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Gaming Interview

Dara O'Briain talks gaming BAFTAs: 'This year is apples and oranges'

By and Catherine Earp
This year's gaming BAFTA nominations are perhaps the most diverse yet, with small-scale indie projects rubbing shoulders with best-selling blockbusters, and free downloads taking on full-priced box products.

It's something host Dara O'Briain agrees with when we sit down to discuss this year's awards, as well as his love for Journey and Batman: Arkham City, and his thoughts on whether the awards should be televised.

Note there are spoilers for Journey as part of this interview.

The last year has been a great year for games, hasn't it?
"It's been an interesting year. I think it's reflected in this, it's been a very indie year; there's been a lot of very different... it's not dominated by massive blockbusters.

"You wonder if that's because they're holding back the massive blockbusters for the new consoles, or is it just one of those years in the curve of these things, where some years are under-populated and some are over-populated?

dara o'briain


"It's allowed light to be shone on a lot of smaller, more boundary-pushing and convention-changing games. Some of them you wouldn't describe as games at all, Dear Esther, Journey and these kind of different experiences.

"So yeah, BAFTA should be doing that and reflecting all the different price points, you know? If it just became about blockbusters that would be very, very, dull.

"This is what you expect in the movies as well. There'll be some huge blockbusters but also a lot of indies involved, a lot of smaller productions.

"There might be some [blockbusters], but the majority of gaming as an industry exists at a number of different price points and there'll be a few different types of experiences."

'Journey' screenshot

© Sony

thatgamecompany's PSN title Journey



Is this a one-off, this year, or could it happen again next year?
"Oh no, I think it's been evolving over the last few years. A couple of years ago, Limbo, I remember, was one of the first XBLA games to make it onto the list for 'Best Game'.

"I think you're going to see more and more of those kinds of things where people have to accept an experience like Dear Esther or Journey on merit, and not like, 'Well I didn't get 40-hour plus online multiplayer out of it'.

"I think we should see more and more of those there. There's a lot of very different looking and feeling things, a lot of very interesting animations being done and I think it's a very interesting time.

"It suits me better just because I have less time now to really soak myself into the massive experience.

"I also found this year, I still play most of last year's stuff as the year went on. Most of this year was spent on Arkham Asylum and Skyrim, and also waiting for these to come out.

"There is a thing that big blockbusters tend to scrunch themselves around - a bit like comedy DVDs - the last quarter of the year. So, that again allows a chance for the industry to breathe."

'The Walking Dead' screenshot

© TellTale Games

Telltale's episode The Walking Dead game



How do you think indies like Journey and The Walking Dead will do?
"I think they'll do well. It's very difficult to know because a lot of them, when you've got your 'Action' [category] it's very straightforward what your criteria are for that.

"But if you go to 'Best Game', it really is apples and oranges. How do you compare between playing Journey to Far Cry or even FIFA, for Christ's sake, you know?

"It's nice to see that there because it's a very, very good iteration of it. But at the same time, it would be nice time to give it to someone really outside of the box.

"I came to Journey and Dear Esther completely blank, I didn't know what to expect from it. At the end, when it slows to the halt... have you played [Journey]?

Yeah.
"You know where you just grind to a halt and eventually you just collapse into the snow? And you go, 'F**king hell, that's fantastic'.

"And then the snow piles in, and you... yeah. But the fact that you've got another person with you, I didn't even know I was online at the time, I just thought it was an in-game character.

"I was skiing along beside him, not realising that's someone else. I didn't even know it was there, and that the interactions were so gentle, it was really nicely done.

"That was a very satisfying experience... It's a healthy sign of a nice, strong, diverse industry."

Dear Esther

Dear Esther



There's a new category this year for Best British Game. Why was it important to have it this year?
"It gives a shout-out to a local industry but not in a passionate, token kind of way. In fact two or three of those have been multi-nominated anyway - Dear Esther and The Room in particular.

"I think it's part of BAFTA's remit to support local talent. But local talent in this country also includes Rockstar and Rocksteady, both of whom actually don't have anything out this year.

"So I think it's a pretty strong industry and I'm always wary of this, particularly because I'm coming from Ireland, where we have to round up what we have, because there's smaller and smaller industry in TV and film. This one you don't really have to do that. It stands alone quite well.

"I don't think anyone feels this is somehow a token shout-out to Jeff Minter or whoever, just some local programmer who's doing their best luck against... I've nothing against Jeff Minter, but you know!

"It's not a bedroom programmer industry, it's a big deal here, so it's great."


Did you play last year's best game Portal 2?
"I did. I thought it was fantastic. Again, appearing at another price point, and it certainly did have a different length to it. And I thought it was quite exquisite.

"But the one I probably played most last year was probably Batman [Arkham City]. I'm a sucker for the Batman games - I got something ridiculous like 397 of the 400 collectables, I tragically got into it. I knew every inch of that island.

This one, Far Cry 3, is probably the one I'm going to carry on playing for a while, though somebody ruined it for me by giving away the twist in a review.

"It was in GAME and it was one of those things where they go, 'Oh, you think it's this, but actually no, it's this!' and you think, 'Oh, that's quite demotivating now, I can't even finish it without going onto the next'. But I think that's fantastic.

"I'm going to go back to Dishonored, actually. It got to a point where I was stuck on something, and also after waiting ages for games to come along there was one time in November where suddenly Far Cry 3, Assassin's Creed 3, Halo 4 and Call of Duty all suddenly appeared , and you're going, 'Okay, that's too many at the same time'.

"I haven't even opened Halo 4. I've got so many to get through, but Dishonored is still on the list."

'Far Cry 3' E3 screenshot

© Ubisoft

Far Cry 3



There's a new category this year, and last year there was three new categories. Do you think we're at the point now where there's enough categories, that everything is covered, or is there room for expansion and change?
"I'm not sure what you'd put into it. Unless you specifically said 'indie', but I think that's a little bit patronising to put indie into its own peg. I dunno.

"I've done awards for every possible permutation, and there have been 43 different categories. I'm trying to think what you would then remove or change.

"I think the 'Performer' [category] was an interesting development last year because it did indicate that, again, they are bringing on above-the-line names into performance, and that was a good sign. It also gets a few stars into the room, which is handy enough.

"But I'm not sure, it depends where it's going. As long as it keeps reflecting the diversity, and the different levels of the industry. They've got all the iOS and all those browser [awards]."

Last year you did the BAFTA Television awards. I was curious to hear, having presented both the TV awards and the games awards, what the difference in atmosphere was like in the room?
"There's a lot more riding on the television ones because they're broadcast live to the nation, so in some ways it's a bigger deal in terms of the production around it.

"This one is a more enjoyable one to do because it is just the people who know all about [the industry]. The television one is surrounded by people who won't have watched all the television shows.

"There's a lot of glamorous people there, there's all that hoopla around it that has to be dealt with in its own way. It's a very different experience, hosting a big, live television show.

Dara O Briain


"This one, because it doesn't have that, it doesn't have that pressure, you can be more informal, and you can go, 'Hey you!' and point to individual tables and go, 'That thing, the guy who got shot in the head? What was that all about?'

"It's much more enjoyable, in a kind of 'I know your stuff, you know your stuff [way], let's have a chat about it'.

"With the television one, you have to look past the audience to the cameras, and also the audience are much more nervous and on show in the way that people in this one don't.

"They obviously nervous about winning awards but they don't have a camera shoved in their face. It's the difference between a normal gig, and a gig you record for a DVD.

"The gig for the DVD, the audience is all lit, they're a little bit tense about that, there's cameras floating around, and everyone feels a little less relaxed about it, and you know you have to hit every word perfectly.

"[People] still laugh, but the night before that is a very relaxed night because you know there's no cameras on and you can just mess around without feeling that, 'Oh my god if we do something wrong, this is the only chance we have for this'.

"This is like that, it's a much more enjoyable show to do."

Fifa 13 for Wii U (screenshots)

© EA

'Best Game' and 'Sports/Fitness' nominee FIFA 13



Would you like to see it televised?
"No, for exactly that reason. Also, it's a bit like, I do a show for Dave called Dara's School of Hard Sums. It's Dave's most successful ever commission.

"It gets more numbers than anything they've ever commissioned. It gets 400-500,000 for an individual showing and that accumulates over the week. If you put it on BBC2 it would get the same 400-500,000 audience, and it would be a disaster.

"But these things find their own audience and equally this finds it own audience. Not everything has to be a massive production, this thing works as it is, I think.

"If you stick it on television you have to worry about busting extraneous beautiful people because the cameras need to see them, screw that.

"This is a celebration of the industry, what the industry does, and I think the industry is very happy with that without pretending it's something it isn't."

So finally, predictions of what you think will do well on the night?
"I have no idea, because it's apples and oranges. Would you compare Journey to FIFA 13? It's whichever way the committee goes and I'm not in on the committee, so I retain the right to be surprised as much as you."

The 2013 British Academy Games Awards will be aired on March 5 and streamed live on Twitch. A highlights programme will air on March 11 at 10pm on Challenge.

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