I thought it would be a good time to post a top five that focuses on developers. Specifically, the best five developers/development houses of all time. I know there will be a lot of disagreement with this list, as many people have their own personal ideas of what makes a developer good, so don’t take it too hard! It’s meant to be mostly about my own personal opinion (and please, if you get a chance, post your top five developers in the comments section below):
I really don’t care for Half-Life as a series. I think I’m about the only person on the face of the planet that doesn’t, so you might think it’s surprising that Valve is on this list. But the truth is that Valve deserves a spot for making some pretty fantastic games and revolutionizing gaming in a lot of ways. Primarily for making amazing games like Portal, Portal 2, Left 4 Dead, Left 4 Dead 2, Team Fortress, Team Fortress 2, etc.
They also deserve a lot of credit for certain other things: see, I think Half-Life 2 is probably one of the most boring games of all time, but I can recognize the effort that went into it, especially with the physics engine that set a new standard for how video games should animate/how things should react in a game environment. I don’t care much for the original Half-Life either, but I blame that on me lacking a good enough PC to run it then and finding it too archaic today to be entertained by it. But to be fair, it did help push the FPS genre on the PC front and spawned the immensely popular Counter-Strike. That’s kind of what good developers do, even if some of their products are not too great at times.
Valve’s creation of the STEAM network is a fantastic idea too, providing for cheap alternatives for developers to distribute their products, and even allowing for the distribution of games in episodic content (like Tales of Monkey Island). It also offers a lot of community features that you have to pay for on XBL. It’s kind of wonderful to download L4D2 and not have to worry about paying some sort of fee online for things that pretty much should be free. Xbox LIVE is the best console online network, but STEAM is the best online gaming network overall, for both, developers and gamers.
That is why Valve makes the list: fantastic at nearly everything they do.
Company Highlights: Portal and the creation of STEAM.
Company Lowlights: Half-Life 2 (*waits for the death threats*).
A lot of people would probably put this one in first place, and I can see why. For me, however, it’s a little less intriguing than the next developers. Regardless, Nintendo is a brilliant developer who delivers consistently polished games with refined gameplay. Some might argue that they play it safe far too often, and I would agree, but at the same time I can’t fault them for it. The Legend of Zelda is pretty much flawless in its current form; why ruin something so good just for the sake of being innovative? Metroid, Zelda, Mario, Pikmin, Smash Bros., etc. Nintendo has an immense amount of I.P.s that the development teams have harnessed into near perfection.
It goes without saying that of all developers in existence, only Nintendo and SEGA can claim to have been the most influential (Nintendo more so). The Big N has been making games for a long time, and has changed the face of gaming since it entered the industry. Nintendo is the reason the gaming industry survived the crash in the 80′s and they pretty much defined a ton of important features that are used in gaming today (not the least being the analog stick and 3D character movement for consoles). But where Nintendo really, really shines is when they actually take risks. They don’t take enough of them, but when they do, it’s kind of magical. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is a perfect example, as is The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.
Another thing Nintendo excels at is the handheld market, and the answers as to why are pretty obvious: their handhelds are just almost always superior to the competition in the way they are designed. The Nintendo DS is pretty awesome and the 3DS is also ahead of the curve.
Nintendo has outlasted every other company in gaming and the reason is easy to see: they know how to make quality games and they know how to deliver on promises. Nintendo is spectacular.
Company Highlights: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (okay, there’s about a billion for Nintendo, so I had to pick just one).
Company Lowlights: The Nintendo Wii. It was a pretty atrocious console for a long time, only recently becoming worth a purchase.
No modern developer is doing for gaming what Bioware is doing. Bioware doesn’t just make games, they create art. Everything they do is beautifully made, with expansive attention to detail, incredible writing, fantastic characters and character development, innovative ways of interacting with the game world, etc. Their games are not always as perfectly polished as they should be, but it’s easy to forgive when you consider how engaging Bioware’s RPGs are. Mass Effect, for example, is a landmark in video game design, with it’s very personal story and fascinating interface that allows the player to interact with the game world.
But it’s more than just that. One of the primary rules of good literature (and good art) is that it teaches you something, that it takes a stance on issues that are considered difficult to discuss. This is expected in literature, but not in video games. Yet, Bioware often takes that rule to heart and you can see their efforts blossom beautifully because of it. Their games tackle complex subjects like terrorism, enslavement, homosexuality, racism, equality, acceptance of different cultures, etc. The best thing about Bioware games is that they make you think, they make you question and wonder. The terrorism exposition in Dragon Age II is the pinnacle of brilliance from Bioware’s already fantastic writers. It’s fascinating to see a video game, once considered a toy and meant for children, tackle difficult social issues that we, in our real world, sometimes have trouble comprehending or even mentioning.
Bioware’s games are art because they treat their games like art. They create some of the most deeply engaging and most incredible gaming experiences of all time. While other developers are focusing on delivering some sort of cinematic experience over anything of substance, Bioware delivers both, and does it pretty damned well. It’s amazing how much you can grow to love their meticulously thought out worlds and their incredibly tangible characters.
Bioware is by far the greatest developer of the past 10 years, and they only look to get better and better with the passing of time.
Three cheers for Bioware!
Company Highlights: Mass Effect and Dragon Age II.
Company Lowlights: Star Wars: The Old Republic. Wasn’t that the entire point of Mass Effect to not have to be trapped under the weight of the immensely bloated Star Wars license?
Seeing Rareware under Microsoft’s death grip is like driving down the street and seeing that beautiful girl you knew in high school prostituting herself on a corner; this developer has fallen on some seriously hard times and I blame no one but Microsoft (and maybe Nintendo just a little bit). But back when Rareware was at its height, they had a knack for taking some of the world’s best games and improving them tenfold. A great example is Banjo-Kazooie: Mario 64 was incredible, and yet Banjo-Kazooie took all of the ideas of Mario 64 and expanded them so much that Nintendo still can’t catch up after over a decade. No matter how polished and good Mario Galaxy and its sequel are, they’re still levels behind the original Banjo-Kazooie.
But see, this didn’t just come from Rare being a copycat; this came from Rareware’s incredible ambition. Rare was always like Nintendo’s more daring, more capable little brother. The ambition that drove Rareware was light years ahead of Nintendo’s own and this is why they took so many incredible risks (not the least being Conker’s Bad Fur Day). Rareware also changed the face of gaming with Goldeneye 007, and I would even argue that Rare is the only other developer outside of Nintendo and SEGA who can legitimately claim to have carried an entire console almost on its own. The Nintendo 64 felt like the Rareware 64 more often than not.
It’s a bit of shame that they lost it all along the way. Even with some of their newer games being downright fantastic, the ambition is cut short due to Microsoft. The number of games Microsoft cancelled for Rareware is kind of heartbreaking. It’s like Microsoft bought Rare for its many I.P.s and talent and then wanted nothing to do with either, like a stubborn kid that doesn’t want a toy anymore now that he has it in his possession. I will never, ever forgive Microsoft for killing Rare, and I will never forgive them for putting them to work exclusively on the sh!t idea that is Kinect (*Vomit*).
But either way, Rare deserves not only a mention, but one of the top two spots. The only reason it doesn’t take the crown is because the next developer was once so incredible, that neither Rare nor Nintendo could compete…
Company Highlights: Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise, Perfect Dark, and Banjo-Kazooie.
Company Lowlights: Perfect Dark Zero, Star Fox Adventures, and being sold to Microsoft.
Another one that has fallen on pretty hard times, especially after being bought out by Sammy. SEGA takes the top spot because their games were once the best in the market in every single genre imaginable and because their games were always innovative and daring. See, what makes SEGA so great is that they had the immense polish of Nintendo, but SEGA once too had immense ambition to push gaming forward and they had a variety that no other developer could match. JRPGs, 3D fighters, light gun games, action-adventure, pure action, platformers, rhythm games, rail shooters, MMORPGs (sort of), racing simulation, sports, etc. You name it, SEGA has done it.
Not only that, but SEGA set several standards throughout its history. For example, Virtua Fighter is still untouchable as the most balanced and well made fighting game series of all time. VF is pretty much the pinnacle of fighting game design in every way imaginable. Panzer Dragoon Saga is quite possibly the greatest JRPG ever made, and Panzer Dragoon as a whole is incomparable when it comes to rail shooters. The list goes on and on and it’s only in very few, rare cases that another developer actually manages to top SEGA’s previous work. But the standards go deeper than that: the SEGA Dreamcast set the standard for online gaming, it’s controller is obviously the inspiration for the controllers of the Xbox brand, and the VMU is the obvious inspiration for the newly revealed Wii U controller. SEGA pretty much created cel-shading in video games too. Those are all just off of the top of my head, mind you: the actual list of things SEGA has done for gaming is endless.
At their height, nobody could touch SEGA. To this day, no developer has managed to come close either. It’s kind of a shame that this developer has died a long, drawn out death at the hands of a hedgehog that should have been put to sleep ten years ago. At least they are now publishing decent games like Bayonetta and Valkyria Chronicles. But it’s a far cry from what SEGA once was; that is, the best developer of all time.
Company Hightlights: Again, about a billion, but I’ll just say the Dreamcast because it’s their best platform.
Company Lowlights: That blue hedgehog and his pack of assburgers-laden friends (except for Sonic Colors). And Sonic Team in general. Also, the disbanding of Smilebit.