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The Game Developer 50

April 13, 2010 Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

[In this article, originally published in sister print publication Game Developer magazine late last year, its editors present profiles of 50 of the most important contributors to the current state of the game industry -- from indies to AAA, from business to art, design, and beyond.]

We spend a lot of time focusing on companies in this industry, and sometimes not enough on the individuals. While it can often be difficult to attribute the achievements of a game to one to one particular person, we have attempted just that -- mentioning leads where necessary, and independent accomplishments whenever possible. If possible, where leads are mentioned, teams should interpret this as a group honor.

And so, this is our list, compiled by the editors and our advisory board, of 50 important accomplishments of the last year (give or take) as filtered through the specific people attached to them, in the categories of art, design, programming, business, and evangelism.

Within each category, there is no ranking -- names are ordered alphabetically. Thanks to all the below for doing what you do, and keep striving for future excellence!


Jakub Dvorsky
Amanita Design

Games from Jakub Dvorsky's Amanita Design have a distinctly European look that combines the sadness of a faded daguerreotype with flashes of sly, post-modern humor.

Mixing collage, hand-drawn art, and animation, games like Samorost and Machinarium have a complex patina and visual density that seems to transcend their Flash origins, but show their Czech animation roots in ways that speak to a country with its own, rarely seen visual aesthetics.

Amanita Design's Machinarium

Dhabih Eng, Jeff Ballinger, and Jason Mitchell

Valve's Team Fortress 2 is a prime example of how art direction can support game design to create a smoother experience for the player. First and foremost, TF2's art direction scores for its whimsical retro vs. space age bachelor pad vibe, with clever cinematics and characterization making potentially generic characters like The Spy stand out by a mile.

In the fast-paced environment of TF2, differentiating units on the battlefield swiftly is critical for player survival. Thus, Valve's smart art direction also has a crucial role in helping players recognize the unique visual signature of their team and opponents.

Kareem Ettouney
Media Molecule

Most video games look like... well, video games. But Kareem Ettouney's richly textured, handcrafted visuals for LittleBigPlanet are far more Etsy and Real Simple than cathode ray tube.

Not only is LBP's constructed look a perfect fit for the game's concept of user generated content, but it gives the PlayStation 3 what might be its first broadly recognized visual brand identity. The multitudinous awards the title over the last year have vaulted Ettouney and his team to the top of the visual heap.

Matt Korba and Matt Clausen
The Odd Gentlemen

The Odd Gentlemen's Xbox Live Arcade and PC game The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom began life as a USC student project, and the school's film studies orientation made a deep impression on its design.

Referencing the look of German expressionist films of the 1920s, the game's art direction by Matt Korba and Matt Clausen (with an additional nod to illustrator Vidal Perez) is a clever metaphor for its deconstruction of linear time. The main character's comically villainous façade also helps to support his nefarious quest to steal all the world's pies.

Jouji Kamitani

Proving that 2D games still have a place in the hi-def world, Vanillaware has perfected its craft across three console generations. By making a total commitment to its aesthetic of painstakingly realized 2D graphics, the studio has evolved a distinctive house style that is instantly recognizable, and transcends regional classification.

Kamitani is art director, but also the president of the company, and his claim that the studio is "100 percent artists" shows how seriously he takes the artistic side of Vanillaware's games, with titles like Muramasa re-interpreting classic Japanese legends in beautifully abstruse ways.

Tomohisa Kuramitsu (AKA Baiyon)
Pixeljunk Eden

Baiyon is part of an emerging class of borderless digital artists that move effortlessly between graphic design, fine art, film, music, and fashion. His work on Q-Games' PlayStation Network downloadable game PixelJunk Eden as both composer and art director presents a thoroughly modern aesthetic that mixes minimalist pop art with gently pulsing techno.

As games move further into the mainstream of popular consciousness, these kinds of blurred distinctions between media will become more important, but as an artist who happens to have done a game-related project, Baiyon is a great exemplar.

Ryan Lesser

In creating The Beatles: Rock Band, Ryan Lesser and his team of artists at Harmonix faced an unusual challenge: How should one respectfully portray the Fab Four in a video game? Particularly when The Beatles' faces and personalities are so deeply etched on the hearts of music fans?

Their approach, which avoided the obvious pitfalls of photo-realism as well as the easily dismissed "kiddie" look of cartoon caricature, struck an elegant balance between the two extremes. Lesser and his team show that a tasteful eye combined with lots of research and the traditional skills of hand-animation is the surest way to connect with an audience's emotions -- and a little psychedelia goes a long way.

Mickail Labat

The world of Prince of Persia had become a comparatively dark and grungy place, rather at odds with its One Thousand and One Nights-inspired origins. What a pleasant surprise it was, then, to step into the newest Prince of Persia and find blue skies over perfumed gardens -- a game that seemed to be an oasis far from the death encrusted space marines that critics charge are so prominent in the current generation.

Ubisoft Montreal's Mickail Labat is to be commended for leading the charge on creatively reimagining this long running franchise.

Dan Paladin
The Behemoth

Dan Paladin's work on 2D hits Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers is a welcome reminder that form follows function. His chunky, clean line style is perfectly tuned to indie developer The Behemoth's brand of instant gratification game design.

Rather than trying to crowbar over-designed graphics into the relatively low-spec environment of Flash or XBLA, Paladin plays to the strength of these platforms by creating art that is bright and eloquently simple. His art also lends itself well to more humorous scenarios -- it's not often you see poop-prone deer jetting across the screen.

Lee Petty
Double Fine

Brutal Legend is as much about the look of heavy metal as it is the sound, and under Lee Petty's art direction, the music's lowbrow high fantasy album cover art comes to life. Beyond simply bringing Joe Petagno's Orgasmatron cover into 3D, Petty incorporates a wealth of fantasy art influences into Brutal Legend.

From Frazetta's rough-hewn figures and Brom's leather strapped fetishism, to Beksinski's cyclopean forms, the Tim Schafer-headed game presents a vast canvas of fantasy art history.

Article Start Page 1 of 5 Next

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Bob Stevens
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Snubbed again!

Dana Cowley
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Congrats to Jason Della Rocca. Glad to see his tireless years of dedication to the IGDA recognized here.

Reid Kimball
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@Bob, same here. I can't believe it... "Miyamoto never had to work for press like this."

PS: I'm joking about not being on the list.

Sean Currie
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Amy Hennig?

I take it she's not part of this list because she has an entire upcoming issue of Game Developer devoted to her.

Right? Riiiight?

David Paterson
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No audio folks?? (Apart from Tommy T. and Jack Wall, and they're in for Video Games Live...)

Kim Pallister
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Alice has a nice rant about the high percentage of men on the list:

Mark Kilborn
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What David Paterson says. I'd love to see some audio people on this list, and I can definitely name a few who are worthy. Let's see... Charles Deenen, Akira Yamaoka and Bruce Swanson to name but a few.

Mac Senour
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um, Producers?

Glenn Storm
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(Nice list. Thank you, Gamasutra. But, I have to agree with David, Mark and Mac. If you're going to list developers, expect this kind of criticism.)

But, primarily, LOL @ Stephen's "USC Voltron" and Reid's quote relay.

Mark Kilborn
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Producers don't do anything. They just order dinner.

...kidding :). I work with an amazing producer. ANYWAY.

Sorry to nitpick you guys, I realize a list like this is going to cause some controversy. My frustration is just that you obviously started with discipline divisions, but certain disciplines just aren't represented at all. I'm sure the next top 50 will address this though :)

Alexander Bruce
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I read this list, I read Alice's rant and all the comments on both articles. As has been pointed out by many people, lists like these are always going to exclude someone. You can't please everyone unless you make a list of "The top 50,000 people in industry" and just name everyone you can. Hell, even if you did that, I'm sure people would still be sour at not being included, and then you'd start getting into rankings, etc.

I take these lists as a bit of fun, though I know that's not the case for others.

Ismini Boinodiris
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Statistically speaking, out of 100 developers you have about 12 female developers. So just looking at statistics here, it's reasonable to say that out of 50 developers, around 6 of them are likely going to be women.

The fact that they couldn't even name ONE woman on this list is extremely disheartening to me. Are the authors of this article just completely oblivious to which women have been working to shape this industry? Why is it that not one woman appeared on their radars? Did they compare their list to say... the nominees/winners from the Microsoft Women in Gaming Awards at GDC?

Not that I ever put much stock into these kind of lists anyway, but it's still disappointing.

Tim Carter
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Thanks to Gamasutra for mentioning these developers by name.

joy pan
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Jenova Chen-when I see his resume first ,so surprised!he change work so rapid and use this way to add his experience.

Michiel Hendriks
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Using statistics to reason always cracks me up. So according to statistics 12 out of 100 game industry people are women. If I would build a list of the 100 most significant people in the game industry, there is no guarantee that 12% if female. Being female, left handed, or born on February 29 toed isn't a factor. The chance that I roll 6 times 6 with a dice is quite low, but that doesn't mean it won't happen.

Anyway... it's just a list compiled to more or less personal preference of a group of people. Respect their reasoning/opinion.

Or not.

Senthil Kannan
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But where's my name?? ;-)

Emma Smith
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I hope I'm on something like this one day in the future :)

Ruthaniel van-den-Naar
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Successful people lose breath with sense of fulfillment, the best ones are always those hungry young dog, who stands nearby, only few have an eternal hunger. Games are teamwork, icons needs mainly marketing.