Develop has selected gifted programmers, entrepreneurial leaders and indie stars for this year’s round-up of the best and the brightest young game development talent
[This feature was published in the Dec 2013 / Jan 2014 edition of Develop magazine, which is available through your browser and on iPad]
Scouring both sides of the Atlantic and beyond, Develop has uncovered 30 talented stars of tomorrow.
From programming to testing, team leads to artists, here's 30 Under 30, in association with OPM Recruitment, our annual round-up of the ones to watch in game development.
Designer, Rockstar Leeds (26)
Ben Hinchliffe’s keen interest in games led him to become a pro gamer at the age of 12. He went on to study Computer Game Design at the University of Huddersfield and undertook a host of extra games-related activities. These include designing Yo-Ho-Kablammo to win Microsoft’s Dream Build Play competition and winning the best Team Designed Game from Rockstar Games. This led to a placement with Rockstar Leeds. Now aged 26, he has been at the studio for four years and has worked on LA Noire and GTA V.
Chief Executive Officer, Dlala Studios (28)
Aj Grand-Scrutton, 28, formerly worked as a developer for Bossa Studios on the BAFTA-winning Monstermind. Following this, he and co-worker Craig Thomas decided to quit their jobs, move into their parents’ garages and start a studio with just £3,000 between them. Within Dlala’s first seven months of being a studio, it had created a game in nine weeks, been featured on the cover of Develop and invited to move into Microsoft Soho as the first studio on its new accelerator programme. Since then, Dlala has been nominated for numerious awards.
Art Outsource Manager, nDreams (29)
Carla Rylance’s career in games began at Supersonic in 2005, where she designed and created assets for titles including Micro Machines V4. She joined nDreams in April 2012. Her colleagues describe her as organised, proactive and a fantastic team player. In her role, she maintains relationships with external partners and has worked on several content packs for its PS Home projects. nDreams says the 29-year-old has delivered results way above its expectations, and made a “noticeable difference to our profitability”.
Creative Director, Bohemia Interactive (27)
A 27-year-old British national now living in the Czech Republic, Jay Crowe works at Bohemia. When production on Arma 3 suffered from some major setbacks, including the detainment of two employees in Greece, Jay took over the role of creative director. In just a few months, he helped to turn around the project, redefine the vision, and guide Arma 3’s successful alpha and beta releases. His colleagues say he combines a great sense of humour with a hard-working attitude, inspiring the team day-by-day and contributing to each aspect of their developments.
Senior Technical Designer, Climax (28)
Claire Blackshaw, 28, joined Climax two years ago to work on R&D for Wonderbook. She has worked on a variety of projects within the studio and is currently a programmer and designer on its PS4 project. Blackshaw brings her programming and design experience to bare as senior technical designer. Her ability to jump from high-level concept design meetings to low-level programming is valued at the studio. Her colleagues add that her sunny outlook brings a touch of pizazz to the studio and the projects she works on.
Game Designer, Playground Games (25)
Grant Orban, 25, has been a rising star at Playground since he joined the team early in the development of Forza Horizon. As a Computer Science grad, Playground says Orban combines an excellent technical understanding and an analytical mind-set with a natural creative flair and a passion for games of all kinds. He has already been promoted during his time at Playground, and has established himself as a key member of the design group as the studio moves into next-gen development. Orban is certainly a talent to watch.
Software Engineer, Ruffian Games (26)
Described by his colleagues as “a rare breed”, 26-year-old Simon Kilroy is a skilled designer who knows how to converse with all manner of development staff. Kilroy studied at the University of Abertay. Since joining Ruffian Games in 2011, he has worked on the likes of Kinect Sports Rivals and Tribal Towers. Described as “stupidly talented, friendly and charming”, Kilroy has a knack for acting outside the job role “bubble” that can often make communication between dev staff tough.
Game Designer and Art Director, Cardboard Computer (29)
Tamas Kemenczy did art and design for Cardboard Computer on the game Kentucky Route Zero, and has won two awards this year for his visual art. The 29-year-old has been making waves in the industry by establishing a striking visual look to his games, which draw on his skills as a visual artist and designer. In between KRZ’s development, Kemenczy made Coureur de Bois, an intense action twitch game, which has been featured on the LA Game Space website.
Co-Founder and Chief Technical Officer, Guerilla Tea (29)
As a co-founder and CTO of an indie studio, Alex Zeitler has established himself as a confident team leader, who’s ready to tackle business meetings with the same zeal he meets technical hurdles. The 29-year-old’s extensive research and understanding of genetic data tipped the scales in Guerilla Tea’s favour when pitching to Cancer Research UK, which it has production genetic data processing algorithm for especially. He is a crucial member of this small team, and one whose abilities mark him out.
User Researcher, Player Research (27)
Approaching his two-year anniversary as a user researcher at Player Research, Sebastian Long, 27, has positively impacted more than 50 titles across all platforms. And his peers say he is a talented and professional researcher. Long evaluates behaviour and emotion via playtesting, user research and player interviews. Alongside the team at Player Research, Long has worked with PaperSeven on Made in Chelsea: The Game, and had a direct impact with usability insights.
Game Designer, Bossa Studios (26)
Twenty-six-year-old Luke Williams started off as a QA tester at Bossa in July 2012. In less than a year, he has worked tirelessly to become the studio’s in-house game designer. Partly mentored by Mike Bithell, Williams has gone to create Surgeon Simulator 2013, which has sold almost half a million copies. Credited as being instrumental in the game’s creation, his colleagues say he displays great design ability. Williams is now working on the studio’s latest upcoming game, Time to Live.
Senior Designer, Lionhead Studios (28)
Faultless tenacity is what has led Ted Timmins, 28, to work his way up to the position of senior designer at Lionhead Studios. At 18, he did work experience at the studio as a tester on the original Fable and demonstrated a refusal to let even small bugs slip by negotiating with programmers to see them eliminated. After a colourful series of events too long to list here, he caught the attention of Lionhead brass with a concept that became Fable Heroes. Recently, he led the team on Fable Anniversary. His colleagues have high praise for him, and surely we’re going to see more achievements from Timmins.
Gameplay Designer, Remedy Entertainment (28)
Kyle Rowley has worked at various games companies within the UK, including Lionhead, EA, Codemasters and Frontier. The 28-year-old started out as a tester, before switching to marketing. After a stint on Codies’ community team, he transitioned to design at Frontier, working on The Outsider and Kinect Disneyland Adventurers. Most recently, he has joined Finnish studio Remedy to work on Quantum Break, out of a desire to work on a big budget, narrative-driven video game. Previous colleagues described him as a flexible, talented and dedicated designer.
Managing Director, Ubisoft Owlient (29)
While still at university, self-taught developer Olivier Issaly and his friend Vincent Guth launched their first profitable online game from an internet café in 2005. Issaly understood the potential of F2P before the model really took off, which was why Ubisoft purchased the studio in 2011. Now the 29-year-old is hoping to replicate the success of Howrse, its biggest title, which is available in 25 different languages and with 44 million registered online users worldwide.
Audio Designer, Frontier Developments (25)
James Stant recently completed work on Xbox One launch title, Zoo Tycoon. Employed as an audio designer at Frontier Developments, he has audio contributions include work on Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts and Kinect Sports – credits that were both obtained before finishing his university studies. He has also worked on projects for Codemasters and Blitz Games Studios. Now a permanent employee at Frontier, the 25-year-old is striving to deliver outstanding audio for video games.
Co-Founder and Chair, Swallowtail Games (23)
Sophia George has achieved a remarkable amount in two years. At just 23, this Abertay graduate co-founded Swallowtail Games and led the design on its first title, Tick Tock Toys, which was awarded the 2012 BAFTA Ones to Watch Award. She has been named as one of MCV’s Top 100 Women in Games. And, this year, George also became the V&A’s first ever game designer in residence. Credited by peers as an approachable and gifted designer, George shows tremendous promise for one so young.
Graduate Software Engineer, Rare (24)
Twenty-four-year-old Karn Bianco has contributed to three console titles in less than two years, proving him to be an extremely talented engineer. Starting as an intern at Rare, he became a “bug-fixer extraordinaire” on Kinect Sports 2, confidently delving into unfamiliar code and implementing reliable solutions. His reputation as an efficient engineer saw him stepping up to assist fellow studio Lionhead on Fable: The Journey. Now back at Rare, Bianco’s co-workers say his future at the studio is very bright.
Daniel Da Rocha
Managing Director, Mudvark (24)
Starting Toxic Games straight out of university in 2010 with investment from the US-based Indie Fund, Daniel Da Rocha project led the student game QUBE. Released in 2012 on Steam, he was able to pay back the initial funding in just four days. Following this, Da Rocha, 24, set up Mudvark that year to focus on HTML5 games for mobile and the web. Mudvark released its debut game, Mortar Melon, at the end of 2012 and has racked up over 800,000 downloads on the Windows Store alone.
Head of Functionality and Compliance, Testronic Labs (28)
At 28, Erik Hittenhausen has achieved a lot in the field of QA. He has been responsible for overseeing the growth of Testronic’s functionality QA department from a headcount of ten to over 200 in just five years. Now the head of functionality and compliance QA, Hittenhausen’s expertise is being called on and he has been asked to share his knowledge at events such as the London Games Conference. His colleagues say he has fantastic technical skills and an ability to pass on complex testing ideas digestibly.
Producer, Splash Damage (28)
Ryan Wiltshire, 28, has contributed to over 50 titles in his six years in the industry. After stints at THQ and Bethesda on Brink and Fallout: New Vegas, Ryan joined Splash Damage’s WarChest team as an associate producer in 2012 to oversee its mobile game, RAD Soldiers. After the games’s glowing player reviews, Ryan was promoted to producer and is now managing the studio’s upcoming F2P shooter Extraction. His colleagues describe him as a committed and diligent production pro.
Character Rigger, Creative Assembly (26)
With her rare combination of technical and artistic ability, Jodie Azhar, 26, has left a lasting impact on all of the studios she’s worked at. Her co-workers say that her focus on continual improvement in herself and others makes her a great employee and a perfect role model. She has handled technical animation for console and mobile titles at Rebellion and Kuju, working on scripting, content and creation tools. Now a character rigger at Creative Assembly, Azhar is helping to raise the bar for animation.
Technical Director, Beartrap Games (27)
Since starting his career in Dundee’s games sector in 2008, 27-year-old Gordon has worked at Cohort Studios and 4J Studios as a programmer on an impressive portfolio of PS3, PSP and XBLA titles. In October 2012, he set out with three other Cohort veterans to form Beartrap Games, taking on the role of technical director. Playing a key role in Beartrap Games’ early growth, Gordon has stepped away from his computer and has been a pivotal support in new business pitches and meetings.
Independent Developer (27)
Award-winning developer Alan Zucconi, 27, started his career in games by creating services such as Doriana82 and Xattenger. Together, they reached over one million users, granting his team an Italian award for web development as Talents Under 24. During his PhD he contributed to the creation of Blink, an eye-controlled video game that uses ultra-low-cost eye-tracking technology developed for disabled people. More recently, he has been awarded as the Best Graduated Teaching Assistant at Imperial College London. Zucconi is currently working on the upcoming console title Still Time.
Co-Founder, The Tall Trees (19)
Well liked in the indie community and always ready to share advice on Twitter, 19-year-old Dan Pearce is going places. Co-founder of The Tall Trees, he co-designed its recently released debut title, Castles in the Sky. The game has been praised by Jenova Chen and, maker of Gone Home, Steve Gaynor. For the past year-and-a-half, he has been working independently on 10 Second Ninja, a blisteringly fast platformer, expected to release in 2014.
Computer Games Art Student, Teesside University (22)
Currently studying Computer Games Art at Teesside University, 22-year-old Ellen Dudley recently earned herself a contracting position as a junior artist at Microsoft’s Soho Productions in London. She already has credits as a technical artist on Kinect Sesame Street TV and various projects from a yearlong internship. Her co-workers at Soho Productions say she is going to be an incredible artist, and has been “an integral part of the creative team”.
Gameplay Programmer, Ubisoft Reflections (22)
Céline Cogny’s first opportunity to work at a major games studio was as an intern programmer at Ubisoft Paris, working on Just Dance 4. Her focus was UI and gameplay programming. JD4 was an international production, and the 22-year-old’s near-perfect English made her a key connection between Paris and Reflections in Newcastle. Her colleagues say that Céline will solve any technical problem she is faced with.
Founder, Oculus VR (21)
Palmer Luckey is inventor of the Oculus Rift, a new virtual reality headset designed specifically for immersive gaming. At just 21, he has created a device that makes VR appealing again, and has sparked an industry-wide shift as devs and tech companies explore the opportunities this tech presents. Luckey’s vision has attracted technical experts from Autodesk, Valve, SCE and more. He is without doubt a name to follow.
Lecturer, Abertay University (28)
vWith degrees in arts and science,
28-year-old Ryan Locke has a breadth of both technical and conceptual knowledge that he uses to great effect as a lecturer at Abertay University. Graduates taught by Locke have gone on to earn positions at some of the top games companies around the UK, Europe and North America, which is testament to his supervisory skills. He’s on course to be one the UK’s leading games academics in years to come.
Junior Engine Programmer, Rockstar North (22)
Timea Tabori, 22, graduated with an honours degree in Computer Games Technology from Abertay University. Originally from Hungary, Tabori has participated in multiple game jams as a student and volunteered to help IGDA Scotland. Previously, she worked as a software engineer intern at Codeplay and now, in her first graduate position as a junior engine programmer at Rockstar North, Tabori is aiming for the top.
Community Manager, One Thumb Mobile (24)
Alex Wozniak, 24, is community manager for One Thumb Mobile, the Scottish developer of mobile MMO Celtic Heroes. As well as acting as the liaison between the game’s growing player base and the rest of the team, Wozniak is also responsible for handling its social media channels and marketing-related tasks. He has ensured that feedback reaches the team and any and all queries are met in a timely and friendly manner.
Sadly, there is a limited number of spaces in our 30 Under 30 – 30, in fact – so we’re unable to showcase every rising star that was nominated. Here are the ones that didn’t get a spot in the final list:
Craig Thomas, Dlala Studios; Matt Zanetti, Guerrilla Tea; Mark Hastings, Guerrilla Tea; Charle Czerkawski, Guerilla Tea; Eric Seufert, Wooga; Robbie Cargill, Bright Static Media; Stephen Simmons, Microsoft Soho; Christos Reid, Independent; Brendan Sutton, Lopoly Games; Kieran Murray, Lopoly Games; Kevin Williams, Ubisoft Reflections; Josh Heyde, Ubisoft Reflections; Samuele Panzeri, Ubisoft Reflections; Heather Murray, Plumbee; Lisa Tao, Plumbee; Lindsay Kirk, IGDA; Andrew Macdonald, IGDA; Antoine Pastor, Somethin’ Else; Simon Iwaniszak, Red Kite Games; Bob Makin, Sock Monkey Studios; Darren Cuthbert, Sock Monkey Studios; Chris Long, Jagex; Sam Read, Hypersloth; Ben Royce, Datascope; Simon Roth, Independent; Lukas Roper, Opposable Games; Arran Langmead, Ludophobia; Adrian Gordon, Ludophobia; Jamie O’Flanagan, Redverton; Josh Bishop, Subterranean Games; David Hamilton, Ninja Kiwi; John van Rij, Beard Bandit; Henry Hoffman, Mudvark; Chris Garson, Outplay; Richard Pring, Wales Interactive; Jonathan Young, PaperSeven; Bruce Slater, Radical Forge; Pete Murdoch, Reality Council.
You can see past 30 Under 30 round-ups here.