Each year, IGN tries to highlight a small number of people in gaming who have made a positive contribution over the previous 12 months.

It’s devilish tricky job.

We want to talk about people who have done something special this particular year, not just those who are recognized as perennial giants in gaming (otherwise, every year we’d be looking at the same familiar names). We also want to create a cross-section of gaming that covers different platforms, skills, genres and media, something that represents the year gone-by. It’s no accident then that this year’s list has quite a few ‘indie’ developers.

So here’s what we came up for 2012.

Each person on this list represents a lot of other people – teammates, partners and families.


How did we go about creating the list? First, we asked you for nominations. The IGN team pitched in with our own ideas. We looked back at the best games of the year and the biggest issues in news. Then, we spent a lot of time getting the resultant really long-list down to 30.

On the whole, we want to honor those people who make games and to highlight the writers, artists, musicians and coders, not just the designers, producers and directors.

It should always be remembered that each person on this list represents a lot of other people – teammates, collaborators, supporters, partners and families. If you believe we’ve missed anyone, please do add your ideas to the Comments section. Keep in mind that this is, in no way, some sort of definitive ‘The Best‘, more ‘A Choice Selection of Really Amazing People’.

Couple of rules – we avoided anyone on last year’s list and IGN people are not allowed, even when we are sorely tempted. The list is presented in alphabetical order.

Nels Anderson, designer for MARK OF THE NINJA.

Nels Anderson once offered a picturesque description of the ninja in video games. “The ninja is the perfect stealth game protagonist. They’re sneaky, and agile, and clever, and fast.” Mark of the Ninja was born out of the need to make something different, a game that married the side-scrolling structure of Ninja Gaiden to the stealth and silent killing of Tenchu. Coming from Jamie Cheng and Jeffrey Agala’s shop at Klei Entertainment, it was one of the year’s best, on Xbox Live or anywhere else.

Victor Antonov for artwork in DISHONORED

Viktor Antonov was art director for Half-Life 2 and creator of City 17 so his experience in imagining memorable places is formidable. In 2012 he gave us the city of Dunwall, a Victorian-esque steampunk seaport dripping with faded glory and ornate nouveau-Gothic. Dunwall is both ugly and beautiful, repellant and gorgeous. Working with Harvey Smith, Raphael Colantonio, Sebastien Mitton and team, Arkane gave us Dishonored, one of the best and most lovely action-stealth games ever made.

Brandon Beck. CEO of Riot for LEAGUE OF LEGENDS

“I fundamentally believe that eSports will be an Olympic event in my lifetime.” That’s a bold statement, but if there’s anyone with reason to mean it, it’s Brandon Beck. The Riot Games co-founder and League of Legends co-creator stood at the forefront of 2012’s massive surge in competitive gaming. More than 8 million people watched the October League of Legends championships online, with 8,000-plus actually showing up in Los Angeles to catch the matches live. Competitive play promises to only get bigger with IGN’s own IPL a big part of this burgeoning scene.

Leonard Boyarsky for design in DIABLO III

Some players might wonder why Diablo even needs a story. Isn’t it just about violence and loot? World designer Leonard Boyarsky says, “We want to make sure that you feel like you’re doing something,” not just running around clicking a mouse.” With the one-time art director of Fallout in charge – as well as other old hands like Chris Metzen and gaming newcomers like Christian Lichtner – Diablo III’s world and lore did exactly that. Layers of rich detail present a backdrop for hours of exploration and adventure.

Anthony Burch writer for BORDERLANDS 2

“It’s really a comedy game. We’re not the game of slow-motion death-scenes and sweeping vistas. We’re the game where you shoot a midget in the face with a light-gun and he melts and everyone is happy.” So said Anthony Burch. Working with the Gearbox team headed up by Randy Pitchford, this one-time games journo and comedy sketch-writer brought out the goofy for Borderlands 2, managing to connect the team’s own sense of humor with that of the audience and giving a new dimension to the oft-gormless genre of shooting games.

Paddy Burns for technical work on Xbox 360’s MINECRAFT

No list celebrating 2012 would be complete without a mention of the continued success of Minecraft. Although the game first appeared in 2009, it continues to brighten gaming culture through mods and user-created worlds. It is a phenomenon. This year saw the launch of an Xbox 360 version, bringing that version’s sales close to the 5 million mark (the PC and Mac version has sold 8 million). The job of making the PC game fit for a console was expertly done by Scottish development team 4J Games, founded by Frank Arnott, Chris van der Kuyl and technical director Paddy Burns. The cost of development was recouped within one hour of the game’s release on XBL.

Jeff Grubb, designer and writer on GUILD WARS 2

His name once appeared on some of the classics of tabletop role-playing — Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms. Now, at ArenaNet, Jeff Grubb represents where the old school of dice and graph paper meets the new world of online adventure. Alongside a team of leading writers and designers like Ree Soesbee and Bobby Stein, Grubb’s work on Guild Wars 2 helped shape the look, the lore, and the gameplay of 2012’s most successfully different MMO.

Josh Hackney, executive producer for PLANETSIDE 2

Josh Hackney and company took a surprising tack with the making of PlanetSide 2. Following the lead of indie projects like Minecraft, Sony Online let the world get a surprisingly close look at the making of its MMO shooter. Hackney and many other members of the team – Matt Higby, Tramell Isaac, SOE boss John Smedley – spent plenty of time in the open listening to fans, and that feedback shaped many different components of the game. The result? Right now, it’s the hottest shooter online.

Mark Hadley, creator of SLENDER

You know you have a hit when so many people want it that they blow up your website. That’s what happened in the early days of Slender, a vicious little horror adventure single-handedly crafted by Mark Hadley. It’s easy to lose track of the game itself behind the constantly-riffed-upon Slender Man meme, but in its spare, stripped-down way, it does exactly what a horror game should: it scares us half to death. Now, we just have to work up the nerve for Hadley’s upcoming sequel…

Jennifer Hale, voice actor, MASS EFFECT 3

Jennifer Hale is one of the most prolific actors in video games. Mass Effect 3 presented her marquee role this year — she starred as the voice of Commander Shepard (or one of the two, anyway) — but she also gave life to characters in everything from Halo 4 to Scribblenauts Unlimited. Fans might also catch her out of the corner of their ears in Disney’s ode to retro gaming, Wreck-It Ralph.

Dean Hall, creator of DAYZ

When New Zealander Dean began work with Prague-based Bohemia. publisher of ARMA 2, he found his weekends pretty empty. He began working on a zombie mod for the game, inspired by his own time in the military. It became one of the year’s biggest sensations, a difficult, realistic struggle for survival with limited resources. DayZ is now headed for a release in its own right.

Katsura Hashino for PERSONA 4 GOLDEN

Before Katsura Hashino took over the director’s seat, Persona was perhaps a cult hit for Atlus. Since he and art director Shigenori Soejima sat down in charge of Persona 3, the series has become a worldwide phenomenon. 2012 saw the franchise spawn cartoons, comics, a boatload of merchandise – and, of course, Persona 4 Golden was the hottest PS Vita game on either side of the Pacific. Hashino’s signature blend of social sim and dungeon-hacking turned out beautifully on Sony’s handheld machine.

Josh Holmes, creative director of HALO 4

Josh Holmes, the creative director at 343 Industries, kept an enormous project running all the way to the release of Halo 4, now one of te world’s most valuable entertainment properties and, for the first time, away from its original developer Bungie. With people like franchise director Frank O’Connor, producer Kiki Wolfkill, art director Kenneth Scott, and the rest of the now-massive 343 crew, he proved to the world that Master Chief and Cortana are still in very capable hands.

Alex Hutchinson, creative director for ASSASSIN’S CREED 3

“I hope we can do it,” Alex Hutchinson once said. “Otherwise I’ll be looking for work.” It’s an oddly self-effacing thing to hear from a guy who’s been given the helm of what might be the biggest single game development project in history. In any case, he’ll probably still have a job in 2013. Led by Hutchinson and a team of veterans going back to the classic Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Assassin’s Creed III took the franchise in a new direction and set it on course for more future success.

Victor Kislyi for WORLD OF TANKS

Victor Kislyi’s Wargaming.net, home to World of Tanks, had a pretty good idea. The company’s model for free-to-play online action — where simply playing the game is as good a way to get an edge as paying in cash – powered Tanks to a world-record number of simultaneous players this year. World of Tanks has become a way of life for millions of combat-gamers around the world, and a model for gaming’s free-to-pay online future.

Mark Lamia, studio head of Treyarch for CALL OF DUTY: BLACK OPS 2

Treyarch didn’t have to take any chances making Black Ops 2. Another Call of Duty would have sold a zillion copies no matter what. Nevertheless, says Mark Lamia, his shop wanted to do something different, creating “entirely new gameplay inside the campaign.” Black Ops 2’s Strike Force levels brought non-linear action and branching plot threads to a series famous for running on rails, and they also brought us hope that the franchise will keep on evolving in the coming years.

Michael Mando, actor in FAR CRY 3

Hundreds of people worked on Far Cry 3, but one line sold the game more than anything: “Did I ever tell you what the definition of insanity is?” Translated through cutting-edge performance capture technology, Michael Mando’s voice and physical presence brought the raving would-be dictator Vaas to life in a way that made him unique among video game villains. He’s awful – very awful – but he’s also awfully hard to look away from, and he raised our standards for the quality of virtual acting in coming years.

Gabe Newell for GREENLIGHT

The esteem in which Newell is held by gamers around the world, rendering him as an almost hallowed figure, sometimes obscures the fact that this is a hardworking man with tons of great ideas, who has surrounded himself with, arguably the best team in the world. Greenlight is Valve’s way of giving more power to consumers, to choose the games and projects they want to see on Steam. It’s risky and dangerous and a long way from being the finished article. It’s telling that Gabe’s main public message has not been how great Greenlight is, but how much he wants to get it right.

Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky – directors of INDIE GAME: THE MOVIE

These two film directors delivered one of the best experiences of the year with Indie Game: The Movie, which highlighted the lives, struggles, woes and triumphs of game developers like Jonathan Blow, Team Meat and Phil Fish. They deftly formed a drama out of various crises, inspiring young talent to follow the game-making dream and, perhaps, persuading some older hands to cast out on their own. Certainly, the film has changed the lives of those who featured. But no-one would claim it was a suck-up job.

Anita Sarkeesian, for video game work on FEMINIST FREQUENCY

Sarkeesian is a critic on mainstream culture’s depiction of women, offering smart, insightful commentary on movies and TV. In 2012 she turned her attention to videogames, seeking to raise funds via Kickstarter for a series of documentaries. She was subject to vicious online harassment, a point of focus for those who sought to kick back against progress in highlighting misogyny in video games.

Tim Schafer, Double Fine chief and KICKSTARTER hero

If 2012 was the year of Kickstarter, no-one in game development was more nimble in its realization than Double Fine head Tim Schafer. He took all that boundless credibility of his, as well as a sackful of humor and bags of great ideas, and plumped them all in front of consumers in the shape of Double Fine Adventure. Dd they want to buy? He asked for $400K and ended up with over $3 million. And, by the way, he’s also credited for involvement in making four games this past year.

Yoko Shimomura, for music on KINGDOM HEARTS 3D

For one of Japan’s most beloved gaming composers, 2012 was a year where the past and present met. Capcom celebrated the 25th anniversary of Street Fighter, and with it Yoko Shimomura’s classic themes from Street Fighter II – avid fans can see her looking back on those days in Area 5’s documentary I Am Street Fighter. At the same time, along with Tsuyoshi Sekito and Takeharu Ishimoto, she brought even more gripping music to the Kingdom Hearts series in its latest outing, Dream Drop Distance.

Jonatan “Cactus” Söderström for HOTLINE MIAMI

Jonatan Söderström and his partner Dennis Wedin invented a new genre in 2012: the “top-down f&%$-‘em-up.” Imagine the action of a 2D Metal Gear, the colorful cartoon ‘80s world of GTA Vice City, and the surreal mind-gaming of Silent Hill. You still won’t have the greatest idea of what Hotline Miami is all about.  Even better than that would be to simply play the game, which bolstered the indie scene with its addictive gameplay and amazing strangeness.

Jake Solomon for the return of XCOM

Attempts to bring back the greats of the 1990s often fall into the trap of forgetting that what made them so special back then. Either that, or they lose some  connection with the original game’s emotional mystery. In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, designer Jake Solomon along with producer Garth DeAngelis and artist Greg Foertsch created a tense, gripping game that offered endless tactical possibilities, bringing classic turn-based strategy to a new generation of gamers.

Jen Taylor, voice of Cortana in HALO 4

Cortana is an AI, but as voiced by Jen Taylor she is the most human and sympathetic being in Halo 4. Taylor gave the character even more depth as she explored her suffering as the AI descends into the confusion of madness. As well as her work as a stage-actor, Taylor has been voice-acting on video games for 15 years. Her top tip is this, ”Do not mumble. Speak clearly and slowly…unless weapons are being fired at you.”

Takashi Tezuka for first party support of WII U

He’s worked at Nintendo for 28 years and holds the senior position of EAD General Manager, along with his more famous colleague Shigeru Miyamoto. He has directed, designed or produced The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, New Super Mario Bros. In 2012 he helped deliver the Wii U console along with his big project for the year, New Super Mario Bros U, a joyful game that pays its dues to all that is great in Nintendo gaming both past and present, and allow us all to really appreciate the meaning of the word ‘play’,

Julie Uhrman, CEO of OUYA

Who could have predicted at the beginning of the year that an Android-based $99 console would raise millions of dollars from eager consumers, before it had even been launched? That’s what Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman achieved as she unveiled the new console, one with a new business modelled wrapped around 21st Century ideas about free-to-play content and exclusively digital-delivery. Now she simply has to deliver.

Sean Vanaman for writing THE WALKING DEAD

Here’s writer Sean Vanaman talking about the episodic game he wrote, with help from co-writers like Gary Whitta, that enthralled so many of us throughout the year, a zombie game where where the player has to make real moral choices. “We created the [Walking Dead] characters Lee Everett and Clementine, a man and a little girl, to give the players the chance to play as a flawed human being (Lee has large portions of his past he regrets) who attempts to navigate the choppy and muddy rivers of “right and wrong” in a time where those ideas have been rendered obsolete. Making morally grey choices with a little girl at your side made the story infinitely more interesting. Of course, the onus was then on us to make Clementine someone you actually cared for — something we believe the game succeeds at.”

Walt Williams, writer of SPEC OPS: THE LINE

When Williams set out to write Spec Ops: The Line he wanted to drop the player into a familiar first-person shooter world, a comfortable place where we all know what’s what. And then he wanted to show us that these games are about people killing each other and what that does not only in the physical world, but in the domain of the mind. The result is one of the most striking emotional journeys in gaming, a twisting narrative that asks difficult questions, and doesn’t insult you by providing answers.

Austin Wintory, composer of soundtrack for JOURNEY

Journey was created by a small team, and had a huge emotional impact on so many players, so it’s difficult to mark out any individuals. Directed by Jenova Chen and produced by Robin Hunicke, it featured the mesmerizing artwork of Matt Nava. But there is something extra-special about that soundtrack, lilting cellos drifting across the sand dunes, peaking as the player confronts the terrific in-game high-points. Deservedly, the soundtrack has been nominated for a Grammy. Wintory’s next project displays his confidence and range – a new Leisure Suit Larry game.


List compiled by Colin Campbell. If you want to contact me directly about this list, use Twitter. You can also follow me on IGN.

Each year, IGN tries to highlight a small number of people in gaming who have made a positive contribution over the previous 12 months.

It’s devilish tricky job.

We want to talk about people who have done something special this particular year, not just those who are recognized as perennial giants in gaming (otherwise, every year we’d be looking at the same familiar names). We also want to create a cross-section of gaming that covers different platforms, skills, genres and media, something that represents the year gone-by. It’s no accident then that this year’s list has quite a few ‘indie’ developers.

So here’s what we came up for 2012.

Each person on this list represents a lot of other people – teammates, partners and families.


How did we go about creating the list? First, we asked you for nominations. The IGN team pitched in with our own ideas. We looked back at the best games of the year and the biggest issues in news. Then, we spent a lot of time getting the resultant really long-list down to 30.

On the whole, we want to honor those people who make games and to highlight the writers, artists, musicians and coders, not just the designers, producers and directors.

It should always be remembered that each person on this list represents a lot of other people – teammates, collaborators, supporters, partners and families. If you believe we’ve missed anyone, please do add your ideas to the Comments section. Keep in mind that this is, in no way, some sort of definitive ‘The Best‘, more ‘A Choice Selection of Really Amazing People’.

Couple of rules – we avoided anyone on last year’s list and IGN people are not allowed, even when we are sorely tempted. The list is presented in alphabetical order.

Nels Anderson, designer for MARK OF THE NINJA.

Nels Anderson once offered a picturesque description of the ninja in video games. “The ninja is the perfect stealth game protagonist. They’re sneaky, and agile, and clever, and fast.” Mark of the Ninja was born out of the need to make something different, a game that married the side-scrolling structure of Ninja Gaiden to the stealth and silent killing of Tenchu. Coming from Jamie Cheng and Jeffrey Agala’s shop at Klei Entertainment, it was one of the year’s best, on Xbox Live or anywhere else.

Victor Antonov for artwork in DISHONORED

Viktor Antonov was art director for Half-Life 2 and creator of City 17 so his experience in imagining memorable places is formidable. In 2012 he gave us the city of Dunwall, a Victorian-esque steampunk seaport dripping with faded glory and ornate nouveau-Gothic. Dunwall is both ugly and beautiful, repellant and gorgeous. Working with Harvey Smith, Raphael Colantonio, Sebastien Mitton and team, Arkane gave us Dishonored, one of the best and most lovely action-stealth games ever made.

Brandon Beck. CEO of Riot for LEAGUE OF LEGENDS

“I fundamentally believe that eSports will be an Olympic event in my lifetime.” That’s a bold statement, but if there’s anyone with reason to mean it, it’s Brandon Beck. The Riot Games co-founder and League of Legends co-creator stood at the forefront of 2012’s massive surge in competitive gaming. More than 8 million people watched the October League of Legends championships online, with 8,000-plus actually showing up in Los Angeles to catch the matches live. Competitive play promises to only get bigger with IGN’s own IPL a big part of this burgeoning scene.

Leonard Boyarsky for design in DIABLO III

Some players might wonder why Diablo even needs a story. Isn’t it just about violence and loot? World designer Leonard Boyarsky says, “We want to make sure that you feel like you’re doing something,” not just running around clicking a mouse.” With the one-time art director of Fallout in charge – as well as other old hands like Chris Metzen and gaming newcomers like Christian Lichtner – Diablo III’s world and lore did exactly that. Layers of rich detail present a backdrop for hours of exploration and adventure.

Anthony Burch writer for BORDERLANDS 2

“It’s really a comedy game. We’re not the game of slow-motion death-scenes and sweeping vistas. We’re the game where you shoot a midget in the face with a light-gun and he melts and everyone is happy.” So said Anthony Burch. Working with the Gearbox team headed up by Randy Pitchford, this one-time games journo and comedy sketch-writer brought out the goofy for Borderlands 2, managing to connect the team’s own sense of humor with that of the audience and giving a new dimension to the oft-gormless genre of shooting games.

Paddy Burns for technical work on Xbox 360’s MINECRAFT

No list celebrating 2012 would be complete without a mention of the continued success of Minecraft. Although the game first appeared in 2009, it continues to brighten gaming culture through mods and user-created worlds. It is a phenomenon. This year saw the launch of an Xbox 360 version, bringing that version’s sales close to the 5 million mark (the PC and Mac version has sold 8 million). The job of making the PC game fit for a console was expertly done by Scottish development team 4J Games, founded by Frank Arnott, Chris van der Kuyl and technical director Paddy Burns. The cost of development was recouped within one hour of the game’s release on XBL.

Jeff Grubb, designer and writer on GUILD WARS 2

His name once appeared on some of the classics of tabletop role-playing — Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms. Now, at ArenaNet, Jeff Grubb represents where the old school of dice and graph paper meets the new world of online adventure. Alongside a team of leading writers and designers like Ree Soesbee and Bobby Stein, Grubb’s work on Guild Wars 2 helped shape the look, the lore, and the gameplay of 2012’s most successfully different MMO.

Josh Hackney, executive producer for PLANETSIDE 2

Josh Hackney and company took a surprising tack with the making of PlanetSide 2. Following the lead of indie projects like Minecraft, Sony Online let the world get a surprisingly close look at the making of its MMO shooter. Hackney and many other members of the team – Matt Higby, Tramell Isaac, SOE boss John Smedley – spent plenty of time in the open listening to fans, and that feedback shaped many different components of the game. The result? Right now, it’s the hottest shooter online.

Mark Hadley, creator of SLENDER

You know you have a hit when so many people want it that they blow up your website. That’s what happened in the early days of Slender, a vicious little horror adventure single-handedly crafted by Mark Hadley. It’s easy to lose track of the game itself behind the constantly-riffed-upon Slender Man meme, but in its spare, stripped-down way, it does exactly what a horror game should: it scares us half to death. Now, we just have to work up the nerve for Hadley’s upcoming sequel…

By Colin Campbell