6 of Diamonds: Sid Meier, Firaxis
Sid Meier is part of a generation of designers who came of age in world without video games and whose primary inspirations come from the complexity of board and wargames in the style of SPI or Avalon Hill. And that's no bad thing, coming as it does from a time when games were specifically made for smart people. But Meier has an unerring instinct for fun, and his work is marked by a lovely intersection of whimsy and rigor.
Thus, with the creation of Civilization Revolution, Meier brought that experience to the widest possible audience by designing a game that played to the accessibility of consoles without diluting the central intellectual challenge-easily earning him a place on the Deck this year.
5 of Diamonds: Tetsuya Nomura, Square Enix
Tetsuya Nomura's character designs -- rendered in the spindly style of manga, but imbued with the jumping rhythms of street culture -- have increasingly become the visual signature of Square Enix. As skilled as he is at creating art that is cross-cultural in its appeal, it is Nomura's efforts behind the scenes at Square Enix that puts him in the Game Developer Top Deck.
His work on the Kingdom Hearts franchise, the ongoing Compilation of Final Fantasy VII project, and the upcoming Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy XIII project, all of which feature interconnected titles across a wide variety of platforms, is an instructive lesson in brand management. It's a fresh approach that upends the standard industry practice of providing linear sequels and instead gives fans multiple points of entry to their favorite game worlds.
4 of Diamonds: Michael Booth, Valve South
Perhaps many are predisposed to liking Valve's Left 4 Dead just on the basis of its zombie apocalypse setting. But more discerning players will appreciate what's going on under the hood. The game's scalable AI technology promises to generate a dynamic experience that adjusts to player performance on the fly.
Taking on many of the tasks that would traditionally be hard-scripted by designers, Left 4 Dead's AI stage manages the player experience from moment to moment, providing lulls and crescendos to the action that are unique to each instance of the game. As the creator of Left 4 Dead's "AI Director," Booth can justly be proud of something both sophisticated and truly next-gen in terms of visceral, co-operative experience.
3 of Diamonds: Dylan Fitterer, Invisible Handlebar
Audiosurf is a game with a simple concept and an elegant execution. Combine a music visualizer with a puzzle game, mix in a deep scoring system and the player's personal music library, and the result is a game with infinite replayability.
Almost the perfect software toy, Audiosurf provides a deep synaesthetic rush as its visual action synchronizes to your favorite music with an uncanny precision, and emailed high-scores and smart online synchronization make it even more tempting. That Audiosurf is largely the result of Dylan Fitterer's singular efforts makes its triumph all the more sweet-another indie success story.
2 of Diamonds: James North-Hearn, Sumo Digital
North-Hearn is now running much of Foundation9's development, but we particularly wanted to highlight and recognize the beautifully curatorial spirit of the UK's Sumo Digital, his original development home. Taking products from Sega (Superstars Tennis) through Konami (New International Track & Field), the level of smartly executed fan-service in the games seems to outdo even what the original companies might have intended.
Often, remakes or updates are less, well, caring-and it's beautiful to see a European company taking great care of Japanese franchises from some of the all-time greats, in a relatively under the radar manner, too.
As with any deck of cards, we need a couple of jokers in the pack. We've picked a couple of creators whom we adore, and are significant creative forces in their own right.
But they're both folks who make us grin in different ways, and play the fool -- largely intentionally -- while advancing the biz at the same time. This isn't entirely the booby prize!
Denis Dyack, Silicon Knights
Denis seems to have gotten a bit of a reputation as class clown of late, thanks to his forthright views on subjects as wide as the one console future, marketing games, and, of course, Unreal Engine. But what gets him on this list is his unfortunate trolling of the famously firey game forum NeoGAF.
Dyack stated his opinion that the forum is hurting both society and the game industry, and challenged forum members who had yet to play his then-upcoming Too Human to voice their hatred, to stand and be counted. Then when the game came out, there would be egg on their face.
The game's middling critical reception, combined with an angered mass of forum flamers, didn't help to prove him right. What's unfortunate is that some of his more outlandish statements have masked the largely excellent points he has on a variety of subjects, from journalism to the nature of flow.
Peter Molyneux, Lionhead
In general, there's the world-changing game Peter Molyneux talks up prior to a release, and the eventual game you get. While the result is always satisfying, there's generally a rather amusing disconnect there.
The designers at Molyneux's studio have set out a host of ambitious goals for Fable II (even as Molyneux himself is more careful to manage our expectations this time) -- and the entire experience hinges on getting the AI right.
From what we've seen, the underlying logic that drives contextual choices in Fable II's dynamic does indeed open up some new modes of expression in game design. But can any Molyneux-developed game ever match up to the expectations laid out for it by its creator, prior to its release?
Perhaps a happy medium behind the hype and reality is what makes it work, but with Peter already starting to hint at revealing another project, even before this one is out, the delightfully charismatic Molyneux circus continues.