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Gaming Gods: Gunpei Yokoi

This week, I go back to Japan for Gaming Gods, to the legendary mind that is Nintendo’s Gunpei Yokoi.

Gunpei Yokoi

Yokoi was born on September 10th 1941. He grew up in Kyoto, Japan. He graduated from Doshisha University with a degree in Electronics. He was hired by Nintendo in 1965 to maintain the assembly line for their Hanafuda Cards.

In 1970, Hiroshi Yamauchi, president of Nintendo at the time, came down to the factory to see how it was doing. Whilst there, he noticed an extending arm that Yokoi had made to amuse himself in his spare time from working as the janitor and maintenance man. Yamauchi ordered Yokoi to develop it as a proper toy for the Christmas rush. The Ultra Hand was a huge success, so Yokoi was asked to work on other toy projects including the Ten Billion Barrel Puzzle, a miniature remote controlled Vacuum cleaner called Chiritory and a ‘Love Tester’. He worked on toys consistently until the company decided to delve into the Video Games market in 1974.

The Ultra Hand design that Impressed Yamauchi

In 1981, Yamauchi appointed Yokoi to supervise the Original Donkey Kong Game, developed by Shigeru Miyamoto. Yokoi explained many of the intricacies of game design to Miyamoto in the early stages of his career, and the only reason the game was put into production was because Yokoi brought it to the President’s attention.
After the worldwide success of Donkey Kong, the dynamic duo started work on the first proper Mario Game. Then came Mario Bros. Yokoi Proposed the concept of multiplayer game play, and suggested that Mario be given a super-human ability, such as jumping from high places without getting hurt.

Yokoi produced several games in the coming years, such as Kid Icarus and Metroid, as well as the Game Boy and the ROB. The Game Boy achieved huge worldwide success. Another of his creations, the Virtual Boy, was a complete failure, though this wasn’t the reason he left the company soon after. When asked, a colleague of Yokoi said ‘he had planned to retire at 50 to do as he pleased. His retirement had simply been a bit later than planned’.

Original Gameboy - One of Yokoi's Inventions

On October 4th, 1997, while driving down the Hikuriku Express, Yokoi rear-ended a Lorry. After stopping both vehicles, Yokoi got out of the car to inspect the damage. In this brief moment, he was struck by a passing car. Amidst conspiracies of foul play, the driver of the car was found to be a member of the Tourist Industry. Yokoi was pronounced dead 2 hours later.

In 2003, Yokoi was posthumously given the Lifetime Achievement Award of the International Game Developers Association. GameTrailers placed him on their Top 10 Game Creators list.

So, I think it is fairly well accepted that he is definitely a Gaming God, worthy of praise, even though he died so prematurely.

Happy Gaming

Ryan

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