Much of the video game news that I’ve been getting lately has been depressing. Don’t get me wrong, some it has been pretty neat, like the new playable character announcements for Ultra Street Fighter 4, or the first trailer for the new Angry Birds turn-based RPG. But if you’ve been paying attention, maybe you’ve heard that two of the most notable video-game developers in the industry are losing significant talent. Koji Igarashi (Iga), who has designed and produced more games in the Castlevania franchise alone than I care to mention, will depart from Konami after twenty-four years with the developer. Just under two weeks ago, noted game writer Amy Hennig left Naughty Dog, for whom she wrote and directed all four games in the Uncharted series.
While it may be troubling for two major players in video game development to leave so close to one another, the press around Iga and Hennig could not be more different. Igarashi’s departure was announced on positive terms, directing fans to look forward to his upcoming projects. In an interview with Kotaku, Iga details how he changed departments in Konami, moving from core console games to social games (his first game was the dating sim Tokimeki Memorial). He goes on to explain that he is striking out to create his own games, in part a reaction to fan commentary:
I keep getting messages from fans, via Facebook and such, telling me that they wanted me to make consumer games. The people who like my games tend to play traditional video games.” Those messages struck a nerve, it seems. “I’m in my mid-forties. If I don’t strike out on my own now, then when will I?
It seems that while he believes “there will be even more of a shift” toward the growing popularity of social games, particularly in Japan, he still has “conventional” games that he wants to develop. I recommend reading the full interview: there’s a lot of learn about Igarashi, and some tidbits on Japan’s corporate structure, which tends toward long-term (decades) employment more than firms in the west do. This is part of what makes his departure so surprising, although it seems that he will have many options open to him.
Not to diminish her potential options, but Hennig’s situation is marked by much more uncertainty. When IGN originally announced her departure, they reported that “trusted sources” indicated she had been forced out by Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley, though motives for such action remained unclear. Soon after, execs at both Sony and Naughty Dog stepped in to say that this wasn’t the case, with Sony’s Scott Rodhe saying “people change, business changes, things change. And again, it just happened to involve a very high profile individual right now.” It is some consolation that Sony believes this will not hinder Uncharted 4’s development schedule.
Hennig became truly noteworthy after the runaway success of Uncharted 2, one of my personal favorite games, one responsible for getting me back into console gaming. Given the writing style and talent displayed in the Uncharted series, Hennig could easily make the shift into film writing. Just the same, her departure leaves me and many other members of the PS gaming community with more questions than answers. What will happen to Uncharted 4? Will it have the same level of quality as previous games in the sainted franchise? Perhaps more confoundingly, I don’t know that I believe the statements made by Sony and Naughty Dog about her departure.
Amy Hennig’s departure amounts to more than just a gaming blogworry for the PS4 set. Hennig was, in many ways, a visionary, whose alternative perspective on “platformers” and the evolution of video game storytelling helped to make the Uncharted games so groundbreaking. Even this pales in comparison to the fact that video game development and design seems to be absent one of its great female exemplars. She’s mentioned in every list about the role of women in gaming. I can’t overstate the value of woman role models and a woman’s perspective in an industry so pervaded by a male point-of-view. But if she is to remain absent, it will not go unnoticed. A cursory glance at her Twitter feed shows that she has been fielding fond goodbyes and well-wishes for days.
I’m compelled by desire to see what both Hennig and Igarashi will do next with their considerable talents. Broken record that I am, I am particularly invested in designers with a truly artistic view of video games. It is a medium with the potential to re-frame how people engage with storytelling, and Amy Hennig and Koji Igarashi have not shied away from pushing that envelope. IGN will maintain updates on Hennig’s departure, and Igarashi will speak at this year’s GDC (Game Developer’s Conference) on Friday.