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The Definitive Game Gods March 6, 2013

Posted by Maniac in Editorials, Game Gods.
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Anyone who visits the site regularly knows I throw around the term “God” as a nickname for a select group of certain game developers, and I’m sure a few of you wonder why I do that. I refer to some game developers as Gods because over ten years ago there was a article about several game developers published by PC Gamer Magazine called the “Game Gods.”  It was a list of some of the best PC game directors who were considered the best in the field at the time, and many of them are still fondly remembered.  If you’re interested in more about the history of the Game Gods, I have a longer article about it which you can read here.

There was one major oversight of the original list and ten years later it has become even more visible. They were only choosing developers who made games for the PC.  While many of these developers have now developed games on consoles, it was a glaring omission that left out some of the best game creators across the world who at that point had only developed their games on console platforms.  I plan to correct that.  Over ten years later, I believe the time has come to write an entirely new list of today’s Game Gods, updated for not only PC developers but game developers of every discipline.

I’m going to be covering well over thirty years of game development history here, and trust me there were a lot of developers that have been taken into consideration.  My criteria was to list individuals based upon their impact on the gaming industry or on game culture.  The bigger the impact they made, the more likely they were to be on this list.  These are not in any particular order of importance, but I’m going to keep them listed in as chronological an order of their impact as I can.  So, let’s get started.

Ralph Baher – This man is quite literally the father of gaming.  He was a TV engineer who determined that he could construct a device that would manipulate a television’s signal to produce images that could be controlled by a user.   With his prototype, he had practically created the first home video game console.  Prior to this, if you wanted to play a video games, you had to create it from scratch with knowledgeable programmers for very specific systems.  With Ralph Baher’s Brown Box, you could play games on your home television.  The effects were really rudimentary but they were the building blocks for pretty much everything we have today, even early light guns.

Nolan Bushnell – Some early work credits him as the father of gaming but really he was only the father of Atari (and Chuck E. Cheese).  Don’t get me wrong, that’s still a very impressive credit.  He took the original groundwork set by Ralph Baher and was able to successfully commercialize it in a way that nobody could have imagined.  His PONG arcade console was one of the most ground breaking games of its time, and its financial success proved that video games were a viable commercial enterprise.  His company was instrumental in creating both the arcade boom of the 1980s and one of the most popular home consoles of its time as well, the Atari 2800.

Gunpai Yokoi – This was one of the most revolutionary minds at Nintendo when it came to new technology.  When it came to portable gaming, he was the father of it all.  Yokoi created the Nintendo Game and Watch, and later the Nintendo Game Boy, one of the most successful portable gaming consoles of all time.  After that, portable gaming attracted many imitators to try to get into Nintendo’s market, but it was very difficult for them to compete with Yokoi’s device.  Even though he had ushered in new eras of portable gaming devices which were unmatched in their day, he will probably most be remembered for creating Metroid, one of Nintendo’s staple franchises.  Rest in peace, good sir.

Shigeru Miyamoto – Does this man really need an introduction here?  Here we have one of the most creative minds in Nintendo’s history, who is still delivering hit games year after year.  One of his first games, Donkey Kong, still lives on as one of the most competitive arcade games in the world and cemented Nintendo’s reputation as a powerhouse video game company.  Oh and he is the father of Mario and Zelda, which were the games that got people to buy Nintendo’s home console, the NES (or Famicom in Japan), and brought the video game market back from the crash of 1983.  Now, he’s been the guiding light at Nintendo for well over twenty years, overseeing and producing new games and game franchises.

Hironobu Sakaguchi – He is the father of Final Fantasy, a game remembered by many as the one that wrote the book on the Japanese Role-Playing Game.  He believed it was going to be the last game he would ever work on, instead it became one of the strongest franchises worldwide, and as technology improved, laid the groundwork for what could be done on a CD-ROM.  By the time we had the release of Final Fantasy VII, we saw that games could invoke deeper emotions in players we believed only other mediums could achieve.  After he left Square, he continued work on RPGs like Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey on the Xbox 360.

Yuji Naka – He was the creator of Sonic The Hedgehog, the character that put Sega on the map and gave the Genesis console the edge it needed early on to complete with the biggest gaming conglomerate at the time, Nintendo.  Here was something with attitude which appealed perfectly with the teenage gamers of the 90s.  His team delivered the right title at the right time which took gameplay that players had already seen and brought them into the 16-bit generation for all to see.  It had more colors, moved smoother, was more vibrant and gave the right level of challenge.

John Carmack – This was the guy who forever revolutionized what could be done graphically on a PC and overnight turned the early Personal Computer into Nintendo’s chief graphical rival with Commander Keen.  By using the PC’s power in newer and creative ways, he’s designed the technology that has made some of the most revolutionary games of the PC, like Wolfenstien, Doom and Quake.  Now with RAGE he is revolutionizing both what a PC and consoles can do, and this will lay out the technical groundwork for some new games from their classic properties.

Tim Sweeny – Creator of the Unreal Engines, some of the most financially successful gaming engines in history.  While it not only broke severe graphical bounds when it was first demoed, Unreal Engine 3.0 alone made this generation of multiplatform game development easier, allowing gamers on the PS3, Xbox 360 or PC to play a much wider range of games than they normally would have and lessened the amount of platform exclusive games this past generation.  Now, Unreal Engine 4.0 looks to do exactly that with the future generation of consoles like the Playstation 4 and the next generation of PCs.

Sid Myer –  How do you know you have a Sid Myer game?  His name is on the front of the box.  This was the guy responsible for some of the strongest Real Time Strategy games, including Civilization and Alpha Centauri.   As the Unknown Cameraperson would say, the man’s games are prolific and there isn’t anything out there that does it as well.  Civilization is one of the strongest Real Time Strategy game franchises available, which still continues to produce successful sequels, and many people are still playing the earlier games online, discovering new strategies and testing themselves in new ways.

Wil Wright – The self-proclaimed “nerdiest nerd in all the computerverse” this guy was responsible for games like Sim City and The Sims, both of which were some of the most successful world and life simulators in history.  You could build your own city from scratch exactly as you wanted it, but who knows if the people will be interested in what you’ve created.  His franchises continue to endure even to this day, and somehow he was able to capture the imagination of female gamers, something even he wasn’t expecting to do.

Ron Gilbert – This is pretty much the father of video game humor, but he was also responsible for some of the best early adventure games on the PC.  His first project, Maniac Mansion, laid the groundwork for all the adventure games that Lucasarts would be developing.  The revolutionary SCUMM toolset made for that game could be adapted to other projects, and kept Lucasarts on the cutting edge of adventure gaming for quite a while.  His next project?  The Cave with Double Fine.

Richard “Lord British” Garriot – Father of the Ultima series, which featured some of the best early role-playing games for the PC, and paved way for Ultima Online, one of the first successful massively multiplayer online role-playing games in history.  If men like Hironobu Sakaguchi could be considered one of the fathers of Eastern RPGs, Garriot could be considered the father of the West’s.  While the early Ultima games focused on being genuinely good and trying to make the world a better place, the later ones forced the player to make hard choices, by having to choose lesser evils in order to accomplish a greater good.

Ken and Roberta Williams – Lets face it, these two were the perfect team and they should be credited together.  Ken was a young programmer who literally wrote the books on what could be done graphically on the early PCs.  Roberta created game franchise after franchise and Ken produced them.  Together they created some of the first adventure games for the PC, which was getting more powerful every day.  Their dynamic worked perfectly.  To a lot of people, Roberta will probably be remembered for her favorite project,  Phantasmagoria.    While Sierra has long since faded we are still to this day talking about the games that their company was responsible for.  Enjoy your retirement, guys.

Tim Shaffer – This guy started off by taking the adventure game formula and putting his own personal spin on it in a way we had never seen before.  He worked on the Monkey Island games with Ron Gilbert, but he threw the entire adventure genre on top of its head with games like Full Throttle and Grim Fandango.  While they had a problem selling at the time, they still remain cult classics to this day among adventure and classic gamers.  Then he made Psychonauts, which proved that you could make a hilarious well polished 3D platforming game on a modern console, and became a modern cult classic.

Gabe Newell – The owner of Valve, and with it, Half-Life, Left 4 Dead and PortalHalf-Life became the first game I was aware of which took the First Person Shooter formula and revolutionized it by delivering a full story strictly from a first person view only by scripted events and not cutscenes.  They then showed they could polish this system to a complete shine in 2004 with Half-Life 2 and delivered one of the best PC games of all time which still holds up today.  His company also revolutionized online shopping as well as changed PC gaming forever with the release of Steam, which was the first digital distribution system of games that actually WORKED.  Steam is still alive, bringing new features gamers want.

Warren SpectorDeus Ex, Epic Mickey, need I say more?  This was a guy who tried his best to mix genres in a way to make games as immersive as possible.  His intention wasn’t to define a game as just a shooter or as an RPG, he took whatever he needed from any genre he could use to make the best game he possibly could.  You wouldn’t need to be locked to just one path to complete your objective, you would ALWAYS have several options available to you, and you could play to whichever strengths that suited you best.  Today, games are still trying to deliver that kind of experience.

Cliff “CliffyB” Blizinski – One of the best level designers for the original Unreal series, this guy got to really stretch his stuff by directing the Gears of War games, making it one of the strongest exclusive third-party properties on Microsoft’s platforms.  Gears of War brought a whole new level of presentation to the HD Console generation, and made game design decisions that became industry staples like regenerative health with a cover system.  Can someone please explain to me why we haven’t seen an assault rifle with a chainsaw at the end of it yet?

Hideo Kojima –  You could simply call him the father of Metal Gear, but more than that, this is the father of the modern stealth action game and quite possibly the father of cinematic gameplay.  Metal Gear Solid proved to me that I could be as emotionally invested in a game’s story as I could with any other medium and to this day I cannot bring myself to continue playing a game unless it invokes my emotions for the characters or story as the original Metal Gear Solid could.  His plan was to retire after Metal Gear Solid 4, but this is a man who simply cannot retire, even though he has tried on several occasions.  The next title he will direct will be Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes with Konami’s FOX Engine.

Satoshi Tajiri – This was the creator of the Pokémon series which revolutionized handheld games and what could be done with game properties.  If you have no idea what Pokémon is, you’ve literally been living under a rock for the last thirteen years as it is one of the most popular franchises in the history of gaming, with comic books, movies, a TV show, trading cards, toys, and oh yeah, some of the best video games ever released for handhelds.  He created an RPG and fit it perfectly into a handheld market, making full use of all the capabilities of the time.  You wouldn’t have just a dozen playable characters, you could have hundreds help you on your quest.  Overnight, students all over the world would be taking their Game Boys to school to trade and battle.  Now, with cell phones becoming major gaming platforms, gamers are using their cell phones to do many of the same things we were doing with Game Boys years earlier.

Sam Lake – The man who forever revolutionized video game writing by putting a game’s story at the forefront of the action, and immortalizing himself as the face of Max Payne in the process.  Sam Lake started off as a writer for the PC game Death Rally, which entailed putting a car’s description into a little text box on the screen.  Then with Max Payne, he was finally able to branch out and tell a mature story that gamers loved.  Since then, a game’s story has been as essential as the art or technology.  Recently he wrote the story for Alan Wake, which was one of my favorite games of this generation.

Hideki Kamiya – He was the director of Resident Evil 2, Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, and Okami.  Those games were some of the most unusual titles to be released by Capcom over the years.  Originally slated as the director of Resident Evil 4, during the development of that game, Kamiya set the stage for what was going to become the modern console action game and created the first Devil May Cry, which now has many imitators.  Since leaving Capcom, he directed Bayonetta, which took the ground work laid by Devil May Cry and polished it to a shine.  Now Bayonetta 2, which he is producing, looks to be a major console seller for the new Wii U.

Kenji Inafune – This is the golden boy of Capcom.  While he wasn’t the creator of Mega Man, he had worked on most of the Mega Man games early on in his career, which are considered some of the best platformers of their day, and people are still playing and talking about them.  He also served as a writer and producer on many of Capcom’s recent games over the past generation.  He wrote and produced the original Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, and produced Dead Rising 1 and Dead Rising 2, both of which revolutionized what could be done with a zombie game as the genre was getting stale.

Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk – The two Doctors who founded Bioware, the company that created some of the best Western Role Playing Games of the past decade.  You do not need to look further than their games to see the level of interactivity and polish that took Role Playing Games and pushed them beyond what we had seen before.  While they released more traditional role-playing games like Neverwinter Nights, Bioware also released one of the best cinematic RPGs of the last generation with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and took that formula and put it on its head this generation with the critically acclaimed Mass Effect series.  Enjoy your retirement boys.

What a list right?  There were a lot more that I wanted to include here, and I’m sure that many of you have your own opinions on others who should be making the list as well.  Feel free to post a comment on your picks and some time down the road, I’ll revisit this list as I feel this should be revised a lot more frequently than every ten years.

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