With 2016 at a close, I find it important to go back and honor the pioneers of the computer and video game industry that have passed this year. I’ll be touching only on the most important that I know of, you can find more complete lists on places like Gamasutra. It’s a testament to how young the industry is that we haven’t been struck with that much tragedy in the past, but it’s high time to give some of these extraordinary pioneers their due.
The Father of Real-Time Computing, Jay Forrester
Jay Forrester was the man who made modern computing happen. His pioneering efforts at MIT which resulted in the Whirlwind computer put digital computers on a path to their modern applications. Without Forrester pushing for concepts like better magnetic core memory, the computers of the day would never have been able to drive real-time displays.
It’s not directly video game related, but Whirlwind’s legacy has a rather great direct impact on the development of something like Spacewar!. Forrester’s work allowed him later in life to work on patterns for computer modeling, to help simulate phenomena that could help people understand society better. He passed away at age 98 just last month.
The Presidents of Taito America, Jack Mittel and Paul Moriarty
Taito, best known for its revolutionary game Space Invaders, established an American subsidiary with the help of Edward Miller in 1973. Along with him was his friend Paul Moriarty, and together they established Taito’s operations in the US, first through licensing to Bally-Midway and through their success establishing their own factory.
Edward Miller left to work with partner Bill Olliges at Allied Leisure and Jack Mittel became Taito America’s president in July of 1980. Mittel had come out of distribution, taking executive positions at Williams and Gottleib before leading Taito through the Golden Age of Arcade Games. Under Mittel the company established networks of native game development and internal game development (games like Qix and Safari), as well as built Taito into the most important Japanese arcade company in that period.
Several co-workers have related the constant tension that Mittel had with the head of Taito, Michael Kogan. To my understanding, these tensions were always on how to expand the business and Mittel attempted to make decisions for the division which were sometimes seen as underhanded by the Japanese company. Ultimately Mittel reigned during the decline of the arcade industry in the first half of 1983 and would move on to consulting. He was superseded by Paul Moriarty, who had been serving as vice president through this time.
Moriarty would remain with Taito through most of its relevant period, even up through the nineties, shepherding on releases like Double Dragon, Bubble Bobble, and The New Zealand Story in North America. Co-workers remember Moriarty as “the most disagreeable man you couldn’t help but love” (paraphrasing). His efforts, in the face of the death of Michael Kogan, allowed Taito to remain a relevant player well into the home era.
Mittel passed away on April 16th, 2016 at the age of 86. Moriarty passed away on October 25th, 2016 from cancer at the age of 69.
Sega’s Second American President, Harry M Kane
When Gulf & Western purchased Sega Enterprises Ltd. in 1969, the company was still solely doing business in the Japanese region. David Rosen recognized the importance of getting their own factories in America after his subsequent success with Periscope and failure with a Missile respectively, and so eventually became the head of the America-based Sega Enterprises Inc in 1974.
Prior to this though, when they were touching on the idea of an American arm of the company, Sega promoted Gulf & Western executive Harry M Kane to COO of Sega Enterprises Ltd and Executive VP of Sega Enterprises Inc. Kane had prior experience with Westinghouse and Whirlpool Corporation, and would see the company through its first tumultuous period in the industry.
In 1976, he would briefly take over for David Rosen as President of the American end, building up its distributors and expanding the business into wide screen televisions and arcades with the Sega Center brand. Ultimately, the situation took a sour turn for Sega and they would purchase Gremlin Industries to act as their American base, during which time Harry Kane left the company. He briefly lead an enterprise called Gamex Industries before going into home appliances with a company called Bendix.
He passed away on June 13th, 2016 at the age of 92.
Half of the Engineering Dynamic Duo, David Needle
David Needle has an explosive career in the games industry as soon as he could figure out how to make them. An electrical entrepreneur in the truest sense, he started making dedicated television games at Bronx, New York based house in the early 70s. From there he designed a one-of-a-kind arcade game for the unlicensed Star Trek reseller called Federation Trading Post as well as helped fellow independent arcade designers Larry Rosenthal and Ted Michon with Space Wars and Star Fire respectively.
Needle truly found his calling when he went to work for Amiga Corporation and he met his inseparable engineering partner RJ Mical, also a former arcade veteran. Mical was a software guy who understood the importance of hardware and would co-create several new systems with Needle after Amiga. The two of them were legendary for their pranks, propensity for silliness, and their forward-looking genius.
Their friendship blossomed through the creation of the Atari Lynx, the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer, and their subsequent fame with the Amiga. They seemed to embody much of what the Amiga was all about, Dave Needle in particular having heavy flows of emotion during the 30th anniversary event. Unfortunately, nothing good lasts forever, and so he passed away on February 20th, 2016.
Atari’s Ear, Brad Fuller
Atari had a much different image after 1984, wherein the company was split into the arcade division and the home console/computer division. While they never lost their touch for satisfying, precise gameplay, their games’ presentation altered as they entered the new arcade era. One large improvement across the board was in sound, due in large part to the work of Brad Fuller.
Fuller had been with Atari since before the transition and would remain there until 1996. During that time, he built up Atari’s audio expertise and became an important composer for both their arcade and NES games like Marble Madness, 720, and Tetris. His audio expertise helped in the new revitalization of Atari’s identity into the 1990s.
He passed away on January 2nd, 2016 after a prolonged battle with pancreatic cancer.