5. Yasunori Mitsuda:
As a child, Yasunori Mitsuda was an avid athlete and an admirer of his older sister’s piano. As he got older, though, his mere fascination with music turned obsessive, and he soon decided that he wanted to create music that would accompany movies and video games. After doing some work with Enix, he got a job with Square Soft, working with prolific composer Nobuo Uematsu on the Final Fantasy franchise. It was during this time that he created the infamous “Dragon’s Cry” sound effect.
One day, so fed up that he had yet to be given anything challenging, he went to Hironobu Sakaguchi and said that if he wasn’t going to be given any important roles, he was going to leave the company. Almost instantly, Sakaguchi said, “Okay, you’re going to do Chrono Trigger.” And so, one of the greatest game soundtracks was created; Mitsuda borrowed from Irish folk music and created fantastic themes brilliant in their melodic simplicity. He would later perfect the style when Chrono Cross was released, most notably with what I believe to be one of the best theme songs a video game has ever had. Click here to listen to “Scars Left By Time.”
Since then, Yasunori Mitsuda’s been keeping busy, with recent composures such as Xenosaga Episode I.
4. Atsushi Inaba:
Inaba may be one of the newer all-stars of the game industry, but he’s already proven himself to be one of the most talented in the entire world. With more than a dozen years of experience, he worked on games like Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, and Steel Battalion before starting Clover Studios, an independent development house funded by Capcom, where he’s continued the Viewtiful Joe lineage as well as starting new series like Okami, slated for release in 2006. Although the development house hit a small hiccup with Red Hot Rumble, I have little doubt that the third and final chapter of the Viewtiful Joe franchise will be anything short of spectacular.
Something you’ll notice in most of Ibaba’s games are an attention to detail; that extra spark that separates the good from the great; the average from the superlative; the heroes from the zeroes, basically. Trust me; this guy’s only getting started.
3. Will Wright:
Unlike Japan, America doesn’t have a huge fascination with individual designers. However, if one man can be called the Spielberg of Western Game Design, Will Wright wouldn’t have much trouble claiming the honor. After dropping out of college, Wright released his first game in 1984: Raid on Bungling Bay for the Commodore 64. Oddly enough, Wright had always had more fun with the level editor than with the actual game, and so he decided to pursue simulation titles.
This yielded the prolific SimCity, credited today as one of the most influential games of all time. Unfortunately, Will couldn’t find a publisher, and so after a long while of searching, he founded Maxis with Jeff Braun. Once SimCity hit, it was a massive success, spawning multiple sequels and spin-offs. Then, in 1997, Maxis was bought by Electronic Arts, and 40% of Maxis’ employees were laid off. This was definitely an obstruction in Wright’s path to glory, but he bounced back with The Sims in February of 2000. Since then, the franchise has been massively popular, most recently with the sequel, The Sims 2, hitting consoles and handhelds.
So what’s next for America’s most innovative game designer? There’s a saying that goes, “If you’re going to try, try brilliantly,” and Wright’s no stranger to it, so of course, he’s going to give a shot at something that’s never been tried before. Called Spore, the game starts you off as a unicellular organism; you’ll watch yourself evolve into a sentient being, after which you’ll cultivate the surrounding area and form societies. The hope of the development team is that you’ll soon be able to shape your own world, where you’ll find your own adventures. A massive undertaking, indeed, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s Will Wright.
2. Shinji Mikami:
Oddly enough, Shinji Mikami only recently became universally famous among gamers worldwide. This was due to his being the director of Resident Evil 4, the genre-defining mega-hit of 2005, but he’s definitely more than a one-hit wonder. Besides his work with Resident Evil, he was also behind the immensely popular Devil May Cry, not to mention the recent psychological thriller Killer 7 with Goichi Suda and the team at Grasshopper.
You could say that Mikami’s trick is that he makes his games flow in a cool, smooth sort of way. They’re seamless from scene to scene and come together rather nicely as a superb package. And his story-telling can’t be knocked either – anyone who’s seen the end of Killer 7 can attest to that.
So what’s new for the man who defines action? He’s currently working at Clover Studios with another one of our Top 5’ers, Atsushi Inaba, no doubt working on something brilliant.
1. Shigeru Miyamoto:
As much of a shock as I’m sure this was, there isn’t anyone who deserves this spot more than Old Man Shigeru. As a boy, Miyamoto loved few things, but what he did love he obsessed over. He loved puppetry, drawing, and exploring. It was these interests that eventually drove him to become the most innovative and loved game creators in all of gaming. Creating franchises like Mario, Zelda, and Pikmin, not to mention working with R&D 1 (later to be known as Intelligent Systems) on games like Metroid and Kid Icarus definitely solidifies him a nice throne at the top.
But what is it that makes Miyamoto’s games so good? Some would say it’s the attention to detail and the preciseness that goes into the player-to-game interface (which makes the game fun to play, not just fun to watch), but after thinking about it more and more, I’ve realized that he’s one of the last designers in the industry that puts his soul into his games; his personal charm that shines brighter than any graphics engine or remote peripheral. Miyamoto loves his games like he loves his children, and it’s that respect and care that goes into his work that makes him leagues above the rest. 名誉と愛, Miyamoto-san.
And that’s my list, ladies and gents. Those five people are what make the industry wonderful to me; they’re what drive the market forward, not just to greater technical prowess, but to purification of the art form. I have only the deepest respect and adoration for them. You may scoff at the absence of figures like Hideo Kojima, Sid Meier, Peter Molyneux, Eiji Aonuma, and so on, and they’re definitely great people, but I just don’t see them at the same level as the aforementioned individuals. Feel free to list your Top 5 as well. Save for buying games, the only way we can let these designers know they’re appreciated is by telling them, so let’s take some time and give props to the forefathers and innovators of the hobby we take so much pride in.
Karl “Viewt” Castaneda