I think Warren Spector is the project leader I admire most. I admire Warren because he always is sure to stress how important the entire team's work on a game is to the game's outcome. In other words a great game is made by the sum total of everyone's work and not just by the individual efforts that go into a game.
I can't say that I'm familiar enough with the field to be a good judge here. Certainly I admire my fellow LGS employees. Other than that, I really don't know enough about any game industry people to name any.
I would have to say this person is Gary Silvers who is a District Manager for Electronics Boutique. I wouldn't be where I am today without him because he taught me everything I know about motivation and working as a team. Back in the day, Gary built probably the best team in EB history and our store was consistently one of the top stores in the company. Because of Gary I now have this work ethic where I will do anything for the team, including working 100 hour weeks and sleeping under my desk. Gary was definitely one of the greatest teachers that I have ever had, and I am where I am today because of him. He knew that my life was going no where and that I was way too talented to be spending my life as a sales associate for Electronics Boutique, so he pushed me out into the world. Gary became very frustrated with my lack of desire to move forward with my life and he began to believe that I was better on paper then in practice, so I left EB very unhappily last February because I was no longer wanted. To my surprise I was able to stand on my own feet and within a week after I quit retail gaming, I had the interview with LGS for Thief2 level designer. My teacherís rejection was what got me motivated to surpass him and prove him wrong. My proof that I am better in practice then on paper is now sitting on the shelves of his store.
Well, I'm the Looking Glass staff virologist, so I'd have to say Harold Varmus and Phil Sharp.
The field is so new, that there hasn't been a Beethoven or a Bach quite yet, much less a John Lennon. ; ) Okay, maybe Sid Meier. Hmm... Seriously, who I admire are all of the hard working artists, writers, designers and programmers who work so damn hard to get these games finished without much or any publicity at all!
Iíd have to say the team over at Relic. Homeworld is the only game in the last year that I played from beginning to end. It was such a long and difficult road to get to the last level but the final battle made it truly worth it. It was the first time that I played a non Looking Glass title that made me forget that I was playing a game.
While Iím really starting to hate the whole "game god" thing, you just canít deny that Sid Meier is a master computer game creator. I mean, look at the guyís resume! To consistently make that many great computer games is simply amazing. My Sid Meier favorites - Pirates! and Covert Action.
Jeff Vogel of Spiderweb Software (http://www.spidweb.com) is also pretty high on my list. If youíre a role-playing fan and you havenít played the Exile series, you really donít know what youíre missing. Heís proven that not only can shareware be a viable alternative to on-the-shelf games, it can kick their collective ass as well.
Another person I really admire is Derek Smart, considered by some to be the most abrasive person in the computer games industry. But youíve got to give the man credit - heís stuck by his game (Battlecruiser 3000 A.D.) through every adversity, and the current iterations are looking fantastic.
With a few minor exceptions, the industry is fueled by the efforts of cooperative teams, not high-profile celebrities. So there are probably brilliant developers Iíve never heard of at other companies. But obviously, I really respect everyone here, especially those from whom I learned game design: Dorian Hart, Doug Church, Tim Stellmach, Marc LeBlanc, Greg LoPiccolo, etc..
Iím also going to take this opportunity to plug Thomas Biskup, sole creator of ADOM (www.adom.de). That game is amazing. Itís a rogue-like game with ASCII graphics. Itís huge and deep. I play it more consistently than any other game. Go play it now (but be warned, it takes some time to get used to).
Shigeru Miyamoto for pure game design and innovation (Super Mario 64 and Zelda 64 in particular). The folks over at Rare (N64-Goldeneye, Banjo Kazooie, Donkey Kong) for putting out beautiful polished games. Konami's Metal Gear Solid team for consistency and excellence of vision. Carmack and crew at id for consistently pushing the technological envelope the art direction on Silent Hill (Konami-psx). The Valve level designers for making the first FPS that felt plausible and real (Half-Life). The id level designers for some beautiful looking curved and high poly levels coming up in Q3.
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