Behind every good game is a team of people who work day and night to make sure that the game can be the best that it can be. These people often find that their praises go unsung and that their contributions simply disappear in a skippable credits sequence. We’re here to highlight some of the secret superheroes that keep the games industry going, and to make sure they get recognition for their efforts.
CHRISTIAN WHITEHEAD – PROGRAMMER AND DEVELOPER FOR SONIC THE HEDGEHOG FRANCHISE
When the franchise transitioned into 3D games, Sonic’s reputation began to head in the other direction. In recent years, the franchise has probably been at its lowest point ever, but one man managed to not just save the franchise, but bring its reputation higher than it’s been in a long time.
Christian Whitehead started out with ports of classic Sonic games to mobile devices which eventually lead to him getting on SEGA’s radar, who then later recruited him to work for them directly. In 2015, development began on a new Sonic game with Christian as the lead developer. This game was named Sonic Mania and was anything but a flop, unlike its 3D predecessors. It gave Sonic fans a culmination of great animation and music accompanying new and classic “remixed” stages and innovative boss battles and, of course, immense speeds.
Sonic Mania released in August of 2017 and more than lived up to its hype. The game was an instant hit with the fans and is “The return to form you’ve been looking for”, as put by Andrew Webster from The Verge. Therefore, Christian Whitehead should be celebrated as a hero of gaming; he saved a dying franchise and a majorly iconic video game character which was much needed, and hopefully with this, Sonic the Hedgehog can climb back up the ladder to his previous greatness.
MANAKA KATAOKA – SCORE COMPOSER FOR ‘THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD’
It takes guts to completely overhaul a beloved and well-known reoccurring soundtrack for a series of games and completely turn it on its head. Well, that’s what this woman did.
Alongside Yasuaki Iwata, Manaka Kataoka produced a soundtrack for Breath of the Wild that’s unlike any other heard in the Legend of Zelda series so far; focusing on calming ambience rather than a melodic, upbeat soundtrack that fans of the series are used to. Primarily utilising the piano, Kataoka created one of the most beautiful and poignant soundtracks heard in recent years.
This was not Kataoka’s first time composing for the series: 2009’s Spirit Tracks also featured a soundtrack by her, and the game contained some of the most unique and recognisable tracks in the franchise. Other Nintendo games that Kataoka has worked on include Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Wii Fit, and Super Smash Bros.
Jeff Grubb wrote an entire article praising the music used in one of the game’s trailers on VentureBeat: “It’s the clashing of the new with something you are intimately familiar with, and yeah — it still occasionally gives me goosebumps.”
And goosebumps are always a good sign.
CHRIS SAWYER – PROGRAMMER – ROLLERCOASTER TYCOON SERIES
Chris Sawyer is the driving force behind the RollerCoaster Tycoon series and by ‘driving force’ I mean ‘the guy who coded, designed, and created all the art for the first game in the series by himself’. Not impressive enough? This guy singlehandedly designed the game’s physics engine so that it would be loyal to real life physics, with the in-game rollercoasters even following the Brachistochrone curve. One guy. One game engine. One legacy.
To quote Reddit user KDLGates: “How any human being could program Rollercoaster Tycoon’s systems in assembly and remain remotely sane is beyond me. Conclusion: Chris Sawyer is a space alien.”
Nowadays, Sawyer prefers to ride real life rollercoasters and live a perfectly ordinary life. He’s perfectly content to let Atari build on his legacy and although he’s currently involved in exporting the well-loved tycoon games to tablets and mobile devices, he prefers to focus on volunteer work and his everyday hobbies. So not only is Sawyer a God amongst programmers for the engine in the original Rollercoaster Tycoon, he’s also a humble and sweet guy and a true superhero in every sense of the word.
BRIAN BLOOM – VOICE ACTOR
Although Bloom might be known by quite a few, we want to highlight just how many roles he’s taken across his career that spans 13 years so far. His voice-acting career has led him to now having the protagonist role in the latest three Wolfenstein games.
On how he approaches this particular role, Bloom said: “That’s what B.J. is about, and that kind of commitment to your physicality, that presence or ownership of it, is definitely a part of creating motion capture that feels natural and organic.”. Bloom has also appeared in most of the instalments in the Call of Duty franchise, gaining increasingly important roles since starting out as being under ‘additional voices’.
From the start to current day, Bloom has provided voices for well over 100 games, with many of these having him take on a variety of roles. Most notably, the games he is involved with are often set in a war-like world requiring a gruff and hardened vocal range – a style which he has seemingly perfected across his years of voice acting.
However, with him featuring in other games like Skylanders and Marvel and DC games, he’s shown that he has an excellent range that he can pick and choose between to add so much more to the role that he’s taking on. We certainly think Bloom deserves greater recognition for the extra roles he’s played and those that don’t necessarily come under what could be considered his ‘comfort zone’.
ROBIN WALKER – GAME DESIGN – TEAM FORTRESS [CLASSIC& 2]
Robin Walker is an example of an underdog who became overshadowed by the very products he created. Walker was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the original Team Fortress mod for Quakeworld in 1996.
He and his co-workers were hired by the then small time business Valve, where he worked to design the acclaimed team-based shooter Team Fortress 2. Walker has created one of the longest lasting games of its kind and continues to help create more for it (although admitting that recent updates are mostly being used to see what elements of games are received well by the general public). Working ceaselessly to figure out the perfect way to transition a once triple A production to a well-received free to play game, and how the delicate issues of microtransactions can be properly dealt with. He holds the belief that: “they provide continuous content updates post-release, so the game is a living thing. It never gets boring, it keeps growing.”
Robin Walker is a secret superhero for being the lead figure in both advancement and preservation in the Team Fortress 2 community.
SEAN MURRAY (AND HELLO GAMES) – COMPANY DIRECTOR OF HELLO GAMES
Everyone knows about Sean Murray, the face of the game that ran away with itself. No Man’s Sky was undeniably a PR disaster, infamously going down in history with the release surrounded with promises which were left unfulfilled. Everyone looked for someone to blame and the one behind the interviews was the obvious choice.
You might have noticed, however, that this is not a list of gaming’s villains but its superheroes, and that’s a category in which we think Sean Murray and the team of Hello Games belongs for not abandoning a game that many had already given up on.
Hello Games was not willing to see their game left that way, and in the months of silence that followed the release of No Man’s Sky they worked constantly to make the game better, patching it up and stitching it back together after the evisceration it got from fans.
In an industry which now so often lacks post-launch support, it’s refreshing to have a developer care enough to keep working on their own game after the initial hype train has long left the station. This is amplified when it comes to No Man’s Sky: the incentive of increased sales had long been dashed when the game went down in flames at launch.
This left Hello Games working without the support of Sony and out of their own pockets, working for the goodwill of the community and to see their game become something great, thus giving all the fans an experience they’ll always remember instead of a game they’d rather forget.
CHRISTIAN GRAWERT – LEVEL DESIGNER – DOOM (2016)
In 2007, Doom 4 was announced at QuakeCon. The game boasted 60fps with up to 30 enemies on screen at a time. id Software and Bethesda Softworks continued to say good things about the game up until 2013, when the game was said to be trapped in development hell to the point where the game’s development was completely restarted and Doom 4 became just Doom.
Doom was different to conventional first person shooters, which comes down to the level design. Executive Producer Marty Stratton and Director Hugo Martin both say that “movement is the game’s most important pillar” meaning that the player isn’t meant to take cover when they’ve received damage, they’re meant to keep running and gunning, and so, the levels had to be designed in such a way that there was little to no cover but they are still easy to run around in. Christian Grawert was one of the brilliant level designers who managed to pull this off and almost reinvent the FPS genre by taking it back to the ’90s.
After its release, the level design of Doom was the most talked about aspect of the game and saw immense praise for how well it worked and how fluid it made the gameplay. So, it seems fitting to put a name to the profession instead and praise the level designer(s) and not just the level design.
NAOHIKO AOYAMA – ART DESIGNER – PAPER MARIO SERIES
We all know our favourite red hatted plumber, don’t we? For a character as famous as Mario, one would be forgiven for assuming that every step of his carefully plotted journey was deliberate and planned for hours on end with no room for improvisation.
However, all the way back in the start of the new millennium, Intelligent systems had been given a task by Nintendo to create another role-playing game set in the Mario universe: a task that would require a large leap of faith from the normality of the role.
It was this exact leap which led Aoyama, a new hire at the business, to accidentally pitch the design that would lead into every Paper Mario since; “While the design remained undecided, [he] naturally spent a lot of time waiting. Then, during that free time, casually for [his] own interest and totally apart from the course the team was taking, [he] made a rough image. [He] hoped it would somehow serve as a kickoff point and submitted it”.
To his surprise, the test image he used to emulate a pop-up book took off in a big way, leading him to now spearhead both the company and all the future releases of the Paper Mario series, a series that undoubtedly would not have stood the test of time had it not been for the lunchtime doodles of Aoyama, a true secret hero for the plumber in red.
LAURA BAILEY – VOICE ACTRESS
We all recognise a voice from somewhere without being quite able to pin down the source, whether it’s playing a video game or watching an animated TV show. If the voice happens to belong to a woman, there’s a good chance that it is Laura Bailey.
She has been in a lot of stuff, from games to anime and TV shows. It takes a decent amount of talent to feature in so many sources of media. Her alluring yet nonchalant tone compliments a lot of the characters she portrays nicely.
We gamers would probably recognise her as the voice of Serana, a central character in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim’s first piece of DLC, Dawnguard, or perhaps as Nadine Ross from Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End or Lady Comstock from Bioshock: Infinite.
She’s so good, she even earned a place on Viktorio Serdarov’s Movie Pilot article about the five best voice actors in video games: “Laura Bailey is the youngest person on this list and with her performances so far, it is fair to say that her image as one of the best voice actresses in gaming will only grow more and more in the future.”
DAVE GROSSMAN – DESIGNER
During Telltale Games’ launch of the now infamous story-telling based games, Dave Grossman was the lead designer in the making of the original game Sam & Max Save the World.
When analysing how well current companies are doing, it is always good to appreciate their roots, and that’s exactly what we’re doing with Grossman. In many respects, he began the now iconic design that all Telltale Games that have incorporated since. His background in the Monkey Island series has shown to have been helpful, as it does shine through a little in Sam & Max.
On his designing ideas, Grossman said: “I’m designing a game by putting a puzzle that has a vaguely implausible element to it, and the best thing to do is to just call attention to it.”. The style clearly took hold with the rest of the design team and Telltale Games team as it has stayed true – even if minor stylistic choices were tweaked slightly to fit the current theme of the specific game.
LAST, BUT DEFINITELY NOT LEAST – THE QA TESTERS
Quality Assurance is a thankless job, so it’s about time that we thank people for it. Being nowhere near the glamorised ideal of playing games for a living and telling the developers to “tighten up the graphics on level 3”, it is instead a grim reality of running into a wall repeatedly, day after day, wearing every conceivable combination of armour until they’re positive that that piece of code is sure to not cause the player to randomly shoot off into orbit.
The QA testers of the world are far too numerous to name within this article, which is a shame seeing as they are too often assigned to the part of a game’s credits which you tend to skip over without a second thought. QA testers also have the thankless job of working within the shadows: if they succeed in polishing a game so much that it shines, there will be no need to think about them.
Have a game with inadequate QA, however, and you will quickly notice its absence when you clip through the floor and out of the map, falling through the skybox never to return to the world of the living. The QA testers of the world are the ones who spare you from this grey void and, for every person who’s ever played a videogame, they are truly our secret superheroes.