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Part of the team behind Celeste accepts their award for Best Independent Game at the 2018 Game Awards. (Twitter Photo)

The annual Game Awards presentation in Los Angeles on Thursday night included a few surprises, a lot of big announcements, and occasionally, the presentation of a trophy. The Pacific Northwest game-dev community was up for a lot of awards, including a surprise bid for Game of the Year, but at the end of the night, only two of the nominated titles took home prizes.

Celeste, developed in Vancouver, B.C., with a soundtrack from Seattle, got four nominations and won two, for Best Independent Game and Games for Impact. It was also nominated for Game of the Year, but lost out to Sony’s God of War, and Best Score, which was taken by Woody Jackson’s soundtrack for Red Dead Redemption 2.

Seattle’s Subset Games was also up for Best Independent Game for its time-traveling mech game Into the Breach. It did pick up the award for Best Strategy Game, beating out Harebrained Schemes‘s BattleTech.

The biggest surprise of the night may have been in the Best Art Direction category. The lo-fi, 2-bit indie game Return of the Obra Dinn ended up taking home the prize, winning over blockbusters like God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2. Obra Dinn, an investigative game where the player is charged with discovering the fates of the crew of a ghost ship in 1807, was deliberately made to look like some of the early games for the Macintosh. It’s the sophomore solo project of indie developer Lucas Pope, who previously made Papers, Please.

Another upset saw the Best Action Game award going to Dead Cells, over Bungie’s Destiny 2: Forsaken and the best-selling game of 2018 to date, Call of Duty: Black Ops IV. Dead Cells, from the independent French studio Motion Twin, left early access in August of this year, and drew high praise for marrying old-school pixel art with two challenging and popular subgenres. It’s both a “rogue-like,” where the levels are randomly generated and all your progress through the game resets if you die, and a “Metroid-vania,” where the player explores a big, sprawling map. Looking at it, it does feel a little bit like it started as a thorough collection of exciting buzzwords, but the combination proved successful enough to get Dead Cells an award over games with several times its production and marketing budget.

Product announcements at this year’s show included:

  • The Outer Worlds, a single-player, first-person, science-fiction RPG from Obsidian Entertainment, set in a far future on the galaxy’s frontier when civilization has descended into a corporate-run dystopia. Despite Obsidian’s recent acquisition by Microsoft, The Outer Worlds is being published by Take-2’s Private Division due to an earlier contract, and as such, will not be exclusive to Microsoft platforms.
  • Epic Games’s new online storefront went live during the Game Awards. Right now, it offers four games for the prospective client, including Bellevue, Wash.-based tinyBuild‘s brand-new entry in its Hello Neighbor franchise, Hide and Seek. The Epic store is also a delivery vector for Fortnite, of course, but Epic intends to further sweeten the pot by giving its users a free game every two weeks, starting with Subnautica on Dec. 14.
  • Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is a dungeon crawler for up to four players that features a huge cast of Marvel’s superheroes and villains. Due to licensing difficulties, the series seemed to have ended with the second one in 2009, but a third Ultimate Alliance is now on the way in 2019 as an exclusive for the Nintendo Switch. It’s developed by Team Ninja, a division within the Japanese studio Koei Tecmo that makes the Dead or Alive fighting franchise. (It also made Metroid: Other M. We try not to talk about Metroid: Other M.)
  • The first official downloadable character for Super Smash Brothers Ultimate is Joker, from Atlus’s Japanese RPG Persona 5. If you do not know what the Persona series is already, I am not even going to try to explain it to you in brief. It is very weird.

Of course, just as soon as the Awards were over, many of the attendees took to social media, where they discussed the next competitive activity they’d be entering:

Basically, don’t expect anything out of any part of the video game industry for at least the next few days. Smash Brothers Ultimate just came out. We’re busy!

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