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GDC 2012: The games that influenced our influential game designers
GDC 2012: The games that influenced our influential game designers
March 8, 2012 | By Frank Cifaldi

March 8, 2012 | By Frank Cifaldi
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More: Console/PC, GDC, Design



An all-star cast of video game designers -- each of them inspirations in themselves -- shared which games inspired and informed their work in a nostalgic and casual chat at Thursday's Game Developers Conference.

Here, in their own words, are the games that inspired Loot Drop's John Romero, Firaxis' Sid Meier, Stupid Fun Club's Will Wright and Epic's Cliff Bleszinski.

Will Wright, Pinball Construction Set

It was an amazingly powerful set of tools.

[Bill Budge] was conceptualizing this as a software toy. It's really a much broader class of things than a game. I liked the idea that it was that open-ended ended.

It's kind of amazing how elaborate all the pieces were... you could resize, rotate, even go into a graphical editor. And this all ran on a 48k Apple II.

It ended up becoming a more efficient way to convey complex tools and operations than having to put faded text everywhere.

His love was really tools more than games. He enjoyed making things that would empower people to be creative.

Right after I started playing PCS, I started working on SimCity....I wanted to keep as few words in the interface as possible.



Sid Meier, Seven Cities of Gold

Dan [Bunten] is often remembered for pioneering multiplayer games and casual gaming...but I think this is another way he was light years ahead of his time.

If you haven't played Seven Cities of Gold, it is a huge game.

The graphics...we might call them rudimentary. We might call them functional. But this was really the revelation of this game. Dan was able to create this entire world that you could explore, and I think there's a lesson there for us.

His willingness not to be constrained by any technical limitations...it was a real inspiration for me. Games didn't have to just be about simple things derived from the arcade tradition that we started from. They could be totally amazing things.

The message for me was, it's not about what you show on the screen, it's what you cause to appear in the player's imagination. Even today ... it's still the player's imagination that's the most powerful tool we can stimulate and use to bring the experience to life.

The more you can draw your player into the world...the more powerful and fun your game is going to be.

This game I created before I played Seven Cities of Gold was called Floyd of the Jungle. The games I created after were Pirates!, Railroad Tycoon and Civilization. I think this kind of encapsulates the effect this game had on me as a designer.

It really convinced me that games could be about historical things. Floyd of the Jungle was not a historical game, it was not based on any historical Floyds. But from then on, it really inspired me to take real world situations and events and bring them to life.

Seven Cities of Gold was the first game that I think I played that had this random map concept in it. In terms of replayability, there's nothing like a random map to cause you to play a game again and again.

Dan was able to mix genres together. It wasn't just an arcade game, it wasn't just an exploration game. It was all these things together. You had to worry about your supplies...but you also had to navigate your way and explore this world. And every once in a while...you had to play this little arcade game.

Three words, "Amaze the natives," printed on the screen, just convinced me...struck me as wow, as game designers we have incredibly strange powers.

Cliff Bleszinski, The Legend of Zelda

Nothing is more personal for me than The Legend of Zelda.

I fell in love with Nintendo. This was my first true love.

I was teased at school a little bit. I was chased off the bus and called Nintendo Boy. It kind of sucked back then, but my life is fucking awesome now, and they can just go on with their lame lives.

I don't know if you recall the ad, it was this guy with a black turtleneck...my friends and I are sitting there...like, really? You're going to take me from Mario to this? It was really a bad representation of what this game is.

Then I learned about the cartridge, and that it was gold. Our minds were blown...that was my first lesson in branding.

Then I found the manual. I didn't have the game yet...and my friend showed up one day with the manual...I still to this day remember the scent of that thing as I opened it.

There's a compass and a map and a boomerang and bows and arrows...this was all new territory for me!

It ignited my senses.



John Romero, Pac-Man

Everyone back then got used to seeing games in black and white. And then one day in 1980...I used to go with my parents to the bowling alley...I saw Pac-Man, and that was a real color game.

And it totally blew me away. The minute that I saw it, I still remember exactly where it was and what it looked like. Pac-Man was the game that really blew me away and influenced everything, because the game design was unlike anything that had come before.

It had a great cabinet that was really funny.

The full force of the game hit me, and I kind of absorbed it all immediately, and understood the game design was different than what I'd seen before.

The four ghosts were crazy cool because they all had personalities...you start to learn them.

It just kind of alludes to a deeper story even though there isn't a story there.

It was very different when it came out. It was like a mindblast for me.

The game was hugely influential on me, especially in the fact that it showed game design can be anything you think of. This game broke out of the mental box the whole industry was in.


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