Gunpei Yokoi

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Gunpei Yokoi
Date of Birth: September 10, 1941
Home Town:
Date of Death October 4, 1997
Bestselling Game: Super Mario Land
Development Teams
R&D 1
Key Franchises
Balloon Fight - Kid Icarus - Metroid

Gunpei Yokoi, sometimes spelled Gumpei Yokoi, was one of Nintendo's greatest game designers. Often called "Nintendo's Golden Boy," he is responsible for the Gameboy, Metroid, and Kid Icarus.




Gunpei began working for Nintendo in 1965, shortly after graduating from Doshisha University. He worked as a maintenance engineer on one of Nintendo's hanafuda assembly line.

In 1970, Hiroshi Yamauchi visited the factory and happened to notice Yokoi playing with an extend able arm. Yamauchi asked about it and Yokoi told him that he made it himself. Yamauchi asked Yokoi to develop it properly for the Christmas season. The product became the Ultra Hand, which sold 1.2 million units. After it's success, Yamauchi was moved from maintenance to product development. He continued creating new toys including the Ten Billion Barrel puzzle, a baseball throwing machine called the Ultra Machine, and a Love Tester. He also collaborated with Masayuki Uemura from Sharp on Nintendo Beam Gun Games, a predecessor to the NES Zapper.

Game & Watch

When Nintendo started making video games, Yokoi was asked to develop something. What he came up with was the Game & Watch series. The small handheld contained a game, a watch, and an alarm. It featured the "control cross" which would later be known as the D-Pad.

Running from 1980 and 1986, the Game & Watch saw 59 titles. Some of them were ports of popular arcade games, such as Donkey Kong and Mario Bros.. Many were original titles.

R&D 1

When Nintendo designed to divide their employees into development teams, Gunpei Yokoi was put in charge of the largest of the groups, R&D 1. Originally, the group had fifty-five employees.

Before Shigeru Miyamoto got his own team, he worked with R&D 1. Yokoi worked with Miyamoto on Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., and Mario Bros. Yokoi and his team are responsible for Metroid and Kid Icarus. In 1986, part of his team branched of to create Intelligent Systems. Working with them, Yokoi worked on Panel de Pon, Battle Clash, and Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu. They are also responsible for R.O.B..


Perhaps Yokoi's most significant contribution is his work on the Gameboy. The system worked on a cartridge-based technology and featured a monochromatic LCD screen. The Gameboy was successful because of it's large selection of games, reasonable price, and long battery life. The fact that it came with Tetris didn't hurt.

Nintendo wanted a Gameboy with a colored screen to compete with the Game Gear and Atari Lynx, but Yokoi refused to do so until it could sustain a decent battery life. Because of this commitment to quality, the Gameboy has outlasted it's competitors.

Yokoi and Nintendo played a joke on people who wanted color Gameboys by releasing Gameboys with different cases. Yokoi later produced the redesigned Gameboy Pocket.

R&D 1 was told to focus on making games for the Gameboy. Some of Yokoi's greatest games for the Gameboy include Metroid II: Return of Samus, Super Mario Land, and Dr. Mario.

Virtual Boy

Yokoi's next hardware project, the Virtual Boy, was not nearly as successful as the Gameboy. While the console did provide a level of 3D, the red and black graphics irritated players' eyes, the whole thing was fairly uncomfortable to use, and it had a very limited library.

The Virtual Boy was a failure in both Japan and America. Because of this, it was never released in Europe or Australia.

Yokoi was crushed by his failure and the executives at Nintendo questioned his capabilities. He was treated as an outcast during his last few months at Nintendo. He resigned on August 15, 1996.

After Nintendo

Shortly after leaving Nintendo, Yokoi opened Koto Laboratory in Kyoto, Japan. There he began working with Bandai on a new handheld: the Wonderswan. He didn't live to see it's release.

On October 4, 1997, Yokoi died in a car accident. He was riding in a car with Nintendo employee Etsuo Kiso. They pulled over to help two other cars involved in a car crashed and were hit themselves. Yokoi was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead two hours later. Kiso broke two bones and suffered severe whiplash.

Design Philosophy

In the book Yokoi Gunpei Game House, Yokoi describes his design philosophy as "Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology". Withered technology refers to technology that is cheap and well understood. Lateral thinking refers to new and radical ways of using this withered technology. Yokoi believed that a video game didn't require cutting edge technology; novelty and fun game play were enough.

The Game & Watch is a good example of his philosophy. When he designed it, semiconductors and LCD screens were available in abundance due to the exploding digital calculator market. Yokoi was able to find a novel and fun use for this abundant technology.

Awards and Honors

  • Posthumously awarded the GDC's Lifetime Achievement Award.
  • Subject of an episode of G4's Icons (now known as Game Makers)
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