Last week, I threw out the hypothetical situation that you had all the money and clout in the world with which to poach any one person in the game industry to help you build your (real or imagined) video game. Other than one person who said he’d use all that money and clout to hire some porn stars for his staff–though I don’t know why you wouldn’t aim higher than porn stars if you really had infinite money and power with which to spend on extra curricular inspiration for your team–most of you seemed to really put a lot of thought into the exercise. There were a lot of really interesting write-ins as well, although most people opted to pick from the list of suggestions I came up with. There were five pretty clear-cut winners, with everyone else fighting for the scraps, so that’s all I’m really going to talk about other than also drawing attention to the creative–and non-sex worker–write-ins.
#5 – Shigeru Miyamoto (Mario, Zelda, Pikmin)
I’m a little surprised that Nintendo’s golden boy didn’t finish higher, but I think that over the years people have been realizing there are some other almost equally-important people over at Nintendo who have sculpted and guided the company’s biggest franchises as much as Miyamoto has. He has been in a mostly supervisory/creative overseer-type of role for much of the past 25 years. Still, that shouldn’t suggest that he hasn’t played an extremely important role in much of the company’s output since he moved to “management,” and although he often relies on Nintendo’s talented programmers to actually implement his ambitious ideas, he’s still very often the one having them in the first place. There is no doubt that he’d be a great fit for a team who has the raw skills but maybe needs someone to steer the ship creatively and push the team to step outside their comfort zone and do really amazing things.
#4 – John Carmack (Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake)
Now, on the complete flip side of why you’d seek out a Shigeru Miyamoto, if you want just a pure programming and technical genius, you’re going to be hard pressed to find a better person for your team than John Carmack. He’s often called the best programmer in video game history, or certainly one of the most groundbreaking. And by most accounts, he is an absolute workhouse–while partner John Romero was enjoying the spoils of being one of the wave of “rockstar developers” that came to prominence in the 90’s, Carmack was satisfied being hunkered down in front of his computer just programming. He loves to innovate, and he loves to problem-solve. And perhaps best of all, he is perfectly content using all of that programming prowess to create all-out fun action games (and isn’t too good to make them bloody and violent), and doesn’t seem to care all that much if the people playing his games fully appreciate just how hard they were to develop–he just wants them to enjoy themselves. All of those things are definitely lost on a lot of smaller developers these days who are too busy trying to be the next Jonathon Blow rather than just making something that’s pure and fun.
#3 – Tetsuya Nomura (Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy)
Nomura gets a lot of flak from the older Final Fantasy fans, the ones who preferred the series when it was more grounded in knights, dragons, and magic rather than sci-fi, robots, and firearms. Because that change happened beginning with Final Fantasy VII–the first game where he was the main character designer–Nomura is often blamed for that new direction. That aside, Cloud and Sephiroth remain two of the most popular and identifiable characters in not only FF history but video game history as a whole, so it would be short-sided to discount Nomura’s ability to create memorable characters. Nomura not only remained on board as a character designer for every subsequent FF game except for FFIX, his role in the games–and in Squaresoft as a whole–increased substantially, and he also began to aid in story writing. His first project that was fully “his” was Kingdom Hearts, which has arguably taken FF‘s place as Square’s marquee role-playing franchise. Nomura’s visual style not only informs most of Square’s RPG output but of modern fantasy games in general, especially any game that leans more sci-fi than high fantasy. Having a guy like that on your team would certainly give you a great visual style, and would help you stand out from the arms race of just trying to make video game characters look closer and closer to “real people” instead of having a unique look and personality.
#2 – Todd Howard (Fallout, The Elder Scrolls)
It’s obvious that people give a lot of credit to “creative heads” as that is where the bulk of the votes in the poll went. And Howard’s track record speaks for itself: his last four consecutive games have all been “game of the year” contenders, which isn’t something very many other game directors can claim (at least not ones who don’t spend 5+ years making every single game). It can’t possibly be an easy job being the director and executive producer of massive games like Skyrim, so anyone who is able to do that can probably head up the development of just about any type of game. Yes, his games tend to struggle a bit with bugs and glitches when they first launch, but they’re almost always fixed and in a fairly timely manner–further proof of his dedication to his craft. And it also needs to be pointed out that he is the actual director of those games, not just the producer, meaning he’s much more directly involved in the day-to-day creation of all aspects of the game rather than just being an overseeing figure who only stops by and chimes in from time to time. There’s a reason why so many people direct just one or two huge games and move onto smaller projects or non-directorial roles, or why so many big AAA franchises have a different director each time. It’s a massive undertaking to helm a big game, and Howard has helmed four of the absolutely biggest games of the last decade. You just don’t see that very often in gaming, making it easy to see why so many people want him on their team.
#1 – Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear, Zone of the Enders, Snatcher)
Speaking of a rare thing in video games, there are an even smaller number of prolific “writer/directors” in video game history. In fact, I bet if you tried to think of all of the ones you know of that have written and directed multiple games, you wouldn’t even need a second hand to count them. That Hideo Kojima spent over 20 years writing and directing massive AAA blockbuster video games, and incredibly acclaimed ones at that, is impressive to say the least. Does his storytelling get wordy and self-indulgent at times? Yes. But he basically created the entire world of Metal Gear and its huge cast of characters from scratch and has personally seen it through from its humble 2D beginnings to its giant 3D open-world conclusion, with a story that spans 40 years and multiple generations. To have a series stick with a mostly consistent narrative for that long without being “rebooted” or having a dearth of spin-off games is basically unheard of in video games, which speaks to the love and dedication that Kojima has to a world once he creates it. To be able to just be a part of whatever his next project is would be amazing–to be able to actually do that with him or have him help realize your world would certainly be a dream come true for millions of gamers.
- Shigesato Itoi, creator/lead designer of the Earthbound/Mother series
- Yuji Naka, co-creator of Sonic the Hedgehog and NiGHTs; longtime head of Sonic Team
- Eugene Jarvis, creator of Defender, Robotron: 2084, NARC, and Smash TV
- Jenova Chen, designer of Journey, Flower, and flOw;co-founder of thatgamecompany
- Yasunori Mitsuda, composer/sound designer for Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, Shadow Hearts, Super Smash Bros., and many more
- Jason Jones, design lead for Marathon, Halo, and Destiny; co-founder of Bungie
- Neil Druckmann, writer/director of The Last of Us;writer/designer of Uncharted series
- David Doak, designer of Goldeneye 007, Perfect Dark, and TimeSplitters; co-founder of Free Radical Design
- Tarn Adams, co-creator of Dwarf Fortress; co-founder of Bay 12 Games
- Sean Murray, director of No Man’s Sky; co-founder of Hello Games