SXSW 2015: ‘Dragon Age’ tops casual, freewheeling award show

March 15, 2015 | 9:37 a.m.

THE PLAYER

'Dragon Age: Inquisition" took top honers at SXSW's Game Awards. (BioWare/Electronic Arts)

‘Dragon Age: Inquisition” took top honors at SXSW’s Game Awards. (BioWare/Electronic Arts)

Character-driven fantasy title “Dragon Age: Inquisition” won top prize at the 2015 South by Southwest Gaming Awards, a freewheeling ceremony that showcased independent titles but ultimately gave the big awards to those in the major leagues.

“Dragon Age,” the role-playing game from BioWare and Electronic Arts, was named game of the year. The awards, held as part of the South by Southwest gaming festival in Austin, Texas, at the city’s ACL Live at the Moody Theater, boasted an extended segment in which footage was shown from 30 risk-taking independent games.

FULL COVERAGE: South by Southwest

Among the indies shown were “Apotheon,” a side-scrolling action game set among Greek mythology; “That Dragon, Cancer,” a narrative game centered on the hardships of dealing with a terminal illness; “Hyper Light Drifter,” a vintage-looking and chaotic action game; and “Nova-111,” a sci-fi strategy game in which players rescue missing scientists.

All were showcased at the SXSW gaming expo and all were part of a Gamer’s Voice award, an audience-voted prize. The recipient of the award was DoubleDutch Games’ “SpeedRunners,” a fast-paced and silly racing game in which characters on foot must out-run – or out-wit – opponents.

Still, sword and sorcery ruled Saturday night, as “”Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft” was named mobile game of the year and two prizes went to “Lord of the Rings” action title “Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor,” excellence in design and direction and excellence in gameplay.

The SXSW audience got to play an one-of-its kind "Banjo Kazooie" game. (Todd Martens)

The SXSW audience got to play a one-of-its kind “Banjo Kazooie” game. (Todd Martens)

Only in its second year, the South by Southwest Gaming Awards was a casual affair that was open to the public and featured plenty of audience participation. Actress Janet Varney and YouTube personality Markiplier were hosts, and each of them was a frequent recipient of pledges of adoration from the audience.

Festivities were kept casual, so casual that it was often unclear who was accepting awards. It was definitely not Matt Stone and Trey Parker, for instance, taking to the stage to accept the trophy when “South Park: Stick of Truth” won the prize for excellence in convergence. And though Bioware has offices in Austin, no one was on hand to accept the game of the year award.

There were also some oddities. The awards began in lighthearted fashion, with audience members instructed to wave their arms to control a one-of-its-kind “Banjo-Kazooie” game from Rare and Audience Entertainment. Cameras tracked audience movements, which controlled the character on the screen.

Music was provided by a rootsy video game cover band and an extended advertisement was shown for podcast – and Largo show – “Thrilling Adventure Hour.” “I don’t know why that was here,” said Varney. “That was way more humans than I came to see.”

Red, the star of "Transistor," is a vigorous singer who was wronged and left for dead. She shreds her nightgown and arms herself with a sword. (Supergiant Games)

Red, the star of “Transistor,” is a vigorous singer who was wronged and left for dead. She shreds her nightgown and arms herself with a sword. (Supergiant Games)

Independent games were represented heavily among the nominees, even if the awards largely went to more mainstream games. The award for excellence in art boasted indies, for instance, including sci-fi noir “Transistor” and miniature princess quest “Monument Valley.” The prize went to Ubisoft’s indie-inspired “Child of Light.”

The excellence in visual achievement category also showcased “Monument Valley” and “Transistor,” as well as photo-realistic supernatural crime story “The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.” Though we’re in an era in which new consoles are capable of impressive graphical feats, South by Southwest recognized style over substance in its art fields, even if Ubisoft’s “Far Cry 4” was the ultimate winner in visual achievement.

“Transistor” did get awarded for its musical score. The work from composer Darren Korb mixes breathy cabaret songs with sci-fi beats and spine-tingling guitars. Korb, in accepting the trophy, paid tribute to Austin musical legend Willie Nelson.

“This in incredible to be up here, in front of you, on Willie’s stage,” he said.

Complete winners below.

Game of the year
“Dragon Age: Inquisition”

Mobile game of the year
“Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft”

Gamer’s voice

Excellence in visual achievement
“Far Cry 4”

Tabletop game of the year
“Star Realms”

Excellence in technical achievement
“Destiny”

Excellence in SFX
“Alien: Isolation”

Excellence in narrative
“The Wolf Among Us”

Excellence in musical score
“Transistor”

Excellence in multiplayer
“Super Smash Bros. Wii U”

Excellence in gameplay
“Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor”

Excellence in design and direction
“Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor”

Matthew Crump cultural innovation award
“This War of Mine”

Most anticipated crowdfunded game
“Star Citizen”

Excellence in convergence
“South Park: Stick of Truth”

Most valuable character
Ellie from “The Last of Us: Left Behind”

Excellence in art
“Child of Light”

Most valuable add-on content
“The Last of Us: Left Behind”

Most valuable e-sports team
Cloud9

Most valuable online channel
Rooster Teeth

We’re at South by Southwest until March 22. Join us at latimes.com/sxsw for ongoing coverage of the festival.

– Todd Martens | @Toddmartens | @LATherocomplex

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