September 10, 1941|
|Died||October 4, 1997
|Cause of death||Road traffic accident|
|Alma mater||Doshisha University|
Gunpei Yokoi (横井 軍平 Yokoi Gunpei , September 10, 1941 – October 4, 1997), sometimes spelled Gumpei Yokoi, was a Japanese video game designer. He was a long-time Nintendo employee, creator of the Game Boy and Game & Watch handheld systems, inventor of the modern day D-pad or 'cross' pad (a design that nearly all video game controllers use today), and producer of a few long-running and critically acclaimed video game franchises.
In 1966, Hiroshi Yamauchi, president of Nintendo at the time, came to a hanafuda factory Yokoi was working at and took notice of a toy, an extending arm, which Yokoi made for his own amusement during spare time as the company's machine maintenance man. Yamauchi ordered Yokoi to develop it as a proper product for the Christmas rush. The Ultra Hand was a huge success, and Yokoi was asked to work on other Nintendo toys including the Ten Billion Barrel puzzle, a miniature remote-controlled vacuum cleaner called the Chiritory, a baseball throwing machine called the Ultra Machine, and a "Love Tester". He worked on toys until the company decided to make video games in 1974, when he became one of its first game designers, only preceded by Genyo Takeda. While traveling on the Shinkansen, Yokoi saw a bored businessman playing with an LCD calculator by pressing the buttons. Yokoi then got the idea for a watch that doubled as a miniature game machine for killing time, and went on to create Game & Watch, a line of handheld electronic games. In 1981, Yamauchi appointed Yokoi to supervise Donkey Kong, an arcade game created by Shigeru Miyamoto. Yokoi explained many of the intricacies of game design to Miyamoto at the beginning of his career, and the project only came to be approved after Yokoi brought Miyamoto's game ideas to the president's attention.
After the worldwide success of Donkey Kong, Yokoi continued to work with Miyamoto on the next Mario game, Mario Bros. He proposed the multiplayer concept and convinced his co-worker to give Mario some superhuman abilities, such as the ability to jump from higher places unharmed.
After Mario Bros., Yokoi produced several R&D1 games such as Kid Icarus and Metroid. He also designed ROB and the Game Boy, the latter of which became a worldwide success. Another of his creations, the Virtual Boy, was a big failure, but was not why he left Nintendo soon after. According to his colleague Yoshihiro Taki, "Yokoi had originally decided to retire at 50 to do as he pleased. His retirement had simply been a bit later than planned." According to David Sheff's book Game Over, Yokoi never actually intended for the console to be released in its present form. However, Nintendo pushed the Virtual Boy to market so that it could focus development resources on the Nintendo 64.
Amid the failure of the Virtual Boy, Yokoi left Nintendo on August 15, 1996 after 31 years at the company. However, he did not leave before completing the more successful Game Boy Pocket as a going-away present in July of that year. Leaving with several of his subordinates to form a new company called Koto, Yokoi led the development of the Bandai WonderSwan handheld gaming machine.
Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology
Yokoi articulated his philosophy of "Lateral Thinking of Withered Technology" (枯れた技術の水平思考, "Kareta Gijutsu no Suihei Shikō") (also translated as "Lateral Thinking with Seasoned Technology") in the book, Yokoi Gunpei Game House (横井軍平ゲーム館 Yokoi Gunpei Gēmu-kan ), which consists of a collection of interviews. "Withered technology" in this context refers to a mature technology which is cheap and well understood. "Lateral thinking" refers to finding radical new ways of using such technology. Yokoi held that toys and games do not necessarily require cutting edge technology; novel and fun gameplay are more important. In the interview he suggested that expensive cutting edge technology can get in the way of developing a new product.
Game & Watch was developed based on this philosophy. At the time of its development, Sharp and Casio were fiercely competing in the digital calculator market. For this reason, there was a glut of liquid crystal displays and semiconductors. The "lateral thinking" was to find an original and fun use for this cheap and abundant technology. The Game Boy and NES were developed under a similar philosophy. However, this strategy has not always been successful. When video game consoles entered the 4th and 5th generation, Sony and later Microsoft adopted a strategy of embracing cutting edge technology and selling their console at a loss, which was compensated by the licensing fee from sales of games. Nintendo's failure to adopt compact disc technology instead of cartridges for the Nintendo 64 was cited as the main reason rival PlayStation gained the upper hand in the 5th generation console market. On the other hand, in the handheld market, Yokoi's refusal to adopt a color display for the Game Boy in favor of long battery life is cited as the main reason it prevailed against Sega's Game Gear and the Atari Lynx.
Satoru Iwata, the current CEO of Nintendo, claims that this philosophy is still part of Nintendo as it has been passed on to the disciples of Yokoi, such as Miyamoto, and it continues to show itself in Nintendo's current use of technology with the Nintendo DS handheld system and the home gaming console, the Wii. The Wii's internal technology is mostly the same as the previous game system, the GameCube, and is far behind the computational powers and multimedia versatility of other competing video game consoles in the seventh generation; still being the only one to focus primarily on motion-based controls. Nintendo's emphasis on peripherals for the Wii has also been pointed to as an example of Yokoi's "lateral thinking" at work. The DS uses ARM processors at relatively low clock speeds and has far less computational power compared to Sony's competing PSP, yet has many features of modern technology built in (such as 802.11b, compatibility with Game Boy Advance games and touchscreen functionality).
Death and legacy
On October 4, 1997, while driving on the Hokuriku Expressway with his associate Etsuo Kiso, Yokoi rear-ended a truck driven by Takashi Okushima. After the two men had left the car to inspect the damage, Yokoi was hit and fatally injured by two passing cars. Contrary to urban legends of foul play, the driver of one of the passenger cars that hit Yokoi in the second accident was Gen Tsushima, a member of the tourism industry. Yokoi was pronounced dead two hours later.
- "Forgotten Giant: The Brilliant Life and Tragic Death of Gunpei Yokoi". Game Informer 12 (105): 116. January 2002.
- Fleming, Dan (1996). Powerplay. Manchester University Press ND. p. 180. ISBN 978-0-7190-4717-6.
- "Proposition: Use Two Televisions". Iwata Asks: Punch-Out!!. Nintendo of America, Inc. 13 September 2009. Retrieved 23 September 2010.
- Varney, Allen (2007-03-06). "The Escapist: Searching for Gunpei Yokoi". Escapistmagazine.com. Retrieved 2011-06-01.
- Kent 158.
- "Mario Couldn't Jump At First". Iwata Asks: New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Nintendo of America, Inc. 13 November 2009. Retrieved 23 September 2010.
- "The Reason Mario Wears Overalls". Iwata Asks: New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Nintendo of America, Inc. 13 November 2009. Retrieved 23 September 2010.
- Game Over: How Nintendo Zapped an American Industry, Captured Your Dollars, and Enslaved Your Children by David Sheff, 1993, Random House.
- Geemu no Chichi, Yokoi Gunpei Den: Nintendo no DNA wo Souzou Shita Otoko by Takefumi Makino, 2010, Kadokawa Shoten.
- Yokoi, Gunpei and Makino, Takefumi. Yokoi Gunpei Game House (横井軍平ゲーム館 Yokoi Gunpei Gēmu-kan ). ASCII. May 1997. ISBN 978-4-89366-696-3
- Ryan, Jeff. Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America. Penguin. 2011.
- Parish, Jeremy. The Troubled Past and Challenging Future of Nintendo 3DS: What the 3DS owes to Virtual Boy (and how it's different). 1up.com. 31 March 2011.
- Noble, McKinley (GamePro). "5 Biggest Game Console Battles." PC World. August 31, 2009. Retrieved on July 4, 2013. "It turns out that abandoning the old cartridge-format for the CD made all the difference in Sony's first strike against Nintendo, as developers found the CD format a LOT easier to produce and distribute."
- Jones, Steven E. and Thiruvathukal, George K. Codename Revolution: The Nintendo Wii Platform. MIT Press. 2012.
- "Game Boy Inventor Dies in Car Crash". IGN. IGN Entertainment, Inc. October 6, 1997. Retrieved July 27, 2011.
- Brian Ashcraft (2011-04-07). "The Father of the Game Boy Was Not Killed By Yakuza". Kotaku.com. Retrieved 2011-06-18.
- "IGN: Gunpei Yokoi Biography". Stars.ign.com. Retrieved 2011-06-01.
- "Game Boy Creator Gunpei Yokoi to Receive IGDA'S Lifetime Achievement Award At The 3rd Annual Game Developers Choice Awards". 20 February 2003. Retrieved 27 November 2010.
- "Top Ten Game Creators". Gametrailers.com. Retrieved 2013-01-24.
- Gunpei Yokoi's Lifetime Achievement Award
- N-Sider Profile: Gunpei Yokoi
- N-Sider: History of R&D 1
- Gunpei Yokoi In Memoriam 1941 – 1997
- Searching for Gunpei Yokoi
- Twenty Years of the Game Boy – Celebrating Gunpei Yokoi's Genius