As the lead programmer on RedLynx's Trials HD, Sebastian Aaltonen helped create a unified physics engine for the studio's popular motorcycle stunt game. A traditional approach would have called for separate physics systems to handle rider ragdoll, bike motion, and track obstacles, but the resulting layer of programming work in order to support the varying game states and animations was too extensive for the small studio.
Aaltonen's elegant solution was to apply the same realistic physics model to every object in the game, a technique that enabled RedLynx to streamline development and completely eliminate the need for key-frame driven animation.
Joachim Ante began writing the core of Unity as a teenager, and nine years later the engine is now in the hands of more than 200,000 users. As Unity's chief technology officer and co-founder, Ante has brought pro-level game tools to the masses, and is playing a major role in the renaissance of independent games.
While the latest version of the engine sports a number of graphics enhancement such as deferred rendering, licensed light mapping, and occlusion culling solutions from Illuminate Labs and Umbra, it is Unity's cross-platform editor that has made it a major tool of choice for developers both indie and pro.
From Dust is not yet released, but the tech has already demonstrated itself as exceptional. Ubisoft technical director Ronan Bel has partnered with lauded designer Eric Chahi to create a world of dynamically-changing water, greenery, earth, and lava, which evolves before players' eyes, even if left alone.
More impressively, the player can mould the world like clay, redistributing resources in real time, or forming massive structures of water or molten rock that could never exist in reality. Bel and his team have made this living world run seamlessly, with an intuitive user interface, demonstrating some of the most impressive tech yet seen in a downloadable title.
Giving players the tools to create their own maps has long been a Bungie tradition, and the Forge tool saw its first incarnation in Marathon Infinity. Now within Halo: Reach, the latest version of the map-building Forge tool has been integrated into the massive Forge World, giving players an almost limitless sandbox with which to build their own elaborate erector set constructions.
Using a simple set of conditions for each placed object in the Forge World, Forge allows objects to be aligned and blended with ease. It's a testament to Forge's capabilities that Bungie itself used Forge to create a number of the maps in Reach.
Box2D is an open source 2D rigid body physics engine, which was created single-handedly by Erin Catto, and then further refined by the community. The tool has proved to be popular among indies and iOS developers, powering the physics behind games like Crayon Physics, Fantastic Contraption, Rolando (iPhone) and a host of others.
As of now, the tool works in Flash, Java, C#, Python, and of course its native C++. While the original version was released two years back, in the last year the game has had a significant uptick in users due to the increasing number of game creators using the engine on iPhone.
James Hall and Dee Jay Randall
Blue Castle Games
On top of its solid gameplay, Blue Castle Games' Dead Rising 2 is a remarkable technical achievement. Rarely have we seen such a vast number of characters on the screen at once; all moving independently and with realistic and unique (for zombies at least) animations.
It is a credit to the studio's tech that publisher Capcom was so pleased with Dead Rising 2 that it bought the company outright. Under the technical direction of James Hall and Dee Jay Randall, the studio also employed advanced telemetry to get feedback and even bugs from players across the globe.
Making a full-featured game in five weeks is no simple task at any scale, but that's what Amitt Mahajan and his small team of web developers at Zynga managed to do with FarmVille for Facebook. Mahajan cleverly scaled the project so that it would be able to adapt to Facebook's quickly-changing development environment, and also require minimal programmer support when designers wanted to implement new features, all the while keeping track of important player metrics.
Mahajan and his cohorts have helped to create a set of best practices for Facebook game development, even as the platform continues to evolve.
Mark Overmars' Game Maker engine is a key learning tool for budding gave developers. By abstracting game creation with simple drag-and-drop functionality, Game Maker allows beginning users to easily build working games without programming. Those wanting to go deeper can utilize the Game Maker Language to script complex game logic, as well.
This, combined with the tool's nominal cost, has lowered the barrier to game development to almost nil. But don't assume that amateur hour is the rule of the day. Standout indie titles like Spelunky and Seiklus are creative examples of what is possible with the tool.
Torus Knot Software
For most of the past decade Steve Streeting has been overseeing the open source OGRE 3D rendering engine. The engine is tightly focused on providing an object-oriented, cross-platform graphics rendering solution for Direct3D and OpenGL APIs.
Commercial projects, including the high-profile Torchlight from Runic Games, are increasingly turning to OGRE 3D for its mature design and flexible class hierarchy. While Streeting may have stepped back from the day-to-day stewarding of OGRE 3D this year, his team continues to polish what is already a class leader in 3D rendering.
Matthew Versluys and Rob Pardo
Battle.net was Blizzard's longtime online gaming service, but only for its older titles -- crucially, World of Warcraft wasn't supported. But in 2009, a massive revamp effort was undertaken, dubbed "Battle.net 2.0." The initiative was spearheaded by Rob Pardo's design, and implemented by technical director Matthew Versluys' team.
Versluys has been working on Battle.net since 2000, and is principally responsible for maintaining the current service's reliability. Migrating millions of World of Warcraft users to a new system, while also providing useful integration with StarCraft II and future titles, is no simple task. The studio's work proves that valiant efforts in programming don't only happen in-game -- they happen on the service side, as well.