List by Harvard L.
This week saw International Women's Day come and go; one of the rare moments where the games industry does (for the most part) stop to properly celebrate the vital role that women have in producing the games that we love. Without the incredible talent of women (often against incredible adversary and social pressure) the industry would be that much the lesser, with far fewer games, and, more importantly, fewer ideas. It would have no legitimate claim to be an art form.
We shouldn't celebrate women on just the one day each year, and we certainly shouldn't forget the kinds of difficulties and pressures that women need to go through to actually get their ideas heard in the first place. So we're not posting this Friday ten on International Women's Day (obviously). We're posting it on a normal day to celebrate ten of our favourite people in game development. It's as simple as that.
So, if I was to tell you that 99 per cent of the work done from taking a much-criticised virtual pin-up girl in Lara Croft, and turn her into the embodiment of female empowerment in gaming, was done by a single writer, you would think that writer is pretty darn talented, right? That's only the beginning of what Rhianna Pratchett has achieved. Beyond her work with the recent two Lara Croft games, Pratchett also gave us Faith Connors, the incredible embodiment of female empowerment in Mirror's Edge, and Nariko, the incredible embodiment of female empowerment in Heavenly Sword. Notice a trend here? Pratchett does incredible things with her characters, when at times she's working with very thin narratives, and she is right up there with the most important writers in the industry as a result.
One of the real pioneers of the gaming industry, Brenda Romero was one of the first women to attain creative leadership roles in major games (yes, gaming used to be even more of a boy's club than it is today). She was one of the most important people working on the Wizardry series, which proved to be foundational to so much of what we love in dungeon crawlers today. She also worked on Playboy: The Mansion, Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes, and some twenty other games. Now she's perhaps better known as a true champion for the potential of games, lending her consulting and advocacy skills to various industry bodies, and creating a series of "board" games about deathly serious topics that really explore the idea of just how emotional, educational, and important game mechanics can be. The games industry doesn't have many theorists that have thought quite as deeply and creatively about the medium as Romero has.
Auriea Harvey’s work with Tale of Tales cannot be understated – this is a studio which has created transgressive works of art like Luxuria Suburbia and richly explored the realities of political unrest in Sunset. Tale of Tales’ games are experimental and didactic, but lead the player to their own sense of discovery and personal understanding. On International Womens’ Day, Harvey re-released The Path, which deconstructs the traditional Red Riding Hood narrative to comment on the restrictive categorisation of women in modern day society. Players can stand to learn much from playing and analysing Harvey’s work, and it’s refreshing to see a developer embed real-world concerns into their games with such flair.
Few developers have a creative vision like Siobhan Reddy, whose work on the LittleBigPlanet series and the upcoming PS4 exclusive Dreams have helped players express themselves creatively in a digital space. Reddy’s games are filled with tools to let players design content themselves and share it publicly, blurring the lines between player and developer and inspiring many young people to take up an interest in game development. Her work is simultaneously experimental and welcoming, encouraging players to take an active role and lose themselves in a world of their own making.
Not many players would know that the woman who composed the beautifully memorable Dearly Beloved from Kingdom Hearts was also responsible for the timeless crescendo of Street Fighter II’s Guile’s Theme. Yoko Shimomura is the mastermind behind dozens of game soundtracks, with an impressive career starting on the Famicom and most recently appearing in Final Fantasy XV. Her diverse musical range and a natural ability to craft emotionally resonant melodies set her apart from other composers, so it’s no surprise that Shimomura is one of the most sought after talents in game development.
Koei Tecmo has been a pack leader in Japan's games industry for a long time now. The long running Warriors series, Dead or Alive, Nobunaga’s Ambition and dozens of other great titles continually prove that Japanese games which stay true to their cultural heritage can still have tremendous influence on the international market. Much of this success can be attributed to Koei Tecmo’s chairperson, Keiko Erikawa, whose incredible management of developers and investors have paved the way for the company’s success. With the recent success of Nioh and Atelier Firis, Erikawa has been guiding Koei Tecmo from strength to strength and we at DDNet couldn’t be happier.
Take a look at our Top 100 canonical games list and you’ll find that Laura Bailey’s voicework appears six times across the entire countdown! She appears in our #1 game, NieR, as Kaine, and also in our #2, Persona 4, as Rise Kujikawa. In our site’s humble opinion that makes her the greatest voice artist in gaming, capable of enormous emotional range and able to adapt to a variety of characters and personalities. Bailey’s career covers Western and Japanese games as well as anime dubs, and we have no idea where she finds the time and energy to fit it all in! We do know, however, that some of our favourite characters just wouldn’t be the same without her; as we actually discovered when Bailey wasn't cast as Risette in the most recent Persona 4 title; Persona 4: Dancing All Night.
Xbox Live is a platform known for its toxicity, and especially its gender and sexuality based slurs, so it’s inspiring to see the head of 343 Industries and the caretaker of the Halo franchise take such a strong stance on the matter. Bonnie Ross has been active in ensuring the Halo online experience is as free as possible from bullying regardless of what kind of player you are, but her work in revitalising the sci-fi shooter franchise cannot be understated either. After the relative sales slump of Halo Reach and ODST, it was up to Ross and 343 Industries to ensure that Halo 4 would be a hit – it was, and the studio has been delivering quality action ever since.
A self-professed writer first and game developer second, Christine Love’s work is transgressive, but also highly thought provoking. Love’s most recent game, Ladykiller in a Bind, deals with sexual health and complex relationships in a mature way – earning a release on Steam despite the platforms’ general aversion to sexual content. Her games are text heavy and morally challenging, oftentimes being quite difficult to play, but they are also highly enriching experiences. With a catalogue of dynamic narratives exploring how technology and communication inform and contort basic human instinct, Christine Love is most definitely a developer worth following.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is one of the most beautiful games ever developed, featuring an elegant and consistent art style which remixes Gothic horror sensibilities with Playstation era vibrancy. Much of the game’s visual appeal is owed to Ayami Kojima, whose concept art for the game proved so popular that she has ever since been the go-to artist for the series. Kojima’s muted style mixing pure whites with complex textures perfectly evokes the pompous elegance hiding sinister intentions which has for so long been the calling card of the franchise’s vampiric cast.
- Harvard L.