Game developers are a unique breed. Their craft takes an odd combination of artistic, technical and managerial chops. They might be as pretentious or entitled as some of Hollywood’s biggest directors or as impetuous and juvenile as teenage pop stars. Or, of course, they could just be unabashedly geeky.
It’s a rare treat when we can get inside the heads of these visionaries, taking just a few steps down whatever rabbit hole they might get their ideas from. Interviews are great, but they’re infrequent and overly scripted — and however cooperative a developer may be, they’re usually held in check by a PR rep lurking in the shadows nearby. Developer diaries, documentaries and “making-of” features are typically just as stilted, interesting in their own right but confined to a predictable, media-friendly cadence.
If actors and athletes are any indication, Twitter can be a great way to cut out the middleman and get an unfiltered window into celebrities’ lives. Some developer accounts are totally freewheeling — ”Metal Gear” creator Hideo Kojima tweeted 20 times about “Papillon” and “Planet of the Apes” the other day, not mentioning games even once. Other accounts, like Epic Games’ Cliff Bleszinski’s, give a healthier mix of travel updates, pictures of pets and, of course, pimping for in-house projects like “Gears of War 3.”
Dozens of other developers, though, don’t turn up with a casual search. I admit the following is a bit fantastical — some of these guys don’t speak the best English or have PR departments that keep them away from Twitter with a 10-foot pole. Others may already have blogs or journals, but those still aren’t as sporadic, unfiltered or casual as a humble tweet. So with that in mind and impracticalities neatly swept under the rug, here’s my list — a guy can dream, right?
Famous for: “Mario,” “Zelda,” “Donkey Kong”
Miyamoto’s position at Nintendo goes beyond a traditional title. The man is a gold mine of ideas, and he’s been cranking out classics since Nintendo kick-started the industry after the market crashed in 1983. His games, while revered, are utterly bizarre on the surface — but incredibly, almost all his inspirations come from his daily life. “Mario” was his landlord, “Pikmin” came from a day in the garden, “Zelda” is a reimagining of his trips to rural Japan and “Nintendogs,” of course, comes from time with his Shetland Shepard, Pikku. At age 58, he’s only getting quirkier, and I’d love to see more of life through his eyes.
Famous for: “Ultima”…and something awesome.
So, Richard Garriott. Never heard of him? Then you must’ve been born in the ‘90s or owned a crappy computer until the last decade. Garriott made a name for himself with the “Ultima” series of PC RPGs, which he developed nonstop from 1980 to 2000. His games might seem dry to younger audiences, but even at 50, his personality is one of a kind. Exhibit A: his rat tail-esque hair (you kind of have to see it). And B: he’s been to freaking space. Really: Garriott, the sun of an astronaut, funded his own 12-day journey aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station in 2008.
Famous for: “Mega Man,” “Onimusha,” “Dead Rising”
More than anyone on this list, Inafune has always been about the fans. He makes video messages for them, takes their opinions to heart and, in his time with the company, wasn’t afraid to lobby Capcom for entire projects based on fan demand. That attitude won him plenty of admiration from gamers, but caused enough friction with Capcom for him to leave the company where he had become a legend over 23 years. There’s a great personality and a bit of mystery to Inafune, and I’d love to see more snippets of his personal side — and his new game, of course.
Famous for: “Dead or Alive,” “Ninja Gaiden,” sketchiness
Tomonobu Itagaki is a creep. He’s a misogynistic, crude man who hides behind sunglasses and gets in trouble for sexual harassment. His “Dead or Alive” and “Ninja Gaiden” games were generally well received (including by this writer) before his dramatic departure from Team Ninja. But they were also crammed with enough busty women and organ-spewing carnage to land 20-minute specials on Fox. He’s twisted and eccentric, but he’s also a visionary. In short, he’s a perfect candidate for Twitter.
Famous for: Running the house that built “Half-Life,” “Portal” and Steam
To put it one way, Gabe Newell is in charge of what might be the most badass game company I know of. Valve is privately owned, operates largely in secret and somehow toes the line between rainbow-coated dream factory and underground money-printing operation with enough grace to command respect. It doesn’t hurt to control nearly three quarters of the downloadable PC game market via Steam, either. It’s not going to happen anytime soon, but having some insight into Valve’s inner workings with an active Twitter feed from Newell would lend some personality to the secretive company. And as a man, Newell himself provides an intriguing object of study; he’s got a collection of 600 knives in his office and talks smack about other companies whenever he wants. Valve is a one-in-a-million sort of company, and no one embodies its mystique, talent and attitude more than Newell.