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Feature: The Unsung Contract Developer Behind  Donkey Kong

Feature: The Unsung Contract Developer Behind Donkey Kong

July 6, 2011 | By Kyle Orland

While legendary Nintendo designer Shigeru Miyamoto is credited with creating of the seminal Donkey Kong, a new Gamasutra feature highlights how an engineering firm's role in the game's development has been largely unknown for the past 30 years.

Ikegami Co. Ltd. is one of many "shadow developers" that worked anonymously on classic games of the late '70s and early '80s, with comments hidden deep in the game's code often the only evidence of their work.

Nintendo contracted the company to produce the initial shipment of 2,000 Donkey Kong arcade boards, which were inserted into converted, unsellable Radarscope cabinets for American distribution in 1981. Ikegami quickly produced another 8,000 boards for Nintendo once Donkey Kong became a bona fide hit.

Nintendo took over production at that point, making 80,000 more Donkey Kong units on its own despite questions over who actually owned the rights to produce the game. The matter wasn't settled until 1990, when a judge ruled Nintendo didn't own the rights to Donkey Kong's code and the companies settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

Ikegami went on to anonymously develop arcade hits like Zaxxon and Congo Bongo for Nintendo competitor Sega. Nintendo, meanwhile, contracted with Iwasaki Engineering to quickly develop follow-up Donkey Kong Jr., eventually hiring many of its employees to form its first in-house development studio.

Though Ikegami no longer collaborates in the game business, it still exists as an engineering firm and a little-known player in the golden age of video games. The full feature includes many more details of Ikegami's long-hidden game work and the history of Donkey Kong's development.

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