In celebration of international women’s day, let’s look at some of the awesome women that defined the video games industry:
Kinu Nishimura: Artist behind many of Capcom’s flagship titles
If you recognize these characters you’ve played a game Kinu worked on
Kinu Nishimura has been with Capcom since 1991 with Street Fighter II and has worked on countless titles since, rising up to become the most senior artist in the whole company.
Designs for Street Fighter III: New Generation
I’ve also heard stories from Capcom staff on how Kinu was the most intimidating person in the studio, relentless in making sure the high standards of Capcom artwork were maintained by everyone, and an immense amount of respect was given to her in turn.
Many of the games that had a profound impact on who I am today and my career path in video games is directly related to Kinu Nishimura’s masterful designs.
Some of the girls of Capcom games, illustrated by Kinu Nishimura
Keiko Erikawa, co-founder of industry giant Koei and #34 wealthiest person in Japan
She must be from the same generation as my aunt ’cause they have the same fashion sense
Keiko Erikawa started off in the fashion industry but then co-founded the prolific Koei company with her husband Kou Shibusawa.
Keiko Erikawa is credited for getting some atypical games made, like the stylishly odd rhythm action game Gitaroo-Man, hotel cooking game Shaberu! DS Oryouri Navi Marugoto Teikoku Hotel, and deciding that Koei should pick up the Gundam license because in her words: “I want to use a Gundam in a Koei game!”
But one of her most notable accomplishments would be…
A very very very very very obscure to get title for English speakers, even the console it was on wasn’t released in the US!
Though video games is usually seen as a male dominated hobby, Koei’s female co-founder believed there was no reason women couldn’t be part of the core audience so she assembled an all-woman team to created what would be the first ‘otome game’ (lit. ‘girl’s game’, a genre of Japanese games which seek out women as their prime audience).
Koei at the time was most famous for hardcore strategy/kingdom building games like Nobunaga’s Ambition and Romance of the Three Kingdoms that starred macho mustached men of military history. With those roots Koei created Angelique (1993), where the protagonist is a young woman given the responsibility to rule over her own kingdom, if her kingdom thrives then she will inherit control over the world. Will she do so as a benevolent queen or martial despot? Such choices are up to the player to decide.
Many of the women I’ve worked alongside in the games industry have told me that their interest in games started with the otome genre that Angelique created, That is the difference that a single person in power like Keiko Erikawa can make on a whole industry.
Many industry marketing specialists today would say strategy/conquest games are a ‘man’s genre’ that would scare away women with ‘hardcore’ mechanics, but Keiko Erikawa proved that wrong over two decades ago!
Tomoko Namba: founder of mobile games juggernaut DeNA and #47 wealthiest in Japan
Tomoko Namba founded one of the world’s first billion earning mobile game companies (revenue of $1.8 billion in 2012) with many titles that have enjoyed a top 10 position in app stores across the world. The world of mobile games was changed forever when Tomoko Namba’s DeNA entered the fray (mostly because everything since has been copy-catting their innovations!)
Rage of Bahamut, DeNA’s first big hit on mobile
Mari Shimazaki: designer of the titular Bayonetta & contributor to Soul Calibur
Mari Shimazaki is best known as character designer for Platinum’s Bayonetta, a title regarded as the successor to the genre defining Devil May Cry. Her style is known for its stylishness in creating towering, larger than life personalities that dominate any scene they step foot in. She’s also contributed costume design to the long running Soul Calibur series.
Mari’s most famous character, Bayonetta
Ayami Kojima: The artist behind Konami’s most beloved Castlevania title
It was back in 1997 when I first came across the hauntingly beautiful artwork of the genre-defining Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Gameplay and story wise it is among my favorite titles, but it’s Ayami Kojima’s artwork that gave it timeless longevity.
Ayami Kojima’s distinct hand painted style is the definition of gothic horror and beauty for an entire video gaming generation.
Rieko Kodama: creator of Phantasy Star and every other cool franchise from Sega
Interview from the Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection (PS3)
Reiko Kodama grew up passionate about archaeology but found her way into video games, starting off as an artist but also taking on the roles of writer, designer, producer. Her archaeological interests show in her work, such as the Phantasy Star series she created haing a strong focus on uncovering the mystery of lost civilizations among other themes.
Reiko Kodama’s diverse portfolio reads like a list of Sega best hit titles, because it is:
Where would Sega (or the games industry as a whole) be without Reiko Kodama?
Kazuko Shibuya: Founding member of Square’s Final Fantasy team
A photo of the team from 1986
Inspired by Leiji Matsumoto’s Space Battleship Yamato and Galaxy Express 999, Kazuko Shibuya’s first passion was in animation (she started animating for fun in Middle School) and after graduating worked on the Transformers TV show. When Kazuko decided that animation was ‘not as fun’ as she had hoped she quit her animation job and joined a then small company called Squaresoft as a graphic artist.
Kazuko Shibuya’s sketch book on display for Squaresoft’s 25th anniversary
Kazuko worked on various titles but is best known for being part of the start of the Final Fantasy series. Even back in the 8-bit NES era Squaresoft wanted to deliver an epic feeling so they had Kazuko create the very first ‘cut scene’ of Final Fantasy, a series now known for cutting edge highly detailed cinematics. She also contributed with pixel art, implementing designs from famed artists like Yoshitaka Amano as well as designing her own characters for a multitude of Squaresoft titles to follow.
“There were people who knew about me from before, but there also some comments like: “I didn’t know these were drawn by a woman?” There have never been many women working in the game industry, so I hope my work can serve as a small inspiration to them. Although, it can be a difficult work environment for a woman… (laughs)”
-Quote by Kazuko Shibuya from a very thorough interview hosted atshmuplations.com
She even designed the distinct UI (including big pointing finger that has since become a mascot of the series) that became iconic of the Final Fantasy series.
The beginning of a dynasty
Tomomi Kobayashi: Defining artist of Square’s SaGa series
Tomomi Kobayashi was the character artist that defined Squaresoft’sRomancing SaGa series of console RPG’s which stood out with it’s open world exploration and branching story paths with multiple characters
She also worked alongside Kazuko Shibuya, who implemented many of her designs into in-game pixel art. If you’re not able to read Japanese though it’s pretty difficult to experience her contribution to the history of video games.
Kaori Tanaka (aka Soraya Saga): graphic designer for Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, and co-writer behind Xenogears
Kaori Tanaka (田中 香), better known by her pen name Soraya Saga (嵯峨 空哉) got her start as a graphic designer with Squaresoft working on the Romancing Saga series alongside Tomomi Kobayashi and Kazuko Shibuya. For Final Fantasy VI Soraya created Edgar and Sabin Figaro. She and her husband Tetsuya Takahashi then submitted a script for the next Final Fantasy title, which eventually became the cult classic Xenogears (because they were told it was ‘too dark’ to be called a Final Fantasy title!).
Xenogears was one of the first video games that I’d hear people described as art and deeply philosophical with its themes of self-identity, human desire, and the function of religion in society.
Games, particularly RPGs are kind of like a journey, and game designers are like tour guides. Always be with players, walk a little ahead of them, but never leave them behind. Your work will be completed when players clear the final stage.
Here’s her official website: http://sorayasaga.blogspot.com/
Xenogears can be downloaded from Playstation Network too
Ayano Koshiro: Creator of Actraiser 2 and Streets of Rage 2
The final battle in Actraiser II
Ayano Koshiro worked as a writer and character designer at Ancient, a company founded by her mother that also employed her brother Yuzo Koshiro as music composer so you could say games run in her family!
Actraiser II had it all on the SNES, playing as a mighty hero battling against devilish fiends in a vibrant world set to evocative music to tell a wonderfully gripping story one stage at a time. Actraiser II appeared as a straightforward fantasy action game, the story was that of a god that was not omnipotent or all powerful, yet struggled with all his might to protect his people from harm. The sequence leading up to the final end-boss sequence was such an incredible blend of gameplay and story elements that it had me tearing up, this was a game that showed me how powerful the story telling of a video game could be.
Perhaps the most famous game Ayano Koshiro worked on was Streets of Rage 2, which many consider to be the best Beat em Up of all time. Ayano Koshiro was the art director on the game, creating its iconic cast and amazing visuals. She was also the main writer and basically the main game designer as she planned out all the character’s moves and how they should work. You can read about her immense contributions to this all time great game in this fantastic interview, translated by Shmupulations
Mutsumi Inomata: Character artist of the Tales series
Mutsumi Inomata began her artistic career as an animator (from Urusui Yatsura to Gundam) and manga author (GB Bomber
but is also known as a character artist for the ‘Tales of’ series of role playing games, as well as contributing costume designs to Tekken.
Michiko Sakurai: UI designer behind Smash Bros & more
This picture of her eating ice cream was all I could find on google…
Though Michiko Sakurai’s husband Masahiro Sakurai is better known as the creator of the Smash Bros series, Michiko has always contributed to the series and other HAL Labs titles as UI artist and level designer to some of the most iconic stages in Smash Bros history.
As someone who has spent countless hours struggling to make functional UI for various games I look to Michiko’s designs for inspiration.
She’s since formed Project Sora, with her husband where they continue to make new games with Nintendo’s classic characters.
Emiko Yamamoto: Game designer that brought Disney magic to gamers worldwide
I didn’t see Mickey Mouse as a movie or TV personality, I first knew of him as a static mascot that occasionally appeared on backpacks and pencil cases. Emiko Yamamoto changed that with her adaption of classic Disney characters into hit games like Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse back in 1990, as well as Kingdom Hearts into the 21st century!
Castle of Illusion is also noted as the game which invented idle animation. We take it for granted today that game worlds are always alive and in motion, but back then if players didn’t input anything the character they controlled would hold still. Emiko decided though that, as Disney was world renown for lively animation, they could not have a static world for Mickey Mouse. And with a simple foot tap for the titular mouse, idle animations were born.
When I was thinking about what people remember fondly about the game … at the time, I think it was enjoying the thrills and getting the timing right when they played it. I think enjoying the game world, and experiencing the fantasy world of Disney were a big part of it, too.”
-Emiko gives her thoughts on Castle of Illusion
These are but a few of the women that have made the games industry what it is today. Stay tuned for further updates as we cover other great women in the games industry!
Quick Note: This article is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other awesome Japanese women in games that we are hoping to get to, particularly the amazing composers behind some of the best video game soundtracks of all time. If you feel there’s someone really important that we missed (and believe me, it’s painful that we didn’t get to everyone we wanted), please Tweet at us or tell us in the comments section.
We actually spend the majority of our time developing games. We write these posts whenever we can make some down time on weekends. Apologies for the glacial pace of output. Your support gives us inspiration to keep going!
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