Canada’s gaming industry wins big at Game Awards


Canada’s gaming industry just levelled up.

Two video games from Canada-based studios won major awards at this year’s Game Awards, which took place last week in Los Angeles. 

Tchia, developed by Montreal-based independent game studio Awaceb, won the coveted most impactful game of the year award. The award symbolizes recognition for games that provoke thought and carry a pro-social message, according to the Game Awards website. 

It’s something that game creator Phil Crifo calls “symbolic and important.”

A heartfelt adventure with cultural significance

Tchia follows the titular character on her journey to save her father and her home, a collection of idyllic islands, after they’re attacked by strange fabric-made creatures.

Crifo, who is the game director at Awaceb, came up with the idea for Tchia with colleague and childhood friend Thierry Boura. The pair grew up together in New Caledonia, which is a collection of French islands in the South Pacific. 

Now based in Montreal, Crifo describes Tchia as a “love letter” to the Indigenous people of New Caledonia. He says it was important that the game accurately reflects Kanak culture.

People swim at a beach in New Caledonia as the country's flag waves in the foreground.
New Caledonia, a French territory comprising dozens of islands in the South Pacific, was the inspiration behind Tchia, which won the most impactful game of the year award. (Delphine Mayeur/AFP/.)

“We wanted to celebrate that and we wanted to talk about the culture that kind of shaped our childhood in a very particular way,” he said.

Crifo says everything from the geography to flora and fauna used in the game are all inspired by New Caledonia. Even one of Tchia’s abillities in the game called soul jumping, where the player can possess an animal, is tied to traditional Kanak folklore. 

An homage to a childhood favourite 

Sea of Stars is the other award-winning game that took home best independent game. The game was created by Sabotage Studios based in Quebec City.

Thierry Boulanger co-founded the studio in 2016. Now the studio’s creative director, Boulanger says he began conceptualizing the universe Sea of Stars that takes place in during his childhood after being inspired by the Super Nintendo role-playing game Chrono Trigger. 

“I had that click moment and then I played it for like three years straight,” Boulanger said about his time playing Chrono Trigger.

He says he wanted Sea of Stars to “modernize” Chrono Trigger, while also paying homage to it.

Sea of Stars took home the award for Best Independent Game at this year's Game Awards. The game was created by Sabotage Studios, a Quebec City-based independent studio.
Sea of Stars took home the award for best independent game. The game was created by Sabotage Studios, a Quebec City-based independent studio. (Sabotage Studios)

The games ended up becoming connected on an even deeper level when Yasunori Mitsuda, the composer for Chrono Trigger, contributed 10 musical tracks to Sea of Stars. 

Sabotage has their own in-house composer, Eric W. Brown, who created the rest of the game’s roughly 200-song soundtrack. Despite only contributing a handful of songs to the game, Mitsuda joining the project was generally seen by gaming fans as a seal of approval for Sea of Stars from one of the genre’s most-respected creators.

“Tears were shed,” said Boulanger when asked about how impactful Mitsuda’s contributions were to him. 

Recognition at a difficult time

Both Crifo and Boulanger say they’re thankful for the awards, especially at a time when job cuts are impacting the industry. More than 6,000 game industry jobs have been cut across more than 100 studios, according to Axios.

Crifo worries these cuts could impact the work smaller independent studios are doing. 

“We’ll see for the few coming years less risk taking, less small, emergent, innovative teams, and that’s very unfortunate because I think that’s ultimately what drives the medium forward.”

Despite some industry wide uncertainty, both Crifo and Boulanger say their respective studios haven’t been impacted and are moving ahead with future projects. 

“We’re just keeping at it slowly getting back in the saddle for the the next production,” said Boulanger. 

“Right now we are kind of figuring out … what’s the next step for us in terms of keeping that DNA — that cultural, social element — but also doing stuff that’s more ambitious, more progressive, more forward thinking,” Crifo adds. 

Share post:



More like this