The unsung hero of the gaming world, the producer is the person who signs off on each title you buy, play, and love. It is ultimately the producer’s responsibility to ensure that each gaming experience is special and unique. Their roles are wide-reaching, covering elements such as game design, art design, level development, budgeting, and virtually every single element of what makes a video game. The CliffyB’s of this world may be the violin virtuosos but the producer is the person stood out in front, baton in hand, conducting the orchestra. Some are good at it, some not so good but here is a list of ten of the very best.
Goichi Suda, or Suda51 as he is more popularly known, is the head of the Grasshopper Manufacture studio and one of gaming’s greatest auteurs. Most famous for the likes of Flower, Sun and Rain, No More Heroes and Killer7, Suda’s games have not always sold millions of copies but are held as examples of how games can be made when accepted boundaries are ignored.
Having started life as an undertaker, Suda’s route into the video games industry was not a traditional one. Picked up early on by Human Entertainment, he started life as a writer. His ending to Super Fire Pro Wrestling Special set him apart from his peers and established him on a path which would lead to the production of games with dark undertones and a twisted sense of humor.
Any list such as this that does not include the name of the man behind the Metal Gear Solid series is automatically null and void. He has dabbled with various different types of game from the epic space opera of Zone of the Enders to vampire hunting in Boktai. His most famous work with Konami is the creation of the Metal Gear franchise starting back in 1987 on the MSX2 and it wasn’t until 1998 with the release of Metal Gear Solid on PlayStation that he would become a household name throughout the world. Creating a cinematic experience full of tension and eschewing traditional run-and-gun gameplay, rewarding players for planning and stealth, Metal Gear Solid was a triumph in every regard. His work on the upcoming Castlevania reboot, Lords of Shadow should reinvigorate a franchise which has been dying of late. A master in his craft, a Hideo Kojima production is one of those rare beasts influential both inside and out the world of video games.
The horror shelf in your local game store is filled with titles such as Silent Hill, Siren, and Dead Rising, but only one franchise is considered the pillar of the genre and it was created by Shinji Mikami. The Resident Evil games are the template to which all horror games are compared. There have been some highs and lows throughout the series but under the steady hand of Mikami, Capcom’s cash cow continues to grow from strength to strength.
Mikami has also shown he isn’t afraid to attempt new things, from the table-buckling controller of Steel Battalion to the primary-colored, over-the-topness of the legendary God Hand. Mikami is currently working with Platinum games on upcoming game Vanquish. If history is anything to go by, expect something special.
Eastern producers may be more prolific but they don’t have a monopoly on this here top ten. Richard Garriott cemented his place on this list by creating the Ultima series and coining the term “MMORPG,” the natural evolution of MUDs from the 80s and early 90s. The past few years have seen cancelled projects and missteps. Harry Potter Online never made it to the public (although this has to happen eventually, surely) while the ill-fated Tabula Rasa showed so much promise but had the plug pulled on servers last year. He may now be more famous for his adventures in space but his legacy in video games should never be forgotten.
While the likes of Suda and Kojima love being in the public eye, there are some who shy from it, preferring to do their talking via the games they produce. One such man is Ken Levine from Irrational Games or 2K Boston as it used to be known. And what Levine lacks in column inches or television interviews, his back catalogue more than makes up for. Games like Thief, System Shock 2, and Tribes are all quite rightly considered hugely influential but Levine’s place on this list would be assured even if BioShock had turned out to be the only game he ever produced. A masterpiece comprised of fabulous writing, pitch-perfect setting and deep immersion, BioShock is one of the greatest games ever made and deserves to be Levine’s longest lasting legacy.
We take for granted the merging of styles seen in the likes of Fallout 3 and BioShock, but the good ol’ days games were much more distinct and obvious. Gamers knew where they were with an FPS like Doom or an RPG like Baldur’s Gate. Warren Spector challenged convention, showing that mixing different genres could lead to something greater than the sum of the parts. His work with Garriott on the Ultima series continually set new benchmarks but Spector will always be best known for the seminal Deus Ex. Just celebrating it’s tenth anniversary, Deus Ex is rightly regarded as one of greatest games ever made. But you all know this because you have all played it right? Right?
After a long sabbatical, Spector is now working on the upcoming Epic Mickey. Warren working with Disney? That could turn out to be a very special experience indeed.
You may not recognise his name but I can pretty much guarantee you have played one of the games he has produced. As one of the founding members of Rockstar Games, he was involved with Grand Theft Auto from its 2D roots and has been the director and producer of the franchise since GTA3. Massively responsible for the way sandbox gaming has evolved, Houser has given us these huge playgrounds to reenact the most base desire of driving around and shooting shit up. You cannot make an open-world video game without an inevitable comparison to the Grand Theft Auto series. You all have Sam Houser to thank for that.
Produced Final Fantasy VII. Nuff said.
Joking aside, Hironobu Sakaguchi was the main driving force behind the Final Fantasy games, directing the first five then producing FFVI through to FFX. Responsible for some of the greatest moments in the history of gaming, Sakaguchi’s place in the pantheon of video game creators was assured from the moment Cloud stepped off that train. But whatever you do, don’t mention The Spirits Within….
Nowadays, at least in the West, the arcade is seen as a relic of a bygone age. There isn’t much an arcade cabinet can offer which can’t be replicated in the comfort of our own homes. That wasn’t always the case. In the late 80s and early 90s, arcades offered a glimpse at worlds and technologies hitherto unimagined for a dime or a quarter. The one company at the forefront of game design in arcades was Sega. Yu Suzuki was the man in charge there, providing templates for all we think of as modern gaming. Space Harrier, Out Run, After Burner, Virtua Fighter… the list is goes on forever. And that’s before you consider the work of art that is Shenmue. Suzuki’s output in recent years has trailed off but his legacy will remain for decades to come.
The granddaddy of them all, Shigeru Miyamoto is comfortably the most influential man to ever turn his hand to making video games. From as far back as Donkey Kong, Miyamoto’s work has defined video games for as long as the term ’video games’ has existed. Mario and Zelda are the cornerstones, each pushing the boundaries of game design with each new generation of console. Titles like Animal Crossing, Pikmin, F-Zero and Metroid Prime each show how an established genre can be turned on its head yet retain that core idea of ’fun.’ His games are never anything short of spectacular and he has a back catalog far superior to anyone else on this list. He is quite simply a genius and the world is a better place for him being here. Go play Super Mario Galaxy 2 for 10 minutes and tell me I’m wrong.