In this article from the final issue of Game Developer magazine, the Game Developer and Gamasutra staffs collaborate to offer a list of the 30 best developers of all time. (The complete issue is available as a free download here.)
For a few years now, we at Game Developer have consulted with the Gamasutra editors to determine a list of the top 30 developers of the past year (from June to June, that is). Normally, this list is meant to recognize the studios that have shown excellence in creativity or in business, in product or production; in other words, the people out there doing work that inspires the rest of us by virtue of being new, better, or different.
When it comes to the last issue of Game Developer, however, a simple list of the last year’s best simply won’t do. Instead, we chose to assemble a list of the greatest game developers of all time. What follows is a list of 30 studios that have left (and in some cases, continue to leave) an indelible mark on the medium of video games for generations to come.
Note that whenever possible we’ve gone out of our way to avoid recognizing developers solely for being the first to do something in video games -- our medium’s pioneers are important, but we wouldn’t have room left in the list for anyone else. So we’ve generally tried to stick to the last 30 years of game development or so, and focus on the studios that we think have shaped the current era.
Odds are that most people reading this article owe their fascination with video games in some part to Nintendo EAD (Super Mario Bros., Legend of Zelda), so including it on this list is a no-brainer. However, we feel compelled to point out that it’s not just their work from almost 30 years ago that earned Nintendo EAD a spot; we’re impressed by the way they consistently manage to push video games as a whole in new directions. Plus, as people who grew up with video games, we think there’s something to be said for knowing there is someone out there keeping Nintendo’s genuinely friendly blue-skies aesthetic alive.
San Francisco, California
We have a soft spot in our hearts for Lucasfilm Games (later LucasArts) and their adventure games: Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion, Full Throttle, and Grim Fandango, among others. When it comes to their impact on the industry as a whole, though, we think Other Ocean chief creative officer Mike Mika said it best in the May 2013 issue of Game Developer: “Even today, my fantasy of what game development nirvana feels like stems from my experience playing those games, and the insinuation that they were created in the most liberating and creative environment on earth.” Well said.
For better or worse, we can trace the dominance of the first-person shooter straight back to id Software and its seminal titles Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake. To be sure, these games have left an indelible impact on the game industry -- particularly when it comes to 3D graphics programming and networked multiplayer, for example -- but we’re also inclined to honor them for their generally dev-friendly attitude toward game development, as demonstrated by their encouraging and open stance toward modding, and their habit of open-sourcing their id Tech engines. Also, we’re keeping our fingers crossed for a gritty Commander Keen reboot.
Cary, North Carolina
Certainly, Epic’s list of games is impressive enough -- nobody can doubt the impact that Unreal and Gears of War have left on the modern game industry. But we’re including them on this list for the Unreal Engine itself. Between the raw power of Unreal Engine and UDK’s relative ease of use, Epic has proven that they’re not just good at making games, they’re good at making tools to help people make games -- and make those games look better than ever. (Just for the record, we’d accept a gritty Jazz Jackrabbit reboot, too.)
We knew Bungie was cool way back in their Macintosh-only days, when we were devouring the terminal text in Marathon and tossing grenades in Myth: The Fallen Lords, but we never could have imagined that Bungie would have basically carried Microsoft’s Xbox and Xbox 360 with Halo. We’re sure that lots has changed since the studio grew from three people to over 300, but we’ve remained impressed by how Bungie has consistently maintained a deeply thoughtful combination of technology, design, and creative direction over the years.