Memorials/Tomi Pierce

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IGDA Memorials
Tomi Pierce
b. 1953-04-24


d. 2010-02-01

Mobygames page
External memorial page

Tomi Pierce was a writer, producer, and documentarian, producing games for Broderbund software and a documentary for PBS. A long-time collaborator with Jordan Mechner, her most famous work is The Last Express, considered to be one of the finest examples of videogame writing. Pierce passed away after a long battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). She was 54. She is survived by her husband Doug Carlston, her son Denman, her daughter Colleen, and her sister Naomi.



Born in Colorado in 1953, Pierce was a gifted child with a knack for science, the arts, and the outdoors. The daughter of a geophysicist, she had memorized the periodic table at 18 months, but as the granddaughter of Japanese novelist Yojiro Ishizaka, she quickly turned her love to music, literature, and poetry, even writing a famous letter to C.S. Lewis. She was also fond of horseback riding.

Receiving perfect scores of 800 in her SATs, Pierce attended Yale with a scholarship. As an undergraduate, she directed Yale's Berkeley Film Society, where she gained a love for film that she would express throughout her career in both the games industry and in the production of documentaries. She graduated from Stanford Business School with an MBA in 1982 and later attended Kyoto University.

In 1984, Pierce co-founded Sensei Software with Doug Carlston, founder of Broderbund Software, which produced the educational software Calculus, Geometry, and Physics, which Pierce had to learn in order to produce. While working with Broderbund, Pierce began a long collaboration with Jordan Mechner, who at the time was programming Prince of Persia in the office next door. Mechner described her as having a mind that "was definitely pre-internet model, with a photographic memory capable of storing and retrieving vast quantities of data, pieces of music, and reams of poetry in various languages" including English, French, and Japanese.

Pierce later helped establish Broderbund's division in Paris in 1989, where she expressed her "poetic" and "lyrical" fluency with the language.

From 1993 to 1997, Pierce served as the writer for Mechner's critically-acclaimed The Last Express. Pierce conducted extensive research for The Last Express over a period of four years, including "a journey into the bowels of Paris's Gare de l'Est to coax from retired French railway employees certain closely guarded secrets of the 1914 Orient Express," which she documented in her article for Newsweek. Mechner described her work on the game as "brilliant", and The Last Express is considered one of the finest examples of videogame storytelling.

Pierce's final venture was the co-founding of 24 Hour Diner. She continued working right until the end, holding a final board meeting less than a week before her death.


Video games

  • The Last Express (1997), Writer, Executive Producer
  • Prince of Persia CD Collection (1995), Special Thanks (Prince of Persia), Story Consultant (Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow & The Flame)
  • Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow & The Flame (1993), Story Consultant
  • D/Generation (1991), Special Thanks
  • Prince of Persia (1989), Special Thanks


  • Chavez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story (2003), Executive Producer



Many more comments are available on Jordan Mechner's memorial page.

"What no biography can capture is the extraordinary generosity that permeated all Tomi’s relationships, from her nearest and dearest to people she met only once; from the world’s great intellects, movers and shakers, to the toll-takers on the Golden Gate Bridge who knew her by name. Tomi had an extraordinary gift for connecting with people on the most personal, human level, seemingly without effort and often within moments of the first meeting. She had a charisma that couldn’t be simulated or feigned, because she was only being herself. She thought constantly of other people — as anyone who has traveled with her can attest, having been subjected to the endless delays and inconvenience of her insistence on finding the right gift not only for her friends and family, but for a long list of others. When she mailed the final payment for her college loans to the financial office at Yale, she sent along a big box of chocolates to everyone in the office. They wrote back to thank her, noting that no one in the long history of that institution had ever thanked them so graciously before.

"Tomi was generous not only with gifts but with her time, help, and advice, maneuvering and strategizing for others’ benefit; most valuable of all, she was generous of herself. Deeply loyal, she inspired loyalty in others. (She could also hold a grudge for a remarkably long time.) In her wide-ranging interests, pursuits, and travels, she brought together people from universes that don’t normally intersect." -Jordan Mechner, Naomi Pierce, and Andrew Berry

"Tomi was a beautiful person who did indeed open her heart and home to everyone, even the crazy guy who would climb the trees in her backyard at Broderbund Reunions." -Michael Shea, from Jordan Mechner's memoriam

"I will never forget meeting Tomi in 1990 and telling her about my English PhD dissertation on Rebecca West, which I had just begun. She said, “Tell me about her,” and I did. When I talked to her next, maybe three weeks later, I said, “Did you read some West novels?” to which she memorably replied, “Yes, about seven.” We then spent the next few years going to movies and having lunch together in North Beach. She and I shared a birthday, April 24. I still have and use many of the extraordinary gifts she gave me. I loved her." -Ann Norton, from Jordan Mechner's memoriam

"She had a way of making you feel strong, of making you feel like you were special, and most of all, of making you feel like you could DO IT. Whatever it was you were trying to accomplish, Tomi's faith in you was so strong that it bolstered your own to the moon." -Ben, from gheofabulousduk's Livejournal

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