Among the BAFTA nominees for this year's 'Best Game' accolade are the usual heavy hitters, including Ubisoft's Renaissance epic Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, the ever-popular FIFA 11, Quantic Dream's emotive masterpiece Heavy Rain, and celebrated sequels Mass Effect 2 and Super Mario Galaxy 2. But possibly the most interesting contender is Playdead Studios' innovative Xbox Live Arcade game, LIMBO. O'Briain praised the platform game for its "beautiful look and feel", and "suitably vague" storytelling, but also said that its a "great sign" that there is a market for games like LIMBO.
"The game was just really, really good. It was also the gameplay; you thought you had worked it out but then things mixed up," he said. "Its a great sign that there is a market for a game like this that won't sustain 40 hours. You wouldn't want to play LIMBO for as long as you would play Red Dead Redemption or whatever. Its just a different style of play - Braid was another one of these games, and Portal too. It's great to see these things thriving among the blockbusters."
O'Briain celebrated the "fantastic" spread of genres and styles represented in the nominees this year, right from the 'Action' award to the new 'Social Network Game' category. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood leads the field with seven nominations in total, although it's the only 'Best Game' nominee O'Briain hasn't played. Brotherhood has been viewed as a superb evolution of the Assassin's series and O'Briain noted that its a unique feature of the games industry that sequels generally deliver the goods.
"It's interesting how sequels work in movies and sequels work in games," he said. "Movie sequels are often pretty terrible. William Goldman once described them as 'whores'. But the quality is usually higher [in games] because either the technology has moved on or the actual mechanics have got better. Think of Half-Life 2 over Half-Life - they have just stepped it up another level. It's refreshing that games can get better and evolve."
Many end of year accolades, including our own 2010 top ten, picked western sandbox epic Red Dead Redemption as last year's top title. However, that will not be repeated at the BAFTAs as publisher Rockstar has pulled the title out of competition. No official reason has been forthcoming for the move, but it is thought that Rockstar is still peeved about Grand Theft Auto IV losing out to Super Mario Galaxy in the 2008 'Best Game' award. O'Briain said that he has "no idea" why Rockstar has taken the decision, but he admitted to being "surprised" to see Mario Galaxy win in 2008.
"It could have gone either way last year between Uncharted and Arkham Asylum," he added, referring to the Batman title's 'Best Game' victory at the 2010 ceremony. "But there is always going to be an element of disagreement as you are absolutely comparing apples and oranges. FIFA 11 versus Mass Effect 2 - how do you compare those two games? What are the criteria? Ultimately, it should just be whatever blew people away the most over the year."
Heavy Rain is another title up for 'Best Game', and O'Briain said that, just like LIMBO, the narrative-focused action title really pushed the envelope in terms of games design.
"Limbo showed what can be done on Xbox Live Arcade, but Heavy Rain really showed what can be done with pacing," he said. "They just slowed it down. There were some amazing moments - the section where you are pushing through the crowd to find your lost child was just incredible. No other medium can do that. Very, very impressive. Heavy Rain wasn't perfect, it was quite rough around the edges, but the idea of having proper emotional choices was very compelling. It also required nerve to have a player wander around the house for a while, doing really normal stuff."
O'Briain said that hosting the BAFTAs is much different to other awards ceremonies he has hosted, largely because he "knows more about the industry".
"At other ceremonies you are just a gun for hire. The Cooling and Ventilation awards, which was actually a great night, or the Corgi Gas Fitters awards, which was also a great night," he joked. "The more awards ceremonies an industry has, the less interesting the awards actually are. The advertising industry, for example, you can see people's eyes glazing over. But when the awards matter to people, they can be worth something. I really look forward to the BAFTAs, while other awards can be a bit of a chore."
O'Briain recently incorporated a routine into his stand up show about Metal Gear Solid, even performing the piece on TV show Live At The Apollo. The routine actually stemmed from his appearance on Charlie Brooker's Gameswipe, on which he discussed how games are the only medium to deny people access to content for being too rubbish.
"Doing the routine felt like games had officially become mainstream in that the majority of the audience would get what I was talking about," he explained. "You would need to know a little bit about the mechanics of playing games or whatever, but enough of them got it to carry the others through. As a comic, you are always looking for the universal laugh. A lot of people do routines about Star Wars because everyone has seen it, but that is not often the case with films anymore. But now enough people know the mechanics of a first-person shooter so you can get away with a routine like that."
O'Briain will present the Video Game BAFTAs on March 16 at the London Hilton on Park Lane. The ceremony will be streamed live on Bafta.org and Baftagameaward.com. Finishing off the interview, O'Briain mused to himself that he could simply make lots of jokes about Red Dead Redemption on the night as the game is not going to be there. So, expect an uncomfortable evening for Rockstar...