Thoughts from our expert panel on the highlights of the year

Develop Jury: The best of 2009

Earlier this week Develop asked industry members what was their highlight of 2009.

A report on the industry’s verdict can be found here, but below you can read all responses in full.

(If you’re a developer who’d like to take part in future debates, ping an email to


Develop Jury Service#3

What’s your development highlight of 2009?

Andrew Oliver, CTO, Blitz Games Studios
For me the big announcement of 2009 was Natal. I love the idea that you can rebrand a console and completely change the demographic simply through the addition of a peripheral. Adding Natal will enable no-controller games, broadening a more casual market and allowing developers to create brand new types of entertainment. It’s really opened up the possibilities of what we can do with the current generation of consoles.

Andrew Smith, Developer, Proper Games
My personal highlight of 2009 was winning a Scottish BAFTA for Flock! We’re all so chuffed and honoured to be recognised this way, it’s hard to describe… so I won’t even try to!

Industry-wise however, I’ve been less interested in all the gimmicks and gadgets – PSPGo, Natal, Sony’s Wand – and way more pleased by the games. It’s a tough call, but the most exciting and interesting development has to be Batman : Arkham Asylum. Not only downright polished, well-executed and innovative (that melee system is just fantastically fluid and rewarding), it’s from good old blighty! Come on London, we knew you had it in you!

So much went right with that game – a license-based game well worth playing, a fantastic use of the Riddler to give grinding and achievements some much-needed character, the continuation of the Metroid style of gameplay and some jaw dropping visuals, and too many more aspects to mention here without using bullet points like some cynical back-of-the-box waffle.

Anyway, well done Rocksteady – bring on the sequel!

Ben Board, European Developer Account Manager, Microsoft
With no apologies for flag-flying, the highlight from here at Xbox’s Developer Dept was clearly Project Natal. Unveiling our new baby at E3 was an exhilarating moment; seeing what the first round of developers have done with their kits has convinced me that, in every sense, Natal will change the game.

Jon Burton (Twitter), Director, Traveller’s Tales:
Hardware: In terms of Hardware, ironically, I love the form factor of the PSPgo. In terms of a development highlight, it’s been a “motion capture” year. I was actually more impressed with Sony’s motion capture solution than Microsoft’s Natal.

I know Microsoft have spent billions (including their R&D department expenditure) developing the tech behind the Natal, and it is exceedingly clever, but the lag on the input and lack of physical buttons is really going to restrict the kind of games that can be done with it.

Sony’s solution will be cheap, accurate and will put buttons at your fingertips, meaning everything from action adventures to FPS’s can be handled with the same input. But let’s see what Nintendo have up their sleeve. Maybe the “Zii” will surprise everyone…

Software: I loved how Naughty Dog handled big, dramatic, “movie-like” moments in Uncharted 2. Coming from a background of designing movie games, you could see how their techniques could be very applicable in what currently is a stale and unloved genre. We’ve done tests along those lines in the past, and it’s great to see them being well received when beautifully presented.

Despite thinking it’s not the best solution, the software behind Natal stunned me – to be able to take effectively a bump-map of a person and turn that into a fully articulated and rigged polygonal skeleton is an incredible feat. We run a mo-cap studio and to get anything resembling mo-cap, live in real-time, from effectively a single camera is nothing short of amazing.

Being very biased, I also thought that the split-screen effect we used in LEGO Indiana Jones 2 was a brilliant solution to the split-screen problem that faced LEGO games. It’s never been done before, and it’s very rare that you get unique steps forward like that in the games industry any more. When I saw the finished implementation it was far smoother and effective that I ever imagined it could be.

Ed Daly, General Manager, Zoe Mode:
I thought the Project Natal launch at E3 was a superb piece of audacious theatre. I couldn’t help but admire Microsoft’s gung-ho world-will-never-be-the-same vision, despite their being so much work to do to deliver on the promise. If I was a developer back in Redmond watching I would have been absolutely terrified.

Gary Penn, Creative Director, Denki Ltd:
One word. Orbital.

The industry’s experienced some historical highlights this year, but it was one game that eclipsed everything for me. Its narcotic existence on a platform like iPhone makes it as convenient and compelling as chain-smoking.

I adore and envy its simplicity and beauty. I spent so long, so many years ago exploring so many minimal toysets and interfaces and, despite some successes, never came close to anything as elegant and entertaining as Orbital – a concept as refreshing and inspiring as Tetris once was.

Perhaps what impresses me most is that, without realising it, Bitforge took Gimme Friction Baby and admirably upheld The Denki Difference to give me my game of the decade 😀

Kevin Hassal, Director, Beriah
How about the government finally confirming that it doesn’t care about the UK games industry?

After years of games being "supported" – ignorantly and disinterestedly – by the regional screen agencies, with the sector denied support available to screen media in the UK or to games in other countries, the UK’s games devs got a big symbolic "go away" with the tax breaks issue. In itself, not a big deal – right now, the government is obviously not going to hand money out to many people – but symbolically a pretty big statement about our futures.

Mike Ball, Co-founder, Ninja Theory
For me, the highlight of the year was undoubtedly the release of Uncharted 2. For many years people (including us) have talked about the convergence of film and games and indeed there have been many attempts to force this convergence – usually with limited success!

Uncharted 2, however, has hit the nail right on the head with a great combination of story, gameplay and, most importantly, believable characters that you care about. What’s interesting though is that each of those three pillars truly supports the others to a degree that I don’t believe we’ve seen before. It’s a watershed moment.

For sure, there’s still plenty that can be improved on but it may be the product that Game Design students of the future look back on as the root of a wealth of awesome cinematic gameplay experiences.

Mike Laidlaw, Lead Designer, BioWare
My highlight for 2009? I’d be lying if I said anything other than seeing Dragon Age on shelves.

The thing is, it goes a little deeper than that: shipping the game is amazing. Seeing it do well in sales and critically is validating. But hearing players swap stories about how they dealt with the various situations in the game, and then argue about which path was “right?” That’s exactly what I was hoping for.

Simon Barratt, MD, Four Door Lemon
My highlight was specular! [bedum-tish !]

Seriously though, the iPhone has been brilliant for us and is a great opportunity for developers of all sizes!

Stephen Hands, Director, Digital Native Academy
As an independent developer, Unity and UDK being easily available does have to be one of the biggest highlights of the year.

By Unity allowing their software to become free to use it kick started other companies, such as Epic, to open the development doorways for small developers and indies to start delving into the interactive development world.

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