The 7 Unsung Geniuses Behind Your Favorite Games
Unless you follow the video game industry closely, you may have no idea who makes the games you love. While a few creators make themselves known to the public, like Cliff Blezinski, Peter Molyneux, and Gabe Newell, many more seem happy to live in relative obscurity. It’s time to give them their proper due. Here are some of the people who created the games you love.
1. Satoshi Tajiri
Career highlights: Pokémon series
Gaming may be a popular pastime, but only a few have entrenched themselves in the zeitgeist and become a household name. One series that has undoubtedly achieved that accolade is Pokémon, a franchise that started as a tiny Game Boy cartridge and went on to create an entire media empire, with movies, TV shows, and even eSport tournaments based on the series.
But it all started with the games, which were created by Satoshi Tajiri, a brilliant designer who has worked on every installment of the series to date. Based on the sales numbers, it’s safe to say that Nintendo owes a lot to Tajiri, because Pokémon games have turned Nintendo’s handheld systems into must-buy devices. Gotta catch ‘em all.
2. Shinji Mikami
Career highlights: Resident Evil and Devil May Cry series
With the 1996 game Resident Evil, Shinji Mikami basically created the entire survival horror genre in a single swoop. If you go back and play it now, you’ll find all of the elements of modern survival horror games were there, including ammo scarcity, terrifyingly tough enemies, and jump scares just waiting to make you shriek. All of those elements were carried forward in games like Silent Hill, Dead Space, and Alien Isolation.
But for Mikami, creating a single masterpiece wasn’t enough. In 2005, he did it all over again with the GameCube game Resident Evil 4. This title kept the scare factor high, but added a lot more action to the mix, and offered more variation in enemies and environments than just about any game on the market. To this day, RE4 offers one of the most high-octane, edge-of-your-seat experiences you can have with a controller in your hand.
3. Hironobu Sakaguchi
Career highlights: Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger
When Hironobu Sakaguchi created the original Final Fantasy, he was laying down a foundation that, really, the majority of games stand on today — and not just role-playing games. When the game launched in 1987, the very idea of a character growing more powerful and gaining new abilities throughout a game was a brand new idea. The idea caught on in other RPGs, and can be found in most games today.
Sakaguchi went on to create or oversee many of Square’s popular games, including the first nine Final Fantasy games, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Chrono Trigger. He left the company in 2004 to create Mistwalker Studios, a development team that made a number of underrated games, including Lost Odyssey and The Last Story.
4. Rob Pardo
Career highlights: Diablo III, World of Warcraft
There may be no developer on the planet with a higher standard of excellence than Blizzard. The company doesn’t release new games often, but when it does, they’re major events in the world of gaming. Rob Pardo, the company’s chief creative officer, plays a key role in designing many of those masterpieces.
Specifically, Pardo worked as a designer on Diablo II and III, which had a major impact not only on dungeon-crawlers in general, but also on games as diverse as Borderlands and Destiny. His crowning achievement to date may be World of Warcraft, a game he helmed as lead designer, creating far and away the most successful MMO of all time.
5. Sam and Dan Houser
Career highlights: Grand Theft Auto series
With Grand Theft Auto III, Sam and Dan Houser took a series of competent top-down crime games and reshaped it into one of the top video game franchises in history. These two siblings have headed up every GTA game since the third installment, a title that blew away many people’s conception of what a video game could be.
Not only was GTA III an enormous success, but it also popularized open-world games — a trend that has taken off like a shot in the years since. Nowadays, open world environments can be found in titles as diverse as action-RPGs like Dragon Age: Inquisition and racing games like The Crew. For that and for so much more, we can thank the Housers.
6. Todd Howard
Career highlights: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Fallout 3
If you’ve blown over a hundred hours in a digital game world, there’s a good chance Todd Howard is responsible. Howard is basically Bethesda’s secret weapon. Under his direction, the development company has created some of the best, most immersive open-world games ever, from Fallout 3 to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
These games are notoriously deep, with gameplay mechanics that pull you ever further into the world. You always start out as a relatively weak character, and slowly gain abilities over dozens of hours of truly gripping story lines. Better yet, you can play the games in a variety of ways, whether that means doing the right thing or becoming a complete sociopath. Regardless of how you choose to play, you can thank Todd Howard for the experience.
7. Shigeru Miyamoto
Career highlights: Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Shigeru Miyamoto might not be the most under-the-radar game creator on this list, thanks to the dizzying number of major Nintendo franchises he has created. But because he rarely appears in public, even his biggest fans might not recognize him on the street.
Miyamoto is the man behind Donkey Kong, Pikmin, Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Star Fox, and most of the sequels in those groundbreaking, top-tier series. Other video game creators would give their right hand to have made any title on that list, let alone all of them. Miyamoto has created a legacy that will last as long as the medium itself.
Follow Chris on Twitter @_chrislreed
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