Every now and then, a person comes along who seems to shape an entire industry around them. Whether through sheer force of personality or a torrent of unique and powerful ideas, they leave their field an entirely different place from what it was when they first arrived. Gaming has encountered a wide array of these individuals throughout its history; developers who literally changed the face of video games.
Today, I’d like to pay tribute to at least a few of them and their contributions. Do not begrudge me if I miss a few here and there: so many brilliant developers exist that it’s easy to overlook a few.
To be fair, Gygax isn’t a ‘game developer’ in the traditional sense – at least, not as we know them today. His contributions to gaming, indirect though they were, nevertheless cannot be ignored. He was the mastermind behind Dungeons & Dragons. It was one of the first games of its type, and some might argue that through its creation, Gygax set in motion events that would lead to the birth of video games as we know them today. Even today, playing D&D (in particular, running a game) is one of the best ways to learn the fundamentals of game design. It is for this reason that Gygax isn’t simply the father of tabletop gaming: he’s the father of game design, as well.
Known in many circles as “Lord British,” Richard Garriott may well be one of the best-known figures in gaming, if only because he developed one of the most influential video games ever made: Ultima. Everything from party-based combat to tiled graphics to open-world gameplay to the use of several common narrative devices can be traced back to Garriott’s brainchild. His was also one of the first series to feature such elements as a code of conduct, while exploring morality in a fashion that even by today’s standards was quite deep.
If you’ve not heard of Miyamoto, you must have spent the last several decades living under a rock. Though Nintendo in recent days seems to have lost its way under Miyamoto’s guidance, the man is nevertheless a legend in game development, and holds the honor of being responsible for some of gaming’s most iconic, best-known franchises and characters, including Mario, Donkey Kong, The Legend of Zelda, Star Fox, F-Zero, and, more recently, Pikmin. In short, Miyamoto is the reason Nintendo ever became a force in gaming.
Along with his staff, the owner of Valve has some pretty huge accomplishments under his belt. He helped create one of the best PC FPS series in history (Half-Life), and has fashioned his organization into one of the most beloved developers in the games industry. Not only that, Valve is essentially the pioneer of digital distribution in the games industry, through Steam.
I have one word for you: Dota. If you want someone to blame for the overwhelming influx of MOBA titles which have flooded the games industry in recent years, look back to the team responsible for the development of the original Warcraft III mod. Granted, the three didn’t necessarily invent the genre – that honor goes to whoever was responsible for Aeon of Strife. Even so, it’s because of them that the genre gained so much popularity in so short a time; their actions eventually led to the development of League of Legends, one of the most popular online games ever made.
This guy created Final Fantasy – which, at the time, he expected would be the last game he would ever develop. Had the game not sold well, he would have dropped from games development and gone back to university to study electrical engineering. The career path he chose should be obvious at this point: after all, Final Fantasy is one of the best-known RPG franchises of all time. It put Square on the map, popularized role-playing games, and ended up as one of the NES’s best-selling titles.
Not bad for a college dropout.
Inafune, for those of you who don’t know, is the guy who co-designed Megaman: one of the best known characters Capcom has ever made. The Megaman games pioneered non-linear level selection, and were among the best platformers of their generation. Perhaps he’s not as legendary as some of the other developers on this list, but his contributions definitely shouldn’t be ignored.
Last, but certainly not least, we’ve got Sid Meier. This guy probably has one of the most impressive portfolios here, and will probably go down in history as one of the most prominent strategy game designers of all time. He’s the guy who created Civilization and the Tycoon series, after all. He’s won numerous awards for his creation, and has long been a positive influence in games development.
Honorable Mentions: Tim Schafer, Hideo Kojima, Will Wright