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Making games may be largely a team effort these days, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't acknowledge the individuals who make outstanding contributions to the industry as well.
Gamasutra and its sister site Game Developer magazine have put together a "Power 50" list of people in the game industry who have stood out for doing work in the last year that is new, different, or better. This list was originally printed in Game Developer magazine.
The following are not ranked -- they are listed alphabetically by last name.
As we're wrapping up 2012, we've seen one very clear game-dev trend: Everybody loves Unity.
Whether you're an experienced dev in a major studio tasked with throwing together a quick-and-dirty prototype, a small-time indie studio looking for an off-the-shelf 3D engine to build a game for multiple platforms, or just a hobbyist dev throwing together a fun project for a game jam, you'll probably be using Unity.
Unity Technologies CTO, cofounder, core development team lead Joachim Ante has been central to that success; under Ante's leadership, Unity has blossomed into a tool that is powerful, polished, and relatively easy to use.
Microsoft's XNA framework (and associated dev tool XNA Game Studio) has been something of an unsung hero for indie devs over the last console generation, and since its future is in question (XNA applications won't be included in Windows 8's Metro UI or app store), we thought it only fair to give XNA -- and Xbox director of development Boyd Multerer -- proper acknowledgement.
XNA has made it easier for small-time indies and hobby game devs to make games and put them on Xbox 360s, Windows phones, and PCs around the world. We're fans of tech that democratizes game development, and XNA was unprecedented in terms of how available and accessible it made the Xbox 360 and Windows Phone 7 platforms.
We're hoping that XNA sticks around in some form -- there are a few projects out there working to adapt XNA to other platforms, which could eventually enable XNA devs to build games for Metro, Android, iOS, Mac OS, and PlayStation Mobile -- but even if the worst happens and XNA falls by the wayside, we want to salute Multerer for his excellent work.
Two Lives Left
There is something to be said for programmers who work on making programming more accessible to a wider range of people. Two Lives Left's Simeon Nasilowski did just that with Codea, a newbie-friendly iPad app that lets you quickly build game prototypes with Lua (see the June/July 2012 issue of Game Developer for the review). With Codea, anyone with an iPad and $10 can start dipping their toes in the game-dev pool, and we think that's pretty cool.
Unreal Engine is a great piece of tech, but we can't forget to show some love to the devs out there who make it sing -- and Jarod Pranno, studio art director on Phosphor Games's mobile title Horn did just that.
With Horn, Pranno demonstrated that Epic Games/Infinity Blade dev Chair Entertainment aren't the only ones who can make a great-looking mobile game, and we're eagerly paying attention to see what Pranno and Phosphor will be doing next.
By now, it's no secret that the Unreal Engine can make mobile games look amazing -- and some of that credit goes to Epic Games's senior engine programmer Niklas Smedberg.
Between Smedberg's under-the-hood look at mobile GPUs at GDC 2012, his work on the post-process graphics effects on the Infinity Blade series, and his current work on Unreal Engine 4, it's pretty clear that if you want your mobile game to look like it came straight from a console, he's the go-to guy.
Patrick Wyatt is practically the definition of "industry veteran"; between his stint at Blizzard leading the original Battle.net, cofounding Guild Wars dev ArenaNet, and more recently working as En Masse Entertainment's COO (TERA), it's hard to find an MMO that doesn't have his fingerprints on its network code.
When looking at a new MMO, it's easy to overlook the underlying nuts and bolts that keep customers happy. Wyatt's work on the platform underlying TERA's account management, billing, and other functions he described to Game Developer as "all the other unsexy parts of games" has shored up many player-experience design flaws others simply consider a fact of MMO life -- such as beefing up account security, filtering spam from chat, building in better analytics to improve player retention rate, and so on.
More recently, Wyatt has been making efforts to share his knowledge on game server code by writing articles on his blog at codeofhonor.com and giving in-depth talks at the Game Developers Conference.
Some games so tightly bind their programming and design together that it's hard to truly determine who deserves the credit. One such is Mossmouth's brilliant Spelunky, which released this year for Xbox Live Arcade.
Spelunky's randomly generated levels are the cornerstone of the game's addictiveness -- and a marvel of designer Derek Yu's algorithmic design. They're always navigable, always fun, and ever changing. You'll never complain that they weren't created -- or at least not directly -- by human hands.
Shaw-Han Liem and Jonathan Mak (pictured below, courtesy of Jeriaska)
PlayStation 3 indie hit Sound Shapes marries music and platform-hopping together in a manner so elegant and intuitive you might not at first realize how many iterations it took to get right. Jonathan Mak and Shaw-Han Liem (the latter often credited as I Am Robot And Proud), from Toronto-based Queasy Games, are the two responsible for making Sound Shapes work.
Games built around music largely live or die by how well their designers can integrate music into the core design. In Sound Shapes, songs are the levels, and with the level editor, we too can make and play our music. With Sound Shapes, Mak and Liem remind us that music games can be more than a series of notes that we plug into a bulky, plastic, guitar-shaped controller.
If Sound Shapes gently massaged our brains into a state of musical play, composer David Kanaga's work on Dyad simply melted said brains outright. Thanks to Dyad, we can check "David Kanaga and (Dyad creator) Shawn McGrath" off our list of fantasy indie game dream collaborations.
After years of anticipation, Fez finally wowed indie game scenesters with its throwback look and feel. We would be remiss if we didn't include Rich "disasterpeace" Vreeland's Fez soundtrack work in this year's Power 50 audio nominations. Thanks to Vreeland, Fez feels atmospheric, pensive, maybe even a little bit melancholy.