International Game Developers Association
| b. September 10th, 1941
d. October 4th, 1997
Gunpei Yokoi, the inventor of the Gameboy, lived from 1941 and died on October 4th, 1997.
Gunpei Yokoi was a true pioneer in videogame hardware engineering and game design, a man known for creating the Game Boy and Nintendo Light Gun and developing such innovative and memorable games as Metroid and Kid Icarus. His life and work influenced many in the industry and inspired players across the world with countless moments of joy, for which he posthumously earned a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Game Developers Choice Awards in 2003. His sudden and tragic death in a 1997 automobile accident ended far too early a life's work devoted to the creation of innovative videogame hardware and software that brought so much happiness into this world. He was 56 and is survived by his wife and son.
Mr. Yokoi's work began in 1965 as a maintenance engineer on the assembly line for Nintendo's Hanafuda cards in a time before Nintendo was a game maker and before the videogame industry even existed. In fact, his work at Nintendo would prove key to developing that same industry to what it has become today. Mr. Yokoi grew up in Kyoto and received a degree in electronics from Doshisha University. A skilled and creative engineer, he devoted his spare time to the construction of unique toys and gadgets which earned him recognition from Nintendo's then president, Hiroshi Yamauchi. In 1970, he was moved to product design, where he later created many games and toys for Nintendo, including the retractable arm Ultra Hand (1970), the baseball pitching device Ultra Machine, the Ten Billion Barrel puzzle (1980), an electronic bongo drum called Ele-Conga (1973), and the Love Tester.
As part of Nintendo's new games division, Mr. Yokoi was responsible for hiring new engineers and designers, for discovering talent, both raw and refined, that could be directed into the creation of outstanding and innovative products for Nintendo's new electro-mechanical games line. This lead to the hiring of Masayuki Uemura, who collaborated with Mr. Yokoi to produce Nintendo's Beam Gun Games, the precursor of the NES Zapper light guns, and later went on to develop the Nintendo Entertainment System hardware. Mr. Yokoi also mentored many engineers and designers, most famously Shigeru Miyamoto during the young designer's work on Donkey Kong (Arcade, 1981) and Mario Bros. (Arcade, 1983). Later, Yokoi was placed in charge of one of Nintendo's first three Research and Development studios, R&D 1, where he designed Metroid, the first title in one of Nintendo's longest-running series. His studio would go on to develop high-quality titles for the Game Boy, Virtual Boy, and Super Nintendo, including the Super Mario Land series, Super Metroid, and Tetris Attack.
Yet Mr. Yokoi's most famous work was the development of Nintendo's handheld gaming systems, beginning with the Game & Watch in 1980, the Game Boy in 1989, and the Virtual Boy in 1995. Each systems' hardware design was based on his philosophy of "Lateral thinking of withered technology" (Kareta gijutsu no suihei shikou) where mature technology that is cheap and well understood is used in radical new ways to produce innovative and inexpensive products, placing emphasis on designing compelling user experiences over the desire for cutting-edge technology. This logic has since been central to Nintendo's philosophy and may be seen applied in the Wii and Nintendo DS systems. It helped lead to the success of the Game & Watch, Game Boy, and the Nintendo Entertainment System (Famicom), and may also be seen in practice with Nintendo's early light guns. In addition, the Game Boy's portability, durability, and low power consumption along with its strong game library allowed it to become one of Nintendo's most profitable product series, selling more than 55 million units by 1997 and more than 118 million units worldwide throughout its lifespan.
Though Mr. Yokoi's successes with the Game Boy and in R&D 1 had earned him much praise at Nintendo, his track record was broken with the Virtual Boy in 1995, which implemented early virtual reality technology. The system's failure to catch on crushed Mr. Yokoi and it is said others at Nintendo lost confidence in his abilities. Mr. Yokoi resigned from Nintendo on August 15, 1996, shortly after the release of the Game Boy Pocket, though he maintained a close relationship with Nintendo afterward.
Shortly after, in September 11, 1996, the day after his birthday, Mr. Yokoi opened Koto Laboratory, a small company he intended to eventually rival Microsoft. Through a partnership with Bandai, Koto began development of the WonderSwan, a handheld gaming platform based on the philosophy he had applied to the Game Boy. They also began manufacturing LCD keychain toys.
However, on October 4, 1997, Mr. Yokoi was a passenger in a car that became involved in a minor accident with a truck. After Mr. Yokoi and the car's driver, Mr. Etsuo Kiso from Nintendo, stepped out to investigate the damage, they were both struck by another car, injuring Mr. Kiso but killing Mr. Yokoi. His passing was marked by obituaries in many newspapers and gaming magazines, including the The New York Times, EGM, and Nintendo Power.
His life and work inspired the love and friendship of many, and dozens of grassroots memorials exist for him throughout the Internet. The tenth anniversary of Mr. Yokoi's death was also marked by many Internet gaming and videogame news sites, a testament to his long-lasting impact on the industry. In 2006, Namco Bandai Games released Gunpey for both the Nintendo DS and Sony PlayStation Portable, a musical puzzle game based on Mr. Yokoi's designs.
Mr. Yokoi received a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award at the Game Developers Choice Awards in March 2003, an award that was accepted by his wife and son, who had flown to San Jose, California for the ceremony.
In every photograph of Gunpei Yokoi I have ever seen, Mr. Yokoi is inevitably smiling, a pleasant and charismatic expression of great joy and great pride. Through these images comes a story of the man and his personality, that of a professional craftsman, an engineer and toymaker who took great pride in everything he made, and found an inexhaustible joy within his heart from knowing that his work had brought countless hours of happiness to people of all ages and across nations. It is this passion and joy seen in every photograph that we can also see transferred from the hands of the craftsman to the design of the final product, a wondrous and ingenious energy, an emotion that has become infused into each and every game and toy he ever designed. The mind of the craftsman blesses the aura of the work and we are indeed fortunate to have so many wonderful creations come from that spirit, in essence not infallible, for no man is such upon this earth, but pioneering and taking great pleasure in that process of discovery found both in the maker and in the audience and also through the pleasure of the making. He was a great and kind man, a true rarity who inspired lifelong joy and friendship in those who knew him and became a beloved legend to those who did not but who have nonetheless been touched by his creations.
- Devin Monnens
Note: Unfortunately, many of Ninendo R&D1 early games are uncredited, particularly Arcade, NES, and, Game & Watch, and Game Boy. It is quite likely Mr. Yokoi had a profound influence on the design of many of these early titles. Considerable research will have to be committed before a 100% accurate list can be compiled.
Mechanical Toys and Gadgets
- Ultra Hand (1966) [1970, acc Sheff]
- Ultra machine (1968)
- Love Tester (1969)
- Light Ray Gun SP Series (1970)
- Erekonga (1970) [electronic bongo drum]
- NB Block Crater (1970)
- Ultra Scope (1971)
- Light Ray Telephone LT (1971)
- Lefty RX (1972)
- Time Shock (1972)
- Laser Kure Clay Shooting System (1973)
- Wild Gunman (1974) [16-mm film]
- Shooting Trainer (1974)
- Light Ray Gun Custom Series (1976)
- Duck Hunt (1977)
- The Chilean Tree (1979)
- [Dancing Robot (1985)?]
- [Robotic Vacuum Cleaner (1978)?]
- Game & Watch Series (1980)
- Game & Watch Wide Screen (1981)
- Game & Watch Multiple Screen (1982)
- Computer Mah-jong (1982)
- Famicom Controller (1983)
- Game & Watch Color Screen (1984)
- ROB Robot (1985)
- NES Zapper?
- Gyromite and Stack 'em?
- Game Boy (1989)
- Super Scope (1992)
- Virtual Boy (1995)
- Game Boy Pocket (1996* )
- Metroid -producer- (1985)
- Kid Icarus -producer- (1985)
- Metroid II: Return of Samus -producer- (1990)
- Dr. Mario (1990)
- Super Metroid -producer- (1993)
- Tetris Attack (1995)
- 3D Tetris -producer- (Virtual Boy, 1996)
- Fire Emblem: Keisen no Keifu -producer- (SNES, 1996)
- Tetris Attack -producer- (Game Boy, 1996)
- Galactic Pinball -general manager- (Virtual Boy, 1995)
- Kirby's Block Ball -producer- (Game Boy, 1995) [Miyamoto was also a producer]
- Mario's Tennis -producer- (Virtual Boy, 1995)
- Teleroboxer -producer- (Virtual Boy, 1995)
- Tetris Attack -producer- (SNES, 1995)
- Super Metroid -producer- (SNES, 1994)
- Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 -producer- (Game Boy, 1994)
- Metal Combat: Falcon's Revenge -producer- (SNES, 1993)
- Battle Clash -producer- (SNES, 1992)
- Kaeru no tame ni Kane wa Naru (For the Frog the Bell Tolls) -special thanks- (Game Boy, 1992)
- Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins -producer- (Game Boy, 1992)
- Yoshi's Cookie -producer- (Game Boy, 1992)
- Yoshi's Cookie -producer- (NES, 1992)
- Metroid II: Return of Samus -producer- (Game Boy, 1991)
- Balloon Kid -producer- (Game Boy, 1990)
- Dr. Mario -Gunpei Yokoi- (Game Boy, 1990)
- Solar Striker -producer- (Game Boy, 1990)
- Famicom Tantei Kurabu Part II: Ushiro ni Tatsu Shoujo -???- [Famicom Detective Club Part Two: The Girl in the Rear] (Famicom Disc System, 1989); based on Super Famicom port credits; could have simply been 'special thanks'
- Super Mario Land -producer- (Game Boy, 1989)
- Famicom Tantei Club: Kieta Kokeisha [Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir] -producer- (1988)
- Kid Icarus -producer- (NES, 1986)
- Metroid -producer- (NES, 1986)
- Mario Bros. -producer- (Arcade, 1984)
- Donkey Kong Jr. - producer- (Arcade, 1983)
- Donkey Kong -producer/hardware engineer- (Arcade, 1981)
- Virtual-boy site page on Gunpei Yokoi
- Kotaku.com - GameTrailers Game & Watch special
- CES 1995 interview by Steven Kent
- 3rd annual Game Developers Choice Awards 2003 Biography and award notes
- Searching for Gunpei Yokoi by Lara Crigger article at The Escapist
"He had a great sense of humor, a great smile... a very generous and outgoing fellow. He made a tremendous amount of creative contributions to Nintendo and the video game business over the years. People play Game Boy all over the world, and that's Mr. Yokoi's."
- Howard Lincoln quote about Mr. Yokoi