Mr. Gunpei Yokoi: A Gaming Legend

Posted on April 14, 2012 - 1:00pm by Guru Guru

TLDR;

 Mr. Gunpei Yokoi. Also known as Mr. Game Boy, one of the biggest contributors to gaming. He laid his mark on the gaming world in more ways than one, and I bet you will find things in this article you had no clue that he had a part in making. Read it, I promise you, you will be entertained and surprised at some things you may find.

Hello g1s, and welcome to my blog. Usually on the weekends I'll write a blog about underrated video game characters, but no one reads it, so I'm ending it. Ah well. But I'm not going out without a bang! Here today, I will talk about my hero in gaming. Let's say this is a, uh...special of sorts. But I'll do things a little differently than I normally do. Today's blog is more of a history lesson. It's a good read. Trust me, I've been doing research for a week and a half, and I'm really glad with how it turned out. So, let me take you on a trip to the past, and we'll learn about one of gaming's legendary figures: Mr. Gumpei Yokoi. You'll be surprised with some of the things that he has done.

When you think of legendary game makers, a few names may come to mind: Shigeru Miyamoto (everyone cheers), Masahiro Sakurai (less cheers), and Nolan Bushnell (who?). But while all of these fine gentlemen have had a great impact on my life as a gamer, one man stands out above all. The man that got me into gaming: Gunpei Yokoi. Also known as Mr. Game Boy.

Born in 1941, Yokoi grew up in Kyoto. He would go on to graduate with an Electronics degree from Doshisha University, at which point, he applied for several jobs at local Kyoto companies. One of these, was Nintendo.

Now, around this time, Nintendo was a simple card making company, nothing huge. Video games were nowhere in sight at the time for the company. However, Hiroshi Yamuchi, the president of Nintendo at the time, decided it was time to expand the company and create a toyline. Little did he know that he had already hired one of the most creative minds on the planet four years prior; as a lowly janitor and machine operator.

So, in 1969, Yamuchi approached Yokoi to come up with an idea for a toy to pitch to the company after hearing that he liked to tinker in his free time. Yokoi did more than simply toy with things. He was a full blown inventor. On the weekends, he built everything from toys to radios and everything in between. So when he was asked, he didn't even have to think of anything: he'd already built his toy. He gave his invention to the president, who loved the idea, and it hit the shelves that Christmas. This of course, was the Ultra-Hand.

Yokoi was then assigned to come up with even more ideas after his Ultra-Hand sold 1.2 million by 1970. He went on in later years to create the Ultra-Machine, Ultra-Scope, the Love Tester, and the Beam Gun, which was a device that was very similar to the NES Zapper.

After electronics had become very popular (and more importantly, cheaper) in the late 1970's, Yamuchi decided to put his lead designers in charge of their own divisions in order to design and develop games. Yokoi was put in charge of the team Research and Development 1, where he was given 45 men at his disposal. Wanting to find a breakthrough product, he noticed that some electronics had become so small as to be the size of a credit card. Yokoi wanted to make something even smaller, yet still have the capability for fun. He then came up with a device that allowed gaming on the go, and was small enough to fit into the palm of a child. And thus, the Game and Watch was born.

The first models only had two buttons, simply to go left and right. However, as more complicated games came out, he had to add more buttons to later models. Not wanting to fill up the Game and Watch with too many buttons but being unable to put a joystick on his device, he made one of his biggest, yet most subtle contributions to the gaming world: he invented a cross shaped button that allowed players to move up, down, left, and right: the D-Pad.

Every Nintendo console since the Game and Watch has used the D-Pad, and so have many other consoles (he patented the idea, so it stayed Nintendo owned for a while. I wonder how much money he's made off of one little button...). The Game and Watch series produced 59 titles between 1980 and 1986. It sold over 40 million units world-wide and changed how people played games.

In 1980, video games were booming world-wide, and Nintendo wanted to cash in on it, from Japan to America. Yamuchi assigned Yokoi and his team to develop and design arcade games. However, over in America, Ron Judy and Al Stone, Nintendo's prime distributors in America, were unimpressed with Nintendo's mild success, and were about to break off all ties with them. Yokoi was assigned to help out a young prodigy in Nintendo's gaming world with a little game involving a giant ape, a plumber, and his girlfriend. This game was Donkey Kong, and that kid was Shigeru Miyamoto.

 

While Miyamoto designed the game, Yokoi built the hardware. He became a sort of mentor to the aspiring Miyamoto. He tutored Miyamoto on the bells and whistles of game design, and the game was only approved after recommendation to Yamuchi from Yokoi. And thus, one of the greatest arcade games, nay, one of the greatest games of all time was born. And Nintendo continued to pump out even more classics. The team of Miyamoto and Yokoi also developed Donkey Kong Jr. and Mario Bros. He helped to create the multiplayer concept for Mario Bros. and to make our favorite plumbers be able to jump as high as they do and gain powerups. And then, Miyamoto was given his own division. So, once again, Yokoi was on his own.

Yokoi and his team went on to help create many NES classics. Two notable games that he helped to develop both came out in 1985: Metroid, and Kid Icarus. And fanboys everywhere rejoiced.

He and his team also came out with a less succsessful product, known to many as R.O.B. (Robot Operating Buddy). While it seemed revolutionary at the time, this was panned by many for it's lack of...well, working well. It was too complicated for its time, and didn't appeal to many gamers.

In 1986, part of Yokoi's team would break off and make their own studio, Intelligent Systems. He would go on to produce many of their games. Most notably, they created the Fire Emblem series, which he helped produce (they would later go on to make such classics as Super Metroid, Paper Mario, Super Smash Bros.,and more recently, Pushmo).

However, after they broke off, Yokoi continued working with the rest of his team, and they went on to create his greatest contribution to the gaming world: the Game Boy.

                                                                       

A sort of combination of the Game and Watch and the NES, the original gray brick with a lime-green screen was released in 1989. And it exploded in popularity, so much that not only kids loved it, many adults were seen carrying them as well. Companies envied the awesomeness of the Game Boy and its ingenious creation. It was seen everywhere; even the President of the United States had one.

When released in Japan in 1989, all 200,000 units released sold out within two weeks. Released later that year in the U.S., it sold 40,000 units on its first day. That's pretty darn good.

Yokoi and his team helped to create many of the Game Boy's greatest games, including the Super Mario Land series, Metroid II: The Return of Samus, and Dr. Mario.

                                                                                                            

However, all was not golden forever. Yes, you knew this was coming. Yokoi also had a hand in creating the Virtual Boy.

                                           

It was supposed to be revolutionary. It was supposed to make virtual gaming a reality. However, it was a flop. Legend has it that Yamuchi already knew that the system was a flop (well, he should've. It was his company.) and to humiliate Yokoi, forced him to demonstrate it at the Shoshinkai Show in Japan. While this is probably untrue, it is true that the Virtual Boy was rushed out as quickly as possible in order to direct all resources toward the Nintendo 64.

Yokoi soon left the company after the flop of his Virtual Boy on August 15, 1996, being very disappointed that his machine did poorly. He did, however, leave a retirement gift to the company that he had worked for for so long: the Game Boy Pocket.

                                                     

He went on to found his own company called Koto Laboratory. Here, helped to develop a rival handheld to the Game Boy, the Bandai WonderSwan (which, I don't know much about, other than it was backed by Squaresoft and it was playable both horizontally and vertically). 

However, he kept good ties with Nintendo his entire time with the company, which, unfortunately, wasn't very long. He never even got to see this system go to market.

On October 4th, 1997, Yokoi was involved in a car accident. After getting out of his car with his business associate to check the damage, he was hit by a passerby car. He was rushed to a hospital, but was pronounced deceased 2 hours later. That day, one of gaming's greatest contributors passed away...

So, after the long, long history lesson about Mr. Game Boy, what does he even have to do with me? Well, it's because of his greatest invention that I'm even a gamer! See this baby here?

                                          

I've had her since I was 2 years old(well, one exactly like it. Couldn't get the picture of mine to upload.).Yep, that's 13 years. I've held onto my clear purple model CGB-001 Game Boy Color that long, and it still works perfectly. It was the first system I could call my own. My dad had his N64, and my cousins that we visited had an NES, both of which I could barely play. But this...this purple brick helped shape my life (while technically Yokoi didn't design it, it played all original GB games, and had all of the same software as his original system, only with color. Close enough).

I got this along with a copy of Pokemon Red, which helped me to learn to read because I wanted to know what the characters were saying without asking my mom every five seconds. I went on to get many other games for it (I only have four left; go figure), and my little GBC helped lead to a wonderful life of gaming. It also helped me to use my imagination, and make me the zany person I am today.

If it weren't for Mr. Yokoi, I might not be as a devoted gamer as I am today. I might not be the person I am today! Thanks to him, I am who I am. Nuff said. He helped shape my life, and help shape the gaming world.

So, how has Mr. Yokoi shaped your life? Well, after working for Nintendo for nearly four decades, a heck of a lot.  He worked on early arcade classics, and several NES gems. You can think him for helping create Luigi. Without him, it could've just been Super Mario instead of Super Mario Bros. You can also thank him for Mario's jumping abilities, and even his powerups. He worked on Nintendo's greatest fiascos, ROB and the Virtual Boy. He invented the D-Pad. He laid the foundation for handheld gaming  The Game Boy is often considered the best handheld console of all time, and Nintendo knows it. It is Nintendo's longest running console, having been made in 1989 and having games made until 2003. And even then it was still backwards compatible with it's successor, the Game Boy Advance. And today, it's games are still being released on the 3DS' eShop. That means its games are still being released 23 years later. The Game and Watch set the standard for handheld gaming, and its design for some versions is shown in the Nintendo DS (as well as the DSi and 3DS). His work lives on in the minds and hearts of gamers everywhere, and he is remembered in many ways. I'd like to think that Mr. Game and Watch and R.O.B. being thrown into the Super Smash Bros. series is a homage to Yokoi. Nintendo certainly hasn't forgotten about their long time friend. I know I sure haven't.

Well, that's my blog. Wow. This was really long. Hope I kept you interested with my history lesson. I hope you learned something today, and enjoyed this. And if you didn't, well...that's too bad. Well, I'm done. I'm tired. Too much typing to cram into two weeks.

Until next time, Excelsior!

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