Whether you love or hate them, video games have become a billion dollar industry and have made their way into just about every home with characters as recognizable as Mickey Mouse. Everything from Italian plumbers to mythical beasts has been featured in games and has given players the opportunity to escape into an interactive world where the quest involves everything from rescuing a princess to saving the entire universe.
But how did we go from a simple ball and paddle game to the all-encompassing networks of today? It was with the help of the 15 greatest video game designers of all time. While every gamer has his or her favorite, there is no arguing that their particular favorite could not have come about without the contributions of the below.
- Toru Iwatani He was to video games what Edison was to the light bulb. The creator of one of the best known and still-loved video games drew his idea for the game on a simple sketchpad before creating what would be known as Pac-Man. He recently shared his sketches and shared that in the 1970’s they were designated “top secret.” The resulting game would be the most successful arcade franchise of all time.
- Nolan Bushnell He is the inventor of Pong, founder of Atari, and is often considered the father of electronic gaming. While attending the University of Utah, he developed a game called Computer Space which was similar to Asteroids. Being too complex for the computers of the day, he downgraded to a game of electronic table tennis and history was made in 1971. He would later go on to found Atari with friend Ted Dabney and $500. Four years later, he sold the company for $28 million.
- Fusajiro Yamamuchi Although not a video game designer, he definitely gets credit for founding the video game staple Nintendo way back in 1889. It was first established as a playing card company, which are still offers to this day. However, these cards are mostly based on the beloved video game characters associated with the game, beginning with Donkey Kong. Check out the Gemini Geek to read more about the history of Nintendo. Which leads us to:
- Shigeru Miyamoto As a child, he didn’t have many toys, so he made his own and was inspired by a boyhood visit to a local cave. As one of the greatest video game designers of all time, he created both the Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda franchises. He also gets credit for Pikmin, Yoshi, Nintendogs, and others. In this article for “The New Yorker,” he recalls how developing games has been an attempt to recapture the wonderment of his childhood days.
- Blizzard With many developers, they are the ones that created the World of Warcraft and effectively set off the massively multiplayer online role-playing game market. It was originally introduced in 1994 as Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. Ten years later, it was relaunched and now boasts over twelve million subscribers who regularly venture into the world of Azeroth. It also has many spin-offs, competitors, and even spawned a popular episode of South Park.
- Will Wright Like the above, Will Wright brought video games to a new and previously unthought of level with his franchise Sim City. Players all over the world were encouraged to enter a more realistic virtual world to make predictions, take risks, and sometimes fail miserably. Building upon his success as a video game designer, Wright is now head of his own think tank for toys and discusses more on TED.
- Alexey Pajitnov He proves that video games don’t have to be super-complex to be engaging. He is the video game designer behind one of the best known puzzle games: Tetris. It was inspired by a game called Pentomino, which consists of several differently shaped blocks that can only be fitted together on a board in one particular way. With over eight million copies sold on just the Nintendo platform, he sits down for an interview on Gamespot here.
- Ken Kutaragi Up until his video game design, Nintendo practically had a monopoly on home game consoles. An electrical engineer for Sony, he led the charge when Nintendo backed out of a video game deal in 1990. He lead an in-house project which would go on to create the now Playstation, debuting in 1994. By the end of the decade, it was generating 40 percent of Sony’s operating profit.
- Yu Suzuki For all the fans of Sega, you have him to thank for it. He was instrumental in getting the home game console out there for lovers of Sonic and other games to enjoy. However, he is probably best known and loved for designing the Virtua Fighter and Virtua Cop games.
- Dave Jones He gets credit for also turning the video game franchise upside down. Whereas some games have a cartoon circle running across the screen, he was famous for the now infamous Grand Theft Auto games. These video games can have players do everything from selling drugs to soliciting prostitutes and worse. In this interview with Gamasutra, he speaks openly on what led him to create GTA, as well as other more suitable for children games.
- Hironobu Sakaguchi He co-founded the video game company Square with Masafumi Miyamoto in 1983. They were unsuccessful in many video game creations and were running out of funds. With only enough left for one game, it was called Final Fantasy. The game was released for Nintendo in 1987 and became an instant hit. The addictive game has many sequels, spin-offs, and is still considered a franchise name.
- Shinji Mikami Proving that horror wasn’t just for the big screen, he helped design the horror game that had gamers afraid to touch there consoles. Although he started out designing Disney themed games, he later designed one that had players attempting to escape a mansion flooded with zombies. The game would end up being called Resident Evil, and the franchise of games and films it launched is still active today.
- Seamus Blackley It doesn’t seem like a former Hollywood agent would be on this list, but for co-creating the X-box, Blackley has earned his spot. He helped create it as part of a project for Microsoft back in 2000. He also shares credit for developing BioShock and Flower. Blackley is now working on heading up his own game production company.
- Hideo Kojima The video game designer behind Metal Gear inspired many others to create games based on stealth and puzzle solving during game play. Over 20 years after he designed the game, Kojima is still going strong and even advising Final Fantasy creators on future games.
- Ed Boon And John Tobias This creative team is the force behind the popular fighting game Mortal Kombat for Acclaim. Up until them, fighting games had characters shooting fireballs at each other. However, for its realistic animations, having characters speak, and not a small amount of violence, this game made headlines with both gamers and parents of gamers. This site has more on the team’s accomplishments in the video game world.
Although many people are left off the 15 greatest video game designers of all time, the above were instrumental in making gaming the fun, engaging, sometimes terrifying, sometimes gratifying, escape from the norm that we all need every now and then.