The video-game industry has grown to become a significant part of popular culture. Some of the fastest-selling media properties are now video games.
While most of us are familiar with the top titles and the studios that development them, the individuals who work tirelessly to bring us our favorite game titles and characters are less known.
Our list is of five influential game designers and programmers, without whom the gaming industry would not be on its way to being the world’s largest media entertainment industry. Let’s take a look at who made the list.
Shigeru Miyamoto is the undisputed king of the gaming industry. Born in Japan, he’s been described as “the father of modern video games,” and is considered one of the most influential game designers in the industry. Titles credited to Miyamoto include some of the most successful games of all time.
He began his career at age 25 in 1977, when he joined Nintendo. Straight off the bat, he was involved with the design of “Sheriff,” the company’s first foray into original arcade games. The title was a moderate success and more importantly resulted in Miyamoto being put in charge of developing a new game in an effort to save the company from bankruptcy.
From the start, Miyamoto took a different approach to video games, focusing on story arcs and strong characterization. The characters he developed during this time resulted in the iconic “Donkey Kong” and “Mario” game series. “Donkey Kong” was a significant departure from the games available at the time, adding more levels, control parameters, and a plot narrative. The game proved to be a huge success for Nintendo and Miyamoto went on to design two sequels.
After his work on the “Donkey Kong” series, Miyamoto began work on a new game which would go on to become the most successful game franchise in the world, featuring a character called Mario.
The new game was titled “Mario Bros.” and featured two brothers, Mario and Luigi, who overcome obstacles and battle Bowser, the villain, in an effort to rescue a princess.
Miyamoto’s style of gameplay and focus on delivering an entertaining gaming experience gave the game a universal appeal. Subsequently, he worked on the “Super Mario Bros.” series, which is still considered one of the most iconic and successful video-game series of all time. In addition to “Donkey Kong” and the gargantuan “Mario” franchise, Miyamoto’s contributions to the gaming industry include titles such as “The Legend of Zelda,” “Star Fox,” and the best-selling “Wii” series.
With “Legend of Zelda,” Miyamoto led the way in shaping the future of open-world adventure games and gained widespread critical acclaim for influencing future successes like the “Final Fantasy” series. “Super Mario 64” revealed the true potential of 3D-gaming and advanced control systems, using the N64 console’s analog controller. He would later go on to redefine the video-game controller once again, with the creation of Nintendo’s Wii console and its companion Wii games series.
In a career spanning over three decades, Miyamoto has received countless awards, in addition to being the first inductee to the Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Hall of Fame. He has also received a knighthood from France’s Minister of Culture for his unmatchable contributions over the years. With his career still going strong, one thing is for sure: we will be entertained by his creations for years to come.
Hideo Kojima is a video-game designer, developer, director, and producer. He has also been appointed vice president of Konami Digital Entertainment.
Kojima’s creative career began with an attempt at writing short stories. After failing at being published, and in the process picking up a few tricks from the movies he had been watching, he decided to try his hand at video-game design. Although he struggled at first, he kept at it for his love of storytelling, and eventually joined Konami’s (KNM) computer division.
Soon after joining Konami, Kojima was put in charge of a project titled “Metal Gear.” The new game proved to be the break he had been looking for, was a huge success, and ushered in the era of stealth games. Kojima made the choice of using minimal weaponry, influenced by films like “The Great Escape,” and his game challenged users to rely on stealth and strategy and avoid confrontation or direct combat.
The game’s storyline was critically acclaimed and upon its success, Kojima developed a series of sequels. The game went on to become one of the most successful game franchises ever, selling over 32 million copies.
Kojima received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Game Developers Conference in 2009, and with the “Metal Gear” franchise still going strong with “Metal Gear Solid V” in development, Kojima remains one of the most influential game designers in the industry.
The second person to be inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences’ Hall of Fame, Sid Meier is next on our list of the most influential video-game developers. Meier’s contributions to the strategy-game genre are unparalleled: he created one of the most acclaimed and revolutionary games of the genre – the Civilization series.
Meier was the co-founder of Firaxis Games, which was taken over by Take Two Interactive in 2005 for a reported $26.7 million.
In 1991, Meier revolutionized the strategy game genre with the creation of “Civilization,” a turn-based strategy game in which the player builds an empire with the aim of progressing from the ancient times to the modern era. The game differentiated itself from existing strategy games by offering a turn-based approach towards gameplay, as opposed to real-time gameplay.
The game received numerous awards for its complex design and gameplay, including the Origins Award for Best Military or Strategy Computer Game in 1991.
The game has since spawned a successful franchise and has been released on multiple platforms, shipping over 21 million units to date. Other successful titles credited to Meier’s genius are “F-15 Strike Eagle,” “Pirates,” and “F-19 Stealth Fighter.”
Sid Meier has won many awards over his lucrative career, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is also a member of the prestigious Computer Museum Hall of Fame. His contributions to the gaming industry continue with countless spin-offs and sequels evolving from the original “Civilization” games.
Markus Alexej Persson is a video-game designer and developer from Sweden. He is also the co-founder of Mojang, a game development company founded in 2010, following the immense success of the “Minecraft” demo, a game he designed. Soon after releasing the demo, Persson started rolling out regular updates and officially released the full version of the game in 2011.
“Minecraft” is a Sandbox genre independent game which takes place in a 3D world with retro pixelated graphics. The game’s design has been critically acclaimed and is thought to induce nostalgia and create high levels of recall. The game allows users to explore and open the world and construct both simple and complex structures using building blocks and other resources found within the game’s universe.
The game defied industry norms by flourishing without an advertising budget; the marketers instead relied on word of mouth to penetrate the gaming fraternity. The strategy has proved highly influential as the game sold over one million units within the first month of its beta program. The game boasted 16 million active users even before its full release, and as of 2014, “Minecraft” boasts over 100 million active users.
The game has been praised for providing players a blank canvas where they can express their own creative vision without any plot or objective dictating their moves.
The game has sold over 15 million units for PC and over 35 million copies across other platforms, making it one of the most successful games of all time. The title has also branched out into merchandise including clothing and a Lego Minecraft set.
Persson has also been a proponent of the indie game movement, often criticizing the likes of Electronic Arts (EA) and other big game studios for crippling the potential of independent game developers in favor of profits.
For his unflagging efforts to promote independent game developers and the mass success of “Minecraft,” Persson takes his place in our list of most influential game designers.
The final name on our list is John Carmack, who is considered a pioneer of the modern first-person shooter and 3D graphic technologies.
Carmack has been the lead designer on some of the most popular and revolutionary games over the years. At every step, he has been involved in creating systems which have pushed the boundaries of conventional technologies with respect to the gaming industry. He developed the Active Tile Refresh technique, improving graphics performance at the time, during his work on “Commander Keen.” He also developed Ray Casting, a computer graphic rendering program he used in “Wolfenstein 3D.” He then went on to use the technique of binary space partitioning for the first time while developing “Doom,” another massive success credited to Carmack. In addition to these, Carmack has developed Surface Caching and a variation of the Shadow Volume technique, which he used in “Quake.”
Consistently releasing successful first-person shooter titles and developing new technologies with each release, Carmack has been a visionary and a pioneer of 3D and first-person shooter gaming.
Carmack is a supporter of open-source software and has made his techniques and methods available for use on some of the most successful first-person shooter games in the market, including “Half-Life,” “Medal of Honor,” and “Call of Duty.”
In 2013, Carmack became the Chief Technical Officer at Oculus VR, a virtual-reality technology company. Carmack’s addition to the team at Oculus VR is a positive sign for the future of virtual reality gaming, and we can count on his genius when it comes to expanding the boundaries of the medium.