discuss them and also add in games that might not have
been directly submitted but were important to the category for the year. After
much discussion the panels vote on the finalists that then go to the Academy
where the Academy General membership votes.

Not all Academy members vote in all
categories. For instance, we have a policy of our craft categories only being
voted on with people that have experience in a given craft. We also restrict the
voting of the non "creative technical" members of the Academy because the Awards
are peer based – the people who make games recognizing each other’s work, much
like the Oscars. The entire voting process is done using secure online balloting
and is overseen by Price Waterhouse, the same people that oversee the Oscars.
The complete rules and regulations are posted on our website, (
http://www.interactive.org/ ). All
professionals in the game industry are eligible to join the Academy. We
encourage recipients, nominees and submitting individuals to be a part of the
Academy.

Q: I’ve noticed that there is not
a specific category for the best survival/horror game of the year. Is such a
category going to be added in the future? With the release of games like Eternal
Darkness, Silent Hill and Fatal Frame, survival/horror continues to push the
boundaries of video game consoles with unique, unmatched, innovative gameplay.

PP: In an effort to keep pace
with how the industry and games change the Academy reviews our categories each
year. We look for long term trends and "mini trends" and adjust the categories
in an effort to be able to recognize the broadest range of titles. (This year we
broke out and further defined our Action/Adventure categories for instance). At
the same time we don’t want to create awards based around a small group of a
certain type of game, nor do we want to keep adding awards year in and year out
as it creates confusion and dilutes the value of a given category if it is
constantly divided and sub divided. Eternal Darkness and Silent Hill and Fatal
Frame all fit with in our existing categories and as such we can recognize the
contributions they make to gaming.

Q: What about voice actors?
Shouldn’t the voices behind the characters from Metal Gear Solid or Lunar: The
Silver Star Story achieve just as much credit for working on a game as they
would have if they had starred in an animated motion picture?

PP: If the voice talent for
Metal Gear Solid had starred as voice talent in an animated motion picture they
would not be entitled to an Oscar, Golden Globe, People’s Choice Award,
Directors Guild award or most other film awards. Most animated films also do not
credit voice talent in the front end of a film in the way a director, writer,
producer, editor or actual "on screen" live action actor. Currently the game
industry tends not to credit individuals as specific voices in games. I don’t
think that I’ve ever seen a feature in a game magazine or web site that featured
or interviewed voice talent unless it’s an already famous person. Until the time
that more than a handful of games focus on giving character specific credit for
games, it is very hard for the Academy to honor the people responsible. I would
imagine this will be addressed in the not too distant future.

[Note: Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy
X and Metal Gear Sold 1 and 2 both credited all of its actors as specific voices
in their games. The MGS series even went as to list the names of the actors
during the opening sequences.]

Q: Now that video games are
finally being recognized as an art form, and not just another entertainment
medium, what would you consider to be the most important aspect of game
development? Can games have bad graphics, bad music and a bad story, but provide
a great gameplay experience and still be considered "art"?

PP: I think that is a very
subjective thing – as is most art (and entertainment). If you say it’s [the]
graphics, then how do you explain the widespread fanatical devotion to Pokeman
on Game Boy compared to the graphics you can see on PS2 or GameCube, PC or Xbox?
I don’t think anyone can listen to bad music for the length of time you spend
playing a game so that has to take away something. A bad story would have the
same effect because you are asking a player to accept a premise and characters
that get you involved in the game and it’s a distraction and cannot be ignored
and still be a great “gameplay experience.” I think that the same rules apply to
any art form – is it something that draws you in, is it something that you can
become involved with in some way?

Q: Are there any plans to
televise part of the event in the near future?

PP: Yes, and we will have
more information about this soon.

Q: Do you think that the
Interactive Achievement Awards will ever gain as much recognition in the video
game industry as the Oscars or the Golden Globe Awards have in the movie
industry?

PP: That is our goal. Like
the Oscars in its early years- six years ago the awards had humble beginnings.
For most of the early history of the Oscars it was small gathering that included
a dinner. The Oscars are now over 70 years old. The Interactive Achievement
Awards at six years old are moving at a much more aggressive pace to create the
visibility that will allow us to truly honor the incredibly talented people that
make games.

Q: Where do you think the video
game industry will be in ten years? Do you expect there to be any big changes
from the way things are now?

PP: I think that you will see
the same level of ever increasing technological advances, and at the same time
people will get better at using all that technology in more interesting ways. If
you compare the game industry to the film industry (which people seem determined
to do), the film industry needed time to develop techniques and a “language.” We
are really only just beginning that process, and look at all the amazing things
that have already been done!

Q: What do you think of the
growing number of video game leagues and tournaments, such as the CPL (Cyberathlete
Professional League)?

PP: I think it’s great. I
think anything that allows people to communicate and make gaming a more social
thing is a positive.

Q: Based on what you’ve
seen/played thus far, which console and PC game(s) do you expect to be a
contender for Overall Game of the Year?

PP: I will let the voters
speak about that and we will all see at the end of February when the awards take
place.

Q: What advice would you give to
someone who aspires to be just like Seamus Blackley, David Jones, Syd Mead or
any of the other innovators set to speak at the DICE Summit?

PP: I would have to
paraphrase Academy Hall of Fame honoree John Carmack. He said to avoid being a
“generalist,” and instead pick an area where you want to excel, and learn
everything you can about that area. I would add that you should have some other
life experiences beyond games so that you have some perspective – as well as
something else to talk about when you visit your parents.

Haha, I couldn’t agree more.
Thank you for your time, Paul.