The world of video gaming is populated by huge corporations with massive teams working to make games every year. But some developers stand out among them, the ones who make their own personal vision come to life — the video game auteurs.
You may have heard the word “auteur” to talk about movie directors. An auteur is someone who has complete creative control of a project. Some examples of famous movie auteurs are Quentin Taritino, Martin Scorsese and Alfred Hitchcock.
Video games are no different; video game auteurs also have complete control of what they make. From the feel to programming, everything is to their liking. Sometimes an auteur works by themselves, and others are the head of a development studio.
Get ready to see what it means to be an auteur, how auteurs affect the game and what it takes to become one. Here is a look at some of the most famous, creative and crazy minds in the video game world.
The Studio Founders
When the phrase “video game auteur” comes up, many will think of the famous creator Hideo Kojima, who created the popular Metal Gear and Silent Hill franchises. His weird and innovative take on games has made his name well-known around the world.
His games have inspired many developers and even fans with their unique take to storytelling and gameplay. Possibly one of the coolest moments in his games is in Metal Gear Solid in which the villain Psycho Mantis asks the player to put the controller down and then moves it with his mind.
While in reality all that is happening is the controller vibrating, it broke players expectations at the time with such a blatant breaking of the 4th wall. Throughout the series, Kojima messes with the player’s expectations.
However, Kojmima had a falling out with the Metal Gear publisher, Konami. He then went on to fund his own studio, Kojima Productions, and with it produced the divisive game Death Stranding.
What makes Death Stranding so interesting is how much of Kojima the player can see in it. The game itself only has the player delivering packages around a post-apocalyptic America, but Kojima’s take on social media and connections with hiking comes through.
However, because he had way more control compared to his past releases, it made a lot of people wonder if it hampered the overall game. All the player does in Death Stranding, ultimately, is walk, and the debatably frustrating controls can spoil the experience.
But for the most part, the game differs from other Triple A productions. Instead of constantly running and fighting and shooting, you go at a steady pace and avoid conflict.
That has always been the goal of Kojima: to make games that break expectations and showcase his take on modern society.
Another auteur in a studio setting is Goichi Suda, more commonly known as Suda51. Suda is a cult-classic video game auteur who started his own development studio, Grasshopper Manufacture. He is the creator of many niche franchises including Killer 7, The Silver Case, and his most popular title, No More Heroes.
The third game in the latter series, No More Heroes 3, was released earlier this year with decent success its first week. It is one of my favorites I’ve played all year and inspired me to look into the world of video game auteurs.
Like many of the other games mentioned in this article, No More Heroes 3 is a frantic, hyper-stylized slasher that expands upon its predecessors. Compared to many of the huge Triple A games released this year, it stands out for its weird and wacky battles, as well as its maturely immature take on storytelling.
What’s interesting about the series is that even though Suda is the full creative director behind No More Heroes, Marvelous Entertainment, a video game publisher, owns the majority of the rights to the series. Due to this, Suda has said it feels like it’s his time to move on to more original IPs.
In an interview with Nintendo Life, Suda said, “I really felt that it was time for [Grasshopper Manufacture] to go on and do our own thing. What I want to do… is make the next 10 years basically the Grasshopper decade.”
Suda51 and Grasshopper hope to become more independent, just like the indie games Suda51 looks up to. He loves the indie game scene and has had many cameos from different indie games in his No More Heroes games.
Through his passion for the games and fans, Suda51 has carved his own style and hopes to continue making never-before-seen experiences.
The Solo Developers
An important thing to know about auteurs is they don’t always need a team. There have been many developers who have made their names known all on their own.
Possibly the most popular is Toby Fox. Toby’s cult-hit and massively popular Undertale brought him into the spotlight.
Like many auteurs before him, his love for video games drove him to create a game that was similar to the games he loved (Earthbound and Shin Megami Tensei), but expanded upon the concepts seen in those games.
When it comes to disclosing information about his games, Toby is a very tight-lipped individual.
In an interview with The Mary Sue, Toby Fox said “Welcome to Hell,” as advice for aspiring game developers. He also did a livestream with Fangamer, but participated through text-to-speech.
Overall, he mostly lets his games do the talking, their own meaning apparent if you know where to look. The recently released Deltarune Chapter 2 has received wide praise, bringing joy to his struggling fans and providing a reprieve from the stress of the pandemic.
While Deltarune is being developed by more than just Toby Fox, those who are are close friends of his and leave him control of the game. Toby’s games are remembered for their quirky characters and innovative, fun combat system.
On the other side of things is a developer who is very vocal in his community. Eric Barone (AKA ConcernedApe) is the solo developer of Stardew Valley.
Similar to Toby Fox, Eric’s development of Stardew Valley came from his love of the Harvest Moon series and a wish to make something more. At first, it was only going to be a project to put on a resume, but it grew into something bigger.
After a successful crowdfunding effort and release, over time Stardew has grown into a huge name. In an interview with KING 5 news, Eric said, “What really… makes me feel like my life has been totally worthwhile is the fact that Stardew Valley has brought so much joy and happiness to people.”
He is very involved in the community, listening for feedback on the game and implementing quality-of-life and additional content updates for the game. He also recently hosted the Stardew Valley cup; a competition hosted on Twitch by Eric and other Stardew streamers as a way to give back to the community for supporting his game over the years.
Through his dedication and friendliness, Eric has cultivated a successful game development career. Many fans are excited to see his next game, Haunted Chocolatier, and what else ConcernedApe will do next.
What Can We Learn?
So, what can we learn from these game auteurs and their success stories? While they all take different approaches to game design and personality, they all have two things in common: dedication and a passion for video games.
To become an auteur, you will need to put in countless hours shaping your game and honing your craft. But what makes a game made by an auteur so cool is seeing their personalities come out in their work.
While some, like Kojima and Toby Fox, have distant yet enticing personalities, Suda51 and ConcernedApe take a more involved approach to their audiences. They teach us to just be ourselves.
In a world that focuses on branding and corporatization, I look up to those whose unique personalities shine through in their projects. Whether it be the crazy zaniness of No More Heroes, or the quiet peaceful world of Stardew Valley, I relate to these games on a personable level.
Don’t underestimate the power of the individual. No matter what you do, you have power. Be yourself and let your personality shine through your words and your works!