A game that shuns modern industry conventions -- no shooting, no sports license, no competitive mode -- has won considerable favor among the the game development community, as "Journey" enters the Game Developer Conference Awards with five nominations, including Game of the Year.
The nominations for March 2012 PlayStation 3 release "Journey" came in the fields of Innovation, Audio, and Visual Arts, as well as the categories for Best Downloadable Game and Game of the Year.
Its pursuit of an artistic vision meant that players were encouraged to embark upon a symbolic, even emotional pilgrimage, as their nameless character's narrative unfolded and they met, helped, and bonded with fellow travelers on the way.
Also feted were "Halo 4," the first full game by Microsoft's internal studio 343 Industries, "Dishonored," which was praised for visual and narrative accomplishments, and Telltale's nuanced adaptation of "The Walking Dead," all on three nominations each.
Joining "Journey," "The Walking Dead" and "Dishonored" in contention for Game of the Year were turn-based earth defense action game "XCOM: Enemy Unknown" and the divisive close to a sci-fi trilogy, "Mass Effect 3".
The five are already well established as worthy of consideration, but the Awards also serve as a barometer to which lesser-known titles are proving just as impactful on the men and women who shape video gaming experiences on console, PC and mobile.
For example, "Virtue's Last Reward" was brought to North America and Europe by import specialists Aksys and Rising Star respectively; without huge marketing budgets, they must rely on the quality of their products and any resulting word of mouth buzz -- those factors were enough to win the visual novel a place at the GDCAs.
Similarly, a fiendishly brainteasing puzzler might not be the obvious debut for a new team whose common experience was working on the "Burnout" series of chaotic racing games, but Fireproof Studios' "The Room" became a cult favorite before earning Apple's iPad Game of the Year accolade -- a sentiment echoed by its GDCA nominations for Best Debut and Best Handheld/Mobile Game.
Others, like stealth game "Mark of the Ninja," epic (and free) shooter "PlanetSide 2," and frantic spaceship control sim "Faster Than Light," highlight games that might not have benefited from multimillion-dollar commercial campaigns but are nevertheless well respected for their achievements in 2012.
A total of 26 games were elected to the final round and winners will be decided by members of the GDCA's International Choice Awards Network which is, the GDCA explains, "an invitation-only group comprised of leading game creators from all parts of the video game industry."
Winners will be annouced at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco on March 27.