Indie Hell Zone – Game of the Year 2018!!

Gamers! Gamers. Gamers…. welcome. It’s that time of year where video game blogs put out their lists of their top games of the year. Whether it’s to validate the the opinions of readers or to sincerely show appreciation for the things they like, these lists are one of the Video Game Outlet Traditions.

Last year, my article was mainly nonsense because in the end, Indie Hell Zone is a one-person joint and that one person goes to school, has a horrible job and wants to work on their own games, so experiences were limited. This year, instead of letting my dumb ass be the judge, jury and executioner, I put the role into the hands of you, the people, since there’s no way I can play everything. Of course, considering the scope of this blog, only indie games that were made or had a substantial update this year were valid to be voted on.

And so, let’s get to it. For these categories, I will also put which games won second and third place – you’ll understand why. All screenshots are mine unless stated otherwise.

Best Gameplay of 2018

Some people say that gameplay comes first. A lot of the people that say that also coincidentally like to rail against politics in games (read: anything that isn’t right-wing). But regardless of the existence of those nerds, gameplay is a big deal that we should appreciate.

3rd Place: Facets by farawaythyer

Facets is an RPG Maker 2003 game where you play as the villains, trying to erase the memories of an upstart rebel by jumping into her mind and killing off the manifestations of her past. What makes this RPG special is that there’s a set number of enemies, all of them with different gimmicks to figure out. You don’t heal between battle and the all-healing potions are limited, forcing players to make the most effective use of their abilities and resources. It’s carefully designed for something made in RPG Maker 2003 (which, in my experience, is hard to do), creating a short arduous journey.

2nd Place: Celeste by Matt Makes Games

Official screenshot

Difficult hell platformers that feel satisfying to beat is a staple genre of indie games and Celeste is the latest big one on the block. Building off a PICO-8 prototype, Celeste expanded into a much bigger game that pushed the skills of platformer fans to their limits through a well-designed hell. There’s not a lot for me to say, especially since so many other blogs have said way more in the past and probably put this on their own lists.

1st Place: LUCAH: Born of a Dream by melessthanthree

LUCAH: Born of a Dream is a nightmare character action game that sometimes turns into a visual novel. With a whole bunch of customization options, you lead Lucah into hacking apart the manifestations of traumas through a flow of scythe like swipes and familiar bullets. As you play, a bar in the corner of the screen gradually fills up over time, with huge increases every time you die. If this bar gets full, you’ll be stuck into the bad ending. This bar becomes much more meaningful in new game plus, where the bar increases more faster. However, you start getting graded on every battle phase, with high scores decreasing that bar, encouraging you to do better in fights as you restart your journey toward the true ending.

Best Story of 2018

I believe story is at the core of every game, no matter how barebones it is. It could be a lengthy visual novel or an arcade game whose narrative is shaped by the player’s experiences. It’s always there, waiting to be judged by you, the players.

3rd Place: The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories by White Owls Inc

Official screenshot

In The Missing, you play as a girl searching for her lost friend, with the ability to sever her own limbs to solve puzzles. What initially comes off as a surreal horror platformer becomes something frank and special as you start uncovering the game’s story, delving into themes of self-harm and identity. It’s a game that’s hard to talk about without delving into flat-out spoilers, but to people that played it, its a story that found a special place in the hearts of many.

2nd Place: All Our Asias by Sean Han Tani

All Our Asias is a game by Sean Han Tani, where you play as a boy named Yuito diving into the memories of his dying, estranged father to learn what his deal was. What starts out as a personal journey becomes a bigger story about the experiences of Asian people, pan-Asian solidarity and gentrification. It’s ultimately less about Yuito’s journey to find closure and more about your own introspective journey on culture.

1st Place: LUCAH: Born of a Dream by melessthanthree

Between cutscenes and visual novel interludes, LUCAH tells a story of people trying to overcome their traumas, either because of problems with organized religion and/or from being outcasts. LUCAH is an interesting case because its story is not exactly clear-cut. The nature of the world is ambiguous, being a dream world – but whose dream? And does it truly matter? Reaching the end sort of feels more like trying to attain emotional closure rather than narrative closure.

Best Art Direction

So, this is probably the most subjective of these categories. So subjective that it was the category that desperately needed a tiebreaker vote the most.

3rd Place: Celeste by Matt Makes Games

Of the winners, Celeste‘s art style is the most standard – but it does a good job with that standard. Easy to read bright sprites mix with nice backgrounds to provide eye candy that hopefully makes your experience feel less hellish than it actually feels..

2nd Place: Return of the Obra Dinn by 3909 LLC

Official screenshot

In Return of the Obra Dinn, you’re investigating the last moments of the inhabitants of a lost ship. Your investigations of the titular ship is rendered in a 1-bit art style and it completely owns the look. It uses the simple black and white style to the best of its abilities to create a gloomy, mysterious atmosphere as well as to grant this “old document” look to the game, as if you’re documenting the deaths of the ship’s occupants through old photography instead of a magic death watch.

1st Place: LUCAH: Born of a Dream by melessthanthree

The art style of LUCAH is a non-standard form of pixel art, where instead of clean sprites, everything is outline heavy doodles. It’s sort of like you’re running around in a world of chalk drawings, the messiness giving a decayed feeling befitting of the game’s atmosphere. This art style was actually a case of practicality, due to the game’s actual development being largely a one-man effort; the creator just leaned way into it to make it as vibrant as possible.

Best Soundtrack of 2018

Music is also an important part of the gaming experience and anyone that says otherwise is a goddamn liar. Like listen, if I’m playing a JRPG for 50+ hours within my increasingly busy life, that soundtrack better slap. Anyway.

3rd Place: All Our Asias by Sean Han Tani

All Our Asias’ soundtrack is mainly ambient electronic, giving an appropriate dreamy feel as you wander around the abstract memories. The Yume Nikki-ish vibe of the first half of the soundtrack gradually shifts to something more akin to the ambient Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne tracks as the game’s environment shifts to a fantasy version of Chicago. While Sean Han Tani was the primary composer, the soundtrack also features guest tracks by Bryant Canelo, kynes, _zebra and EQUIP.

2nd Place: Lucah: Born of a Dream by Nicolo Telesca

Soundtrack thumbail

Whoa! The Lucah Game Award Sweep has been foiled! The game’s music is composed by Nicolo Telesca, lending an appropriate oppressive atmosphere. Unsettling ambiance defines much of the game, sometimes being taken over by a version with a harsh beat as you get into a fight. The more actiony parts of the game is carried by heavy electronic tunes that still feel in line with the game’s tone.

So, with that sweep broken, what takes first place?

1st Place: Celeste by Lena Raine

Soundtrack thumbail

But of course! Celeste‘s soundtrack was made by Lena Raine, gracing the game with a mix of piano and electronic beats. Energetic tunes befitting engaging platformers like this mix with the more emotional piano tracks to tie together the story’s mood, culminating in uplifting tracks to cheer you on up Mount Celeste. For many, the soundtrack was a defining part of Celeste.

Indie Developer Appreciation

So, before we go to the big event, I had one last category for indie developers. Unlike the other categories, people were allowed to vote for whoever they wanted, regardless of whether or not they made something this year. This was, surprisingly, the only category with clear-cut winners that didn’t need tiebreakers to resolve.

3rd Place: Team Cherry

Hollow Knight was technically eligible for this shindig with its content updates and big ports, but it surprisingly only got few votes. Though, that hasn’t stopped the developers from getting love on this.

Team Cherry is a small Australian team who exploded on the scene with their debut game Hollow Knight. This Metroidvania received wide acclaim, considered by many to be one of the best indie games of 2017, if not one of the best games of that year in general. It’s unknown what they’ll do in the future, but they sure have set a high bar for themselves.

2nd Place: melessthanthree

Melessthanthree is the handle of Colin Horgan, developer of LUCAH: Born of a Dream. While he’s played around with a few projects on and worked on a few commercial releases, LUCAH: Born of a Dream was his first real commercial independent game, leaving a small but passionate impact.

1st Place: Analgesic Productions

Analgesic Productions is made up of the duo of Sean Han Tani and Marina Ayano Kittaka. While in college, the two worked on Anodyne, a game in the vein of Link’s Awakening. The former settled into the role of composer while Marina became the team’s artist and writer. They spent the next few years working on and eventually released the narrative platformer Even the Ocean.

They are currently working on Anodyne 2: Return to Dust, a spiritual successor to Anodyne that mixes 2D sections akin to the original game with 3D exploration.

Indie Game of 2018

It’s the part you’ve been waiting for, gamers! The moment of validation! The moments that you may have been expecting!

3rd Place: The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories by White Owls Inc

Official screenshot

SWERY is back folks and the verdict is in: The Missing is good. Video games are real, gay, and our friends when they want to be.

2nd Place: Celeste by Matt Makes Games

Official screenshot

Yeah, this was pretty much expected to be up here. Heck, the Game Awards gave it “Best Independent Game,” despite having bad takes like nominating Detroit: Beyond Human for best narrative. Rest assured, people that want to rip me limb from limb, this is probably “Best Indie Game of the Year” for a whole lot of outlets.

1st Place: Lucah: Born of a Dream by melessthanthree

You probably expected this with how all the other categories shaped up. LUCAH left a strong impression on people – well, for the people that actually played it, anyway. LUCAH is a mix of a lot of good things, trying to blend mysterious narratives with challenging combat to be an accessible to different crowds, in spite of its nicheness. For the people that actually played LUCAH, I’m not surprised that they enjoyed the overall experience and consider it the best game they played this year.

You may be a new person to this blog, looking at this and wondering, “Where the heck is Hollow Knight? Why isn’t Celeste number one? Dari, why has your vote for Slay the Spire for Best Gameplay amounted to nothing? Where’s Dead Cells and the Messenger? Why is there so much LUCAH? When will you pay for your Gamer Sins?” Foolish. If you wish to imprint your will onto this blog, you should have voted. You might be unhappy with the LUCAH: Born of a Dream wave, but remember – if you truly believe there were better choices, you could have prevented this.

However, whether they deserve awards or not, we should all celebrate the work people put into games. Whether its a large group of developers making the next Assassin’s Creed or somebody putting together an RPG in their spare time, let’s appreciate the work they do! Let’s also kill review score culture, because publishers are using that tool of validation to hold bonuses over the heads of their employees, which is bad.

Thank you for reading through all this and I hope you stick by this trash outlet for the next year. May the Lord smile and the Devil have mercy.


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