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[Gamasutra here reprints the latest installment of Game Developer magazine's Game Developer 50, which attempts to put faces and names to some of the most significant contributions to the game industry over the last year. This article first appeared in the November 2010 issue of Game Developer, for which physical and digital subscriptions are now available.]
People are what power our industry. Development teams pull together to create awe-inspiring pieces of interactive technology, and rarely outside of the indie world is any one piece of a game a single-person effort. But at times it's nice to single out those who have made great strides for our industry, on an individual level, even as a team leader.
And so, we present here our second-annual editor-chosen list of 50 important accomplishments of the last year-or-so, in the fields of art, programming, design, business, and evangelism, attempting to focus on the specific achievements of specific persons.
It should be noted that these names are not ranked -- they are listed alphabetically by last name. As independent game making becomes increasingly popular and profitable, we expect to be honoring individual achievements more and more in the near future.
Valve's Left 4 Dead 2 has received much-deserved accolades for its carefully tuned and intense game play. But we should also take a moment to recognize what an amazing visual accomplishment the game represents. Under the art direction of Jeremy Bennett, the team at Valve created a game that rises to phantasmagorical heights while remaining firmly grounded in a lovingly-detailed reality.
Anyone who has spent time in the American South will instantly recognize the game's well-worn environments and the sluggish afternoon light as it filters through humid air. The game's character designs also stand out for their verisimilitude. They are not comic book fantasies, but are instead reminiscent of the people that you see every day in line at the supermarket. The game's visuals trigger a remarkable level of emotional investment from the player and are a reminder of the power of great art direction.
Naughty Dog's creative director Amy Hennig is at the forefront of digital acting. As a writer and director on Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Hennig helped to create complex, believable, and most importantly, relatable characters. The days of computer marionettes in games are over, and for a title to reach the widest audience it has to have human characters that players can identify with.
While good writing and solid voice acting are essential, Naughty Dog's innovation has been to integrate voice acting and motion capture in an effort to imbue its characters with uniquely human performances. By casting actors to handle both tasks and by treating mocap sessions as a film set with careful attention to rehearsal and performance, the studio is able to create games with the pulse of real life flowing through them.
Christopher M. Hunt
Though The Saboteur was underpromoted and rather underappreciated in its time, the "will to fight" concept was undeniably well-executed, especially in a visual sense. In this France-based WWII-era game, areas controlled by the Nazis were represented in black and white, with only the Nazi iconography showing up as red.
As the player liberates France, color returns to the world in real time, giving the player direct feedback regarding their in-game successes. This visually-striking feature was led by art director Christopher M. Hunt to excellent effect, and was one of the most successful elements of the game.
Final Fantasy XIII's luxurious visuals are a sparkling, candy-coated spectacle of teenage love fantasies and utopian fever dreams. The game's status as a flagship for Square Enix's much-vaunted Crystal Tools framework, combined with a protracted development time, gave Isamu Kamikokuryo's art team the opportunity to push the limits of real-time digital imagery.
The result is a visual feast of baroquely detailed models that are shaded and rendered with an obsessive eye for the physical qualities of light. Square Enix has always been known as a graphics powerhouse with a particular emphasis on beautiful pre-rendered visuals. With Final Fantasy XIII we can see that real-time graphics are quickly approaching traditional computer animation techniques.
Kim is best known as an illustrator, adding lithe female forms and brutish male bruisers to games such as Magna Carta and War of Genesis. Now, as art director for NCSoft's upcoming MMO Blade & Soul, Hyung-Tae Kim is taking control of the whole of the game's visuals, making his distinctive illustrations (which often "modify" anatomy for greater impact) finally come to life in a polygonal world.
Though the game will not be out for some time, the results of his efforts are already visible, in the larger-than-life interactive characters, distinctive architecture, and weaponry that make video games unique.
Video games have an innate capacity to be extremely, unaccountably weird. Unfortunately, the current of gleeful weirdness that once ran through games is rarely tapped into with any intention. Realism is the rule of the day, particularly when applied to high concept console games.
What a relief then to start up Platinum Games' Bayonetta and find a game that is a head spinning mash up of art nouveau, shojo manga, and gothic revival, along with a hit of pure nitrous oxide. As conceptual designer for Bayonetta, Ikumi Nakamura helped create a game with visuals delirious enough to match its frenetic play.
Splinter Cell Conviction represented not only a design reboot for the series, but a visual one as well, incorporating an innovative use of light for objectives and projecting characters' inner thoughts on nearby surfaces.
The concept originally came from creative director Maxime Beland after he saw Tony Scott's Man on Fire -- but it was expertly implemented by art director Jean-Philippe Rajotte. Though inspired by a movie, Rajotte and his team's implementation represented something only games can really do. In this way, Conviction made a step forward in visual interactive storytelling.
Paul Robertson is an Australian pixel animator whose short film projects have alternately delighted and horrified the game-playing public for many years.
In the past, his work had often been relegated to backgrounds and contract animation -- but for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Robertson was given more free reign than ever before, assisted by longtime associates Jonathan Kim and Mariel Cartwright, and the result is a game that bears his unmistakable style and flourish, demonstrating his substantial abilities to a larger group of people.
As the creator of classic soundtracks for Ridge Racer and Tekken, composer Nobuyoshi Sano has a deep passion for synthesizers and their place in games. Teaming up with Korg and Cavia (now AQI), he helped design the Korg DS-10 and DS-10 Plus for the Nintendo DS.
Radical in concept, the Korg DS-10 delivers the experience of playing the classic Korg MS-10 analog synthesizer in a creative recording environment that is completely free from any game play concessions. With the upcoming Korg M01, Sano has now turned his attention to recreating one of the foundational instruments of modern club music, the Korg M1 workstation, in Nintendo DS form. Never before have pro-level electronic instruments been so accessible.
Creating convincingly destructible game environments is a big hurdle for both engineering and art. It's a challenge that Volition has fully embraced, and the studio's ongoing Red Faction series is a love letter to armchair demolitionists everywhere.
Under Jasen Whiteside's art direction for Red Faction Guerrilla, the studio crafted a somber, terraformed Martian landscape dotted with industrial settlements that beg to be aggressively disassembled. Here lies the art team's greatest accomplishment: not only have they built an engaging game environment, but they've also designed for its piece-by-piece destruction. It's a testament to Volition's skill that broken things in their games look so good.