[Here's this year's Front Line Award nominees, the major awards for game tools - thanks to my colleagues Brandon Sheffield and especially Jeff Fleming at Game Developer magazine for masterminding this, which is a really worthy effort to honor the things that let people make games.]

The editors of Think Services' Game Developer magazine, a sister publication to Gamasutra, have named the finalists for the 2008 Front Line Awards, the magazine’s tenth annual evaluation of the year’s best game-making tools in the categories of programming, art, audio, game engine, middleware, and books.

Game Developer’s mission for more than ten years has been to provide game developers with information, news, and articles that pertain directly to them. The Front Line Awards are an official way of recognizing one specific aspect of the industry: the tools that developers need to do their jobs.

Each year, Game Developer looks at the powerful lineup of new products and new releases of favorite tools, from game engines to books, and selects the top five in six different categories. Front Line Award finalists represent the most innovative, user-friendly, and useful products from behind the scenes of the world’s best video games.

The finalists for the 2008 Game Developer Front Line Awards by category are as follows:

Art Tools

Photoshop CS3, Adobe
Softimage|XSI 7, Softimage
Autodesk 3ds Max 2009, Autodesk
Modo 302, Luxology
Autodesk Maya 2008, Autodesk

Audio Tools

Vivox Precision Studio v.2, Vivox
Wwise 2008.3, Audiokinetic
Fmod Designer 4.17, Firelight Technologies
Miles Sound System 7.2c, Rad Game Tools
Voice-O-Matic 2.6, Di-O-Matic

Engines

Unity 2.1, Unity Technologies
CryEngine 2, Crytek
Gamebryo 2.5, Emergent Game Technologies
Torque Game Engine 1.5.2, GarageGames
Source Protocol 14, Build 3531, Valve

Middleware

Autodesk Kynapse 5, Autodesk
PathEngine 5.16, PathEngine
Havok Physics, Havok
Euphoria, NaturalMotion
GameSpy SDK, GameSpy

Programming/Production Tools

TestTrack Pro 2008.2, Seapine Software
Perforce 2008.1, Perforce Software
XNA Game Studio 2.0, Microsoft
Subversion 1.5, CollabNet
Visual Studio 2008 SP1, Microsoft

Books

Dungeons and Desktops: The History of Computer Role-playing Games, Matt Barton; AK Peters
Game Production Handbook, 2nd Edition, Heather Maxwell Chandler; Infinity Science Press
Real-Time Rendering, Third Edition, Tomas Akenine-Moller, Eric Haines, Naty Hoffman; AK Peters
The Art of Game Design: A Book Of Lenses, Jesse Schell;
Morgan Kaufmann
Game Programming Gems 7, edited by Scott Jacobs; Charles River Media

For this year’s Front Line Awards, both Game Developer magazine subscribers and Gamasutra.com community members were surveyed to nominate the best game development-related products.

Following consultation with the magazine’s editors, finalists were selected based on criteria such as utility, innovation, value, and ease of use, and professional developers are now voting to decide this year’s ultimate winners.

“This was a year in which tools became even more key to the game industry, with both high-end console game complexity and small-team indie innovation needing high quality products to help get things done swiftly and efficiently,” said Brandon Sheffield, editor-in-chief of Game Developer. “The editors of Game Developer extend our congratulations to all of this year’s Front Line Awards finalists!”

The final winners for the prestigious awards, plus one inductee to the Front Line Awards Hall of Fame chosen for its outstanding contribution to the game development industry for five years or more, will be announced in the January 2009 issue of Game Developer magazine, available to subscribers in early January. (The Front Line Awards Hall of Fame inductee is not eligible for consideration for regular awards in its winning year.)