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Exclusive Interview: “Chuck” star Zachary Levi game to host the VGAs

There are plenty of gamers out there who have watched, or at least are familiar with NBC’s spy series about a likable geek turned super spy, Chuck. The show, which comes to a close after 82 episodes and five seasons on January 27, helped to catapult the career of star Zachary Levi and has become something of a cult hit. Even if you haven’t watched Chuck, you’ve may heard Levi as Arcade Israel Gannon in Bethesda Softworks’ Fallout: New Vegas game, or possibly as one of the various trooper voices in Halo: Reach. He also provided the voice of Flynn Rider in the blockbuster Disney 3D CGI movie, Tangled Ever After, and the accompanying video game. Now Levi, who is himself a huge gamer, is taking center stage in the gaming world with the December 10th live broadcast of the Video Game Awards on SpikeTV at 8pm ET.

“It’s the Video Game Awards, so I think it’s important to do right by that community,” Levi said. “Some stuff might be a little inside for people who don’t understand video games, but if you’re tuning in the ‘Video Game Awards’, hopefully you’ve got some affinity for that.”

Levi, who adds his name to the roll call of previous hosts that includes Samuel L. Jackson, Jack Black, and last year’s host Neil Patrick Harris, spent a day going virtual in a series of spoofs for big titles like Batman: Arkham City, LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars and Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception.

“It’s all in-game generated footage that I’m put into via green screen, so it was pretty fun to do,” the actor said before confirming that he helped to write many of the bits himself. “I’ve been pretty involved. They have really talented writers that are gamers themselves, so they wrote a few great drafts to begin with, and then myself and my writing partner, Adam, came on board with little ideas and tweaks here and there. We tried to make it as funny as we could make it.”

The VGAs will be honoring the best games of 2011, with categories ranging from the topics like Best Game, to Best Performance by a Human (both male and female). While not everyone may agree with the nominees or the winners, or even with the show itself, it is the biggest (and only) broadcast gaming awards show out there. And although Levi is not voting on the games, he has played many of the nominees.

“Gaming is an art form, albeit an interactive art form. There’s still going to be a lot of subjectivity, and everybody has their own thing. I’m super partial to first-person shooters, third-person shooters like Gears 3, adventure RPGs like Fable and Skyrim,” said Levi. “I’ve been holding off playing Skyrim because I’m still working, and it will devour my life. A game like that is so deep and it’s just got so much. That’s why I’ve never played World of Warcraft; I would lose my life. I would end up not eating, drinking, or showering. I would just eventually expire on my couch. But I understand why gaming is a huge part of a lot of people’s lives and world.”

It’s been a very good year for big games, which makes choosing the best of the best a challenging endeavor this year. You can find a full list of the categories and nominees on SpikeTV’s website.

“Picking Game of the Year is a very difficult thing to do, but I think that there are a lot of factors that you just need to put in there. Obviously, it’s important to look at the overall package of graphics, sound, and story,” Levi said. “But gameplay, to me, is probably the biggest factor. You can play a game like Limbo, for example, that has a very bare bones experience. But the fun factor of it, and this journey that you get to take with this little boy in this world of silhouette is incredible. You don’t necessarily need to be wowed by explosive, incredible graphics–although that can help.”

The VGAs also offer a first look at some of the big games of 2012, which will give gamers something to talk about even if they don’t care about who wins what award.

“I’m just stoked for it all,” he said. “E3 is one of my favorite times of year. To have almost a little mini-E3 showing, where gamers get those first looks and can get excited about the upcoming year, that’s great. Obviously, I’m always looking forward to the heavy hitters and the tent pole titles that are going to be coming up. I was talking with [Epic Games Design Director] Cliff Bleszinski when I first got the job, and he said Epic has a great first look that they’re going to be unveiling at the awards show, which I’m super excited about.”

With new executive producer Mark Burnett (Survivor, Celebrity Apprentice) on board, Levi said there will be more interactivity built into this year’s show. Augmented reality, which has taken off in the gaming world, will also be part of the broadcast.

“It’s going to be interesting to see, because the people that are there watching the show live won’t be able to see the same show that the people at home are going to see with all those bells and whistles,” Levi said. “I’m really excited to see what companies like Sony are going to be doing with the PS Vita and augmented reality next year.”

Although Chuck has just finished filming for good, Levi remains active in Hollywood with film and television projects, and is very interested in getting involved in the interactive space. After all, it’s where he spends most of his free time.

“With a video game, you’ll go through and beat the game, but then you’ll want to challenge yourself to the harder difficulty, or you want to go back through to get all the Easter eggs and find out all the little secrets,” he said. “If it’s a game with incredible online leveling, like a Modern Warfare 3, you’re going to keep playing it until you can level your guy all the way up until you can unlock all the guns that you want. There’s so much to be had as a gamer — even as a casual gamer. There’s no better entertainment investment out there.”

Catch Levi live on SpikeTV this Saturday night, or check out the show’s key moments and first looks for 2012 games online afterwards. There’s also that final season of Chuck airing on NBC. After that you can look for Levi to experiment with new forms of interactive entertainment next year, as he attempts to bridge the gap between the two worlds he loves: Hollywood and gaming.

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