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Top Ten Tuesday 04
My Top Ten Game Designers
There are many top ten lists, but this one is mine. If you think a game is
missing here, I either didn't play it, didn't have any interest in it, or I
just hate you.
the last decade or so I began getting really plugged into the video game
industry. I liked video games sure, but I was also fascinated with their
inception, development, marketing, and especially the people and game makers
behind them. A few years ago I would only recognize a few names on this list;
now it is difficult whittling down the dozens of awesome visionaries to a Top
Ten, but supremely interesting doing the research for my Top Ten Video Game
10) Roberta and Ken Williams
Any industry has to be
attuned to the consumer and to strive to give them the best product; the
computer industry is no different. However, unlike many other industries, the
computer industry is more complex and moves very fast. Anybody who wishes to
remain in this industry for any length of time needs to be able to move on a
dime and to be willing to change and to forge their own way and not to fall
into set ways or "me, too" products.
couple co-founded Sierra On-Line in the early 80s and quickly became the
leading figures for graphical adventure computer gaming. Best known for the
iconic King's Quest series - spanning eight games and 14 years, from 16-color
text input controls to fully 3D worlds - there's no telling what the state of
modern computer gaming would have been without Sierra's influence and success.
Games: King's Quest series, Phantasmagoria
are now: Happily retired.
9) Ken Levine
Pacing is an interesting thing. There's not just sex, there's
romance, right? You have to build up to things sometimes. You look at a film
like Jaws, it's not just the shark attack. In fact the shark attacks very
rarely. There's the scene where they're comparing scars and he's telling
stories, that scene is funny and charming and then Quint tells that story about
the sinking of the Indianapolis. It becomes horrifying and scary, and setting
up what they're all in for. They're all laughing and joking, then somebody
hears something and it builds and it builds. There's this growing horror and
realization, and that's pacing, right? Spielberg understands that great, he did
it in Jurassic Park with that T-Rex scene, he understands how to build tension
very well. Certainly we watch a lot of his films, but a lot of directors do
this very well. Building up to tension is very important.
Every once in awhile you come
across a creator, whether it be in music, film, novels, etc, and while you
don't necessarily love the genre or specific work they do, you can't help but
feel drawn to them for their insight and creations in their industry. That's a
long confusing reason why I put Ken Levine (@IGLevine) on my Top Ten. Levine
founded Irrational Games in the late 90s, creating a much loved first person
horror shooter System Shock 2, and one of my favorite underrated games Freedom
Force, a tactical superhero game (the precursor to X-Men Legends and later
Marvel Ultimate Alliance).
Like most developers, Irrational
was swallowed up by a bigger publisher, Take-Two Interactive and was even
renamed to 2K Boston briefly while they put out what many in the gaming public
consider one of the best games of the last decade - Bioshock, a haunting first
person shooter set in the fallen underwater city of Rapture. While I've
professed to not being a fan of horror games, Bioshock is definitely worth the
play (and stops being so scary when you can fling fireballs from your hands and
turn invisible Predator-style). My real love for Levine, however, always comes
in his interviews where he is always incredibly candid about the gaming
industry and his own experiences growing up as a nerdy Jewish kid in the 70s. There's too
many choice quotes to give here but do yourself a favor and search youtube for
any of his interviews or especially his Key Note Address at the 2008 Penny
Games: System Shock 2, Bioshock
are now: Finally finished on his next game since the original Bioshock (the
direct sequel was made with a different team), the much anticipated Bioshock: Infinite.
8) Hironobu Sakaguchi
Just the ordinary
events of our lives: encounters, discoveries, disputes, compromises, betrayal,
and love. It is the accumulation and interweaving of these elements that make a
story fit for Final Fantasy.
as the Father of Final Fantasy, a series named for what Sakaguchi thought would
be his final game in fledgling company Square in the late 80s. Little did he
know he was creating one of the most popular video game franchises in history,
a game series which is currently in its 14th incarnation. Squaresoft
was regarded as the premier role playing game company, well before JRPG was
even a term. In the early 2000s he took a pretty big risk and directed the
Final Fantasy animated film, which became one of the biggest animated box
office bombs in history. Afterward he stepped down as Executive Vice President
of Squaresoft (which would soon become Square Enix) and formed another company
- Mistwalker, releasing the well received RPGs Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey on
Xbox 360. If you are a fan of JRPGs, his game credits read like a love letter
to your favorite games.
Games: Final Fantasy 1-10, Final Fantasy Tactics, Chrono Trigger, Super Mario
RPG, Kingdom Hearts, Lost Odyssey
are now: Still at Mistwalker working as full on director for the first time
since FFV on his latest project, titled The Last Story.
7) David Gaider
There are lots of
theories for how to approach putting together an RPG story, I have no brilliant
one-size-fits-all solution- that doesn't exist. But mostly it's like creating a
maze and letting the player be your mouse that goes through it. It could be a
single path, but that would make for a poor maze. Too much meandering and the
mouse gets lost. Either way, the experience belongs to the mouse and you have
very little control over what it does or why aside from constructing the paths
it can walk. You can predict, and set up places for the important beats of your
story to occur, but you'll never know the exact impact. At best you'll check in
with them and ask them, in the story, how they're doing.
David Gaider (@davidgaider) is the lead writer at Bioware,
and you've seen his influence since the early 2000s in Neverwinter Nights, Star
Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and his first gig, Baldur's Gate 2. While
not technically a lead designer, it could be argued that the lead writer has a
huge amount of influence on a role playing game with hundreds of thousands of
lines of dialogue - as in David Gaider's premiere franchise, Dragon Age. While
its rushed sequel was much less well received, it was mostly for reused areas
than in the excellent characters and writing. Gaider has also written two full
novels set in the Dragon Age universe which act as prequels to Origins. I've
read both and I can definitely recommend them if you enjoy that high fantasy
world. He also maintains an insightful blog for any aspiring writers at
Notable Games: Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age II,
Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark
are now: Just penned a Dragon Age comic book series, and currently deep
in development on Dragon Age III: Inquisition
6) Chris Avellone
Build a tone. This
starts as soon as you start writing - and sometimes, the tone surprises me once
I actually start writing. The cadence of how the character talks, their slang,
the subjects that interest them - I start a conversation with the character and
try to imagine what I'd like to ask them about as players... and often, I try to
steer the conversation into game mechanic help, gifts, new perks and skills to
learn from the companion (which we used a lot in Torment, KOTOR2, and Dead
Money, for example). The player should feel that they are gaining something of
value from the interaction, even if the interaction isn't mandatory - exploring
a character's personality should be as much fun as exploring a dungeon.
If you were
a hardcore PC gamer in the late 90s, you're definitely smiling at the mention
of MCA - Mr. Chris Avellone (@ChrisAvellone). Most of you, however, are
probably wondering who he is. I have two words for you: Planescape: Torment.
But that probably doesn't help much. Avellone joined PC gaming giant Interplay
in 1995 and helped make one of my all time favorite games - Fallout 2. Avellone's
talents with writing and roleplaying games became apparent with the release of
Planescape: Torment, considered one of the best written games of all time. As
part of Interplay's cherished CRPG branch, Black Isle Studios, Avellone's words
and designs were felt throughout the premiere Dungeons & Dragons game
franchises Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale.
In 2003, as
3D gaming, action and shooting were on the rise, a floundering Interplay closed
Black Isle. Avellone ended up at Obsidian Entertainment, which found initial
success making big name sequels to big name RPGs - Star Wars: Knights of the
Old Republic II, Neverwinter Nights 2, and recently Fallout: New Vegas.
Avellone himself worked as lead creative designer for all of New Vegas'
Downloadable Content. To top it off, he's supremely funny and personable in
interviews and on twitter, and his constant doodling is hilarious.
Games: Planescape: Torment, Baldur's Gate, Fallout 2, Fallout: New Vegas
are now: Working on Project: Eternity as per Obsidian Entertainment's recent
multi-million dollar Kickstarter project, as well as helping to contribute to InXile's similar Kickstarter success, Wasteland 2
5) Brian Fargo
For years, PC gaming has been declared dead and going away. And
strangely enough, here we are and it appears to be stronger than ever,
especially from a creative perspective. I look at crowd-funding, I look at the
slate of titles that are coming out in the next year to two and they are more
innovative and creative than I have seen in a long time. That's going to make
you feel pretty good about the PC. It's really an open system, much more so
than [home consoles] where it seems like we always see the same [kinds of
games.] You can't compete with the crowd, so as the PC continues to remain open
I think we're going to continue to see more and more innovation there than
A name that
any self respecting PC gamer of the 90s should instantly recognize, Brian Fargo
(@BrianFargo) founded Interplay Productions in 1983 and for the next 17 years
would help shape the face of computer gaming: Giving the first game contract to
up and coming developer Silicone and Synapse (which would later become Blizzard
Entertainment), forming Black Isle Studios which created many of the best computer
role playing games of its day (and most developers would later form Bioware),
and acquiring Shiny Entertainment to produce many beloved console games like
Interplay as French publisher Titus Interactive gained majority control in 1999
as the company began to shift away from computer gaming and onto consoles.
Founding InXile Entertainment as a play on his status, Fargo continued to
release games with many of his former Interplay employees. InXile mostly
released smaller iOS games over the last decade, with the only two major
releases being The Bard's Tale in 2004, and Hunted: The Demon's Forge in 2011,
both with mixed reception.
Games: Fallout, The Bard's Tale, Take your pic!
are now: While being relatively quiet for the last decade, Brain Fargo is now
all over the gaming news in the last year thanks to the huge success of the
Wasteland 2 Kickstarter campaign, currently in development by InXile.
4) Shigeru Miyamoto
Video games are bad
for you? That's what they said about Rock and Roll.
single handedly rescued the video game industry in the mid 80s with a
mustachioed plumber, then I consider Miyamoto the father of modern console gaming.
From the creative mind of the always positive designer sprang such classic
franchises as Mario, Zelda, and Donkey Kong; not only the original creations on
the Nintendo Entertainment System but each subsequent iteration on each of
Nintendo's evolved consoles. Nintendo has been at the forefront of gaming for
decades, and out of their cherished franchises have come many of my favorite
games, most of which Miaymoto worked and headed up personally such as Super
Mario Bros. 3 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
been a prolific game designer for over 25 years, and most of the designers on
this list and anywhere cite the Father of Nintendo as an inspiration. If you
only know one name in the entire video game industry, it should be his.
Games: Everything Nintendo!
are now: Managing the Analysis and Development branch of Nintendo
Entertainment, Miyamato continues his role as frequent spokesman and face of
3) Will Wright
So I guess what really
draws me to interactive entertainment and the thing that I try to keep focused
on is enabling the creativity of the player. Giving them a pretty large
solution space to solve the problem within the game. So the game represents
this problem landscape. Most games have small solution landscapes, so there's
one possible solution and one way to solve it. Other games, the games that tend
to be more creative, have a much larger solution space, so you can potentially
solve this problem in a way that nobody else has. If you're building a
solution, how large that solution space is gives the player a much stronger
feeling of empathy. If they know that what they've done is unique to them, they
tend to care for it a lot more. I think that's the direction I tend to come from.
too many genres that come down to just one man. The entire simulation genre,
the concept of sandbox or toybox gameplay, however, can easily come down to one
brilliant game designer - Will Wright. Wright co-founded Maxis in the mid 80s
and soon developed his first breakout hit, SimCity, a franchise that would
spawn numerous sequels throughout the next decade and half, before lying
dormant until just recently! Of course the popularity of the Sim games only
grew, and Maxis took full advantage with SimEarth, SimAnt, SimCopter, etc.
While the simulation genre remained relatively popular, Maxis was purchased by
Electronic Arts in the late 90s. Despite the acquisition, Wright was much
respected throughout the gaming community and was able to bring his high
concept of a living dollhouse to life in the 2000 release, The Sims, one of the
most popular video game franchises of all time. His next major project was
Spore, designed as an evolutionary life simulator that was met with mostly
positive reviews and commercial success.
games: SimCity, The Sims, Spore
are now: Wright left Maxis in 2009 and formed Stupid Fun Club, an "interactive
2) Tim Schafer
The Kickstarter thing
and the documentary that we're doing with the Kickstarter has just taught me
that there's nothing to be afraid of. You release your stuff out. You show a
piece of concept art that may or may not be in the game. It doesn't matter.
People are just like, "Oh, that's cool!" People get on your side more, not get
on your side less. The fear is that if it's not perfect, you can't show it to
people because they'll freak out. The fact is, they just feel more bought in.
They feel like they're part of the development team.
A name that
I'll freely admit catapulted up this list in the last year, Tim Schafer
(@Timoflegend), began his video game career working for the esteemed
LucasArts, the other major computer adventure game company and competitor to
Sierra. There he helped write and create several of the most beloved adventure
games to come out of that era - The Secret of Monkey Island, Day of the
Tentacle, and Grim Fandango.
In 2000 he
left LucasArts to found Double Fine Productions. They began making big budget
console games like Psychonauts (a cult classic adventure/platformer) and Brutal
Legend (a unique heavy metal action game starring Jack Black), but
disappointing sales forced them to think smaller. Throughout the multi year
production of Brutal Legend, Schafer held "amnesia fortnights," a two week
session where the entire production team "forgot" whatever they were currently
working on, and were allowed to come up with and pitch their own game concepts.
The team would vote on which to make into playable protypes to pitch to
publishers, and four such games have made it all the way to retail: Costume
Quest, Stacking, Iron Brigade, and Once Upon a Monster. All four were met with
critical praise and commercial success, and Schafer recently brought his
amnesia fortnight into the public eye, allowing each team member to create a pitch
video for their concept, and the gaming community could vote on which ones were
however, Schafer is in the news for being the original video game Kickstarter
phenomenon. In Februrary of 2012, Double Fine Productions launched a campaign
to make an old school adventure game like Schafer had made back in the
LucasArts days in the 90s. They asked for $400,000, and planned on giving half
to an experienced video game documentary crew to film the entire process. The
campaign lasted for a month, though funding exceeded their asking amount by
three times within 24 hours. The concept caught on like wildfire, and
excitement of Tim Schafer being funny and Schafery in the pitch video helped
make it the first Kickstarter project to reach $2 million. By the end of the
campaign, Double Fine collected over $3.3 million dollars from Kickstarter for
a game that didn't even have a title.
fantastic sense of humor, witty writing, and successful business management has
earned him numerous awards over the years as well as the adoration of the
gaming public, a much more intangible, though arguably much more important
Games: The Secret of Monkey Island, Grim Fandango, Psychonauts
Where they are
now: Deep in development on aforementioned Kickstarter project, still named
"Double Fine Adventure." Also his studio just developed The Cave in
collaboration with fellow LucasArts alum Ron Gilbert.
1) Sid Meier
I love designing games. I enjoy the process of watching
them come to life. They start with just a wild and crazy idea and a lot of
optimism. Then, day by day, you have to build a little piece of that final
product. There are good days and bad days.
video game designers get their name above the title of each game they make?
Just one. I've undoubtedly overused the term "Father of" in this Top Ten, but
Meier is seriously one of the founding fathers of computer gaming. After
co-founding MicroProse in 1982, Meier created lots of early flight simulator
games before hitting it big with Civilization, still the premiere franchise for
turn based strategy, now in its fifth iteration. In 1996 Meier left MicroProse
to found Firaxis Games, which has found success mainly continuing the
Civilization series, as well as remaking his older games like Pirates! and
Colonization. As early as the late 90s Sid Meier was being widely recognized as
one of the most influential people in computer gaming.
successfully brought the Civilization gameplay to consoles in 2008 with
Civlization Revolution, but hardcore PC Civ fans needn't have feared long as
Sid Meier's Civilization V continued the trend of evolving the series while
keeping the gameplay intuitive, complex but not complicated. I've sunk hundreds
of hours into Sid Meier's games over the last two decades, and every interview I've read or sound byte
I've heard paints him as the supremely optimistic creator. Everyone that works
with him claims him to be the nicest man on the planet, and a brilliant game
games: Sid Meier's Civilization, Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon, Sid Meier's
are now: Firaxis just released its first title without Sid Meier's name all
over it, a little gem of a remake by the name of XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Despite
the lack of name, Meier's influence and guidance is all over this masterpiece,
and I encourage you to read the phenomenal article "The Making of XCOM's Jake
Solomon," for more insight into Firaxis and Sid Meier.
As a film buff that holds a degree in film analysis, it's
supremely cool that I can rattle off dozens of big name video game designers as
if they were major Hollywood directors. There are so many influential people
that helped shape the industry that didn't even make this list - Cliff
Blezinski, Peter Molyneux, Tim Cain, Koji Igarashi, Hideo Kojima, Todd Howard, John Carmack
and many more. While not everyone gets their name above the game like the great
Sid Meier, many of them are widely recognized throughout the industry for their
talents and passion, and hopefully someday soon most will be more recognizable by
the general game buying public as well.
Roberta Williams - http://www.adventureclassicgaming.com/index.php/site/interviews/127/
Ken Levine - http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013/01/18/ken-levine-and-the-conversation-part-one/
Hironobu Sakaguchi - http://www.ign.com/articles/2000/04/06/interview-with-hironobu-sakaguchi
David Gaider - http://dgaider.tumblr.com/
Chris Avellone - http://forums.obsidian.net/blog/1/entry-168-project-eternity-and-characterization/
Brain Fargo - http://www.pcworld.com/article/2025525/brian-fargo-talks-wasteland-2-and-the-future-of-pc-gaming.html
Shigeru Miyamoto - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shigeru_Miyamoto
Will Wright - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Will_Wright_%28game_designer%29
Tim Schafer - http://venturebeat.com/2012/12/18/tim-schafer-interview/#ekiQZHo07pJFmOU8.99
Sid Meier - http://www.polygon.com/features/2013/1/31/3928710/making-of-xcoms-jake-solomon-firaxis-sid-meier
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