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Gamasutra's Best Of 2007: Top 5 Developers
Gamasutra's Best Of 2007: Top 5 Developers
December 17, 2007 | By Simon Carless

December 17, 2007 | By Simon Carless
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    19 comments
More: Console/PC



Throughout this week and next, Gamasutra is presenting a year-end retrospective, discussing notable games, events, developers, and industry figures of 2007.

This time, we give careful consideration to the game developers who have done the most to advance the art and science of gaming worldwide in 2007. This chart may have some overlap with the 'best games' chart coming later this week, of course.

But we're picking top developers for their attention to detail, grit, and willingness to push the envelope, not necessarily simply on the finished product's overall quality - though all of this year's Top 5 Developers have worked on spectacular titles.

The developers picked are the editor's choice, and for every one settled on, there are many others - from Infinity Ward through Insomniac to Nintendo EAD Tokyo and Naughty Dog - that we also greatly appreciate. Here's our line-up:

5. BioWare (Mass Effect)

While it may verge on the over-complex in some gameplay mechanics, BioWare's masterful Mass Effect feels like a genuine space opera. It has whirling emotions and a genuine story arc - so genuine, in fact, that you start to realize how basic the story in many other games is.

In addition, the character customization using Unreal Engine 3 made players even more acutely aware of their immersion in the action. And with fruits from Dragon Age to the 'mysterious' MMO still due under new taskmaster Electronic Arts, one can't help but think that the golden age of BioWare's story-driven epics has only just begun.

4. Bungie (Halo 3)

Some cynics might say that Bungie not being #1 on this list means that they've failed, given the stratospheric expectations for Halo 3. Well, hardly - the single-player game was still rapturously received. But where the newly independent developer scored, for me, was in the multiplayer immersiveness.

With social networks ravenously engulfing the rest of electronic media, the incredibly complex stat tracking and multimedia upload capabilities of Halo 3's online modes make for a world in which tracking and replaying your interactions mean as much as the gameplay itself. Games still have a long way to go on their path to social media, and Bungie blazed the trail in 2007, while quietly setting up as independent of Microsoft.

3. 2K Boston/Australia (BioShock)

Of course, the team we'd all love to call Irrational always knew that BioShock was a critical darling, but to break out to commercial success - and with such a relatively odd, highbrow setting - was a surprise to many.

But Ken Levine's team took their time and presented a carefully structured game world where morals mattered, dynamic and emergent gameplay was rife, and Daddies were Big. It may already be a 'franchise', but as an original piece of art, BioShock rocks, and 2K Boston should be proud of the iteration and perseverance in birthing it. [UPDATE: Jay Kyburz notes in comments that 2K Australia should also be honored for its role in co-developing the game. Agreed - now they are.]

2. Harmonix (Rock Band/Phase)

When a developer thrives after its signature franchise has been taken away from them - that's when you know they're destined for greatness. And Boston's Harmonix did just that with Rock Band, possibly the best multiplayer game of all time - while sneaking in officially overlooked iPod breakthrough title Phase along the way.

It's not just the pure technical execution, either. In the innards of Rock Band, you can feel the love of rock music screaming out to be heard from the developer, something that's widely agreed to be somewhat lacking in Neversoft's still competent Guitar Hero III. It's a game that makes you feel - and most often, that feeling is great. Bravo, Harmonix.

1. Valve Software (The Orange Box)

Sure, plenty of other developers shipped a great game this year. But, let's face it, how many of those developers shipped three great titles all in one year, while simultaneously owning and operating a major PC game distribution portal?

Thanks to the puzzle humor genius of Portal, the beautifully art-directed multiplayer smartness of Team Fortress 2, and the pitch-perfect storytelling and humanistic drama of Half-Life 2: Episode 2, all packaged up neatly in The Orange Box, Valve deserves Gamasutra's award for the 2007 Developer Of The Year. (Mind you, expect a Halley's Comet-style gap until they next release this many titles in 12 months!)

[Do you agree or disagree with these picks? Feel free to sign on and comment below. We'll pick the best Gamasutra reader comments on each list for our final retrospective, to debut late this week. Already-posted lists include Top 5 Downloadable Games, Top 5 Most Affecting Characters, and Top 5 Overlooked Games, as well as Top 5 Trends.]


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Comments


Jay Kyburz
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Where is the 2K Australia love?. 2k Boston is only half the story!

Elsa Kelsey
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So your number 1 spot is filled by a developer who took a bunch of their old PC games and re-boxed them, then ported them over to the 360?? (EA did the port to the PS3, so Valve didn't even do much there).

... and Team Fortress is an old Quake mod - so the original concept isn't even theirs?

... and Portal was based on a freeware game developed by some students (granted, they are mostly now employed by Valve... but still, the original game was out there before Valve bought them out).



This is your number 1 pick?? A developer with no "new" ideas this year? What a huge disappointment that you would pick the one developer who basically didn't do much more than a simple port!



Infinity Ward actually managed to produce a multi-console game that was graphically brilliant, and worked well on all the consoles. Naughty Dog produced a stunning original IP. Insomniac outdid themselves with the recent incarnation of R&C (not to mention that Resistance still sold well throughout the year because of the care that Insomniac takes to constantly update and maintain their games!).



Two things stand out in your list... one being that there is a strong leaning towards the Xbox... and the other being fond memories for old PC games - because that's the only possible reason I can see for Valve even being on the list, never mind in the top spot!



I'm sadly disappointed.

Anonymous
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Where is Nintendo? Mario Galaxy is ranked 2nd overall on gamerankings.com, 1st at metacritic.com & 5th at gamestats.com. It is ranked higher than any of the above games.

Anonymous
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Though I may agree with Elsa in some respect, I can see why Valve was on the list. They may not have released an all new IP or at least a full length game containing new IP but it's hard to deny the value in their Orange Box release. It's more like a sampler tray than an entree; you'll still feel full if you eat the whole plate.



I did notice that the top five seemed to favor the whiz-bang games that drove in on their hype machines. Where's the love for the more quirky games that didn't have a massive marketing budget? Was "best" defined as most units sold or most innovative game play?



Rock Band? really? ... Adding a guitar and drum controller to a 15 year old concept; is that all it takes to make a top 5 list?



We go on everyday; complaining about the lack of innovation in games but then we reward the mundane or the uninitiated. We celebrate mediocrity by handing out prestigious awards to game makers like candy and a pat on the head to children with special needs. Of the top 5 games of the year, 3 were incremental sequels, and 1 was a re-imagining of system shock, leaving Mass Effect to be the lone innovator. Makes you think... Has the gaming community regressed to a point where pretty graphics and flashy marketing make the "best" games of the year?

Robert Chang
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If Portal had remained what it was as a student project, it would've been just an interesting exercise in game mechanics. The reason why Portal was so loved was in no small part because of the brilliant storytelling and the wicked sense of humor, not to mention the gorgeous art direction. To say that Valve brought nothing to Portal is like saying Valve brought nothing to the FPS genre with Half-Life. This is what Valve does best--they work with established game mechanics/genre and then bring their unique storytelling, gameplay philosophy, and beautiful art direction to the table.

Jim Walkoski
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Elsa, you are calling the kettle black. You decry the FPS iterations that are heralded on this list... and then go on to suggest that a new version of Call of Duty or Ratchet and Clank is superior? Give me a break.



I'm also disappointed to see Mass Effect and Bioshock getting props here. Deus Ex had more depth than either of these games 7 years ago on the PC. Isn't it sad how far behind the consoles really are?

Caswal Parker
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Although most of these games lack 'innovation' what they do show is sheer polish. They put in the last 5% to really make their games great. 'Good enough' wasn't good enough for them. They put in that last little bit, which always takes more time than you think. How many games have you played felt like they could be been great if they just had that little more love and care before pushed out the door?

Jim Walkoski
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I can't think of a single one Caswal. The games that can be truly great get delayed and have time for that polish.

Patrick Martin
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With the description of what this list is "supposed" to represent then the only developer I can think of that should be on here for this year would be Cd Projekt which made The Witcher which was the only game this year that would fit this criteria.



PS. You could cout the past several years also since it has been so long since something that actually fit the description of this "best of" list.

Jim Walkoski
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Agreed Patrick. But I'm sure Simon Carless is busy enjoying his free Xbox 360 right now.

Elsa Kelsey
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@Jim... my comment was in regards to DEVELOPER of the year... not the game of the year. Yes, R&C is an old concept, but Insomniac is one of the few developers to not only bring out a graphically amazing new game... but also MAINTAINED an old game. They gave us updates to mix up the game play (including a new mode), they gave us new map packs... and on Halloween they actually made all the characters into skeletons. As a developer they show their customers they care, they interact with them on their website and with weekly "play the dev" games.

Infinity Ward also did a fairly standard FPS game... but they did it WELL on all 3 consoles. Again, the graphics are brilliant and the game ran well. Moving to a modern combat scenario was also new for them and they did it exceptionally well. They also support their product with updates when needed.



I think people are thinking of "game of the year", not "developer of the year". Again... Valve shouldn't even be on the list. They didn't even do the port on the PS3 because they don't want to bother learning to program for the PS3. How can you name a lazy developer who only programmed for the PC and 360 the "top developer" of the year. They won't even support PS3 inquiries and have basically tried to sell a product to a market that they repeatedly (and publicly) snub.



I reiterate and stand by my thoughts that Valve was a very poor choice for top developer of the year.

Elsa Kelsey
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hmmm.. no edit button... just to clarify, my comments on Insomniac maintaining an older game was referring to Resistance (for those that might not know).



Also, if Valve hadn't bother producing a PS3 version of Orange Box, they might be worthy of inclusion on the list... but as a developer they made many PR errors (a lot of PS3 owners won't even buy Orange Box because of Valve's public bias against the PS3) they just don't deserve this recognition.

Jim Walkoski
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Elsa, you are clearly uninformed with regards to Valve. EA wanted Orange Box on PS3. Valve took a stance against the platform because they (rightly) think it's stupid to waste tons of time dealing with Sony's non-standard platform that lacks any kind of install base. They stood up to the biggest publisher in the world (at the time) and made them do the port instead. It was done poorly because that's what EA does. Standing up to EA isn't noteworthy?



As for the rest of your comments, lol. Do you work for Insomniac or Infinity Ward? You just praised them for releasing a game on 3 platforms! I guess Ubisoft Montreal is developer of the year too. And EA Sports. And Activision.



Using your logic Blizzard Entertainment is the developer of the year without releasing a game! They not only offered a Halloween event, they do so for Christmas, Valentine's Day, etc. in WoW. Their game also runs well on PCs from a time span of 5 years.



I don't know how else to say this Elsa: you are either working for Sony or you need to play games from more than one console.

Jim Walkoski
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Actually, strike that. Stop playing console games and buy a PC.

Elsa Kelsey
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LOL! No, I don't work for a developer! However, if discussing "Developer of the year" then it stand to reason that if a company produced a game "well" on all 3 platforms, or alternatively released a great game for one console, but also continued to support an older game (which many devs DON'T do!), then they should be regarded more highly than a dev who alienates a "potentially" large consumer base.



In terms of "Dev of the year", yes, I agree that maybe Blizzard would be a better choice than Valve... though they are getting paid on a monthly basis to provide new content, so it's not a customer "service" issue, but more of a customer "expectation" issue.



I'd love to go back to PC gaming... but I just can't afford to keep up with the constantly changing PC needs and different video cards required for the various games. :(

I do have a PSP/PS3... and in fact just bought my husband a PS3 for Christmas (so he'll quit borrowing mine!), but I also seriously considered an Xbox because I'd love to play Mass Effect. Unfortunately the gift was for him and he hates the RRoD issue with the 360, so I'm hoping I'll be getting one next Christmas! (and it's nice to be a retired 45 year old as I have lots of time for gaming! :)



I guess I was just shocked to see Valve on the list... and even more shocked to see them in the number one spot!

Patrick Martin
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Elsa: Did any of those developers advance the art and science of gaming? From my view point they didn't since they just made the same games they (and other developers) always do and haven't made any progress for a long time.



PS. If you disagree then give me an example of any progress made by these games and don't mention graphics since they are not the ones that make the progress in that field.

Jim Walkoski
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You have two PS3s (and I'm assuming two HDTVs in order to make proper use of them) and you 'can't afford' a PC? PC prices have continued to be driven into the ground and you can easily get a PC sans monitor that will play everything but Crysis for less than $1000 these days. Thanks for at least confirming your bias. But it sounds like you have a minor case of Stockholm syndrome with your PS3 due to the limited game selection.

Ian Robert
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[... and Team Fortress is an old Quake mod - so the original concept

isn't even theirs?]



Why don't you ask the question to Robin Walker or John Cook from Valve? Both are the original designer of the Quake-based mod.

Anonymous
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I have 3 PS3's http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uh1jB4hVJRg


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