As a follow up to our Top 10 Japanese Video Game Creators, Honey’s Anime continues to celebrate the legacy of the industry by acknowledging the Best from the West. A good majority may come from North America, but there will be some from Europe and Australia listed as well. As most of you readers probably already know, the modern mainstream Western video game industry started with Atari, which is based out of Silicon Valley. As a matter of fact, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs briefly worked at Atari and helped create Breakout with the great assistance of the other Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak—and the story behind that can qualify as its own article.
Speaking of Wozniak, at one point, he was the best Tetris player in the world to the point that Nintendo Power couldn’t accept his scores anymore. And with Tetris in mind, its creator happens to be Alexey Pajitnov, a Russian computer scientist who didn’t get royalties until ten years after developing it.
Another big name during Atari’s peak is Howard Scott Warshaw, creator of Yars’ Revenge, Raiders of the Lost Ark (the first ever licensed game), and the infamous ET (another instance that can be its own article). In addition to these revolutionaries, who are the other Western developers that significantly shaped the contemporary game industry? Read today’s list to find out!
10. Jonathan Blow
Coming from Berkley’s well-known computer division is Jonathan Blow. Jonathan Blow is popular for being an advocate for independent developers because they can have more creative freedom. A lot of his personal views are projected into his hit game, Braid. Its presentation comes across as a platform game like Mario and/or Mega Man, but it’s really more of a puzzle game.
Its main distinctive feature is the ability to manipulate time and each level does it differently which you have to play to understand. Initially, some mainstream distributors such as Steam doubted the potential of indie games so they rejected it. However, when the Xbox 360 debuted its live arcade feature and wanted original content, they decided to release it with instant praise.
Thanks to his success with Braid, the independent circuit is now a booming industry. On the same token, Blow has been critical of other mainstream games such as World of Warcraft by saying it doesn’t help society and creates a false image of life’s meaning. While some may question such views, no one can question what he has done for the industry. In addition to his contributions to the indie scene, he has also been developing a new programming language called JAI, which emphasizes on physics, which he has an extensive background in.
9. Will Wright
After studying engineering and architectural design in Louisiana, Wright released his first game, Raid on Bungeling Bay for the Commodore 64, and its Famicom version would be one of the first Western games released in Japan. The game allowed players to use an attack chopper to conduct bombing missions on bases of terrorist operations. Him and along with the Maxis company he co-founded would forever be immortalized through SimCity.
SimCity is a reflection of Wright’s personal background in architecture and as he was researching urban development for Raid on Bungeling Bay, he thought it would be fun to make a game about building cities. The game not only allows players to build a city but how to manage its budget and what to do during a crisis from natural disasters to monster attacks.
The game was an instant hit and real-life urban developers praised it for its accuracy. As insane as it sounds, some universities such as the University of Southern California and the University of Arizona use it as a teaching tool in some of its urban planning and political science classes. The success of SimCity paved way for its sequels such as SimCity 2000, and would also open the door for SimEarth, SimAnt, and The Sims.
8. Robin Walker
From Australia, we have Robin Walker, who is most famous for the cult classics, Team Fortress Classic and Team Fortress 2. Team Fortress is more or less a mod to Quake but has many distinctions to the point that gamers recognize it as its own entity. In addition to these hit spin-offs, he also contributed to the developments of Half-Life 2 and Dora 2.
What makes Walker a great developer is how he is very open with his fans. By being able to have open communication, it allows him to respond to feedback and make fans feel valuable. Plus, he is known for giving free upgrades to his games and in a world where microtransactions are progressively becoming controversial after the fiascos of NBA 2K18 and Star Wars Battlefront II, it is nice to know that there are developers that won’t stoop that low.
7. Roberta Williams
Along with her husband Ken, Roberta Williams has been a significant contributor to gaming. As a child, she enjoyed making stories and sharing them with her friends and family and that would carry over to her games. In fact, she paved way for the modern graphical adventure game. While adventure games existed in the days of BASIC, they were text-oriented through that respective programming language (even some other games like chess you had to play in BASIC).
While she became famous for The King’s Quest series that popularized her contributions to graphical adventure gaming, it was her horror title, Mystery House for the Apple II, that became the first-ever graphically presented adventure game. In addition to introducing graphics to adventure games, she also contributed to full-motion video through her 1995 horror title, Phantasmagoria, which she admits is her favorite creation despite its numerous controversies and mixed reception.
6. John Romero
If any man can be called the Father of first-person shooters, it is without a doubt, John Romero. Like other Gen-Xers, he grew up playing the games of his time such as Space Invaders and Pac-Man, and this inspired him to get into the industry. When he finally became a game developer, he originally made games for the Apple II such as Dodge ‘Em, and a video game adaptation to James Clavell’s Shogun.
While he is credited as the creator of Doom, it was his idea to make Wolfenstein 3D, which was previously a stealth game, into an action game, and it would be the original first-person shooter. Thankfully, the engine made for Wolfenstein was very easy to use so Romero and iD Software would take it to a whole new level with Doom, which further popularized the genre with its level designs (which actually took inspiration from Pac-Man), an arsenal of weapons, excessive violence, and freaky enemies.
Its controversy of being Satanic and violent just further made it popular and a must-have. Not only did it popularize first-person shooters, it helped pave way for multiplayer (which he took inspiration from fighting games). In addition to Doom, Romero would further contribute to the genre by working on Quake, Area 51, Hexen.
5. John Carmack
Along with Romero, we can also thank John Carmack for modern-day first-person shooters. Like Romero and other developers listed, he enjoyed playing games in his youth but took it to unbelievable extremes. He wanted a computer so bad in his teen years to the point that he collaborated with some delinquents to break into their school to steal some Apple II computers. Just like in an old comedy, one of the fat kids couldn’t fit through an opening and it resulted in them getting caught by the police. Despite being sentenced to a year in juvie, it didn’t stop him from pursuing his dreams in making games.
In context to the creation of first-person shooters with Romero as his partner, you can sort of compare it to the working relationship that Stan Lee had with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Stan would come up with the ideas, and Kirby and Ditko would make the art. As stated earlier, Romero came up with the idea (like Stan Lee) to make Wolfenstein an action game, and Carmack would take the idea to not only create Wolfenstein but the engine (like Kirby and Ditko), which would, in turn, help make Doom.
The engine would later be used to make some other non-iD Software games such as the old Call of Duty and Medal of Honor games. Today, he is the Chief Technology Officer for the Oculus and is an advocate for open source software and other libertarian causes.
4. Kellee Santiago
From Virginia via Venezuela, there is Kellee Santiago, another great female contributor to the industry. Santiago served as a producer to Thatgamecompany’s breakout games, Flow and Flower. She got into programming through her father, who was a software engineer. After taking a class on game design while studying theatre, she decided to pursue a career in video games feeling that the industry had yet to reach its full potential.
Prior to working on Flow, she met Jenova Chen and helped develop Cloud, a game where you play in the dream world of a hospitalized boy. The game was meant to invoke the player’s emotions in a way games haven’t done before. It’s not one of those games you can explain, but have to play to understand, which is why people love it.
Since then, Santiago has continued to contribute to the industry by helping the independent scene and to further spread the concept that video games are truly art in that it can create dialog and provide experiences that create emotional responses.
3. Sid Meier
Like many developers we have listed, Canadian-American Sid Meier comes from a background in computer science. After graduating from the University of Michigan, he worked the register at a local department store. During the dawn of the 1980s, he purchased an Atari console and he noticed that he could put his education to use by making games after some experimenting.
After consulting with Bill Stealey, a co-worker of his who was also a gamer, they decided to go into business for themselves as MicroProse. They started out by releasing simulation games such as Formula 1 Racing, F-15 Strike Eagle, and Silent Service. They mostly developed flight simulators due to Stealey’s past as an Air Force pilot so his experience contributed to its realism for the time.
After that, he became immortalized through some of his other simulator games such as Railroad Tycoon and Civilization. They respectively teach players how to run a business and how to run an empire to last until the end of time. Civilization is more or less SimCity on steroids. You have to manage neighboring nations, developing new technologies, exploring and conquering new frontiers. It was a game that popularized strategy games for the Western world and is still in publication to this day.
2. David Jones
From the UK, we have David Jones, who created the controversial Grand Theft Auto series. His humble beginnings start with a classic Commodore 64 side-scroller, Menace, which plays very much like R-Type. Before Jones was immortalized through Grand Theft Auto, he made his claim to fame through Lemmings in the early 1990s. It was a game that emphasized on its smooth animation sequences, intricate level designs, and its distinct use of a strategy for survival. The game was a hit and still lives on as a cult classic.
Grand Theft Auto is an unusual tale of gaming beyond its reception and ongoing controversies. During its initial four-year development process, it was met with numerous bureaucratic obstacles from DMA, its parent company, as they tried to shut down production feeling it was a waste of money and resources. Jones and his team persisted and managed to release the game and became an instant hit. For once, players get to be the bad guy and it just seemed to resonate with people because it offered new thrills.
After its debut, the franchise continued to evolve to what it is now while staying true to the foundation of the original and paving way for other clones in urban open-world gaming where you’re the outlaw.
1. Tim Sweeney
A good number of games can be largely thanked due to the Unreal Engine, so who was the mastermind behind it? That would be the head of Epic Games himself, Tim Sweeney. Sweeney has been programming games for pretty much as long as he could remember and majored in computer engineering at the University of Maryland.
After releasing the original Unreal first-person shooter games and knowing the profitability of how flexible the engine was intentionally designed, Sweeney and Epic Games knew that it was natural to license it out. Thanks to Sweeney’s invention that spans numerous formats and platforms, many developers that are seasoned and rookie alike can pursue their dreams in making their own games.
Now that Unreal Engine is free for people to download and install, he feels that the future is in the hand of users who have creative pursuits in gaming. The fact that Sweeney gives back to the gamers and the industry are more than enough reasons why we acknowledge him as one of today’s greatest contributors.
As for some honorable mentions, we must acknowledge and thank German-born inventor, Ralph Baer. He put out the first ever home video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey. Some of its software such as a game based on Ping-Pong would pave way for Pong. While the presentation of the Odyssey is undeniably primitive in comparison to today’s consoles—all you had was a simple square to control and if you wanted to play a tennis game, you’d have to put a mat that represents a tennis court on your TV, they wouldn’t exist without it.
Last, we also need to mention Steve Russell of MIT, the creator of Spacewar!, which some may dispute the first ever video game. Russell created the game as an experiment with some computers MIT provided him. The game became a hit and many students who enrolled in the campus continued to contribute to its on-going development between the 1960s and 1970s. Thanks to its origins, the idea of making games to test technology and make it appealing to regular people still endures to this day.
This philosophy has been carried onto Steve Wozniak, Tim Sweeney, and Alexey Pajitnov, who all have made historical contributions to the world of gaming. Beyond whom we mentioned, who else in the world of non-Japanese gaming is worthy of praise that we may have regrettably missed? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.