Where are the great designers of yesteryear?

I was looking at my Civ4 Warlords box, and it got me thinking-

Where have all the great designers of yesteryear gone? Why haven’t we seen one single original IP by any of these guys in years?

Sid Meier hasn’t created an original IP in almost a decade. The last one he was even remotely involved in was Alpha Centauri. Now he just sits on his franchises and “consults”.

And all the other designers? Chris Roberts tried to make movies, then just disappeared. All the other Origin designers… what happened to them?

Even sadder are the great designers regulated to churn out shovelware shite year after year. The best example of this is Paul Rieche and his Toys for Bob team, who have had to do Disney licenses for the past 8 years. The only break they got was the “Tony Hawk Downhill Jam” project, which is derivative enough as is.

Richard Garriot is one of the only active designers of yore, working on his MMO project. Then there is Warren Spector, who faltered greatly by leaving his excellent franchise in the hands of an inexperienced design team. He apparently is working on a comeback project. Finally, we have Molyneux. Although he is currently active, I’m afraid he’s just lost his ability to make a fun game.

Then you have the industry “gurus”. People like Chris Crawford, who do nothing but complain about the current state of the industry now while doing absolutely nothing to contribute to it.

The only studio I can think of that contains some of the storied designers of yore that continues to push out amazing product is Irrational with their stock of Looking Glass designers. A further offspring of this is Doug Church, who is apparently head of “original IP” at the EALA studio. Given his sparse role on the last Tomb Raider game, who knows what may become of this new partnership.

The only designers who seem to have any initiative to create new product are, ironically, on the consoles. The Ico team, David Jaffe, Miyamoto, Sony’s first party developers, etc. They constantly churn out fantastic new franchises and design paradigms.

We need more designers like Will Wright. Always active, always designing, and always impressing us.

Anyone have any leads on where the greats have gone? Have any to add to the “where the heck are they now” list?

I think Sid created and did a lot of work on Sim Golf.

Oh, right. I had totally forgotten about that. I actually enjoyed that game quite a bit as well…

I think it all depends on who you mean with that title. Yes, some of the ones you’ve mentioned aren’t working on new stuff, but…

  • Brian Reynolds is still out there making new games (Rise of .).
  • John Romero (no snickers please) is working on a new franchise
  • Shigeru Miyamoto is always working on something new
  • The doctors at BioWare are actively working on new franchises (Jade Empire, Dragon Age, and whatever else they have brewing).
  • Tim Schaefer is working on a new game, which is presumed not to be a sequel to Psychonauts (which was itself very much an original game).

That’s all that’s coming to mind right this second, but I think that’s a decent list.

Wil Wright… Spore!


What surprises me about toysforbob, is that besides Star Control2 which is perhaps my favorite game of all time. I hate every game they have made after that. When I visited their website and look at the games made, each one was one that I didn’t like.

The best part is that the first time I heard about the tony hawk wii game and read the description, I thought to myself that it sounded completely horrible and stupid. Then I found out that Toys for Bob are making it. Which is more reason why I really want them to make a Star Control sequel.

Keiji Inafune went from the Mega Man franchise to Dead Rising, and I’ve heard reports that with Shinji Mikami flouncing off to Clover Studios, Inafune’s taken over producer/director duties on Resident Evil 5.

Yuji Naka’s still working on Sonic.

Any news on Yu Suzuki? I heard he left AM2.

While it may be a “spiritual successor”, this example popped into my find right off the bat as well.

(cough) Derek Smart is still batshit crazy, er, muddling through with his um…storied franchise.

Isn’t he making immortality devices in his spare time?

I secretly wish Garriott would go back to single player RPG design. I guess that’s not fair since he helped break MMOs into the mainstream and the social aspect of videogaming is something that seems to have always interested him. But we are choking on MMOs and the field for single player RPGs is thin, and how nice it would be to see him bring that attention to detail and passion for lore back to the genre again.

Sadly, the sublime Dani Bunten died in 1999. I still think she is a bit underrated among the gaming-gods pantheon.

I wish Chris Roberts hadn’t gone off on his movie making tangent and I hope he comes back in some meaningful capacity.

Some other designers of yore I’d like to see back in the game, pipe dream though it be…

Ali Atabek – one of the all time great CRPG designers (Magic Candle)
Stuart Smith – the genius behind Adventure Construction Set which predated NWN by amost 20 years
David Braben – granddaddy of the space sim genre… what’s he doing these days?
David Joiner – designer of Faery Tale adventure. Actually, I’d like to see him working as a composer not as a game designer. I thought Faery Tale was a weak design but the music (which I believe he wrote) was fab.

oh yeah also… Andrew Braybrook (I think is his name), Paradroid one of the great 8 bit designs.

As long as Jeff Minter is still puttering around, it can’t be all bad though.

RollerCoaster Tycoon 3.

I’m still here! Just kidding. I died 3 years ago.

Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, he’s now working on an Espionage/Thriller title called The Outsider for next generation platforms.

And Frontier is porting RCT3 to consoles under a different name, so no Elite 4, either.

Why is that ironic?

David Braben’s Frontier studio is still going, although their output has been less than stellar. His last two games were the interesting but very flawed “Dog’s Life” for PS2 and the ok Rollercoaster Tycoon 3.

David Joiner, on the other hand, has made really horrible games since Faery Tale 1. He came out of the Furry closet and made the extremely mediocre Furry adventure game called “Inherit The Earth” several years ago. I’m not sure, but I think he was involved with “Faery Tale 2” for the PC after that, which was pretty bad as well.

I found it that way because a lot of people blame the lack of innovation in PC games to sequels and sports franchises dominating the console market. I have personally never felt that way, however.

EDIT: Actually, let me reword that:

People blame the lack of innovation in PC games on the console market’s dominance over game development. And when they look at consoles, all they see are sports franchises and carbon-copy sequels.

Braben is working on fresh IP with Frontier Development. The game is called The Outsider, and from what I read in an Edge cover story a couple of months back, it´s a sandbox set against a political stage in Washington. One of the screenshots showed some newsfeed-style scrolling text at the bottom of the screen that said “President murder”, so I suppose it´s going to be a conspiracy theory in there somewhere. Braben also talked about media playing a big role in the game, with the reputation of the character not just based on his actions, but also on how the media chose to portray it. It looked pretty nice, with lots of warm, yellow lighting and an attractive style, but it didn´t exactly knock me back in my chair.

I´m sure you can find more information via the infomagical intertron.

Where did Tom Hall go? Anachronox was great fun.