“Creator”: Keiji Inafune
Creation: Mega Man
Despite often being considered the “Father of Mega Man,” Inafune himself has said that he “only did half of the job in creating [him]” (though he has said the contrary much more often – see above picture). Inafune’s mentor, Akira Kitamura, had already developed the basic character concept before Inafune even joined the project. The designs and basic sprites for Mega Man, Dr. Light and Roll were also already done before Inafune signed on, and the creation for all but one of Mega Man 1‘s bosses were already said to be “in process” by the time of Inafune’s arrival. The other – Elec Man – is cited as being Inafune’s first completely original creation for the entire Mega Man universe. Inafune was also neither the director of Mega Man 1 nor any Mega Man games. While he did design Mega Man X himself, he left it to others to handle the look of the classic Mega Man’s transition to 16-bit, so he wasn’t even directly involved with MM’s evolution beyond the basic 8-bit sprite. Inafune may have been a major guiding hand for the MM series until his final days at Capcom, but a pretty significant amount of the work was already done on the framework of the character and the series before Inafune was even part of the Mega Man team. And unfortunately, as we’ve seen so far with the development troubles of the non-Capcom Mighty No. 9, Inafune definitely owed a lot to the rest of the various Mega Man teams for making those games what they were (and actually getting them out the door).
“Creator”: Yuji Naka
Creation: Sonic the Hedgehog
There is no denying Yuji Naka’s skills as a programmer – he was responsible for the technically impressive first-person dungeons in the original Phantasy Star – and those skills definitely played a big part in what made the Sonic series popular. But from the very beginning, Sonic the Hedgehog as both a game and a character were a largely collaborative effort between multiple people, teams, and even countries. It’s true that it was Naka’s impressive early tech demo of a fast-moving ball rolling through a tube and around curved scenery that laid the groundwork for what would become the gameplay of the Sonic series. But neither Sonic himself nor the bulk of his characters were created by Naka, nor was almost anything else about the actual aesthetics of the game. In fact, it was an internal design contest that ended up producing the prototypes for Sonic and Dr. Robotnik, both courtesy of Naoto Ohshima. Oshima also went on to design many more Sonic characters as well as serving as director on several Sonic games and NiGHTs Into Dreams… I would argue that if anyone is the “father” of Sonic the Hedgehog, it should be Ohshima.
Naka also wasn’t a level designer – arguably the most iconic thing about the Sonic series after the speed and the character himself – nor was he even the main planner behind any of the early Sonic games. I’m not saying that programmers should be overlooked or that they don’t deserve credit, and indeed Naka remained a legitimate programmer for a lot longer than most of his peers (Shigeru Miyamoto, for instance, had largely left actual programming behind basically after the first Super Mario Bros.), so he definitely deserves props for that. But he does not deserve credit for the “creation” of a character he didn’t actually design or even conceive of. Especially since, by most accounts, he was extremely combative and difficult to work with, so that’s even more reason to reign in credit where credit isn’t due.
“Creator”: Cliff Bleszinski
This might be a somewhat controversial choice, as a lot of people are probably well aware that CliffyB didn’t “create” the Unreal series. But when you do a Google search for “Creator of Unreal game,” his name and picture – and only his – show up front and center, above even the Wikipedia page for Unreal Engine. Ditto for “creator of Gears of War,” by the way. It’s not a big stretch to say that Bleszinski’s longtime role as the public face of Epic Games has led to the presumption that he was the main mastermind behind the studio and most of its biggest games. I get it, he had the looks and the personality to be among the first wave of the so-called rock star game devs of the 90’s, and he’s more charming and charismatic than, say, Tim Sweeney and better-suited for magazine covers and television interviews. Sweeney and the rest of Epic probably liked it that way.
The problem is the impression that it gives, which is that Bleszinski was “the guy” at Epic, conceiving of the games, building the games, programming the games, tweaking Unreal Engine, and so on. Not only was Bleszinski not even one of the founders of Epic, but by most accounts, much of the the original Unreal Engine was built almost entirely by Sweeney himself. The original Unreal game began as a concept by another Epic employee (James Schmalz), and the distinct art and overall look of the game – which is one of Unreal‘s iconic features – was courtesy of Sweeney and fellow artist Dave Carter.
I don’t mean to reduce Bleszinski’s role to being “just” one of the lead designers, since that is obviously a very important, key role, but even at that, he didn’t take over full lead designer duties until Unreal Tournament (and by then the total design team had also doubled). Unlike, Naka or Inafune, I’ve never seen Bleszinski out there actually claiming to be the “father of Unreal” or anything so egotistical, so I don’t necessarily fault him for anyone who falsely assumes that of him. It would just be nice to see Tim Sweeney, who truly is both the father of Unreal and, more importantly Unreal Engine – which powers basically every game made in the last 15 years – get more credit for that even if he doesn’t have Bleszinski’s dreamy good looks. Although he’s probably too busy swimming in money to care who knows who did or didn’t create what.