"Metal Gear Solid" mastermind Hideo Kojima was a no-show, EDM star Deadmau5 performed, a new Batman game was unveiled and massive fantasy role-playing game "The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt" was the night's big winner. The Game Awards, held at downtown L.A.'s Microsoft Theater, were a casual affair, one dedicated as much to hyping what's next as well as looking back.
But the night wasn't without a hint of drama and a bit of sentimentality.
Host and creator Geoff Keighley slammed "Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain" distributor Konami, saying the studio prevented celebrated game designer Kojima from attending the broadcast. Earlier, in another departure from the evening's promotional bombast, the show featured an extended tribute to late Nintendo President Satoru Iwata.
Not in attendance for any of it, however, was Kojima.
"Mr. Kojima had every intention of being with us tonight, but unfortunately he was informed by a lawyer representing Konami just recently that he would not be allowed to travel to tonight's award ceremony to accept any awards," Keighley said near the end of the night's broadcast, adding that the developer was watching from Toyko.
"The Phantom Pain" was awarded the prize for best action/adventure. The trophy was accepted by Kiefer Sutherland, who voices the main character in the game. Kojima and Konami had been reported to have parted ways shortly after the release of "The Phantom Pain."
"It's inconceivable to me that an artist like Hideo would not be allowed to come here and celebrate with his peers and his fellow teammates," Keighley said.
It was the rare unscripted moment in a night largely dedicated to teasing forthcoming titles. The Bay Area's story-driven studio Telltale Games unveiled that it's in deep development on a Batman game, showing off the game with a brief, noirish black-and-white teaser, and independent studio Double Fine Productions introduced a sequel to its irreverent "Psychonauts."
Mark Hamill appeared as a presenter, this time not to promote "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" but instead to discuss his work on the forthcoming "Squadron 42," a sci-fi game set in the "Starcraft" universe. Hamill joked with designer Chris Roberts, asking that he please be featured on the game's poster, a reference to Luke Skywalker's absence in promotional materials for "The Force Awakens."
When it came to awards, CD Projekt Red's "The Witcher 3" was responsible for three major prizes. In addition to taking game of the year honors, the title took home best role-playing game and propelled CD Projekt Red to win developer of the year. Studio co-founder Marcin Iwinski noted that he made the trek "all the way from Poland, where sex on unicorns is a common thing," a nod to one of the game's more famous -- or infamous -- scenes.
Still, the heavily linear game was topped in the best narrative category by indie title "Her Story." Available for mobile devices, "Her Story" puts the players in the role of an unseen sleuth trying to unravel a murder case. The game utilizes full-motion video and its only request of the player is to input search terms into a browser.
"Thank you to the gaming community for embracing this little low-key, avant garde video game," said actress Viva Seifert, who won the best performance award for her role in the Sam Barlow game.
"Her Story" wasn't the only experimental game to win Thursday evening. "Life Is Strange," from Dontnod/Square Enix, took home the trophy in the "games for impact" category, a field designed to recognize more socially aware or risk-taking games. "Life Is Strange" balances unexplainable events with the daily drama of teenage life, and it's the rare game to be told from the perspective of an 18-year-old woman.
Elsewhere, best mobile/hand-held game went to "Lara Croft Go," a puzzle game set in the "Tomb Raider" universe, and independent honors were bestowed upon "Rocket League," a soccer game with cars. The title also took home best sports game.
Moon Studios' reflective action adventure "Ori and the Blind Forest" won in the art direction field, and "The Phantom Pain" took the prize for best score/soundtrack.
Nintendo also had a strong showing. The company's lighthearted take on the shooter, "Splatoon," bested new entries from "Call of Duty" and "Halo" to win in the genre's award category. Additionally, "Super Mario Maker," which allows players to create their own levels for Mario and company, won for family game.
Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime appeared on the broadcast to pay tribute to the late Iwata, who died this summer at age 55. Iwata presided over numerous Nintendo successes, including the launch of the Wii and the hand-held DS.
"Mr. iwata wanted Nintendo to be about putting smiles on people's faces," Fils-Aime said. "Nintendo at its heart is about making us feel younger than we are today."
Fils-Aime spoke of Nintendo's introduction of the Wii in 2006. The console broke ground by emphasizing motion controls rather than requiring a complex mastery of a dozen-plus buttons. Unlike its competitors in the space, the Wii put a premium on new ways to play rather than technological horsepower.
"The man was fearless," Fils-Aime said. "Remember how you felt when you first heard the word Wii.… You may have been puzzled, but he already knew. He had already heard the criticism internally, but he always championed an idea he truly believed in."