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Gunpei Yokoi

A Tribute to Gunpei Yokoi
by Jonathan A. Domenech
11 September 2002


 Many people will say that Shigeru Miyamoto is the greatest person in the history of Nintendo.  But in reality, he is not.  The late Gunpei Yokoi is actually the one who made Nintendo what it is today.  If not for Mr. Yokoi, the Nintendo Entertainment System would never exist.  Nor would Game Boy or the earliest form of Game Boy, the Game & Watch.
 Gunpei Yokoi was born into a wealthy family which game him a somewhat head start in life.  In his school days, he excelled in mathematics and science.  Eventually, Gunpei went on to obtain a college degree in electronics.
 Fresh out of college, a young Gunpei Yokoi got a job at a Nintendo factory maintaining the assembly equipment which was used to manufacture Nintendo's popular Hanafunda playing cards in 1965.  Around the time that Yokoi had arrived at the company, Hiroshi Yamauchi had become president of Nintendo (now known as Nintendo of Japan) and wanted to go into the market of toys and gadgets.  Knowing that Yokoi had great potential, President Yamauchi challenged Yokoi to make a new toy that kids of all ages would enjoy.
 A little bit down the road, Nintendo released Yokoi's first creation, the Ultra Hand.  The Ultra hand was an immediate success and sold 1.2 million units in 1970.
 After the success of the Ultra Hand, Yokoi went on to create numerous other gizmos and gadgets such as the Ultra Scope and the Love Tester.
 Enter the 1980's.  Video games were becomming increasingly popular and Nintendo wanted in on the action.  Once again, Yamauchi turned to Gunpei and asked for him to come up with an idea for a game system.
 Some time after Yokoi was asked to design a game system, the earliest version of the Game & Watch was released.  The success of the Game & Watch, which was released in Japan only, was sort of a boom for Nintendo's video game department.  After Game & Watch, Nintendo released even more game systems that were designed by Gunpei Yokoi (Famicom (NES in U.S.), Game Boy, Game Boy Pocket).
 It was in 1994/1995, however, that Yokoi's fall from greatness began.  Eventhough its hard to believe, Yokoi designed the flop known as the Virtual Boy.  The Virtual Boy, while popular among a select few, was widely unpopular.  So unpopular that it wasn't even released outside of Japan and the United States.
 Because of the Virtual Boy's unsuccess, Nintendo felt it necessary to publicly humiliate Yokoi at the 1995 Shoshinkai trade show in Tokyo by putting him in a rather small corner and personally demonstrate the Virtual Boy.  Yokoi had done as he was told even though most of the people wrer too buisy drooling over the Nintendo 64.
 Sensing that his time at Nintendo was over, Yokoi left the company in September 1996 and went on to start his own company, Koto Labratory.  Eventhough he was no longer at Nintendo, Yokoi still continued his game system developing and began designing what is now known as the Bandai WonderSwan.
 Sadly, Yokoi never lived to see the completion of his latest masterpiece.  On October 4, 1997, the great Gunpei Yokoi was killed in a tragic accident.  Yokoi and a business partner, Etsuo Kisoo, were traveling home on the Horukiko Expressway in Kyoto, Yokoi's car rear-ended the car in front of him.  After the accident, both men were outside surveying the damage when they were both struck by a passing car.  Neither of the men survived.  Gunpei Yokoi had died at the age of 56 and the video game industry had lost one of its greatest people of all time.
 Even though Yokoi has been dead for five years as of October 4th of this year, his legacy still lives on.  Just last year, the latest version of the Game Boy hardware was released in the form of the Game Boy Advance and in November of this year, Metroid Prime is to be released for the Nintendo GameCube.  Although Prime is classified as a Miyamoto title, Yokoi designed the very first Metroid for the Nintendo Entertainment System.