Tonight, Steven Spielberg claimed his third BAFTA mask, but this time it was not for a film but for his début as a games creator with his Boom Blox winning the BAFTA in the Casual category, outplaying Guitar Hero, LittleBigPlanet, Singstar Vol 2, Wii Fit and Buzz! Quiz TV.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare which plunges its players into the frenzied epicentre of a 21st century war zone won for Gameplay, Story & Character and also proved to be the public’s game of choice, winning the GAME Award of 2008 with a record 60,000 gamers casting their votes this year. The shortlist of titles in the public award category were derived from the top-selling games sold in GAME stores in 2008.

The GAME British Academy Video Games Awards which took place at the London Hilton on Park Lane, were hosted by games aficionado Dara O’Briain who described these times as a ‘Golden Age’ for video games. Consoles like the Wii, and handheld devices like the PSP, DS and iPhone have revolutionised the gaming world and made games accessible to all ages, making what was once described as a rather solitary hobby for teenage boys into a very social and stimulating leisure pursuit for the whole family. This year’s winners certainly showcase the creative innovation taking place in the games sector.

Dead Space, the bone-chilling, deep space, horror survival game took the coveted BAFTA mask in both sound categories (Use of Audio and Original Score) evoking a genuinely scary atmosphere onboard the game’s deserted space ship. One of the most fiercely contended awards, Artistic Achievement, went to the stitched and glued 3D world that is LittleBigPlanet while the Technical Achievement BAFTA went to Spore, which allows players to control the development of a species from its beginnings as a single cell organism, to an intelligent and social creature, a tribe, a civilisation and then once uploaded to the internet, interacting with other civilisations.

In the Strategy category, Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution, the latest iteration of a game which first appeared 15 years ago, proved that strategy games requiring clever thinking, tactical planning and logistical exploration are as compelling today as they were last century.
FIFA 09 and Football Manager took on Wii Fit, but it was Race Driver: GRID which outraced the monster trucks and rally cars of Motorstorm Pacific Rift and the off-road quad bikes of PURE to claim the BAFTA for Sport.
Left 4 Dead took the BAFTA in the Multiplayer category, Fable II won in Action and Adventure, while Professor Layton and the Curious Village was victorious in the Handheld category. This year’s highly-prized Best Game went to Super Mario Galaxy which fought off very stiff competition from Call of Duty 4 : Modern Warfare, Fable II, Fallout 3, Grand Theft Auto IV and Rock Band.

The Academy is keen to nurture and encourage the up-and-coming stars in games, as well as recognising those at the peak of their talent. This year’s ceremony also included The BAFTA Ones To Watch Award. Working with the University of Abertay and its Dare To be Digital competition, this award was contended by three groups of university graduates who had each designed a new game prototype. The winning game was Boro-Toro, designed by a team calling themselves DarkMatter Designs.

The climax of the evening saw Jonathan Ross present the Academy’s highest honour, the Fellowship, to one of the founding fathers of the video games industry, electrical engineer, entrepreneur and founder of Atari inc, Nolan Bushnell. Credited by many for kick-starting the video games revolution, his Pong was the first video game to achieve widespread popularity in both the arcade and home console markets.