Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Nintendo Key Figures - Gunpei Yokoi (横井軍平)

Although Nintendo gradually but steadily amassed a large staff of talented designers and engineers, one name stands above the rest in terms of influence and impact on the company in the period from the 1960s to the 1980s: Gunpei Yokoi.

Originally a maintenance engineer on Nintendo’s hanafuda card manufacturing line, his talent was soon spotted by then Nintendo chairman Hiroshi Yamauchi, and put to use in the games department.

He single-handedly created many of the toys and games featured on this blog.

An inventor by nature, he was always looking for new ideas and new uses of technology., and continued to play a very important role, developing Game & Watch and – his masterpiece – the Game Boy. He was also involved in software development, producing games including Metroid and Super Mario Land.

The Game Boy is a true testament to his design philosophy: much more important than using a cutting edge (and power consuming) colour screen (it hadn’t) were long battery life and low production cost (it had): creating a true handheld for the masses.

Yokoi left Nintendo in 1996, after 30 years of employment. He started Koto Laboratory, which was involved in the design of the WonderSwan for Bandai.

His departure at Nintendo is often linked to the commercial failure of the Virtual Boy (another of his inventions). However, Yokoi himself has stated that he resigned to find a new working environment similar to the smaller Nintendo of the past, and that he even stayed on longer than he had planned, as he wanted to leave on a high note. His last project at Nintendo was the redesign of the Game Boy, which resulted in the hugely successful Game Boy Pocket.

Yokoi died in a car accident in 1997, aged only 56.

[A post about Yokoi's time at Koto Laboratory can be found here.]

If you want to find out more about the life and inventions of Gunpei Yokoi, I recommend the biography by Takefumi Makino (牧野 武文).

Gunpei Yokoi biography by Takefumi Makino

The original Japanese version is available (ISBN: 978-4-04-885058-2) from, amongst others, amazon.co.jp. The title is: "ゲームの父・横井軍平伝 任天堂のDNAを創造した男", which translates to "Father of Games - Gunpei Yokoi the man who created Nintendo's DNA".

"Gunpei Yokoi - Vie et philosophie du dieu des jouets Nintendo"

The Japanese version has been translated into French by Florent Gorges (ISBN 978-2-918272-18-1). It can be ordered online from Pix 'N Love Editions. No English translation is available at this time.

1 comment:

  1. I just discovered your blog! Been collecting Nintendo (US) since 1993. I was lucky enuff to buy "History of Nintendo vol.1" but no luck with vol.2. Man, I couldn't believe the wealth of info in it. And I just admire your collection and great attention to detailed pictures of older Japanese consoles. I'll be sure to start reading your entire blog. Keep it on!