20 smart developers in games today
19th Sep 2011 | 17:30
Behind every great game there's a great developer. Whether it's a dozen friends in a small office or two hundred people working with a multi-million dollar budget, it's the people - or rather, the culmination of their drive, vision and technique - that make a game what it is.
Across this list we've picked the 20 key developers shaping the future of gaming with their vision, creativity and innovation.
Current project MGS Rising
Career Highlight Metal Gear Solid 3
Shaping the future by blurring the line between gamer and game
Kojima is the architect of the decade-spanning Metal Gear Solid series. His passion for Western cinema means he's dedicated as much to story as gameplay, but nobody else blurs the boundary between gamer and game quite like him. Kojima is set to influence again with his PS3 / PS Vita cloud save Transfarring system and Fox Engine graphics tech.
Studio Media Molecule
Current Project Unannounced
Career Highlight LittleBigPlanet
Shaping the future by turning players into designers
Evans left Lionhead to found Media Molecule with a handful of friends, and landed a knockout punch with LittleBigPlanet. Cue more 'easy' sequels? Pah. The team's mystery new project has nothing to do with Sackboy. Bold.
Current Project Rayman Origins
Career Highlight Beyond Good & Evil
Shaping the future by taking risks with creative games
Beyond Good & Evil may not have been the hit Ubisoft hoped, but it established Ancel as a creative force. Rayman Origins' lush hand-painted visuals prove there's life left in 2D gaming.
Current Project Final Fantasy Versus XIII
Career Highlight Kingdom Hearts
Shaping the future by bringing Final Fantasy back to its roots
After the disappointing XIII, Nomura's semi-sequel, Versus XIII, is harking back to the PSone era - of which he was a critical component - in both gameplay sensibilities and visual design.
Current Project The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Career Highlight The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Shaping the future by making the hardcore
RPG mainstream Creative lead Howard was responsible for both runaway smash The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and the postapocalyptic Fallout 3 - two very different role-playing games that share similar themes of vast player freedom and scope. Not bad for a man whose applications to work at Bethesda were routinely rejected in the early '90s... Now, with the more advanced The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on the horizon, Howard's work is set to reach an even greater global audience.
Studio Quantic Dream
Current Project Project Horizon
Career Highlight Heavy Rain
Shaping the future by making us feel when we play games
We know nothing of Cage's next project except that it excites us. Focused on human experience, Cage gets better with every game.
Studio Respawn Entertainment
Current Project Unknown
Career Highlight Call Of Duty Modern Warfare
Shaping the future by staying fiercely independent
Worked on Medal of Honor, left to do WWII his way. Made Modern Warfare, fell out with Activision. Left. Has own studio, Respawn.
Studio Team Ico
Current Project The Last Guardian
Career Highlight Ico
Shaping the future by integrating medium-defining animation with soulful experience
Ueda is a perfectionist who won't release a game until it's absolutely ready, and proves that games are capable of stirring emotions. The Last Guardian combines the gentle melancholy of his debut Ico with the mythic grandeur of Shadow of the Colossus to wondrous effect.
Current Project Journey
Career Highlight Flower
Shaping the future by changing the way gamers communicate
With flOw and Flower, Santiago produced PSN's most unique games. Journey is just as original, adding online co-op with voiceless strangers over PSN. A background of travel, dance and even clowning gives her a fresh, and highly effective, approach.
Current Project The Witness
Career Highlight Braid
Shaping the future by expecting - and rewarding - brains
Blow created Braid, a 2D puzzler based on time itself and the defining indie game. In PSN's upcoming The Witness, the cartoon visuals give way to a lush 3D island that's just as mysterious - and likely to twist our brains.
Studio Double Fine Productions
Current Project Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster
Career Highlight The Secret of Monkey Island
Shaping the future by leading invention and creativity on PSN/XBLA
Schafer's first big project was working on the script for Monkey Island. Since then, all his games have made effective use of humour, and more recently his studio, Double Fine, have combined this knack for comedy with innovative design for superb PSN titles such as Stacking and Costume Quest.
Current Project Street Fighter X Tekken
Career Highlight Street Fighter IV
Shaping the future by reinventing the beat-'em-up
A long-time fan of Street Fighter, Ono was incredulous to find his pitch to create Street Fighter IV accepted by Capcom. By reassembling much of the team that made SFII he struck gold, reinvigorating an entire genre. Now Ono is in charge of the first ever SF/Tekken crossover.
Studio Rockstar North
Current Project Grand Theft Auto V
Career Highlight Red Dead Redemption
Shaping the future by writing scripts that close the gap between games and cinema
Houser is the mind behind Rockstar's core titles, including all of the GTAs - and was named one of Time's most influential people of 2009, along with brother Sam.
Studio Platinum Games
Current Project Unknown
Career Highlight Resident Evil 4
Shaping the future by redefining the action genre and pursuing singular vision despite crushing opposition
Mikami's Resident Evil 4 was re-built four times before he shifted the focus from horror to action. Capcom threatened to end the series should he fail, and his team were dismayed. Result? A classic. After missteps like Vanquish, Mikami's next move needs to be bold. Again.
Studio 2K Marin
Current Project XCOM
Career Highlight BioShock 2
Shaping the future by being a champion of thoughtful design
Thomas is famous for his lauded, terrifying 'Cradle' level in Thief: Deadly Shadows. Since then he's designed the underrated BioShock 2, and is now directing XCOM, an intelligent, tactical shooter.
Studio Naughty Dog
Current Project Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Career Highlight Uncharted 2
Shaping the future by proving the importance of good writing
Winner of a Writers Guild of America award, Hennig has been creating games for 17 years. She cites writing as more important than anything else in a game - her biggest triumph is Uncharted.
Current Project Mass Effect 3
Career Highlight Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic
Shaping the future by bonding real choice with big narratives
A long-time BioWare employee, Watamaniuk is one of the key players in the Mass Effect universe. Lead designer on the superb ME2, he returns to the role for the third and final game.
Current Project Unknown
Career Highlight Half-Life 2
Shaping the future by defining shooters and the way games sell
1998's Half-Life changed the shooter forever with its unique - now much copied - approach. Half-Life never let the player out of its world, instead telling tales with clever environmental clues and glimpses of real-time events. Then, in 2003, Valve released the shop / update / multiplayer hub program Steam, getting digital distribution right many years before the rest even began getting it wrong. A former Microsoft employee, Newell has hired some of the best minds out there and overseen triumphs such as Half-Life 2 and the Portal series.
Current Project Battlefield 3
Career Highlight Battlefield Bad Company 2
Shaping the future by designing unrivalled soundscapes Stefan Strandberg started at DICE eight years ago, working on the brilliant, but sadly underappreciated Rallisport Challenge 2. Since then he's become an audio director, winning a BAFTA for 'Best Use Of Audio' in Battlefield Bad Company 2. Strandberg and his team are seen as the best in the industry, and have recently shared their expertise with the Mass Effect 3 team at BioWare.
Studio Irrational Games
Current Project BioShock Infinite
Career Highlight System Shock 2
Shaping the future by championing complex ideas without compromise
Levine boldy infused shooter BioShock with references to objectivism. This philosophical movement, founded by Ayn Rand, was a key influence on US bank chief Alan Greenspan - whose policies indirectly led to the world's finanical meltdown. Infinite has similarly grand inspiration; physicists like Einstein and Heisenberg, and the ideals of American exceptionalism. Few devs so adeptly forge big ideas to accesible design.