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[Originally printed in sister industry-leading trade publication Game Developer magazine, Gamasutra is proud to present the Top Deck 2008 - the 52 individuals (plus 2 jokers!) who were most important to the game industry in 2008.]
You've seen lots of top lists before, but we here at Game Developer magazine decided it was time for a distinctly focused but slightly alternative take on the important personalities in the game business.
Thus, Game Developer's Top Deck was created to recognize those members of the game development community who have -- either individually, or as part of their company -- made particularly outstanding achievements in the past year. The picks were made by Game Developer's editors.
Each "suit" of the Top Deck represents a group of game creators and businesspeople who distinguished themselves particularly well in a specific area of the game industry-specifically, Trailblazers, Progressives, Ambassadors, and Entrepreneurs. The suits themselves are not ranked, nor are the persons within them.
This does not suggest that any given person on our list didn't contribute in multiple different arenas -- but this is where we felt they shone particularly bright this year. In addition, we are aware that the vast majority of games and product lines are not made by a single person.
So, while one individual is generally mentioned, we would like to acknowledge here that none of the people on this list would be here without the support of those who work with them. Nonetheless, individuals have to spearhead, mastermind, and create-and we're delighted to be honoring them in the first ever Top Deck. Onward:
The folks in the Trailblazers group have made the world easier for their fellow developers by going where no one has gone before-or at least, not to the extent that these individuals did, or with as much obvious success.
From standing up against piracy to simply making effective systems, these folks have evolved the business in ways that will continue to be emulated.
Ace of Spades: Rob Pardo, Blizzard Entertainment
Not only has World of Warcraft shown the world that there are at least 10 million dedicated PC gamers out there, it has undisputedly proved the mass appeal of MMORPGs. Pardo was instrumental in creating this phenomenon, and with the Wrath of the Lich King expansion and a massively successful BlizzCon, 2008 continues to be a banner year for the company. And that's notwithstanding the upcoming dual hammer of StarCraft II and Diablo III, plus the company's next MMO, of course.
King of Spades: Masahiro Sakurai, Sora
Sakurai, once a designer at Nintendo's HAL Laboratory, is best known for his creative influence over both the Kirby and Super Smash Bros. series. While he has since started his own company, Sora, he has continued to work on the Smash Bros. series, and the latest iteration is what gets him on this list.
Not only a palpable game design mash-up success, Sakurai assembled over 40 different sound composers to create music for the game, making the project almost a jam band-style get-together. In an age of licensed soundtracks, this is to be applauded.
Queen of Spades: Jason Kapalka, PopCap
The only major casual game developer to both enchant the everyday gamer, while impressing the hardcore, Bejeweled and Peggle creator PopCap has got the balance just right, and chief creative officer Kapalka has been there since the company's genesis.
Not only excellent at brand maintenance, PopCap seems to have mastered brand creation and extension, with Bookworm Adventures and Peggle Nights just two of the titles that continue the company's focus on broad entertainment.
Jack of Spades: Tim Sweeney, Epic
No other game engine out there has had such an impact as Unreal Engine 3. It is more ubiquitous than even Renderware was in its heyday, and lawsuits and quirks aside, there's got to be a reason nearly everybody uses it. Tim Sweeney, as the main architect of this beast, has opened up the market for developers looking to cut costs and prototype early, while also supporting the company's own original software.
Sure, it may not be cheap, but this little "side business" has turned into Epic's largest contribution to game culture thus far, and given Sweeney's history in game tools (see: ZZT), it's only to be expected.
Sony/Media Molecule's LittleBigPlanet
10 of Spades: Alex Evans, Media Molecule
PS3 standout title LittleBigPlanet is blazing new frontiers for user-generated content on consoles, and for cooperative content generation too. Evans, one of the top creators in the PC demo scene in the 1990s, and subsequently at key British talent nurturer Lionhead, is one of the main architects of the LBP experience.
And what's most notable about the Media Molecule success story is that it's the team's first title together -- a significant achievement.