10 Greatest Video Game Designers Part 2 « LimitlessUnits.com

10 Greatest Video Game Designers Part 2

These are the ten heroes of video game design. They have been responsible for games that have forever changed the medium and consequently the video game industry as a whole is indebted to them. Also included in this list is a career highlight list for each designer, a bit about how they personally influenced me as a designer and some fun trivia about them. This is part 2 of this list.

To go to Part 1 of this list click here.

5. Sid Meier
Sid Meier picture
The owner of my favorite game design quote:

“Gameplay is defined as a series of interesting choices.”

Every time a new Civilization comes out it ends up ruining any productivity of mine for months on end. They are so good and addictive I actually try to stay away from them because I know I will get nothing done as soon as I start playing them.

Also do you remember those keyboard key guides that you had to lay over on top of your keyboard that to came with F-15 and F-19? Those were complicated games.

Career Highlights
1. F-15 Strike Eagle
2. F-19 Stealth Fighter
3. Railroad Tycoon
4. Sid Meier’s Pirates!
5. Civilization

4. Warren Spector
Warren Spector picture

“Hell no we didn’t achieve what we were striving for on Deus Ex. What you do is you aim for the moon so you end up hitting Hawaii or something. If you aim for Hawaii you end up in Keokuk, Iowa or something, you know?” – Warren Spector

Warren Spector’s rules of game design in his postmortem of Deus Ex laid down the starting bumpers for me as a game designer.

a. Always show the goal. Players should see their next goal (or encounter an intriguing mystery) before they can achieve (or explain) it.

b. Problems not puzzles. It’s an obstacle course, not a jigsaw puzzle. Game situations should make logical sense and solutions should never depend on reading the designer’s mind. And there should always be more than one way to get past a game obstacle. Always.

c. No forced failure. Failure isn’t fun. Getting knocked unconscious and waking up in a strange place or finding yourself standing over dead bodies while holding a smoking gun can be cool story elements, but situations the player has no chance to react to are bad. Used sparingly, to drive a story forward, O.K. Don’t overuse!

d. It’s the people, stupid. Role-playing is about interacting with other people in a variety of ways (not just combat… not just conversation…).

e. Players do; NPCs watch. It’s no fun to watch an NPC do something cool. If it’s a cool thing, let the player do it. If it’s a boring or mundane thing, don’t even let the player think about it — let an NPC do it.

Have you patted your player on the back today? Constant rewards will drive players onward. Make sure you reward players regularly. And make sure the rewards get more impressive as the game goes on.

g. Players get smarter so games get harder. Make sure game difficulty escalates as players become more accustomed to your interface and more familiar with your world. Make sure you reward the player by making him or her more powerful as the game goes on.

h. Think 3D. A 3D map cannot be laid out on graph paper. It has to take into account things over the player’s head and under the player’s feet. If there’s no need to look up and down — constantly — make a 2D game!

i. Are You Connected? Maps in a 3D game world must feature massive interconnectivity. Tunnels that go direct from Point A to Point B are bad; loops (horizontal and vertical) and areas with multiple entrance and exit points are good.

Career Highlights
1. Wing Commander
2. Ultima Underworld I and II
3. Thief: The Dark Project
4. System Shock
5. Deus Ex

3. Peter Molyneux
Peter Molyneux picture
This man made me feel like a god. Peter Molyneux is the father of the god game. To his credit are some of my favorite games of all time. Populous was the quintessential god game, Syndicate was way ahead of its time (see my write up of Syndicate here), and Dungeon Keeper turned video game conventions upside-down by casting the player in the role of the villain.

Beyond being one of the greatest designers in history, he has what few designers have, an uncanny ability to sell. In fact he is so notorious with his tall tales; few take his proclamations without a grain of salt nowadays. Despite being skeptical whenever the man opens his mouth, I end up buying whatever the man is shilling because he has an infectious enthusiasm and a way about his personality and demeanor that convinces you that each and every game of his is going to revolutionize the world. With well-over two decades in this industry, Molyneux still remains relentlessly relevant. This is amazing in and of itself. This is a video of him selling you on the dog in Fable 2.

After watching that how can you not like the guy?

Career Highlights
1. Populous
2. Syndicate
3. Magic Carpet
4. Dungeon Keeper
5. Fable

2. Will Wright
Will Wright picture
In many ways Will Wright is the antithesis of Miyamoto, you can easily imagine Will Wright growing up, staying in doors playing board games, analyzing their systems, and building model airplanes, cars and boats. Where the two are the same are their creative drives to make games that give the user new experiences. Will Wright sums up his own methodology for making games better than I could have:

“Well, one thing I’ve always really enjoyed is making things. Out of whatever. It started with modeling as a kid, building models… I think when I started doing games I really wanted to carry that to the next step, to the player, so that you give the player a tool so that they can create things. And then you give them some context for that creation.”

Will Wright’s speeches are always entertaining as well as inspiring. It’s incredible how his research and thought process for his games come about. As I could not embed the first video, you will have to click on the link in order to watch:
GDC 2008 – An Evening with Will Wright

This is a second shorter video of another speach he made at TED.
Will Wright: Toys That Make Worlds

Some additional reading:
Will Wright fan site

  • The history and hobby tabs were fascinating reads for those with the time and inclination.
  • Fun Fact from the “Game Master” article in the New Yorker: “Wright was a former Robot Wars champion in the Berkeley-based robotics workshop, the Stupid Fun Club. One of Wright’s bots, designed with the help of Wright’s daughter Cassidy, “Kitty Puff Puff”, fought against its opponents by sticking a roll of gauze onto its armature and circling around them, encapsulating them and denying them movement. The technique, “cocooning”, was eventually banned.”
  • Career Highlights
    1. SimCity
    2. Sims
    3. Spore

    1. Shigeru Miyamoto
    Shigeru Miyamoto picture

    “I think I can make an entirely new game experience, and if I can’t do it, some other game designer will.”

    If you read the Will Wright entry, I tipped my hand on the #1 game designer, not that there could be any other choice.

    If there is a face of gaming, it would be Shigeru Miyamoto. I would describe him as the Stan Lee of video games. After Atari’s collapse, everybody thought games were a fad that would go the way of the hula-hoop, but Nintendo made sure video games would have a bright future. Shigeru Miyamoto was at the forefront of the revival.

    As much as anybody, Miyamoto’s creations influenced my childhood. I remember working my ass off doing chores and begging to get an NES so I could play Super Mario Bros. It took two successive Christmases of doing chores everyday and eating my vegetables before my parents finally got the system for me. That Christmas morning is my happiest childhood memory.

    As you can probably tell, Miyamoto’s childhood story is a lot more interesting than mine. His upbringing is worth mentioning because it was so influential in his video game creations.

    According to Miyamotoshrine.com

    “Shigeru Miyamoto was born and raised in a rural community near his current home of Kyoto, Japan. Miyamoto was humbled by the natural world surrounding him. Add to that the lack of a television set growing up, and you have a boy whose sense of adventure and imagination was limited only to what his own mind could produce.

    Miyamoto would often explore his natural surroundings in Sonebe to bide the time. Rice fields, canyons, grassy hills, waterways. the ideal setting for such an adventurous young man. Then one fateful day, Miyamoto made a discovery that would later resonate in his future endeavors, as would many things from his childhood. Shigeru had discovered a hole in the ground. Not just any hole, but a large hole. Upon closer inspection it was obvious that this hole was actually something more. It was in fact, the opening to a cave.

    Young Miyamoto returned several times before building up enough courage to enter. Armed with only a lantern, he ventured deep inside until he came to another hole that led to another section of the cave. This was breathtaking for such a young man. Unforgettable even. And Miyamoto certainly never forgot.”

    This sense of wonderment and exploration of a magical world translates so well in his games. Knowing his past it is easy to see where Legend of Zelda sprang out of Miyamoto’s childhood experiences.

    I will never forget his GDC 2007 speech that I attended that implored aspiring game developers to occasionally put down their video games and to go outside to learn more about and explore the world around them. It was such a breath of fresh air to listen to him.

    Career Highlights
    1. Donkey Kong
    2. Super Mario Brothers
    3. Legend of Zelda
    4. Nintendogs
    5. Wii Fit

    Go to Part 1 of this list.

    See my other related articles also:
    Become a Video Game Designer: Everything You Need to Know Part 1
    Best Games of All Time by Genre Part 1
    Top 5 Greatest Moments in Competitive Gaming (eSports)
    What Video Games Taught Me About Life
    Low Skill Cap and Luck (RNG) in World of Warcraft PVP
    Roger Ebert is Right: Games are Not High Art…Yet
    What’s Bad About Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Multiplayer Mode?
    Dead Space Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
    Call of Duty: World at War Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
    Gears of War 2 Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
    8 of the Most Underrated or Overlooked Video Games of All Time
    Pimps at Sea err I mean Age of Booty & Gen 13 Cosplay
    My Student Films 2: EverQuest Documentary and Guilty Gear Isuka Trailer
    Best MMA Fights & Genki Sudo: Real Life Video Game Character

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    This entry was posted on Saturday, November 29th, 2008 at 6:15 am and is filed under Video Games. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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