At Maxis, Hecker was responsible for pushing forward the procedural animation, character tessellation, and rendering found in Spore, which, regardless of the game's overall success, did some spectacular technical things.
Hecker is also the cofounder of the original Indie Game Jam, of which there are now multiple international derivations, inspiring indies to collaborate and work together in new ways.
Now that Hecker is once again independent, one can only anticipate what technical (or, indeed design!) delights he may create with his "free time", starting with the truly promising-looking Spy Party.
Running a gigantic MMO on a single server carries a host of difficulties -- from latency issues and player capacity to time synchronization. However, when having a large, persistent universe is the primary selling point for a game, using a single-sharded architecture is the only way to effectively create that environment.
Kristján Jónsson's team on EVE Online continue to impress technically by delivering a consistent universe on a vast scale, ever more eye-opening because of the game's growing subscriber base, now over 300,000.
Rob Knopf and Nyung Chul Kim
CN FusionFall team
The Cartoon Network has jumped into the free-to-play MMO space with FusionFall, a web-based game built on the Unity game engine and incorporating Cartoon Network characters.
The project is a great example of how smart, low-cost technology can give media companies an easy path to their increasingly connected audiences. In the browser space, 2D is much more common, and for an MMO, even that is difficult. Taking it to 3D and keeping the "massively" bit intact is what puts Knopf (at Cartoon Network), Kim (at Korean developer Grigon), and the FusionFall team on our list.
As a past and present Finnish demoscene coder, and as part of the team that created the first licensable 3D mobile game engine, Lauha is at the cutting edge of making 3D work on low spec machines, coding much of the first 3D engine from Fathammer for mobile handsets.
So it should be no surprise that he's gotten ragdoll physics working in the iPhone in the form of a port of his 2006 title Stair Dismount, while also helping with the rope-wrapping element of Secret Exit's iPhone hit Zen Bound. Lauha makes the list for his continued pursuit of power in small places.
Square Enix's custom-built Crystal Tools engine has only recently gotten to step into the limelight with playable demos of Final Fantasy XIII, which bring the company's signature baroque visuals to real time, in incredibly high fidelity.
As the general manager of R&D at the company, Taku Murata has spent years shepherding the Crystal Tools framework, and despite long development times, Square Enix's lush engine, which powers the recently-released art triumph Final Fantasy XIII, is a genuine wonder to behold. Summon, anyone?
Few companies in the entertainment sector of games are doing more to pursue visual realism than French developer Quantic Dream with PS3 exclusive Heavy Rain. Though the viability of realism as a method of expressing artistry in games can be debated, QD's singular focus on what they believe in, both from a gameplay and technical standpoint, is admirable.
Perrier's tech work, building the engine and the tools that support it, helps lead a team that is creating realism without sci-fi or post-apocalyptic scenarios to fall back on for "It's supposed to look like that" excuses.
Austin-based Saltsman is a prolific indie game creator, probably best known for Flash and iPhone roof-jumping game Canabalt. But he exemplifies a sharing trend among indies that's great to behold.
During the course of developing his games Saltsman built up a library of custom ActionScript 3 files called Flixel that takes a lot of the grunt work out of Flash game creation. Flixel provides handy implentations for collision, particles, parallax scrolling, sound utilities, tile maps, fast rendering, and more. The best part? In the true indie spirit, he provides everything for free at flixel.org.
Swedish indie developer Steenberg is in a class all his own. His multiplayer online FPS, LOVE, was created entirely from scratch, engine and tools included. And Steenberg did it all himself.
The visuals are gorgeous procedurally-generated impressionistic artistry, the world builder is amazingly involved and detailed, and he's been extremely open about the whole project. Steenberg is one of those rare games programmers that just doesn't seem to realize he's doing it the hard way -- because to him, it isn't.
Steve Swink and Scott Anderson
Shadow Physics is an intriguing prototype that takes the 3D lighting effects we take for granted in games and uses the technology to create a new spin on traditional platforming challenges.
Based on the idea of manipulating objects in the foreground in order to cast shadows that become the actual playfield, Shadow Physics is thinking outside the light box, and is a great showcase both for Flashbang's Swink (also working on 3D web games for the Blurst portal) and full-time mainstream industry participant Anderson, as well as the role of technology in indie iteration and experimentation.
As executive technical director for Yuke's, Ueno has been dealing with motion of and interactions between human bodies for some time. The developer is known for its wrestling titles, but with UFC Undisputed 2009, a large step forward was taken in body interpretation.
The human body isn't easy to deal with, because the user knows how it should work, and how it shouldn't, and it's especially tricky for close-contact titles like MMA. That the UFC team managed to do chokeholds and kimuras so convincingly is a testament to their skill, and the depth of experience they have with the subject.