The infectious yuletide spirit and a smattering of studio Christmas parties are likely explanations for this week’s love-fuelled Develop Jury Service, as developers raised their glasses to the best moments of 2009.
On Monday we asked a number of developers for their personal highlight of 2009, and the response we received back was nothing but inebriated affection for standout games, hardware, and big reveals of the year.
And it was Project Natal that stirred the biggest debate, while Uncharted 2 received glowing praise from – quite refreshingly – a studio that is competing in Naughty Dog’s space.
But we’ll start with Denki’s development superhero Gary Penn. Not just because he’s scored a hat-trick of three Jury Services in a row, but because the experienced game designer offered boundless praise for a painfully overlooked iPhone game.
“One word. Orbital,” he said.
“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.”
He added: “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.”
But it was Naughty Dog’s latest title, Uncharted 2, that perhaps received higher praise than any other in this week’s Jury Service. Ninja Theory co-founder Mike Ball, for example, described the game as a “watershed moment”.
Said Ball: “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.”
Ball’s praise was echoed by Traveller’s Tales director Jon Burton, who said he “loved how Naughty Dog handled big, dramatic, ‘movie-like’ moments in Uncharted 2.”
But the focus of Burton’s response was on both Project Natal and Sony’s Motion Controller, where he – going against the Jury’s majority view – revealed reservations for the upcoming peripheral.
“I know Microsoft have spent billions, including their R&D department expenditure, developing the tech behind the Natal, and it is exceedingly clever,” he said.
“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.”
Burton gave strong praise for the software driving Natal, but seemed to show more faith in Sony’s solution.
“It will be cheap, accurate and will put buttons at your fingertips, meaning everything from action adventures to FPSes can be handled with the same input.“
Burton’s view went against that of Blitz Games’ CTO Andrew Oliver, Zoe Mode General Manager Ed Daly and – of course – Microsoft’s European development account manager Ben Board.
“I love the idea that you can rebrand a console and completely change the demographic simply through the addition of a peripheral,” said Oliver.
Ed Daly described Microsoft’s reveal of Natal, made at E3, as “a superb piece of audacious theatre”.
Ben Board, meanwhile, offered a view from the inside: “Finally 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.”
Meanwhile, Scottish BAFTA-winning Andrew Smith of Proper Games said that Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham Asylum was “the most exciting and interesting development” of the year, while LearnPlay Foundation’s Stephen Hands praised the free availability of the Unity engine.
Develop would like to again thank this week’s panel who participated. If you'd like to take part in future Develop Jury Service features email firstname.lastname@example.org